Nalanda University Pride of India gets a life after 8 centuries

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Anupama Nair


I as a young child heard about the great stories about my Bharat Ma and her great sons and daughters. I listened to the stories of Manikarnika, Shivaji and Rana Pratap with a young heart swelling with pride. Later, when I could read, I learnt from Amar Chita Katha, “from time immemorial, there was only one Bharat– history, civilization, culture, tradition, lifestyle all one”. When I opened the history books in my childhood, this is the story it conveyed. It narrated a tale about  the “Hominid activity being excavated in the Indian subcontinent and that goes back to over 250,000 years, and how proud we are, to know we are “one of the oldest inhabited regions on the planet”. It taught me to be proud of the Indus Valley Civilization – the world’s first urban civilization, then Takshila University and Nalanda University, where foreigners came to study (nearly 3500 years ago), then about the great king Puroshattam (Porus), and lastly how my country got the name India from the river Sindhu or Indus. I used to imagine these events were not history, but I could see them, as if they were happening today. Lahore and Karachi were always ours.

However, as you wake up after every dream I too woke up when I saw a serial ‘Buniyad’ and then learnt the bitter truth that Harappa, Mohenjadaro, Takshila no longer belonged to India, but another country called Pakistan – born on 14th August 1947. I also learnt the great Nalanda University was burnt by the cruel and butcher of humans, and an Islamic terrorist Bhuktiyar Khilji. What did the politicians do, name the railway station as Bhaktiyarpur!. I sure dream of the day when 800 years of Islamic terror is wiped out from our history books, and learn history till Prithvi Raj Chauhan and then study about the European invasion. “No Ghori, no Khilji, no Babur or any Mughals”.

A news that filled me with happiness was the Nalanda University was rebuild. Let me tell you the story of Nalanda University. The Nalanda University was an “acclaimed Mahavihara, a large Buddhist monastery in the ancient kingdom of Magadh, in modern day Bihar. The site was located 95 kms south-east of Pataliputra (Patna) and was a center of learning from 5th Century AD to 12th Century AD:. Today it is a UNESCO, World Heritage Site.

The highly formalized methods of Vedic learning helped inspired the establishment of large teaching institutions such as Taxila, Nalanda, and Vikramashila which are famous as India’s early universities. Nalanda University thrived under the patronage of the Gupta Empire in the 5th and 6th Centuries and later under Harsha Vardhana, the emperor of Kannauj. “The liberal cultural traditions inherited from the Gupta age resulted in a period of growth and prosperity until the 9th Century. The subsequent centuries were a time of gradual decline, a period during which the tantric developments of Buddhism became most pronounced in eastern India under the Pala Empire”.

Nalanda, was a completely residential university believed to have 2,000 teachers and 10,000 students. The Nalanda ruins reveal through their architectural components the holistic nature of knowledge that was sought and imparted at this University. It signified a seamless co-existence between nature and man, and between living and learning. The profound knowledge of Nalanda’s teachers attracted scholars from places as far as China, Korea, Japan, Tibet, Mongolia, Turkey, Sri Lanka, and South East Asia. “These scholars have left records about the ambience, architecture, and learning at this unique university. The most detailed accounts have come from Chinese scholars and the best known of these is Xuan Zang who carried back many hundred scriptures which were later translated into Chinese.

Now comes the destruction of  the Nalanda University! Bhaktiyar Khilji a Turkish invader attacked India in 1202 AD. Khilji had captured some areas ruled by Buddhists in North India. Once he became very ill and got treatment from his princes but he did not recover and reached a condition, when his health was declining. Someone advised him to take the treatment from Acharya Rahul Sribhadra, who was the head of Ayurveda department of Nalanda University. However, Khilji was not ready for this as he had more faith in his princes. He was not willing to believe that Indian physicians have more knowledge than his wife and their masters.

However, he had to call Acharya Rahul Sribhadra, to save his life. Then Bakhtiar Khilji put a strange condition in front of Vaidyaraj that I will not eat any kind of medicine given by him. They had to fix it without medication. After thinking of this, Vaidyaraj accepted his condition and after a few days, he came to Khilji with a Quran and said that he had to read the page of the Quran. And after reading these pages you will free from illness.

Bakhtiar Khilji read the Quran as Vaidyaraj said and to his surprise he was cured. It is said that Rahul Shribhadra applied medicine on some pages of the Quran, and as he started reading those pages of the Quran he kept on recovering. After recovering Khilji was shocked by the fact that an Indian scholar and teacher had more knowledge than his princes and countryman.

In a fit of fury and jealousy, he decided to destroy the roots of Buddhism and Ayurveda and Khilji set fire to the great library of Nalanda and burned around 9 million manuscripts, Islamic terror destroying knowledge and learning!

The good news for all Indians started when the former President of India, the Honorable Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam  proposed the idea of reviving the ancient Nalanda University while addressing the Bihar State Legislative Assembly in March 2006. This was the first step towards realizing the dream of reinventing the old Nalanda and  almost simultaneously, the Singapore Government presented the ‘Nalanda Proposal’ to the Government of India suggesting the “re-establishment of ancient Nalanda to make it as the focal point of Asia once again”. In the same spirit, the State Government of Bihar was quick to adopt the visionary idea and consulted with the Government of India on the way forward. At the same time, the search for a suitable location for the new Nalanda University was on, and  a stretch of 450 acres of land at the base of the picturesque Rajgir Hills was identified and acquired to house its campus.” A high degree of cooperation between the State of Bihar and the Government of India, thus, marked the establishment of Nalanda University in its new avatara right from the outset”.

After teething troubles, the first batch of students, 12 in total were admitted in 2014. In the early years, the university operated from a campus in Delhi, then from a make-shift campus in Rajgir, Bihar, before finally starting operations from its new campus in 2019. According to the official reports, the number of students, Indian and international, has reached 500 currently. Nalanda University now offers several academic programs out of six schools. “Like its ancient version — a Buddhist university renowned across Asia that was active 15 centuries back — Nalanda University was envisioned as an international campus that connects students from South and Southeast Asian countries”. 

 It sure is a place worth seeing for sure.



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