Table of Contents
- Nalanda University History
- Hidden Facts about Nalanda University
- Nalanda University Stupa UNESCO World Heritage Site
- Things to do in Nalanda University
- Other Attractions in Nalanda University
- How to Reach Nalanda University Stupa
- Best time to visit Nalanda University
- Places to Stay in Nalanda University
- Places to Eat in Nalanda University
Nalanda University History
One of the greatest centers of learning in ancient Asia, Nalanda was an eminent Buddhist University in the ancient kingdom of Magadha or modern-day Bihar. The expansive complex with monasteries, academic units, temples, and more, it was also described as the Mahavihara – a revered monastery in the Buddhist texts. The University is located in Bihar, about 95 KM southeast of Patna city, the modern state capital.
According to pilgrim Hiuen Tsang’s texts, the name Nalanda is a derivation of the phrase Na al, lllam dā meaning no end in gifts or charity without intermission.
There is varied information about the university and its origin. It was initially a prosperous village owing to a major trade route that runs through the nearby city of Rajagriha (now Rajgir), which was the capital of Magadha at the time. Archeological pieces of evidence show that Ashoka established a temple on this site in the 3rd century. However, documented history shows that it was under the Gupta Empire that it became the university as we know it today.
The University was founded by King Kumaragupta I of the Gupta dynasty in 5th century CE who ruled most of northern India at that time. Many kings who followed, contributed to its development and global recognition. Recent findings date the establishment of Nalanda University back to 1200 BCE and Narsimha Deva is considered as a founder of the Nalanda University.
The campus remained prominent until the 12th century CE. Its partial decline began with the disappearance of Buddhism from India. Then in 1202, an army of the Mamluk Dynasty of the Turks led by Bakhtiyar Khilji attacked Bengal and Bihar and started plundering raids in these provinces. Further invasions by the Mughals added to the demise of the ancient the university. It was then largely forgotten until during the East India Company and the British Empire the ruins of the university were excavated and parts of it were restored to be put on the global map again.
Hidden Facts about Nalanda University
Apart from its fame as the oldest university in the world, this place was also the first residential international university in the world at that time with 10000+ students, 2000 teachers, and a ground-breaking curriculum. The faculty came from all over the world including China, Korea, Japan, Tibet, Indonesia, Greece, Mongolia, Persia, and more.
The most striking aspect of the old Nalanda University was its expansive library and education was all free. Traditional Tibetan texts and historical sources mention the existence of the great library. The university library was named Dharmaganja and housed three large multi-storied buildings – the Ratnasagar, Ratnodadhi, and Ratnaranjaka. It is said that the collection of books and scriptures were so vast that it took three months for Khilji to destroy everything and yet, 9 million manuscripts remained.
Nalanda University was attacked three times on separate occasions – by the Goudas, the Huns, and the Turks.
Historians and archeologists believe that only 10% of the ruins of Nalanda university have been excavated and 90% are yet to be discovered.
Nalanda University UNESCO World Heritage Site
Nalanda stands out as the most ancient university of its time and the first international university in the world to offer education for 800 years. Its awe-inspiring campus with stupas, shrines, learning centers, residential quarters, massive academic collections, faculties, and striking architecture, it remains an institution of global fame.
In July 2016, UNESCO declared the site of Nalanda University as a World Heritage Site with a comment,
“Archaeological Site of Nalanda Mahavihara comprises the archaeological remains of a monastic and scholastic institution dating from the 3rd century BCE to the 13th century CE”. UNESCO identifies cultural and natural properties of historical places with “outstanding universal value” that need to be protected and restored and the ancient Nalanda university campus fits the bill.
Things to do in Nalanda
With so much history and cultural significance, there’s a lot to do and places to visit in the old university.
Explore the ruins of Nalanda university – Spanning more than 14 hectares, the massive campus of the ancient university is now a site of historical ruins. But it still boasts the classic Indian stone-cut architecture in red bricks built in the Kushana style. The once three to six stories high buildings can still be traced in their remnants. Excavations have revealed classrooms, hostels, monasteries built in the Pala dynasty. There are stairways, decorated panels, stupas, dorms, lecture halls, and parts of the library that speak of its glorious past in its carvings and inscriptions.
