IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis


20th June, 2024 Culture and Heritage


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  • Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi visited the Ruins of Nalanda in Bihar.
  • The original Nalanda University is considered to be amongst the first residential universities in the world.
  • The ruins of Nalanda were declared as a UN Heritage Site in 2016.


  • Nalanda was a renowned Buddhist and Hindu mahavihara (great monastery) in ancient and medieval Magadha, eastern India.
  • Considered among the greatest centers of learning in the ancient world.
  • Located near the city of Rajagriha (modern-day Rajgir) and about 90 kilometers southeast of Pataliputra (now Patna).
  • Operated from 427 CE until the 13th century.
  • Played a vital role in promoting arts and academics during the "Golden Age of India."

Historical Significance and Patronage

  • Established during the Gupta Empire era (c. 3rd–6th century CE).
  • Supported by numerous Indian and Javanese patrons, both Buddhists and non-Buddhists.
  • Thrived under the rulers of the Pala Empire (r. 750–1161 CE).
  • Patronized by the Pithipatis of Bodh Gaya after the fall of the Palas.
  • Possibly attacked and damaged by Muhammad Bakhtiyar Khalji around 1200 CE, but remained operational for some time afterward.

Academic Excellence and Curriculum

  • Over 750 years, Nalanda's faculty included revered scholars of Mahayana Buddhism.
  • Curriculum included major Buddhist philosophies like Madhyamaka, Yogachara, and Sarvastivada, along with other subjects like the Vedas, grammar, medicine, logic, mathematics, astronomy, and alchemy.
  • Renowned library served as a key source for Sanskrit texts transmitted to East Asia by pilgrims like Xuanzang and Yijing.
  • Texts composed at Nalanda played a significant role in the development of Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism.

Modern Status and Recognition

  • The current site of Nalanda is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • In 2010, the Government of India passed a resolution to revive the university.
  • Nalanda University, a contemporary institute, was established at Rajgir.
  • Listed as an "Institute of National Importance" by the Government of India.

Early History of Nalanda (1200 BCE–300 CE)

  • Archeological evidence suggests human settlement around Nalanda as early as 1200 BCE.
  • Early Buddhist texts mention Buddha visiting a town near Rajagriha called Nalanda.
  • Emperor Ashoka is said to have established a vihara (monastery) at Nalanda.
  • Jaina texts also mention Nalanda as a suburb of Rajagriha, where Mahavira spent time.

Faxian Visit (399–412 CE)

  • Chinese pilgrim Faxian visited India but made no mention of a university at Nalanda.
  • His travelogue describes other Buddhist sites but not Nalanda, suggesting its absence around 400 CE.

Foundation (5th Century)

  • Nalanda was founded by the Gupta emperors in the early 5th century.
  • Shakraditya, identified as Kumaragupta I, is credited as the founder.
  • Successive Gupta kings expanded Nalanda over the next centuries.
  • Nalanda flourished through the 5th and 6th centuries under Gupta patronage.

Xuanzang's Visit (630–643 CE)

  • Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang visited Nalanda and spent around two years studying there.
  • He received instruction in Yogachara and other subjects from Shilabhadra.
  • Xuanzang returned to China with numerous Sanskrit texts and relics.

Yijing's Visit (673–700 CE)

  • Yijing, another Chinese monk, visited Nalanda and stayed for ten years.
  • He described the daily life and rituals of the monks at Nalanda.
  • Yijing's account provides insights into the functioning of Nalanda as a monastery and educational institution.

Korean and Tibetan Pilgrims

  • Korean and Tibetan monks visited Nalanda and other Indian monasteries for study and translation.
  • They contributed to the transmission of Buddhist texts and knowledge to East Asia.
  • Their accounts offer additional perspectives on Nalanda's activities and significance.

Pala Dynasty (750–1200 CE)

  • The Palas patronized Nalanda but promoted Vajrayana Buddhism over traditional Mahayana.
  • Nalanda received support from the Palas but faced competition from new Vajrayana monasteries.
  • Inscriptions and literary evidence attest to continued activity and support for Nalanda under the Palas.

Destruction during Turko-Afghan Conquest (c. 1200 CE)

  • Nalanda was likely destroyed in a catastrophic fire during the Turko-Afghan conquest.
  • Muhammad Bakhtiyar Khalji's troops are often blamed, but historical accounts vary.
  • Tibetan records provide eyewitness descriptions of the destruction and its aftermath.
  • Despite the destruction, some activity continued at Nalanda into the late 13th century, as evidenced by records of monks attending the university.

