Today, Nalanda is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and hopefully this tag will bring tourists from around the world to this ancient institution and compel the authorities to protect and preserve this important piece of our civilisational history
Nalanda Mahavihara arya vikshu sanghasya”. These words were inscribed on several plaques, discovered while excavating a huge mound covered with wild vegetation in Bargaon, an obscure village of Bihar in 1861. Thus was established, beyond doubt, the existence of an elite educational institution at Nalanda, that had also been mentioned by Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang in his famous travelogues. The legendary British Director of the Archeological Survey of India, Sir Alexander Cunningham, had declared the travelogues as an authentic chronicle of history and not merely a figment of imagination.
Today, the historic site at Nalanda has been included as a World Heritage Site by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. It is a great honour and tribute for all that the site carries in itself.
‘Nalanda’ is a syntax of ‘Nalam’ ie the lotus of wisdom and ‘Da’ ie the deliverer. True to its name, the fourth century Nalanda Mahavihara was the first major residential university in the world, financially and otherwise, supported not only by native monarchs but also by overseas patrons from place such as Java and Sumatra. After flourishing and disseminating world-class education for more than 600 years, it was finally burnt into ashes by a Muslim barbarian-invaders who had no respect for other faiths, talent and achievements, in 1193.
Sixth century monarch Kumargupta of the Gupta dynasty was the founder-patron of the Mahavihara. During the reign of King Harsa of Kannauj, in 606-647 AD, the university 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. 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 10,000 students on campus, 2,000 teachers from Bharatvarsa, China, Tibet, Siam, Persia, Korea, Java, Sri Lanka, Japan, Sumatra, Nepal and Greece, Nalanda Mahavihara spread across a 50 square kilometre area had mind-boggling infrastructural facilities. Revenue collected from 200 villages underwrote all expenses, and campus education was completely free.
Nalanda also had an 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 like Vasubandhu, Asanga, Silabhadra, Dharmakriti and Aryadeva as faculty teachers.
The entire Mahavihara was always pulsating with scholarly discussions, debates, intellectual arguments and 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, and the languages. It produced scholars like Aryabhatta, Varahamihira, Kalidasa and Vatsayayana. Hiuen Tsang too taught for sometime after completing his education therein.
The Nalanda campus, the 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 stupas 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. The nine storied Ratna-Sagar central library was the largest of its kind in the world, had some of the finest manuscripts in the world and the collection of books was so huge that the marauders, when they attacked the place, had to spend a whole six months before they could burn down the whole place.
The campus was a marvel of architecture, and reflected the amalgamation of two different architectural schools ie the Gupta and the Pal. In its town planning too, Nalanda was marvellous. When other contemporary civilizations were struggling to become civilised human beings, Nalanda offered wisdom and lifestyle of the highest order.
The gradual decline of Nalanda began with the augmenting influence of Buddhist tantra, and the final nail in the coffin was struck by Bakhtiyar Khilji, one of the generals of Qutb-ud-din Aibak, in the year of 1193.
The Mughals destroyed Nalanda and Vikramsila Mahaviharas in one go, they beheaded and 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. A glorious intellectual history of 700 years was destroyed in the most despicable and brutal manner.
Nalanda was re-discovered in the early 19th century. After the area was deserted, it became a 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 and Buddhist images scattered around the village, Sir Cunningham conducted a scientific excavation in 1861.
With the study of a large number of inscriptions, coins, copper plates, idols etc recovered from the site, the amazing splendour of Nalanda came to the fore. There were several subsequent rounds of excavations — in 1872, then from 1915 to 1936, and even between 1974 and 1982, which revealed artifacts like images, murals, plaques, the Mahavihara seal and the finest terracotta. Most of these are preserved in museums in Patna, Nalanda and Kolkata.
Today, Nalanda is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and hopefully this tag will bring tourists from around the world to this ancient institution and compel the authorities to protect and preserve this important piece of our civilisational history.
Reference : Dailypioneer
Live Chat Support