This University is about around 70 km from Patna in Bihar and was a Buddhist center of learning for about 700 years from 427 to 1127 CE. One the world’s first residential universities, this ancient University occupies an area of 14 hectares.
Some historical studies suggest that the University of Nalanda was established during the reign of a king called Śakrāditya, of the Gupta Dynasty. Both Xuanzang and Prajñavarman cite him as the founder, as does a seal discovered at the site.
As historian Sukumar Dutt describes it, the history of Nalanda university "falls into two main divisions—first, one of growth, development and fruition from the sixth century to the ninth, when it was dominated by the liberal cultural traditions inherited from the Gupta age; the second, one of gradual decline and final dissolution from the ninth century to the thirteen—a period when the tantric developments of Buddhism became most pronounced in eastern India."
Nalanda in the Pāla era
A number of monasteries grew up during the Pāla period in ancient Bengal and Magadha. According to Tibetan sources, five great Mahaviharas stood out: Vikramashila, the premier university of the era; Nalanda, past its prime but still illustrious, Somapura, Odantapurā, and Jaggadala. The five monasteries formed a network; "all of them were under state supervision" and there existed "a system of co-ordination among them . . it seems from the evidence that the different seats of Buddhist learning that functioned in eastern India under the Pāla were regarded together as forming a network, an interlinked group of institutions," and it was common for great scholars to move easily from position to position among them.
Decline and end
Evidence in literature suggests that in 1193, the Nalanda University was sacked bythe fanatic Bakhtiyar Khilji, a Turk. Muslim conquest in India is seen by scholars as one of the reasons of the decline of Buddhism in India. The Persian historian Minhaj-i-Siraj, in his chronicle the Tabaqat-I-Nasiri, reported that thousands of monks were burned alive and thousands beheaded as Khilji tried his best to uproot Buddhism the burning of the library continued for several months and "smoke from the burning manuscripts hung for days like a dark pall over the low hills."
The last throne-holder of Nalanda, Shakyashribhadra, fled to Tibet in 1204 CE at the invitation of the Tibetan translator Tropu Lotsawa (Khro-phu Lo-tsa-ba Byams-pa dpal). In Tibet, he started an ordination lineage of the Mulasarvastivadin lineage to complement the two existing ones.
When the Tibetan translator Chag Lotsawa (Chag Lo-tsa-ba, 1197–1264) visited the site in 1235, he found it damaged and looted, with a 90-year-old teacher, Rahula Shribhadra, instructing a class of about 70 students. During Chag Lotsawa's time there an incursion by Turkish soldiers caused the remaining students to flee. Despite all this, "remnants of the debilitated Buddhist community continued to struggle on under scarce resources until c. 1400 CE when Chagalaraja was reportedly the last king to have patronized Nalanda."
Ahir considers the destruction of the temples, monasteries, centers of learning at Nalanda and northern India to be responsible for the demise of ancient Indian scientific thought in mathematics, astronomy, alchemy, and anatomy
Nalanda was one of the world's first residential universities, i.e., it had dormitories for students. It is also one of the most famous universities. 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 library was located in a nine storied building where meticulous copies of texts were produced. The subjects taught at Nalanda University covered every field of learning, and it attracted pupils and scholars from Korea, Japan, China, Tibet, Indonesia, Persia and Turkey.During the period of Harsha, the monastery is reported to have owned 200 villages given as grants.
The Tang Dynasty Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang left detailed accounts of the university in the 7th century. He described how the regularly laid-out towers, forest of pavilions, harmikas and temples seemed to "soar above the mists in the sky" so that from their cells the monks "might witness the birth of the winds and clouds." the pilgrim states: "An azure pool winds around the monasteries, adorned with the full-blown cups of the blue lotus; the dazzling red flowers of the lovely kanaka hang here and there, and outside groves of mango trees offer the inhabitants their dense and protective shade."
The entrance of many of the viharas in the Nalanda University ruins can be seen with a bow marked floor; the bow was the royal sign of the Guptas.
The library of Nalanda is also known as Dharma Gunj (Mountain of Truth) or Dharmagañja (Treasury of Truth), was the most renowned repository of Hindu and Buddhist knowledge in the world at the time. Its collection was said to comprise hundreds of thousands of volumes, so extensive that it burned for approximately more than 6 months when set aflame by Turkish invaders. The library had three main buildings as high as nine stories tall, Ratnasagara (Sea of Jewels), Ratnodadhi (Ocean of Jewels), and Ratnarañjaka (Delighter of Jewels).
