Nālandā

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Swami Harshananda

Sometimes transliterated as: Nalanda, NAlandA, Naalandaa


The country has been known for ages, for its forest academies, centers of learning and universities. The two universities which have carved for themselves an eternal place in the bosom of Mother India as great centers of learning, culture and the highest standards of morality are the ones at Takṣaśilā[1] and Nālandā. The former is the older one, the ruins being situated 65 kms.[2] to the east of the river Indus, near Rawalpindi now in Pakistan.

The remnants of Nālandā are now in a protected area, under the care of Archaeological Survey of India, adjacent to the village Bargaon. It is 88 kms.[3] to the south-east of Patna[4] and 12 kms.[5] from Rājgīr.[6]

All available evidence points to the fact that Nālandā has a very ancient history. Part of the city of Rājagṛha of those days, it was the birth-place of Sāriputra, a prominent disciple of Buddha. Mahāvīra, the last of the Tīrthaṅkaras, is said to have spent 14 rainy seasons here. Nālandā might have got its name because a huge serpent, known as Nāla, lived in a big tank nearby. Alternatively, the place might have attained this nomenclature because the king who had lived here was extremely generous since he never felt he had given enough to the supplicant who approached him for help.[7]

Emperor Aśoka[8] is said to have endowed the Caitya of Sāriputra with enough wealth for its maintenance and also built a temple for it. Nālandā might have attained its status as a great center of learning from the Gupta period[9] onwards. During the time of Fahien,[10] Nālandā might not have been a well-developed or important place since he does not mention about it in his writings.

It is from Hiuen Tsang[11] that a detailed account of Nālandā can be obtained. He refers to a copper image of Buddha which was 24 metres[12] in height, as seen by him at Nālandā. It had been established by the king Purṇavarma, a descendant of Aśoka. Emperor Harṣavardhana[13] of Kanyā-kubja[14] was a great patron of the Nālandā institutions.

Nālandā became a great center of learning, especially of Mahāyāna Buddhism, though many other branches of learning too like tarka or logic, vyākaraṇa or grammar, cikitsā or medical sciences, and also the Vedas were taught. Well-known scholars of international repute were closely associated with it as professors. They are:

The buildings were well-designed and constructed to house the monks and students along with all the conveniences like living rooms, tanks for bath, dining halls, lecture-halls and shrines. Admission tests for the courses were quite tough. There were three big buildings for housing the library:

  1. Ratnasāgara
  2. Ratnodadhi
  3. Ratnarañjaka

Students used to come not only from all over the country but also from foreign countries like China, Japan, Korea, Cambodia and other South-east Asian countries like Gāndhāra,[15] Turkestan and Burma. According to Hiuen Tsang, there were ten thousand students and several thousand monks as teachers. According to some accounts, there were 1500 teachers, and at least 100 lectures were delivered per day.

According to I-Tsing[16] though several Buddhist nuns also lived in the campus, not even a single instance of misconduct had been noticed or discovered due to the high degree of moral discipline kept up by the teachers and administrators. As regards the finances, it was quite comfortable due to the munificent grants from the various dynasties of the kings who were ruling the country. The end of its glorious period seems to have been gradually brought about by:

  1. The inauguration and development of the Vikramaśīla University nearby
  2. The decrease of interest in academic studies as a result of greater stress on living the monastic ideals
  3. The barbaric Muslim invasions culminating in its total destruction by Bakhtiyar Khilji.[17]

It never really recovered its past glory after this. After independence, a new institution called as Nālandā Pālī Pratiṣṭhān or Nava Nālandā Mahāvīr has been started here. It is offering various courses in Pālī language and on Buddhism including facilities for research. Many students, including students from the foreign countries, are studying here.


References

  1. Takṣaśilā is more commonly spelt as Taxila.
  2. It is approximately 40 miles.
  3. It is approximately 55 miles.
  4. It is a capital of the Bihar State.
  5. It is approximately 7 1/2 miles.
  6. It is the ancient Rājagṛha.
  7. It is na alarh dadāti, ‘what he gives, he feels is not enough’.
  8. He ruled from 272-232 B. C.
  9. It was in 5th century A. D.
  10. He lived in A. D. 400.
  11. He lived in A. D. 596-664.
  12. It is approximately 80 ft.
  13. He ruled in A. D. 606-647.
  14. It is in Kanauj.
  15. Gāndhāra is present Afghanistan.
  16. He lived in A. D. 635-713.
  17. He lived in circa A. D. 1200.
  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore