Nalanda - The Lost Education Center of the World

Nalanda - The Lost Education Center of the World

India was once considered as "VishwaGuru" - a reformer and teacher to the entire world. From ancient sciences to arts, philosophy, and literature, the country has always been a destination for learners from all over the world. The first international residential university of the world was Nalanda Mahavihara. it was founded in the early fifth century, so by the time the first European university was established in Bologna in 1088, Nalanda had been providing higher education to thousands of students from Asian countries for more than six hundred years. Unfortunately, It was destructed in 1190.

There were two types of education in ancient India, the gurukuls, or Vedic schools, and the viharas, or Buddhist monasteries. The gurukuls mainly focused on primary education, whereas the viharas were institutions of higher education. Mahavihara was the term used for a group of monasteries. Nalanda was a large and revered Buddhist monastery in the ancient kingdom of Magadha (modern-day Bihar) in India. The site is located about 95 kilometres from Patna, the capital of, Bihar. It was developed under the Gupta Dynasty, probably Shakraditya (415-455 CE) was its founder.  His successors, Buddhagupta, Tathagatagupta, Baladitya, and Vajra, later extended and expanded the institution by building additional monasteries and temples.


Nalanda Mahavihara Architecture and Education System

Much of what we know about Nalanda is from the detailed writings of two Chinese monks, Xuanzang and Yijing (or I-tsing), who travelled to Nalanda during the 7th century CE and stayed for 2 and 14 years, respectively.

Xuanzang described the architecture of Nalanda as: "Moreover, 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 hill-tops, are congregated together. The observatories seem to be lost in the vapours (of the morning), and the upper rooms tower above the clouds."

Xuanzang biography states that all the students of Nalanda studied the Great Vehicle (Mahayana) as well as the works of the eighteen (Hinayana) sects of Buddhism. In addition to these, they studied other subjects such as the Vedas, Hetuvidyā (Logic), Shabdavidya (Grammar and Philology), Chikitsavidya (Medicine), the works on magic (the Atharvaveda), and Samkhya.

He recorded the number of teachers at Nalanda as being around 1510. Of these, approximately 1000 were able to explain 20 collections of sutras and shastras, 500 were able to explain 30 collections, and only 10 teachers were able to explain 50 collections.

He also states the strict Administration - "The lives of all these virtuous men were naturally governed by habits of the most solemn and strictest kind. Thus in the seven hundred years of the monastery's existence, no man has ever contravened the rules of the discipline. The king showers it with the signs of his respect and veneration and has assigned the revenue from a hundred cities to pay for the maintenance of the religious."

Yijing states the administration as process-oriented - "If the monks had some business, they would assemble to discuss the matter. Then they ordered the officer, Vihārapāla, to circulate and report the matter to the resident monks one by one with folded hands. With the objection of a single monk, it would not pass. There was no use of beating or thumping to announce his case. In case a monk did something without the consent of all the residents, he would be forced to leave the monastery. If there was a difference of opinion on a certain issue, they would give reason to convince (the other group). No force or coercion was used to convince."

As per Traditional Tibetan sources, there was a Library with a huge collection of hundreds of thousands of books of the religious manuscript, grammar, logic, literature, astrology, astronomy, and medicine. There were three large multi-storeyed buildings, the Ratnasagara (Ocean of Jewels), the Ratnodadhi (Sea of Jewels), and the Ratnaranjaka (Jewel-adorned).

Seventeen great Scholars of Nalanda 

1. Nagarjuna
2. Acharya Aryadeva
3. Buddhapalita
4. Bhavaviveka
5. Chandrakirti
6. Shantideva
7. Shantarakshita
8. Kamalashila
9. Arya Asanga
10. Acharya Vasubandhu
11. Dignaga
12. Dharmakirti
13. Vimuktisena
14. Simhabhadra
15. Gunaprabha
16. Sakyaprabha
17. Dipamkara Atisha


Destruction of Nalanda and present Status

Nalanda was very likely ransacked and destroyed by an army of the Mamluk Dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate under Bakhtiyar Khalji in c. 1200 CE. While some sources note that the Mahavihara continued to function in a makeshift fashion after this attack, it was eventually abandoned altogether and forgotten until the 19th century, when the site was surveyed and preliminary excavations were conducted by the Archaeological Survey of India. Systematic excavations commenced in 1915, which unearthed eleven monasteries and six brick temples neatly arranged on grounds 12 hectares (30 acres) in area. A trove of sculptures, coins, seals, and inscriptions have also been discovered in the ruins, many of which are on display in the Nalanda Archaeological Museum, situated nearby. Nalanda is now a notable tourist destination and a part of the Buddhist tourism circuit.

On November 25, 2010, the Indian government, through an Act of Parliament, resurrected the ancient university through the Nalanda University Bill, and subsequently, a new Nalanda University was established. It has been designated as an "international university of national importance."


Posted: 18 Nov 2019