In nalanda university,the Tibetan tradition holds that there were "four doxographies" (Tibetan: grub-mtha’) which were taught at Nālandā, and Alexander Berzinspecifies these as:
Mādhyamaka, the Mahāyāna philosophy of Nāgārjuna
Cittamatra, the Mahāyāna philosophy of Asaṅga and Vasubandhu
According to an unattributed article of the Dharma Fellowship (2005), the curriculum of Nalanda University at the time of Mañjuśrīmitra contained:
...virtually the entire range of world knowledge then available. Courses were drawn from every field of learning, Buddhist and Hindu, sacred and secular, foreign and native. Students studied science, astronomy, medicine, and logic as diligently as they applied themselves to metaphysics, philosophy, Samkhya, Yoga-shastra, the Veda, and the scriptures of Buddhism. They studied foreign philosophy likewise.
In the 7th century, Xuanzang records the number of teachers at Nālandā as being around 1510. Of these, approximately 1000 were able to explain 20 collections of sūtras and śāstras, 500 were able to explain 30 collections, and only 10 teachers were able to explain 50 collections. Xuanzang was among the few who were able to explain 50 collections or more. At this time, only the abbot Śīlabhadra had studied all the major collections of sūtras and śāstras at Nālandā.
Yijing wrote that matters of discussion and administration at Nālandā would require assembly and consensus on decisions by all those at the assembly, as well as resident monks:
If the monks had some business, they would assemble to discuss the matter. Then they ordered the officer, Vihārapāla, to circulate and report the matter to the resident monks one by one with folded hands. With the objection of a single monk, it would not pass. There was no use of beating or thumping to announce his case. In case a monk did something without consent of all the residents, he would be forced to leave the monastery. If there was a difference of opinion on a certain issue, they would give reason to convince (the other group). No force or coercion was used to convince.
Xuanzang also writes: "The lives of all these virtuous men were naturally governed by habits of the most solemn and strictest kind. Thus in the seven hundred years of the monastery's existence no man has ever contravened the rules of the discipline. The king showers it with the signs of his respect and veneration and has assigned the revenue from a hundred cities to pay for the maintenance of the religious."
Influence on Buddhism
A vast amount of what came to comprise Tibetan Buddhism, both its Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions, stems from the late (9th–12th century) Nalanda teachers and traditions. 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, such as the Mahāyāna Buddhism followed in Vietnam, China, Korea and Japan, flourished within the walls of the ancient university. A number of scholars have associated some Mahāyāna texts such as the Śūraṅgama Sūtra, an important sūtra in East Asian Buddhism, with the Buddhist tradition at Nālandā. Ron Epstein also notes that the general doctrinal position of the sūtra does indeed correspond to what is known about the Buddhist teachings at Nālandā toward the end of the Gupta period when it was translated.
According to Hwui-Li, a Chinese visitor, Nālandā was held in contempt by some Sthaviras for its emphasis on Mahayana philosophy. They reportedly chided King Harṣa for patronizing Nalanda during one of his visits to Orissa, mocking the "sky-flower" philosophy taught there and suggesting that he might as well patronize a Kapalika temple. When this occurred, Harṣa notified the chancellor of Nālandā, who sent the monks Sāgaramati, Prajñāraśmi, Siṃharaśmi, and Xuanzang to refute the views of the monks from Orissa.
A number of ruined structures survive. Nearby is the Surya Mandir, a Hindu temple. The known and excavated ruins extend over an area of about 150,000 square metres, although if Xuanzang's account of Nalanda's extent is correlated with present excavations, almost 90% of it remains unexcavated. Nālandā is no longer inhabited. Today the nearest habitation is a village called Bargaon.
In 1951, a modern centre for Pali (Theravadin) Buddhist studies was founded nearby by Bhikshu Jagdish Kashyap, the Nava Nalanda Mahavihara.Presently, this institute is pursuing an ambitious program of satellite imaging of the entire region.
The Nalanda Museum contains a number of manuscripts, and shows many examples of the items that have been excavated. India's first Multimedia Museum was opened on 26 January 2008, which recreates the history of Nalanda using a 3D animation film narrated byShekhar Suman. Besides this there are four more sections in the Multimedia Museum: Geographical Perspective, Historical Perspective, Hall of Nalanda and Revival of Nalanda.
Buddhist emperor Harshavardhana and other dynasties like the Pala kings also patronized this. At the height of its glory, this University had accommodated more than 10,000 students and 2000 scholars mostly from Korea, Japan, Persia, China and Greece. Science, astronomy, medicine and logic were taught here in addition to metaphysics, philosophy, Yoga, Veda, and Buddhism. Foreign philosophy was also imparted here. Buddhist influence was clearly evident.
Efforts to rebuild:
Efforts are afoot by the international community to revive the Nalanda University near the ancient site and funds are being provided for this project by a consortium of nations including Singapore, China, Japan, and India.