Nalanda University

Nalanda university was one of the first international universities in the world. This article gives a brief history of Nalanda University.

Nalanda University is often considered one of India’s most important ancient treasures. The site was a hub of Buddhist learning and knowledge of all kinds. Founded in the 5th century BCE under the Gupta rule, the university hosted thousands of students from around the world.

Many travellers and scholars talk about the great environment and educational feat of the ancient university in their accounts. This article covers all the important information about the ancient Nalanda University.

Ancient Nalanda University: Overview

Nalanda is considered one of the first international universities in the world. It is also one of the important national heritage sites of India. It was established during the great Gupta empire and reached its peak under the rule of Gupta king Kumaragupta.

  • Nalanda is believed to have been founded sometime between the 5th and 6th century BC
  • The ruins of Nalanda are located in the modern-day Bihar, around 88 km southeast of the capital city Patna
  • The Gupta King Ashoka built some of the architecture for the university
  • Most historians agree that the university was built under the rule of Kumaragupta
  • Kumaragupta reigned Kannauj from 415-55 BCE
  • The ancient university was a hub of Buddhist learning
  • The Buddhist scholars and kings gave the university patronage, and, in later years, it was supported and preserved by Pala kings
  • Many international travellers have mentioned Nalanda in their accounts; the travellers came from Greece, China, and the Persian empire
  • In 1193, following the Turkish invasion of India, the university was ruined by the Turkish ruler Bhaktiyar Khalji

Historical Background

Nalanda was one of the first international universities of its time. Therefore, it was an important centre for learning, and many scholars, monks, and travellers visited the site. Kannauj was the seat of power during the Gupta empire; following its success Nalanda became one of the most important sites in the Kannauj empire.

  • The ancient university of Nalanda was established by the Gupta king Kumaragupta in 5th BCE
  • A seal was discovered in the archaeological exploration of the site ruins
  • This seal gives valuable information about the establishment of the university, confirming that the university was indeed founded under the rule of Kumaragupta in around 5 BCE
  • It is believed that the university hosted around 10,000 students and 2000 scholars at its peak
  • A Chinese traveller and scholar, Xuanzang, in his accounts, gives details about the structure of the university
  • In his accounts, he mentions the presence of at least 10,000 students on the site
  • After the decline of the Gupta dynasty, the university was given patronage by the Pala kings

The Great Nalanda Library

One of the most distinctive components of Nalanda University was its astonishing library. The library of Nalanda was a collection of educational books, notes of scholars, and curriculum books on various subjects.

  • The accounts show that the library in Nalanda was called “Dharma Gunj,” which means “Mountain of Truth”
  • The library was a great source of Buddhist knowledge
  • The other name given to the library was “Dharmagañja,” meaning “Treasury of Truth”
  • The library is believed to have a collection of thousands of books
  • It is said that when the Mughals sacked the university, the library kept burning for almost three months
  • The library of Nalanda was composed of three buildings
  • Each building was at least nine stories tall. The Names of the buildings were “Ratnasagar,” meaning “Sea of Jewels,” and “Ratnodadhi,” meaning “Ocean of Jewel”

Decline and Ruins

After the fall of the Gupta empire, the university continued to remain operational. Pala kings and Buddhist monasteries gave patronage in later years. Accounts also suggest that many foreign Southeast Asian kingdoms sent scholars and students to the university.

  • The university at its peak hosted scholars not only from Kannauj and India but also from countries like China, Tibet, Korea, Japan, Persia, Turkey, and Indonesia
  • The university declined with the decline of Buddhism in India
  • In the 11th century BCE, many sites in India were destroyed following the Turkish advance on the Indian subcontinent
  • In the same period, Bakhtiyar Khalji’s forces ruined Nalanda university

Revival

After discovering the ruins of the once lively hub of knowledge, many attempts to revive the university were made in modern times.

  • In 2006, the former President of India, Mr A.P.J Abdul Kalam, suggested the revival of the ancient university in Bihar
  • In the same year, the government of Singapore proposed the “Nalanda Proposal” to the government of India for the same
  • Soon a joint venture by India, Singapore, China, and others were announced to revive the ancient university
  • In 2010, the Nalanda University Act was passed by the parliament of India for the re-construction of the university
  • In 2014, Nalanda University started functioning after almost eight hundred years

Conclusion

The ancient Nalanda University was established by Kumaragupta somewhere between 5 and 6 BCE. He was a king of the great Gupta dynasty. The university was the biggest hub of learning in India and was visited by hundreds of scholars from neighbouring countries. It reached its peak under the Gupta empire and was largely patronised by the Buddhist kings.

However, accounts tell that in later years Pala rulers also contributed to the university. The university was ruined by the Mughal invasion in 11 BCE. After the joint attempts of many countries, the ancient university has recently been reinstalled in the Indian state of Bihar.

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