Nalanda Vishwavidyalaya: Discovering the Lost Treasure of Knowledge

Nalanda Vishwavidyalaya (University) was built in present day Bihar when Buddhism was at its peak in India. Countless students from home and abroad have studied in it and become scholars. Nalanda Vishwavidyalaya has set a noble example of what is called an ideal education system. The interesting story of the rise and decline of this great Nalanda Vishwavidyalaya is presented here.

Nalanda Vishwavidyalaya: Discovering the Lost Treasure of Knowledge

Nalanda Vishwavidyalaya: The Jewel of Bihar’s Ancient Educational Heritage

The word Bihar is said to be derived from Buddhist monastery, meaning ‘vihara’. There were many Buddhist monasteries in this state, including Bodh Gaya, many of which can be seen today as crumbling remains. Nalanda is included in such places. Nalanda, a small village of the ancient Magadha Empire, was known as a world famous university.

Enlightenment and Education: A Journey Through Gurukuls and Buddhist Viharas

Nalanda Vishwavidyalaya 14

Many years before this Vidyapeeth was established, there was a Gurukul system of education in India. Children had to get their primary education in the Gurukul, where they were given knowledge of the four Vedas. The followers of Gautam Buddha also established monasteries like gurukuls to spread knowledge and religion. But they were different from the ancient ‘gurukuls’. Only monks who had renounced the world could live in Buddhist monasteries known as ‘viharas’. Viharas were, in a way, shelters for wandering monks seeking enlightenment, where they could meditate in peace. They were also studying various subjects of education at that time.

Over time, some elite Viharas also admitted other students besides Buddhist sages. This was inspired by Gautama Buddha, became extremely popular. Such viharas began to see a rush of knowledge-hungry students and finally the viharas had to be converted into Mahaviharas. Mahaviharas like Vikramshila, Odantapuri, Jagdala, Valabhi, and Takshila were born. Nalanda University in present day Bihar, was one of them. Unfortunately, we do not have a systematic chronological history of Nalanda, though Much has been known about Nalanda from the Tibetan and Chinese travelers- and -historians who stayed some time in the Mahavihara.

Nalanda Vishwavidyalaya: World’s first university

Nalanda Vishwavidyalaya: Discovering the Lost Treasure of Knowledge

The Archaeological Department of India excavated in Nalanda district of Bihar state between 1915 and 1937 and years later between 1974 and 1982. Among the remains found at Nalanda University, the oldest remains date back to the Gupta period (4th to 6th AD). According to the Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang, King Kumaragupta I (Sakraditya) established Nalanda University as a Buddhist monastery.

After that, his successor King Buddhagupta, built another monastery next to it. Carrying on this tradition, his son Purugupta (Tathagatagupta) constructed a third monastery in the eastern direction. By the time the reign of Gupta ruler Narasimhagupta (Baladitya) came to an end in 467 AD, he too had built Another Vihar in the northeast corner of the Nalanda University campus. Moreover, a huge statue of lord Buddha was installed in it.

Expanding Horizons: The Gupta Dynasty’s Legacy at Nalanda University

Nalanda University visited during sunset 5 scaled

In this way, the rulers of the Gupta dynasty increased its scope by building new monasteries around the main monastery. According to Hiuen Tsang, a Chinese traveler who visited Nalanda, a total of six Gupta kings played an active part in the gradual development of Nalanda University. The entire premises was protected by a high wall. Only one gate was kept for entry, leading the visitor to the main vihara. Hiuen Tsang notes that the Viharas at Nalanda were multi-storied. Above were the observatories, which seemed to be in the clouds. Naturally, Hiuen Tsang may have written about the clouds figuratively, but the viharas appear from his text to be of extraordinary height.

Enchanting Beauty: Exploring the Splendor of Nalanda University’s Premises

Nalanda Vishwavidyalaya: Discovering the Lost Treasure of Knowledge

According to the description, the premises of Nalanda consisted of ponds and water tanks, in which blue lotuses poured their beauty with red Kanak flowers. Mango trees standing in the space left between the ponds cast a dark green shade on the surface of the water. The viharas of this complex were adorned with carvings of dragon’s mouths and carved pillars, artistic platforms, and colored glass roofs reflecting sunlight in many colors.