Historical figures associated with Nalanda

  • Mahavira and the Buddha: According to traditional sources, both Mahavira, the 24th Tirthankara of Jainism, and Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, are said to have visited Nalanda in the 6th and 5th centuries BCE respectively. Nalanda is also regarded as the birthplace and nirvana site of Shariputra, one of Buddha's prominent disciples.
  • Aryadeva: Aryadeva, a notable figure associated with Nalanda, was a student of Nagarjuna, the philosopher credited with shaping the Madhyamaka school of Mahayana Buddhism.
  • Asanga: Asanga was a prominent proponent of the Yogacara school of Mahayana Buddhism. He played a significant role in the development and propagation of Buddhist thought and practice.
  • Atisha: Atisha, a scholar of both Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism, was associated with Nalanda. He contributed to the spread of Buddhism in Tibet and other regions.
  • Buddhaguhya: Buddhaguhya, a Vajrayana Buddhist monk and scholar, was affiliated with Nalanda. His contributions enriched the understanding and practice of esoteric Buddhism.
  • Chandrakirti: Chandrakirti, a student of Nagarjuna, made significant contributions to Buddhist philosophy. His works continue to be studied and revered in Buddhist circles.
  • Chandragomin: Chandragomin, another historical figure linked to Nalanda, contributed to Buddhist scholarship and philosophy, adding to the rich intellectual tradition of the institution.
  • Dharmakirti: Dharmakirti, a logician and philosopher, was associated with Nalanda. His works on Buddhist logic and epistemology are highly regarded in Buddhist intellectual circles.
  • Dharmapala: Dharmapala, whose association with Nalanda reflects its influence on Buddhist scholarship, made contributions to Buddhist thought and practice.
  • Dhyānabhadra: Dhyānabhadra, an individual associated with Nalanda, contributed to the intellectual and spiritual legacy of the institution through his teachings and scholarship.
  • Dignaga: Dignaga, considered the founder of Buddhist Logic, was affiliated with Nalanda. His pioneering work laid the foundation for the study of logic in Buddhist philosophy.
  • Kamalaśīla: Kamalaśīla, an abbot of Nalanda, played a significant role in the dissemination of Buddhist teachings. His scholarly contributions enriched Buddhist scholarship.
  • Maitripada: Maitripada, an Indian Buddhist Mahasiddha, is associated with Nalanda. His spiritual insights and teachings contributed to the religious landscape of the region.
  • Nagarjuna: Nagarjuna, known for formalizing the concept of Shunyata (emptiness), was linked to Nalanda. His philosophical works continue to influence Buddhist thought and practice.
  • Naropa: Naropa, a student of Tilopa and teacher of Marpa, was associated with Nalanda. His teachings contributed to the development of Vajrayana Buddhism.
  • Śāntarakį¹£ita: Śāntarakį¹£ita, recognized as the founder of Yogācāra-Mādhyamika, was associated with Nalanda. His philosophical insights shaped Buddhist thought.
  • Shantideva: Shantideva, renowned for composing the Bodhisattvacarya (Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life), was affiliated with Nalanda. His teachings emphasize compassion and altruism.
  • Shilabhadra: Shilabhadra, a teacher at Nalanda, played a crucial role in transmitting Buddhist teachings. His influence contributed to the intellectual vibrancy of Nalanda.
  • Śubhakarasiį¹ƒha: Śubhakarasiį¹ƒha, a monk of Nalanda who later traveled to China, made significant contributions to the translation of Indian Buddhist texts. His work facilitated the spread of Buddhism in East Asia.
  • SubhÅ«ticandra: SubhÅ«ticandra, an Indian Buddhist scholar active in the 11th and 12th centuries, was associated with Nalanda. His scholarship enriched the intellectual legacy of the institution.
  • Vajrabodhi: Vajrabodhi, an Indian esoteric monk and patriarch of Chinese Esoteric Buddhism and Shingon Buddhism, was affiliated with Nalanda. His contributions influenced the development of esoteric Buddhist practices.
  • Vasubandhu: Vasubandhu, the brother of Asanga, was associated with Nalanda. His philosophical writings contributed to the understanding of Buddhist doctrines.
  • Xuanzang: Xuanzang, the famous Chinese Buddhist traveler, studied at Nalanda and later played a crucial role in translating Buddhist scriptures into Chinese. His pilgrimage to India contributed to the transmission of Buddhist knowledge across Asia.
  • Yijing: Yijing, another Chinese Buddhist traveler, visited Nalanda and studied there. His accounts provide valuable insights into the intellectual and spiritual environment of Nalanda during his time.
  • These historical figures collectively illustrate the rich and diverse intellectual landscape of Nalanda, which served as a center for Buddhist learning and scholarship for many centuries.

Significance of Nalanda University

  • Nalanda University stands as a symbol of India's rich educational heritage and its enduring legacy as a center of learning that transcends borders and embraces diversity.
  • Nalanda was once the epicenter of India's educational identity, drawing students from various walks of life and nationalities who sought knowledge and enlightenment.
  • The significance of Nalanda goes beyond its historical importance; it represents the renaissance of India's past and reflects the heritage of numerous countries, particularly those in Asia.
  • The university's inclusive approach to education, welcoming students regardless of nationality, epitomizes the spirit of intellectual exchange and cultural diversity that characterized ancient India.
  • In today's globalized world, where knowledge knows no boundaries, Nalanda's revival holds great significance.
  • The vision of India becoming a prominent center of education and knowledge resonates with Nalanda's historical role as a beacon of learning.
  • By revitalizing Nalanda University, India aims to reclaim its position as a leader in education and contribute to the global exchange of ideas and cultures.
  • Furthermore, Nalanda's initiatives, such as the Common Archival Resources Centre and cultural exchange programs, underscore its commitment to fostering collaboration and understanding among nations.
  • The documentation of artworks from India and Southeast Asia reflects the university's dedication to preserving and promoting shared heritage and traditions.
  • As India looks to the future, Nalanda University serves as a catalyst for regional cooperation and partnership. The establishment of the ASEAN-India University network highlights the university's role in strengthening ties with neighboring countries and promoting mutual learning and development.
  • In essence, Nalanda University embodies India's enduring commitment to knowledge, innovation, and cultural exchange.
  • By embracing its rich educational heritage and embracing the diversity of Asia, Nalanda continues to inspire and shape the future of education and global cooperation in the 21st century, contributing to the vision of an Asian century characterized by progress, sustainability, and shared prosperity.


Q. Discuss Nalanda University's historical significance in India's educational legacy and its role in fostering regional cultural exchange. Evaluate India’s initiatives to revitalize Nalanda and promote collaboration through the ASEAN-India University network. Analyze the impact of these efforts on India's quest to regain its stature as a global center of learning.