One of the most prehistoric Universities in the country that was established in the Gupta Dynasty era is the renowned and ancient Nalanda University. Located in the primeval Magadha region (modern Rajgirh), which is about 90 kilometers from Patna towards the Southeast, it is the world’s oldest residential university i.e. the students and scholars who came from all around the world, received On-campus facilities.
The university used to run in its prime state between 427 and 1197 CE. The patrons of this university consisted of many Indians and Japanese people, irrespective of them being Buddhists or not. Over 750 years, thousands of travelers, pilgrims, scholars, and students from Korea, China, Tibet have visited Nalanda University and cited their experience here in their very own literary documentation. Although sacked and destroyed to the ground by Bakhtiyar Khilji, the university was later restored.
So here, we are going to discuss some of the most fascinating facts about Nalanda University for which it is so famous and pre-eminent for ages.
1. Standalone and International standards
Throwback to the reigning period of Kumaragupta I of the Gupta dynasty in the 5th century CE. He, built Nalanda University to impart an excellent system of education to its students. From then onwards, students from all over Asia including China, Persia, Japan, Korea, Sri Lanka, Turkey, and Greater India started coming here to seek knowledge.
From the past and to date, the university maintains international standards housing over 2700 faculty members from across the globe. The list comprises faculties from Iran, China, Japan, Mongolia, Tibet, Persia, etc.
2. Primordial education system
At Nalanda University, the education system was not limited to kings but everyone. Students at Nalanda studied the Vedas and were also trained in fine arts, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, politics, and the art of warfare. The ancient Nalanda was a center of learning from the 5th century CE to the 12th century CE.
Nalanda Mahavihara remained a center for higher Buddhist education for centuries. All students at Nalanda studied Mahayana, as well as the texts of the eighteen (Hinayana) sects of Buddhism. Their curriculum also included other subjects, such as the Vedas, logic, Sanskrit grammar, medicine, and Samkhya.
The University campus had within itself meditation centers, temples, and some libraries with priceless content. Manuscripts regarding various studies of religion, science, architecture, literature, astronomy, economics, history, linguistics, etc. are held in manuscripts which are further segregated into three distinct sections.
At the height of its glory, Nalanda University was devoted to not only Buddhist studies but also trained students in fine arts, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, politics, and the art of war.
3. Magnitude and vigour of a great library
Let alone the whole compound, the university library itself made the invaders spend months to burn a certain portion of the library. It was called Dharma Gunj which stood for the ‘Mountain of Truth’. The library was a very esteemed one as said earlier. Divided into three main complexes coined – ‘Ratnasagara-The Sea of Jewels’, ‘Ratnaranjika-Delighter of Jewels’ and ‘Ratnodadhi-The Ocean of Jewels’, which were each almost nine stories tall, the Dharma Gunj was literally a treasury of the Buddhist knowledge all over the world embodying thousands of volumes of some very rare manuscripts and parchments.
It’s a very saddening incident that within fumes, an enormous storehouse of recognizable accomplishments was burnt down in just six months. 9 million manuscripts and many invaluable books remained there for several days.
4. In the eyes of foreigners
Xuanzang, or Hiuen Tsang, visited Nalanda twice, once in 637 CE and again in 642 CE. He was called by the name of Mokshadeva here. Shilabhadra, who was the head of the institution at that time, guided him during his stays here. Shilabhadra taught him Yogacharya. Though besides learning Buddhist studies, he also gained enlightenment in grammar, logic, and Sanskrit and orated at Mahavihara, which is referred to as a monastic complex.
He kept detailed documentation of his visit and he mentioned once that “The whole establishment is surrounded by a brick wall, which encloses the entire convent from without. One gate opens into the great college, from which are separated eight other halls standing in the middle (of the Sangharama). The richly adorned towers and the fairy-like turrets, like pointed hilltops, are congregated together. The observatories seem to be lost in the vapors (of the morning), and the upper rooms tower above the clouds.”
Yijing from China arrived in India in 673 CE. He spent almost ten years at the Nalanda university. During this period, he practiced Buddhism and got further details on the rules, regulations, and customs followed by monks in a monastery. Yijin’s blogs tell the revenue assigned to Nalanda, the great complexes present, and had ten big pools. He tells how a day at Nalanda is. He took with himself 400 Sanskrit texts, and 300 Buddha relics when he returned to China.
Many pilgrims from Korea and Tibet started coming to Nalanda hereafter, for example, Hyon Jo, Hye Ryun, and Thonmi Sambhota. They were welcomed warmly by the people there and were given Indian names too. During the Pala era, many Tibetan pilgrims approached Indian monasteries to adapt Buddhist studies. They were very overwhelmed during their stay and the Tibetans recreated a monastery in Tibet itself named after the Nalanda university in its honor.
5. Alumni scholars of the university
The Nalanda University has produced many remarkable scholars which include Dharmapala, Vasubandhu, Suvishnu, Dharmakirti, Asanga, Harshavardhana, Shantarakhsita, Aryadeva, Nagarjuna, Padmasambhava and Xuanzang.
The university was invaded three times. During the reign of Skanda Gupta, the Huns had tried to ransack the university. Though the university was restored and extended more by Skanda Gupta’s successors.
The Gaudas attacked the university for the second time but it was once again revived by Harshavardhana.
But the biggest tragic incident was the third invasion which took place in 1193 CE. The Turkish leader Bakhtiyar Khilji had brought down the university altogether to ruins. His troops destroyed the library and set fire to it. The entire root of knowledge, Buddhism and Ayurveda were massacred. Thousands of Buddhist monks were killed by burning them in the fire. Such a dreadful incident it was in the history of the university, that it took many years to restore.
7. The remains
The university and its ruins are still prevalent. Some serious efforts were taken in 1915 for the first time when the archaeological survey of India started excavation at the site which by that time was looking like a mound of soil covered with bushes.
Throughout 22 years, the excavations revealed the actual architectural style and structure of Nalanda university. There were six brick-made temples and eleven monasteries in systematic rows on both sides of a 98 feet wide road and extended over an area of about 1,50,000 square foot meters. But it is believed that 90% of the Nalanda university remains still haven’t been excavated.
The Ancient Nalanda university recently got the status of World Heritage Site from UNESCO. Ancient Nalanda university ruins are truly one of the most popular tourist places in Bihar.
The Nalanda Archaeological Museum is located just opposite the entrance of the Nalanda ruins main gate. The museum exhibits the sculptures, statues, and various things excavated from Nalanda.