Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Nalanda - First Great University

Nalanda is the name of an ancient university in Bihar, India. The site of Nalanda is located in the Indian state of Bihar, about 55 miles south east of Patna. The ancient seat of Buddhist learning in India, the ancient university of Nalanda is believed to be one of the first great universities in recorded history. There are many versions of what the term Nalanda means. One is that Nalam means Lotus and Da means to give. Both combined together, Nalanda means Giver of Lotus. Since Lotus is supposed to represent knowledge, Nalanda means Giver of Knowledge.

This Buddhist centre of learning, the university of Nalanda flourished between 427 CE and 1197 CE due to patronage of kings like Harshavardhana and Pala kings of Pala dynasty. Some parts of Nalanda university were constructed by the great Mauryan emperor Ashoka the Great e.g. the Sariputta Stupa. The Gupta Dynasty also patronized some monasteries.

Nalanda was the largest residential centre of learning that the world had ever known. The library was located in a nine storied building. The ruins of Nalanda University occupy an area of 14 hectares. There were thousands of students and teachers. In its heyday it accommodated over 10,000 students and 2,000 teachers. The university was considered an architectural masterpiece, and was marked by a lofty wall and one gate. Nalanda had eight separate compounds and ten temples, along with many other meditation halls and classrooms. On the grounds were lakes and parks.

The subjects taught at Nalanda University covered every field of learning. The courses offered at Nalanda included the study of scriptures of Mahayana and Hinayana Schools of Buddhism, Brahminical vedic texts, Philosophy, logic theology, grammer, astronomy, mathematics and medicine. Its importance as a monastic university continued until the end of the 12th century. It attracted pupils and scholars from Korea, Japan, China, Tibet, Indonesia, Persia and Turkey. Nalanda eventually developed into the greatest ancient centre of Buddhist learning.

The scholar Dharmakirti (ca. 7th century), one of the Buddhist founders of Indian philosophical logic, as well as and one of the primary theorists of Buddhist atomism, taught at Nalanda. Other forms of Buddhism, like the Mahayana followed in Vietnam, China, Korea and Japan, found their genesis within the walls of the ancient university. Hiuen Tsang, the Chinese pilgrim spent three years at Nalanda. He has left a detailed note about the university, its curriculum, activities and other accounts. The Tibetan pilgrim Dharmasvamin was here in 1234 and has left a gripping account of the monastery's destruction by the Muslims.

National Archaeological Museum: Opposite to the university gate is the small National Archaeological Museum. The unique collection of Hindu and Buddhist bronzes, unspoilt statue of Buddha, copper plates, coins, stone inscriptions can be viewed here.

Silao: Lying between Nalanda and Rajgir, the small village of Silao is famous for its local sweet-made “Khaja”.

Sheesh Mahal: Being at the Sheesh Mahal (Glass Palace) implies getting stunned with the view of one of the best work of glass-mosaic decoration of the country.

In 1193, the Nalanda University was sacked by Bakhtiyar Khalji, a Turk; this event is seen by scholars as a late milestone in the decline of Buddhism in India. Nalanda is no longer inhabited. Today the nearest habitation is a village called Bargaon. The Nalanda Museum contains a number of manuscripts, and shows many examples of the items that have been excavated.

Related article: Takshila : World's first University

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