Nalanda University is one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the world is in Bihar.
Its dates back to the 3rd century. It was known as Nalanda Mahavira, a Sanskrit term for a great ‘Vihara’ (Buddhist Monastery). Emperor Ashoka and Emperor Harshavandhana built temples, viharas, and monasteries for the university, which was also patronized by various rulers and scholars. Former President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam even pitched the idea of reviving the university in 2016.
Now, let’s dive into the juicy stuff. The university was a center of advanced Vedic learning and attracted students from different parts of the world. It had almost 10,000 students and 2,000 teachers, making it an international institution. Students studied various subjects such as the ‘Great Wheel’ (Mahayana) and all the eighteen sects of Buddhism, Vedas, Literature, Medicine, and Mathematics.
But, guess what? The library of the university had so many books and manuscripts that it kept on burning for six months after the entire structure went up in flames! That’s how you know it was legit!
The site was recovered by the Archeological Survey of India in 1915, and the total area of excavation of the Nalanda University Ruins archaeological complex is about 14 hectares. The buildings are divided by a central walkway, and the monasteries are situated on the east of the walkway, while the temples are situated in the west.
And, if you’re into museums, you can also check out the Nalanda Archaeological Museum, which has a beautiful collection of Buddhist and Hindu sculptures. Only 349 collections out of 13,463 are on display in four galleries. You can also visit the Nava Nalanda Mahavihara and the Huien Tsang Memorial Hall.
Now, for the most interesting part! Lord Buddha visited Nalanda several times during his lifetime, and Xuanzang, a Chinese scholar and monk, spent two years at the university. He was given a warm reception and even given the name ‘Mokshadeva.’ Xuanzang described the view of Nalanda Mahavira out of his window as, “The richly adorned towers and the fairy-like turrets, like pointed hill-tops, are congregated together. The observatories seem to be lost in the vapours (of the morning), and the upper rooms tower above the clouds.”
But, Nalanda University wasn’t always a happy place. It was attacked thrice by invaders, including Bakhtiyar Khilji, who ransacked the university in the 12th century. However, it reopened after 800 years and now symbolizes the multiplicity of knowledge production and the shared heritage of people living in multiple regions of Asia.
To reach Nalanda, you can take a flight to the nearest airport in Patna, which is 90 km away from the site. The nearest railway station is Bakhtiyarpur, which is only 38 km away from Nalanda.