Located about 55 miles south east of Patna, Nalanda is an ancient university in India. A Buddhist center of learning, Nalanda existed from 427 CE to 1197 CE partly under the Pala Empire. It is called "one of the first great universities in recorded history".Nalanda is a Sanskrit word meaning giver of knowledge(possibly from nalam, lotus, a symbol of knowledge and da, to give). It is also a major Buddhist travel site for Indians as well as foreigners.
Description of the Nalanda University :
Nalanda was one of the world's first residential universities. In its prime time, over 10,000 students and 2,000 teachers could be accommodated. The university was considered to be an architectural masterpiece well marked by a lofty wall and one gate. In Nalanda there were eight separate compounds and ten temples, along with meditation halls and classrooms. There were lakes and parks on the grounds.
The university. During its hay-days comprised of a library that was located in a nine storied building, where meticulous copies of texts were produced. In the Nalanda University every field of learning was included in the curiculum, and it attracted pupils and scholars from far and wide.
Nalanda's Influence on Buddhism :
The Buddha is said to have stayed at Nalanda, several times. When he visited Nalanda he usually resided in Pavarika's mango grove. The Buddha visited Nalanda during his last tour through Magadha. It was thus included among the prominent pilgrimage sites in India.
A significant measure of Tibetan Buddhism (Vajrayana) emerged from the late (9th-12th century) Nalanda teachers and traditions. Other forms of Buddhism, like the Mahayana followed in Vietnam, China, Korea and Japan, originated from this ancient university at Nalanda. Also Theraveda Buddhism was taught at Nalanda University. But the teachings of Theravada were not developed further in Nalanda, as Nalanda was not a strong center of Theravada. Nalanda thus, became one of the prime Buddhist pilgrimage sites.
Decline of Nalanda :
In 1193, Nalanda was annexed by Muslim armies under Bakthiyar Khilji and it was the first sign of the decline of Buddhism in India. The muslim invaders did not give a thought to the university, being a leading learning center.
They also did not care for the numerous historic texts and scrolls in the ancient uniersity. It is said that Khilji had no repentance and only asked if there was a copy of the Koran at Nalanda before he sacked it.
Fortified Sena monasteries, lying along the main route of the invasion were destroyed, but both Nalanda and Bodh Gaya, off the main route survived. Many institutions in main route such as the Jagaddala Monastery in northern Bengal were left untouched and still, flourishing.
Nalanda, at Present :
Nalanda was identified by Alexander Cunningham (British archaeologist) along with the village of Baragaon. Now, only ruined structures stand in the site at Nalanda. The known and excavated ruins extend to, an area of about 150,000 square metres. But as per Xuanzang's account of the extent of Nalanda, almost 90% of it remains unexcavated. Nalanda is no longer inhabited and at present, the nearest habitation is a village called Bargaon.
In 1951, a modern centre for Pali(Theravadin) Buddhist studies was founded closeby by Bhikshu Jagdish Kashyap, the Nava Nalanda Mahavira. Presently, this institute is aiming at an ambitious program of satellite imaging of the entire region.
The Nalanda museum houses a number of manuscripts, and shows many examples of the items that have been excavated. Nearby is the Surya Mandir, a Hindu temple.