By Sanjay Jha, Author
Nalanda University, located in the Indian state of Bihar, was one of the oldest and most renowned centers of learning in the world. Founded in the 5th century CE, the university was an intellectual and cultural hub of the ancient world, attracting students and scholars from all over Asia and beyond. At its peak, Nalanda housed thousands of students and teachers, and its curriculum covered a wide range of subjects, including astronomy, mathematics, medicine, philosophy, and theology. Today, the ruins of the university serve as a testament to its rich history and enduring legacy.
Nalanda University was founded in the 5th century CE during the Gupta dynasty by a Buddhist monk named Kumarajiva. The exact date of its establishment is not clear, but it is believed to have been founded in the 5th century AD during the reign of the Gupta Empire. The university was named after the village of Nalanda, which was located near the university.
Nalanda University was an important center of learning for various subjects including Buddhism, Hinduism, philosophy, astronomy, mathematics, medicine, and other sciences. The university was known for its extensive library, which was said to have contained over 9 million books and manuscripts. The library was considered one of the largest in the world at the time.
The university had several buildings, including lecture halls, dormitories for students, meditation halls, and temples. The campus was spread over a vast area of around 14 hectares, and it had several parks and lakes. The university was a residential institution, and students from all over India and other parts of the world came to study here.
Nalanda University was managed by a council of scholars and teachers, known as the sangha. The sangha was responsible for the administration of the university and the admission of students. The university also had a strict code of conduct for both students and teachers, which included rules on behavior, dress, and diet.
The university was destroyed by invading Turkish armies led by Bakhtiyar Khilji in the 12th century. The exact reason for the destruction is not known, but it is believed that the invaders set fire to the library, resulting in the loss of many valuable manuscripts and books. The destruction of Nalanda University marked the end of an era of great learning and scholarship in India.
In recent years, the Government of India has established a new Nalanda University in the same region, which aims to revive the legacy of the ancient institution. The new university follows a modern curriculum and is focused on promoting interdisciplinary research and education.
The university was established as a residential institution, where students and teachers lived together in a community that fostered intellectual and spiritual growth. Over the centuries, Nalanda grew in size and influence, attracting students and scholars from as far away as China, Korea, Japan, and Iran. The university was known for its rigorous curriculum and scholarly achievements, and it became one of the most prestigious centers of learning in the world.
The university was home to a vast library that contained over 9 million books, making it the largest library in the ancient world. The library was a source of pride for the university, and it was said to contain works on every subject imaginable. The library was not only a center of knowledge but also a symbol of Nalanda's commitment to preserving and disseminating knowledge.
In the 12th century CE, Nalanda was invaded and destroyed by Muslim armies led by Bakhtiyar Khilji. The university was sacked, and the library was set on fire, destroying countless rare and valuable manuscripts. The destruction of Nalanda dealt a severe blow to the intellectual and cultural heritage of India, and it took centuries for the region to recover.
Despite its destruction, Nalanda University's legacy endured. The ideas and teachings that emerged from Nalanda influenced the development of Buddhism, Hinduism, and other intellectual and spiritual traditions. Many of the university's scholars went on to become influential thinkers and leaders in their fields, and their contributions continue to shape our understanding of the world.
Today, the ruins of Nalanda serve as a testament to the university's rich history and enduring legacy. The site was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2016, and it attracts visitors from all over the world who come to pay homage to the ancient institution of learning. Efforts are currently underway to revive the university and restore it to its former glory, with the establishment of a modern Nalanda University in the 21st century.
In 2010, the Indian government launched an initiative to revive Nalanda University, with the aim of re-establishing the institution as a center of learning and research. The modern Nalanda University was inaugurated in 2014, with a focus on promoting intercultural dialogue and collaboration across disciplines. The university's curriculum covers a wide range of subjects, including ecology, peace studies, linguistics, and Buddhist studies.
The new Nalanda University is a partnership between India and several other Asian countries, including China, Japan, and Singapore. The university aims to foster a sense of global community and collaboration, building on the legacy of the ancient Nalanda University. Today, the modern Nalanda University is an important center of scholarship and research, dedicated to promoting innovation and cross-cultural exchange.
Nalanda University's rich history and legacy make it one of the most important centers of learning in the world. Despite its destruction, the ideas and teachings that emerged from Nalanda continue to influence the development of intellectual and spiritual traditions in Asia and beyond.