The Ancient University
Nalanda University, now in ruins, was founded in 5 th century. Spread over an area of 14 hectares, this university was totally built in red clay bricks. The Nalanda University attracted scholars from all over the world. Even Chanakya or Kautilya was once, a student of this university. It was from this university, the seat of knowledge for the world that the light of knowledge spread all over.
Today, only the memories of those glorious days are refreshed in the ruins. Whatever remains of the great university, has been well preserved. Among the ruins, one still recognizes the different sections of the place. Particularly the place of worship and the hostels are very distinct. Beautiful lawns surround the whole area.
According to literary tradition, Nalanda, 10 kms north of Rajgir and a suburb of the ancient city, was visited by Buddha and Mahavira. Ashoka is said to have worshipped at the chaitya of Sariputra, Buddhas disciple, and erected a temple. But the excavations, which were conducted here from 1916 onwards, have not revealed any pre-Gupta remains. By the time of Harsha (A.D. 606-48), Nalanda had become the principal centre of Mahayana learning and a famed university-town with numerous shrines and monasteries, which attracted scholars from far and near. The Chinese pilgrims, Hiuen Tsang and I- Tsing studied at Nalanda and have left accounts of the settlement and its life.
The Excavations Speak
The elaborate excavations at the site have revealed nine levels of occupation, dating back to the time of Lord Buddha and Lord Mahavira, in the 6th century. The ruins provide staggering evidence of the strength of Buddhist civilization, in its prime. The remains of the stupas, temples and eleven monasteries, most aligned north to south, with their thick walls impressively intact, are strewn all over the place.
Nalanda had a planned layout with an almost symmetrical row of monasteries facing a row of temples, with wide spaces in between. The temples were solid rectangular structures of two tiers, the sanctum being placed on the upper tier, which was approached by a grand flight of steps. The facades of both the tiers were plastered and embellished with elegant pilasters and niches containing images.
Temple 3 was more than 31 m high and consisted of seven successive accummulations of which the latest two belonged to the 11th and 12th centuries and the fifth one dating from circa 6th century, was notable for its sculptural wealth. The monasteries were imposing rectangular buildings, each with an open courtyard, enclosed by a covered verandah, which leads into cells, arrayed on the four sides. The cell facing the entrance served as a shrine.
Nalanda was an important centre of Pala sculptures and bronzes and has yielded seals and sealings of great historical significance.
In this first residential international university of the world, 2,000 teachers and 10,000 students from all over the Buddhist world lived and studied. Courses taught at the University included the study of the Mahayana and Hinayana Schools of Buddhism, Brahmanical and Vedic texts, philosophy, logic, theology, Grammar, astronomy, mathematics and medicine.
Education was provided free, as the University was supported by the revenue from surrounding villages, and by the benefactors such as the 8th century king of Sumatra.