Nalanda : An Overview
Nalanda had been an ancient seat of learning and a religious centre that imparted manifold knowledge. It existed in ancient Magadha (presently, Bihar and parts of Bengal, Orisha in India) between the fifth century AD to twelve century AD. It was believed that the term ‘Nalanda’ might have been originated from the word nalam (lotus), or da nalanda, signifying “giver of knowledge”. The ancient Mahavihara at Nalanda was established during the reign of a king called Śakrāditya, of the Gupta Dynasty.
Nalanda was visited by both Buddha and Mahavira around the fifth and sixth centuries BC. It was also the place of birth and nirvana of Sariputta, one of the famous disciples of Buddha. Many of the famous Buddhist scholars had studied and taught at Nalanda including Nagarjuna, who formalised the concept of Sunyata; Dharmapala, the teacher of Xuan Zang; Dharmakirti, the logician; Dinnaga, the founder of Buddhist Logic; Jinamitra Santaraksita, who founded the first monastic order in Tibet; Padmasambhava, the master of Tantric Buddhism; Candrakīrti, Śīlabhadra and Atisa.
Nalanda was one of the world's first residential universities. More than 10,000 students and 2,000 teachers resided in this monastic campus. The Mahavihara, built in red bricks, was considered to be an architectural masterpiece. It had eight separate compounds and ten temples, along with many other meditation halls and classrooms. The library was located in a nine storied building where valued copies of texts were produced. The subjects taught by the renowned teachers amassed every field of learning, and attracted pupils and scholars from all parts of the world-Korea, Japan, China, Tibet, Indonesia, Persia and Turkey. Nalanda was ransacked and destroyed by an army of the Muslim Mamluk Dynasty under Ikhtiyar ad-Din Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khilji in 1193 AD.
Presently, the ruins of the ancient Nalanda Mahavihara occupy an area of 14 hectares and most of it remains unexplored. The historical significance of Nalanda, Rajgir and Bodhgaya attract thousands of tourists every year from both India and abroad.