Such grand interior and exterior appearance made Nalanda the grandest among other contemporary Viharas of ancient India. Another special aspect of Nalanda was its huge library called Dharmaganj, which was made up of three grand palaces called Ratnasagara, Ratnoddhi and Ratnaranjaka. According to historical records, all three palaces were 9 storeyed. From this it can be guessed that there will be an abundance of manuscripts.

Nalanda Vishwavidyalaya: The unique teaching method

Nalanda Vishwavidyalaya: Discovering the Lost Treasure of Knowledge

This Vidyapith was originally dedicated to Buddhism. The vast complex was a unique town of students, teachers, and principals living a highly disciplined lifestyle. All residential rooms should be constructed in such a way that they face the temple.

Because of this, the students living in the room and the teachers-principals were able to worship facing the temple. On the one hand, high moral and spiritual values were inculcated in the students, on the other hand, they were given deep study in Buddhism. The education system was largely an augmented version of the old gurukula system, in which the guru-shishya (Teacher- student) relationship was very important. The students used to learn many subjects in the curriculum here like Vedas, Shabdavidya, Grammar, Astrology, Medicine, Mathematics, Jurisprudence, Philosophy, Logic, Architecture, Sculpture, Metallurgy, Astronomy, Yoga etc. and came out as ardent scholars.Nalanda Vishwavidyalaya: Discovering the Lost Treasure of Knowledge

Given the high standard of education, Nalanda University used to admit deserving students. A student seeking admission had to go through a formal admission process here. Today, students have to take entrance exams to get admission in reputed educational institutes like Indian Institute of Technology/IIT and Indian Institute of Management/IIM. But this method of admission was adopted by Nalanda University centuries ago.

Dwarpandit of the Nalanda complex who plays the role of gatekeeper, used to take the entrance exam of the same students. The religious ambivalence of this Dwarpandit made it very difficult to answer satisfactorily, and only two or three students out of ten could pass the exam and gain admission to Nalanda. As mentioned earlier, since Nalanda University was dedicated to Buddhism, the gatekeeper would get the knowledge of how much faith and dedication a student has towards Buddhism and admit them only after being convinced.

After getting admission, the university (Vishwavidyalaya) itself would bear the cost of everything from living, eating, dressing, studying. A student does not have to spend at all. Sufficient care was taken to prevent immorality in the society through commercialization of education. The financial burden of the university was borne by the nobles and royals of the society by giving donations. It was the result of the spiritual and value oriented society that Nalanda University created.

Nalanda Vishwavidyalaya: Discovering the Lost Treasure of Knowledge

Students were taught orally on various topics, followed by enlightening discussions. In the premises of Nalanda Vishwavidyalaya there were interesting discussions on a daily basis at about 100 places. Some did not end for a month or so. Many scholars would come from all over the country to participate in high-level meaningful discussions and a war of knowledge would ensue. This type of education system was not found anywhere else in the world except India.

The youths who came as students to Nalanda got basic education and left as scholars, after which they spread the fame of Nalanda by spreading knowledge on foot to distant regions. Due to the knowledge of these scholars, the hungry students from China, Tibet, Sri Lanka, Korea, Mongolia, Japan, Turkey and Southeast Asia came to Nalanda to study. To gain admission, they had to already acquire knowledge of languages like Sanskrit and Pali and knowledge of Buddhism.

Due to the huge rush, the Nalanda complex was always buzzing with tens of thousands of students and around two thousand teachers. On an average, there were five students per teacher. For this reason, a close relationship like father and son was cultivated between Guru and disciple. This relationship was also very necessary for the development of moral values and character building for building a strong society. Unfortunately, today we cannot even imagine such an education system in our own country.

When Nalanda Was Set on Fire

Nalanda Vishwavidyalaya: Discovering the Lost Treasure of KnowledgeThe Nalanda Vishwavidyalaya kept spreading knowledge for about 800 years. In 1197 AD, Bakhtiyar Khilji from Turkey came to Nalanda. Not only in Nalanda, but also in universities like Vikramsheela and Odantapuri, he carried out massacres. Whatever the date of Baktiyar Khilji’s invasion of Nalanda University, the event changed history. This assailant entered the Nalanda premises with his brute and half-animal soldiers, and went on killing innocent seekers, students, teachers etc. with swords. He kept looting everything he could find. He kept breaking the buildings and idols too. Still, Bakhtiar was not happy. He took control of the vast library of Nalanda and set fire to all the books.

