Nalanda University, credited with being the oldest in the world, has been under renovation for years now. And with its new campus, based along the lines of the age-old structure, almost complete, the university is set to reclaim its lost glory. Here’s all that you need to know about this educational hub. By Anushka Goel
Nalanda University is on its way to reclaiming its lost glory. With a revamped campus said to be inspired by the age-old structure, the university is set to be a sustainable setup. The campus is about 90 per cent complete, and at the moment, students are being enrolled at a nearby makeshift building that has been functional since 2014, when the academic session began.
What you need to know about the Nalanda University
Nalanda University transforming from an idea to reality in the last four years under the leadership of Vice-Chancellor @ProfSunaina Singh.#BuildingBridgesThroughKnowledgeRoutes#NalandaOnTheRise #CampusOfTheFuture pic.twitter.com/Wc01e6xp5f
— Nalanda University (@nalanda_univ) February 12, 2022
The university, which was revered by many for its teachings on religion, mathematics, and more, was demolished by Islamic invaders in the late 12th century, writes Republic. The university was a leading institute in the pre-Islamic period and has found a mention in Persian, Chinese, Buddhist, and Jain and texts across the world.
Located near the city of Rajgriha (now Rajgir), the university was described as a sacred space in Buddhist and Jain texts before it gained recognition as a centre for learning, Republic writes. What’s more, the ancient university was known for its stunning architecture – lines of monasteries, temples and stupas from north to south, and in these temples were beautiful sculptures of Buddha.
It is said that Buddha visited the town of Nalanda, near Rajgriha (the capital of Magadha), and delivered lectures under a mango grove there. One of his chief disciples, Shariputra, was born here and later attained nirvana. What’s more, it is believed that Nalanda University is the place where Mahavira met Gosala and where the Buddhist scholar Dinnaga defeated the Brahmin Sudurjaya.
The university started flourishing during the Gupta Dynasty, from the fifth century, receiving land grants and more for its expansion. After the Gupta dynasty’s decline, Emperor Harshavardhana is said to have taken up the expansion of the university, building more monasteries, temple sites, and more here. According to Republic, records of the Buddhist monk Hiuen Tsang, who travelled from China to India during Harshavardhana’s reign, showed Nalanda University’s transformation.
Importance as an educational hub
— Pralhad Joshi (@JoshiPralhad) February 14, 2022
At its peak, Nalanda University is said to have attracted scholars from near and far who would come here to gain knowledge and deliver lectures in areas of their expertise. The institute was a place of open learning, and the students here studied the Mahayana, along with texts from the 18 sects of Buddhism and subjects such as the Vedas, Sanskrit grammar, music, mathematics, medicine, logic and Samkhya.
The Fellowship gained here was also said to be among the highest educational decrees in the time, and students who graduated would tour far and wide to spread its word.
Attacks on the Nalanda University and its downfall
The Nalanda University is said to have been destroyed thrice but was rebuilt twice. It was after the attack by Bakhtiyar Khalji’s army in the late 12th century, which included killing the monks, looting the premises, and setting ablaze the library, that the university lost its glory. It is said that the Mahavihara functioned in a makeshift space after the attack, but soon, all was abandoned and left forgotten.
Reclaiming the university’s glory
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In the 19th century, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) started conducting preliminary excavations in the hope to discover some remains of the ancient structures. When proper excavations commenced, about 11 monasteries, six brick temples, and several coins, seals and more were unearthed, confirming the presence of the educational hub here.
It was former President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam who first spoke of reviving the university in a state address in 2006. In the coming years, a 450-acre site at the base of the Rajgir Hills was identified for the purpose, and the Nalanda University Act 2010 was passed in November 2010.
The first academic year began in 2014 at a makeshift campus nearby, while the ancient site was revamped over the years (though a majority of the work has been completed in the last four years, since 2017). The campus is said to have been built along the lines of the old structure of 1193 AD and is ready to be inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi soon. The new campus is said to be a sustainable structure with water bodies spread over 100 acres in the 455-acre campus.
Know more about the university here.
Hero and Featured Image: Courtesy of Prahlad Joshi/TwitteR