‘Nalanda University’: World’s first International University


Team Udayavani, Dec 7, 2021, 12:11 PM IST

Western establishments like Cambridge, Harvard, etc. have been sanctified for their education and guidance for the past two centuries, but thousand years prior to this Nalanda Mahavihara of Magadha was renowned for their academic excellence.

Founded in 427 C.E., Nalanda Mahavihara, or Nalanda University, lasted for over 700 hundred years. It survived political waves, the rise and fall of civilizations, religious wars, and the birth of intellectual greats for almost a millennium before the Turks destroyed it.

Nalanda’s traditional history dates to the time of the Buddha (6th–5th centuries BCE) and Mahavira, the founder of the Jaina religion. It was a completely residential university believed to have 2,000 teachers and 10,000 students.

According to a later Tibetan source, Nagarjuna (the 2nd–3rd-century CE Buddhist philosopher) began his studies there. Extensive excavations carried out by the Archaeological Survey of India indicate, however, that the foundation of the monasteries belongs to the Gupta period (5th century CE). The powerful 7th-century ruler of Kanauj (Kannauj), Harshavardhana, is reported to have contributed to them.

During his reign, the Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang stayed at Nalanda for some time and left a clear account of the subjects studied there and of the general features of the community. Yijing, another Chinese pilgrim a generation later, also provided a minute account of the life of the monks.

Nalanda continued to flourish as a centre of learning under the Pala dynasty (8th–12th centuries), and it became a centre of religious sculpture in stone and bronze. Nalanda was probably sacked during Muslim raids in Bihar (c. 1200) and never recovered.

The Nalanda ruins reveal through their architectural components the holistic nature of knowledge that was sought and imparted at this University. It suggests a seamless co-existence between nature and man, and between living and learning.

The profound knowledge of Nalanda’s teachers attracted scholars from places as distant as China, Korea, Japan, Tibet, Mongolia, Turkey, Sri Lanka, and South East Asia. These scholars have left records about the ambience, architecture, and learning at this unique university. The most detailed accounts have come from Chinese scholars and the best known of these is Xuan Zang who carried back many hundred scriptures which were later translated into Chinese.

Thus, when the former President of India, the Hon’ble Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam mooted the idea of reviving the ancient Nalanda University while addressing the Bihar State Legislative Assembly in March 2006, the first step towards realizing the dream of reinventing the old Nalanda had been taken.

Almost simultaneously, the Singapore government presented the “Nalanda Proposal” to the Government of India suggesting the re-establishment of ancient Nalanda to make it the focal point of Asia once again.

In the same spirit, the State Government of Bihar was quick to adopt the visionary idea and consulted with the Government of India on the way ahead. At the same time, it began its search for a suitable location for the new Nalanda University. A stretch of 450 acres of land at the base of the picturesque Rajgir Hills was identified and acquired to house its campus. A high degree of cooperation between the State of Bihar and the Government of India, thus, marked the establishment of Nalanda University in its new avatara right from the outset.

Finally, the project took off, when the Nalanda University Act 2010 was passed in both the Houses of the Indian Parliament. In September 2014, the University opened its doors for the first batch of students, a historic development after a gap of nearly eight hundred years!

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