Books like incredible and priceless repositories of knowledge bearing witness to the unprecedented and glorious history of Indian civilization were set ablaze. Manuscripts, texts and books were symbols of the amazing development of the human mind throughout human history. Who knows, after so much effort and so much brainstorming, experiments, and researches, its fruition was in it. Unfortunately it was all destroyed by a deranged minded attacker. Harast’s corpus of written knowledge numbered in the millions. The resulting flames kept getting up skyward for days.

Nalanda Vishwavidyalaya: Discovering the Lost Treasure of Knowledge
Hieun tsang memorial hall Nalanda

As the reading material did not remain, those who read and listened to it also did not survive. Nalanda Vidyapeeth faded into the past after the mass massacre. The act of foreign invader Bakhtiar Khilji who attacked our history and culture was unforgivable. However, in the name of that murderer, a village called ‘Bakhtiarpur’ was built in Bihar, what a shame!

Gautam Buddha wanted to eliminate the defects of society and create a superior society. He had absolutely no desire to establish a different religion or sect and did not want to call himself God. However, his vision could not be fulfilled. On the contrary, the people took up the path of peace and non-violence to such an extent that they forgot to take up arms and attack the enemy even for self-defense, let alone religion and nation. The pacifist or non-violent soil became escapist. In the end, our nation and culture decayed for centuries under the yoke of foreign and heathen invaders.

Nalanda Vishwavidyalaya: Discovering the Lost Treasure of Knowledge
Huen tsang memorial hall building

At last, the last bit of self-respect left by the British was trampled under their heels. To keep Indians in the shackles of slavery, they attacked our language-culture and basic training system and introduced their education system. Today even after all these years we are more or less sticking to that system.

Relics like witness to history

The actual Nalanda University was huge, but it is yet to be discovered. The excavated emains of the Nalanda Vidyapith span 1,600 feet in length and 800 feet in width. 11 viharas, some stupas and temples have been found in that area of ​​300 acres. The remains spread over an overall rectangular area have a row of four fragmentary temples (chaityagrihas) facing east at a distance of about 100-100 meters from north to south on the left side.Nalanda Vishwavidyalaya: Discovering the Lost Treasure of Knowledge

In front of these temples on the right are eight series of viharas (living and study rooms) facing the temple in a parallel row. Today they are all in ruins. Where these two parallel rows meet, there are two more small-sized viharas. Shariputra, the last temple in a row of four temples, was built by Emperor Ashoka in honor of Shariputra, the first disciple of Buddha.

On July 15, 2016, the United Nations Committee declared the ruins of Nalanda University as a World Heritage Site. Today, anywhere in the world, if you look at the photos of Nalanda Vidyapith as a world heritage site, the Shariputra Stupa has a prominent place. The intact stupa was about 102 feet high, though a large part of it was broken, the Shariputra stupa seems to be the tallest among the broken remains here. The remnants of history stand as witnesses giving us a silent message that those who cannot maintain the present, not only their future, but also their history is destroyed.

Good to know for a perfect Trip…

When to Go:

  • The weather is pleasant between October and March.
  •  Avoid visiting from April to June due to hot summers.
  • Monsoon rains can hinder travel during the rainy season.

How to Go:

  • Direct trains are available to Gaya Junction and Patna.
  • Trains to Nalanda can be boarded from both these stations.
  • Patna is connected to major cities of India by air.

Where to Stop:

  • Accommodation is available in hotels and local houses at places like Nalanda, Silao, and Rajgir.
  • For more information, visit: https://tourism.bihar.gov.in/

Plus Know:

  • Nalanda University houses an archaeology museum displaying excavated objects from Nalanda and surrounding areas, including stone and baked clay idols, metal idols, and paintings related to Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.
  • Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang’s travelogue aided archaeologists in exploring Nalanda. A memorial has been built nearby, housing a handwritten copy of his travelogue. Kundalpur, nearby, is the birthplace and residence of Jain Tirthankar Mahavir Swami.
  • Jal Mandir, Mahavir Swami’s Nirvana place, is located in Pawapuri, 15 km from Nalanda.
    Pant Wildlife Sanctuary, located 18 km south of Nalanda in Rajgir, offers forest trekking and various adventure activities in its nature safari park.

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