Ruins of Nalanda University
The ancient cities of Takshashila, Nalanda, Vikramasila, and Kanchipura in ancient India were greatly reputed centers of learning in the east, with students from all over Asia. In particular, Nalanda was a famous center of Buddhist scholarship, and as such it attracted thousands of Buddhist scholars from China, East Asia, Central Asia and South-East Asia, while also attracting many students from Persia and the Middle East.
Nalanda University was the world’s first great international university, founded in the 400s CE during the reign of the Gupta Dynasty. It was and also the first known university with dormitories for its students. Its library soared nine stories into the sky. The eminent Chinese traveler and scholar Hieun Tsang, [who came to study Buddhism in India and stayed at Nalanda University for twelve years].. the university had about 2,000 teachers and 10,000 monk-students from around the Buddhist world, who studied and lived here. The courses included the study of scriptures of Mahayana and Hinayana Schools of Buddhism, Brahminical vedic texts, Philosophy, logic theology, grammar, astronomy, mathematics and medicine. The university had eight separate compounds and a large number of class rooms and meditation halls.
In 1193, a Turkic Afghan invader named Baktiyar Khilji sacked the university and burned it to the ground. His goal was to destroy Buddhism in India, and he was quite successful; he massacred Nalanda’s students, many of them Buddhist monks, and the university fell into ruin. India’s Noble laureate Amartya Sen says ”The destruction of Nalanda happened shortly after the beginning of Oxford University and shortly before the initiation of Cambridge.”
It was in the 1860s that the great archeologist Alexander Cunningham identified this site as Nalanda University. In 1915-16, the Archeological Survey of India began excavating this site. The current excavation site spreads across 14 acres of land. It is only about 10% of the actual area over which the university was spread.
EXCAVATED REMAINS of NALANDA UNIVERSITY
The central rectangular courtyard, pillared verandah all around, a shrine in the middle of eastern arm, a well, a teacher’s platform and the entrance towards the west.
The solid oblong shine in the courtyard is a later addition. The bow sign is the royal sign of Gupta Empire.
Another look at the bow marked floor. The bow was the royal sign of the Guptas.
Notice the well and the steps leading to upper monasteries. The upper monastery have 34 cells containing bed platforms for monks and shelves for keeping books and other valuables in corner of the cell, pillared verandah in front and entrance towards west approachable through a massive flight of steps.
This temple is the most imposing compared to the other spread around and was constructed in seven different phases. Earlier four phases are too dilapidated and very small in dimensions which have been concealed. Fifth, Sixth and Seventh phase can be seen clearly with their separate staircases. On the basis of art and architecture the fifth phase has been assigned to the sixth century AD which contains beautiful stucco images placed in the niches of the exterior walls of the temple. Decorative solid towers were erected in the four corners, but now only two are visible. Sixth and Seventh phases are further enlargement in dimensions, by way of concealing the earlier structure. Contrary to the general scheme of other temples at this site, this temple is facing north. The pedestal atop once contained a colossal image, probably of Buddha. A large number of votive stupas and miniature shrines have been added around this temple by the devotees, at different points of time.
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