Visit the archaeological museum – Established in 1971, the Nalanda Museum houses important artifacts, relics, documents, coins, sculptures, images of Buddha, inscriptions, seals, samples of antique items, etc. The museum has four main galleries showcasing excavated materials from 349 sites.
Take a tour of the Hiuen Tsang Memorial Hall – The legendary Chinese scholar, monk, explorer, and traveler, Hiuen Tsang or Xuanzang, visited Nalanda in the 7th century. He lived here for 12 years, learning and studying under the guidance of the monks in Nalanda, and became one of the greatest students of the university. The memorial hall commemorates him and his experiences, which he documented in his writings. The memorial also provides information about his travels around other parts of India that lasted 17 years and historical information of the country of that time.
Other Attraction in Nalanda
The university tourism is more than its ruins. For your complete Nalanda sightseeing, explore these places –
Kundalpur village and temple
About the Place: It is the birthplace of Gautam Swamiji, the first disciple of Mahavira, the 24th, and the last Jain Tirthankara. The village is known for its sacred Jain temple, housing a four and a half feet tall statue of Mahavira Padmasana. The temple boasts grand stone and marble architecture and houses 72 idols of all Tirthankaras, representing the past, present, and future.
Timings: 6 AM to 6 PM
Entry Fee: NA
Best time to visit: Early morning
How to reach: Kundalpur village and its Jain temple are located at 11 KM from the ancient site of the University. You can book a cab or rent a car to reach the village and explore the Jain temple.
[Also Read: All you need to know about Bhimbetka UNESCO Site]
About the Place: The temple sits near the ancient site of Nalanda and is dedicated to the sun god. It boasts classic Indian rock-cut architecture and houses various Buddhist shrines, as well as Hindu deities. The temple is known for its five feet high idol of Parvati. The Suryamandir is also considered a popular pilgrimage destination, especially during the local festival of Chhat. Religious rituals are conducted twice a year to celebrate this festival.
Timings: 6 AM to 8 PM
Entry Fee: NA
Best time to visit: Good for a day trip.
How to reach: The temple is located in Surajpur, a couple of kilometers from the ancient site. Book a cab from Nalanda or rent a car to reach the temple site.
How to Reach Nalanda University
The nearest railway station is Rajgir, 12 KM away from Nalanda, and the major railway junction is at Gaya, 65 KM away. There are daily and weekly trains from Delhi, Kolkata, Ranchi, Varanasi, and other major cities and states.
Nalanda is well-connected to all major cities and towns in Bihar and neighboring states. There are a host of private and state-run buses from Ranchi, Patna, Varanasi, regularly. You can also avail of a rental car or book a taxi from anywhere in Bihar to reach Nalanda.
The nearest aiport here is served by Patna airport, located 89 KM from the site. Several regular flights connect cities like Kolkata, Delhi, Ranchi, Varanasi, Lucknow, Mumbai, etc.
Best time to visit Nalanda
Being in the Gangetic plains, this place experiences extreme temperatures. Summers are extremely hot and humid and winters are very chilly with cold drafts. There is also heavy rainfall during the monsoon, between July and September. The autumn months of October to November and the late winter months, from February to April, are good for exploring the outdoors, making spring the best time to visit Nalanda.
Places to Stay in Nalanda
To make your vacation memorable, here are some of the best places to stay in Nalanda –
- Hotel Nageshwar Palace, Rajgir
- Indo Hokke Hotel
- Nalanda Guest House
- Hotel Diamond Plaza
- Hotel Glory Grand
Places to Eat in Nalanda
- GFC, Bihar Sharif
- BCI Fast Food, Bihar Sharif
- Boonlite Café, Pawapuri
- Gurnanak Cafeteria, Rajgir
- Ashwath Restaurant, Rajgir
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