… was inscribed on several plaques discovered while excavating a huge mound covered with wild vegetation in Bargaon, an obscure village of Bihar in the year of 1861. Thus was established beyond controversy, an elite educational institution existed at Nalanda, also mentioned by the Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang in his travelogues. The then legendary British Director of the Archeological Survey of India, Sir Alexander Cunningham declared the travelogues as an authentic chronicle of history and not merely a figment of imagination.
“Nalanda” is a syntax of “NALAM” i.e. Lotus of Wisdom and “Da” i.e. The Deliverer. True to the name, 4th century Nalanda Mahavihara was the first gigantic residential university in the world, financially and otherwise supported by not only by the native monarchs but also from overseas viz. Java, Sumatra etc. After flourishing and disseminating world-class education for more than 600 years, it was finally burnt into ashes by a Muslim barbarian-invaders in the year 1193 who had no respect for other faiths, talent and achievements.
Sixth century monarch Kumargupta of Gupta Reign was the first founder-patron of the Mahavihara in it’s recorded history. During the reign of King Harsa of Kannauj during 606-647 AD, it evolved into a dynamic, international institution enjoying patronage from all over. The royal patronage ended with the Pal dynasty that ruled over Bengal and Bihar of today. Three more contemporaries viz. Vikramsila and Odantapuri in Bihar and Somapura Mahavihara in Paharpur (now in Bangladesh), were also supported by the Pal dynasty and out of these, Vikramsila posed tough competition for Nalanda with respect to academic excellence and research. Hindu and Buddhist monarchs were equally disposed towards these institutions in terms of financial support and patronage.
With 30,000 monks on campus, 2000 teachers from Bharatvarsa, China, Tibet, Siam, Persia, Korea, Java, Sri Lanka, Japan, Sumatra, Nepal and Greece, Nalanda Mahavihara spread in 50 sq. Km. area (10 Km. x 5 Km.), had mind-boggling infrastructural facilities. Revenue collected from 200 villages underwrote all expenses and the entire campus education was completely free ! They had a very interesting admission procedure. With four gates on four sides, every student aspirant was required to outdo the learned gatekeepers with his intellectualism and answers at the gate itself before being allowed to enter into the campus for admission ! With one Nagarjuna being the first Principal-Master of the Mahavihara, it had very eminent scholars and philosophers like Dignaga, Santideva, Santaraksita, Vasubandhu, Asanga, Silabhadra, Dharmakriti, Candrakirti and Aryadeva as faculty teachers. Entire Mahavihara was always pulsating with scholarly discussions / debates, intellectual arguments / intellectual rejoinders with advanced education offered in disciplines like Theology, Geography, Logic, Mathematics, Philosophy, Grammar, Metallurgy, Metaphysics, Aviation, Architecture, Chemistry, Cosmology, Astrology and Astronomy, Tantra, Medicine and Surgery, Ayurveda, Languages etc. It produced scholars like Aryabhatta, Varahamihira, Kalidasa and Vatsayayana. Erudite Nalanda masters like Santaraksita, Kamalasila, Smriti Jnanakirti and Atisa visited Tibet at the invitation of Tibetan monarchs to teach and establish Buddhism. Tibetan scholars translated Samskrita texts on various disciplines of study spanning several centuries, later compiled into Kangyur i.e. translated words of Buddha and Tengyur i.e. commentaries on teachings of Buddha. Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang too taught for sometime after completing his education therein.
Nalanda campus, first residential University in the world, was equipped with 108 units with every unit having 30 well-furnished rooms, central assembly hall, various prayer halls and numerous Stupa-s scattered around. Parks, pavements, rest-halls, water canal flowing through the campus, excellent drainage system and a gigantic central kitchen adorned the campus. Every student-room had a stone-bed, locker, book-shelves and a place to pursue meditation. Ratna-Sagar, Ratna-Ranjika and Ratna-Uday were three huge libraries. Nine storied Ratna-Sagar central library was the largest of it’s kind in the world, had some of the finest manuscripts in the world and the collection of books was so huge that Muslim marauders took six months to burn down completely !! Entire campus was a marvel of architecture and amalgamation of two different architectural schools i.e. Gupta and Pal. In it’s town planning too, Nalanda was marvellous. When other contemporary civilizations were struggling to become civilised human beings, Nalanda offered wisdom and life-style of the highest order.
Gradual decline of Nalanda began with the augmenting influence of Buddhist Tantra and the final obituary was committed by Bakhtiyar Khilji, one of the generals of Qutb-ud-din Aibak in the year of 1193. The monster-beast destroyed Nalanda and Vikramsila Mahavihara-s in one go, beheaded / burnt alive most of the students and teachers, vandalised entire campus beyond wildest imagination, set the library building with invaluable manuscripts on fire…the ugly dance of destruction continued for days together. Glorious intellectual history of 700 years was destroyed in a most despicable and brutal manner. It is yet another aspect that Khilji was brutally defeated in Assam by the King Prithu on March 27, 1206 while he was marching to capture Tibet. His entire army of 12,000 soldiers was slaughtered and he had to retreat ignominiously with just 100 of his men. He was later killed by his own nephew back in his own country for bringing the ignominy of being razed.
Nalanda was re-discovered in early 19th century after the area was deserted, came under dense jungle. A new village with the name Bargaon came up on the same location later. When British geographer Buchanan Hamilton wrote a study on several Hindu & Buddhist images scattered around in the village, Sir Cunningham conducted a scientific excavation in 1861. With the study of very large number of inscriptions, coins, copper plates, idols etc. recovered from the site, amazing splendour of Nalanda came to the fore. There were several more rounds of excavations in 1872, from 1915 to 1936 and as late as 1974 to 1982 which explored artifacts like images, murals, plaques, Mahavihara seal, finest terracottas etc. Most of these are preserved in musea at Patna, Nalanda and Kolkata. So far, only one sq. Km. area out of 50 sq. Km. has been excavated !!
Nalanda is a UNESCO world heritage site which one must visit.
The institution certainly deserves our bow in salutation and admiration.
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