Nalanda is the name of an ancient university in India. The name is a Sanskrit word that means giver of knowledge, a symbol of knowledge. It is located about 55 miles southeast of Patna, capital of Bihar state in India., and was a Buddhist center of learning from 427 CE to 1197 CE partly under the Pala Empire. It has been called “one of the first great universities in recorded history.” Historical studies indicate that the University of Nalanda was established in 450 CE under the patronage of the Gupta emperors, notably Kumaragupta.
It was one of the world’s first residential universities, i.e., it had dormitories for students. In its heyday, it accommodated over 10,000 students and 2,000 teachers. The university was considered an architectural masterpiece and was marked by a lofty wall and one gate.
It had eight separate compounds and ten temples, along with many other meditation halls and classrooms. On the grounds were lakes and parks. The library was located in a nine storied building where meticulous copies of texts were produced. The subjects taught at Nalanda University covered every field of learning, and it attracted pupils and scholars from Korea, Japan, China, Tibet, Indonesia, Persia, and Turkey. The Tang Dynasty Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang left detailed accounts of the university in the 7th century.
The Buddha visited Nalanda during his last tour through Magadha, and it was there that Sariputta uttered his “lion’s roar,” affirming his faith in the Buddha, shortly before his death. Nalanda was the residence of Sonnadinna. Mahavira is several times mentioned as staying at Nalanda, which was evidently a center of activity of the Jains. King Asoka (250 BC) is said to have built a temple there.
A number of ruined structures survive. Nearby is the Surya Mandir, a Hindu temple. The known and excavated ruins extend over an area of about 150,000 square meters.
The Nalanda Museum contains a number of manuscripts and shows many examples of the items that have been excavated.
Nalanda was ransacked and destroyed by an army of the Mamluk Dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate under Bakhtiyar Khalji in 1200 CE. While some sources note that the Mahavihara continued to function in a makeshift fashion after this attack, it was eventually abandoned altogether and forgotten until the 19th century,
On 25 November 2010, the Indian government, through an Act of Parliament, resurrected the ancient university through the Nalanda University Bill, and subsequently, a new Nalanda University was established. It has been designated as an “International University of National Importance.”
Nalanda is a popular tourist destination in the state attracting a number of Indian and overseas visitors. It is also an important stop on the Buddhist tourism circuit.
Nalanda Archaeological Museum: The Archaeological Survey of India maintains a museum near the ruins for the benefit of visitors. The museum, opened in 1917, exhibits the antiquities that have been unearthed at Nalanda as well as from nearby Rajgir. Out of 13,463 items, only 349 are on display in four galleries.
Xuan Zang Memorial Hall: The Xuanzang Memorial Hall is an Indo-Chinese undertaking to honor the famed Buddhist monk and traveler. A relic, comprising a skull bone of the Chinese monk, is on display in the memorial hall.
Another museum adjoining the excavated site is the privately run Nalanda Multimedia Museum. It showcases the history of Nalanda through 3-D animation and other multimedia presentations.
Nalanda Vipasana Centre can accommodate around 50 students, and courses are offered in all major foreign languages.
The nearest airport is at Patna (89 km). Indian Airlines connect Patna to Calcutta, Ranchi, Bombay, Delhi, and Lucknow.
Though Rajgir (12 km) is the nearest railway station to Nalanda yet the nearest convenient railhead is at Gaya (95 km).
Nalanda is well-connected by a good road with Rajgir (12 km), Bodh Gaya 110 km, Gaya 95 km, Patna 90 km, Pawapuri 26 km, Bihar Sharif 13 km, etc.
There are no taxis available in Nalanda. Cycle rickshaws and tongas are the only modes of transport.
Bihar State Tourism Development Corporation organizes trips to Nalanda, Rajgir, etc. from its Headquarters Tourist Bhawan, Bir Chand Patel Path, Patna-1. Ph.0612-2222622, 2225411. Fax-0612-2236218