Around 90 km south of Patna lies the rather well-preserved ruins of one of the world's earliest university, called Nalanda University (Nalanda Mahavihar), which flourished for hundreds of year and during its hey-days had over 2,000 teachers and 10,000 students. The University had been a great learning center in the ancient India and it had attracted scholars from throughout the country and abroad as well such as from Far East, Middle Asia and Central Asia. The Mahavihar was frequently visited by lord Buddha. It acquired the status of being the biggest center of Buddhism art and literature for couple of centuries. Its library, housed in three nine-storey building, as it is said, was so huge that when it was set on fire by the Afghan invaders during 13th century, the burning continued for three months, covering the region with thick black cloud. Buddhism suffered a deadly blow in India as a result of destruction and massacre in Nalanda.
The history of Nalanda goes back to 6th Century BC during the days of Mahavir and Buddha. It was the birthplace and Nirvana place of Sariputra, the famous disciple of Buddha. However, the university was founded by Kumar Gupta I (413- 455 AD) of the Gupta Dynasty during the 5th century and later expanded and patronized by King Harshavardhan of Kannauj (606- 647 AD) and the Pala Kings of East India (8th Century - 12th Century AD). The expenditure of the university was met by the revenue of 200 villages. It had eight separate compound and ten temples. The subject taught covered every field of learning. The decline of the university started during late Pala period and was finally given death blow by the invading army of Bakhtiyar Khilji in 1193 AD. As the time passed, the center of excellence was gradually lost and forgotten, covering the Mahavihar with thick layers of mud and sand over the centuries to come.
It was during 19th Century that the ruin was discovered by Alexander Cunningham, an expert Archaeologist during the British Rule. However, the ruins were excavated first in 1915 and then by Archaeological Survey of India from 1915 to 1937. The total area excavated is about 14 hectare, which according to history does not even constitute 10% of the original area of the university. The university was built in Kushana style, though the style of Pala period is also clearly visible. The buildings are divided by central walk through from North to South. The monasteries are set east to the central walkway while the temples are west to it. A total of 11 monasteries and 6 temples has been excavated. Originally there were 108 monasteries, therefore still a larger part is to be excavated.
Beside the ruin, an archaeological museum has been established which contains item recovered from the excavation. The excavated item and the detailed maps gives a vivid account of the university and its working system. Chinese traveler Hieun TSang studied in the university during 7th Century and had given a detailed account of the educational and social life of that period, which are valuable piece of information, as most of the records were burnt during 13th Century invasion. India along with few other countries of Asia has developed an ambitious plan of setting up an International University at Nalanda (Nalanda University (NU)), which once set up would remind the people about the glorious past of the ancient university.
Inscription on a copper plate found during excavation says that 'scholars will be supported by villages surrounding Nalanda so that faculty and student are free to pursue their work unfettered by considerations of upkeep'.
Nalanda is a place which connects people with the past. The ruins, which lies in well designed manner and the long history behind it makes it an important destination for the visitors. One should not miss it.
How to reach :
It lies roughly 90 km by road from Patna and 62 km from Bodh Gaya. The nearest big town, Rajgir is 12 km away. The nearest railway station is Rajgir which is well connected by Patna. The nearest airport are at Patna and Bodh Gaya.
Where to Stay :
Nalanda University is a desolated place today, and it offers very limited accommodation facilities. However Rajgir has several hotel where one can stay. There are few circuit houses maintained by state Government, which can be availed.
Nearby Place :
Rajgir, 12 km away is itself a big tourist attraction. Beside there are several smaller destination nearby which can be visited. Mahabodhi Temple at Bodhgaya is a UNESCO site, situated 62 km away.
Nalanda International University
The idea for revival of Nalanda as a centre of higher learning was proposed by then President A P J Abdul Kalam in 2006. The Nalanda University Bill 2010 was passed by both houses of Parliament and with Presidential assent became an act. The new campus, to be designed through a global design competition, would be committed to a sustainable environment and the first school to be set up will be the one on ecology and environment. The first phase of this residential building for higher learning and research is expected to begin in mid 2014. This is a joint initiative of Asian countries, involving India, China, Thailand, Singapore and Japan. Amartya Sen, Professor of Economics and Philosophy at Harvard University and a recipient of 1998 Nobel Prize in Economics, is the chairman of the Interim Governing Board of Nalanda University. The university will come under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Despite much hype, the actual progress has been very little due to several issue, including the fund allocation. It is expected that more funds will be allocated in the 2013-14 budget.
A deserving World Heritage Site
The ancient ruined university of Nalanda is still awaiting for the UNESCO World Heritage Site, despite being a strong contender. Not only being a centre of Buddhist learning in the ancient times, it is also credited with spreading Buddhism in several Asian countries, especially South-Eastern countries. By getting the coveted status, the site will get more attention and funds for its upkeep and enhancement. The Chief Minister of the State, Mr. Nitish Kumar has pitched for its inclusion in the list of World heritage site. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is making serious effort to get the ruined university UNESCO status by June 2016. It will also be the time when the first convocation of the modern Nalanda University would take place. The monument has been on the tentative list for world heritage status since 2009.