Nalanda is returning, like a phoenix to bring the message of peace and nonviolence to the world again. That’s what renowned archaeologist KK Muhammad said of Nalanda Mahavihara, or University, returning to India some 800 years after its destruction. It was a residential university with a nine-story library, and like the Libary of Alexandria from the fourth century BCE, it fell into ruin.
The site contains stupas, shrines, viharas (residential and educational buildings) and important artworks in stucco, stone, and metal.
Nalanda was an international university, with students from India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, Thailand, Mongolia, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Korea, and China attending classes on all subjects.
Around 10,000 students attended classes at one of the “greatest centers of learning in the ancient world,” and “like a medieval Ivy League,” according to the BBC.
The university predates Oxford by at least 500 years with a multidisciplinary academic curriculum taught by Buddhist monks. The campus of red-brick walled structures was over 10 km across, covering around 56 acres.
“Oxford and Cambridge are mere babies compared to Ancient India’s Nalanda University.” KK Muhammed said.
Nalanda Burned for Months
Unfortunately, Turko-Afghan military general Bakhtiyar Khilji destroyed Nalanda in the 1190s. After looting, marauders set fire to the university, which may have burned for three months. Monks who fled the destruction carried away only a handful of the library’s contents.
Fortunately, the Chinese Buddhist monk, Xuanzang, brought 657 Buddhist scriptures in a wagon from the library in 645 CE. He attended and taught at Nalanda and would save much of the university’s Buddhist teachings.
“Xuanzang would go on to become one of the world’s most influential Buddhist scholars, and he would translate a portion of these volumes into Chinese to create his life’s treatise, whose central idea was that the whole world is but a representation of the mind,” the BBC writes.
Scholars debate whether Nalanda was destroyed because Khilji thought the Buddhist teachings threatened Islam. Whatever the motivation, Buddhism declined in India after the destruction. The university was buried and wouldn’t be identified as Nalanda University until 1861 by Sir Alexander Cunningham.
Video about the return of Nalanda by the BBC:
Nalanda and a Mission of Harmony with Nature
Today, Nalanda University is returning in real and virtual form. A virtual reality project planned to launch in spring 2023 will allow visitors to see the grandeur of the historic place and not only the ruins.
Nearby, a newly-constructed international and secular Nalanda University reopened for classes 800 years after the original school. Classes started at the new campus in Rajgir in 2014 but the project began in 2010 after a special Act of the Indian Parliament. Rajgir is a popular destination for Buddhist pilgrims visiting the Bodh Gaya site, where Prince Siddhartha Gautama meditated under the Bodhi Tree and became a Buddha, reaching Enlightenment and entering Nirvana.
“The University seeks to recover the lost connections and partnerships that existed in the region called Asia, before the onset of historical forces that led to their dissolution,” the school website states.
Central ideas of the reimagined Nalanda are:
- Peace and harmony with other people
- Harmony with nature
- Living “as part of nature” and the environment
Nalanda’s logo incorporates the Bodhi tree, or “tree of awakening,” a Sacred fig tree from Buddhism. The tree is also a “metaphor for life and of giving.” Buddhist studies are one of the most popular programs at the new school.
The new campus architecture reflects the original ancient designs as well as academic themes.
Vice Chancellor Sunaina Singh appears in the video below. As a distinguished academician, administrator, and peacemaker, she is entrusted with re-establishing Nalanda as “a beacon of hope and knowledge.”
Video about Nalanda University by ThePrint: