The much-awaited Nalanda University started its academic session on September 1, 2014 with 15 applicants from across the globe. NU was once one of the greatest universities in the world before it was destroyed by Turkish leader Bakhtiyar Khilji. Known for the great library and strong construction which took over three months to burn down, Nalanda University is once again ready to train scholars from across the world. Know more about the latest developments and its fascinating history.
The ancient Nalanda University started its academic session on Monday, September 1 in the newly established campus in Rajgir city of Bihar.
The much awaited University shortlisted 15 applicants out of 1,000 who applied for various courses. The students include five women, a Bhutan University dean and a postgraduate in Buddhist studies from Japan.
The applications for the first session have been received from the United States, Russia, England, Spain, Germany, Japan, Myanmar, Austria, Sri Lanka and west and south-east Asian countries.
“We started classes on Monday morning with 12 students and six faculty members. The number of students and faculty will go up by the end of September as process to enroll students and select faculty is still on,” University Vice Chancellor Gopa Sabhrawal said.
The university has started with only two schools for now – School of Historical Sciences and School of Environment and Ecology, and proposes to start seven schools for postgraduate and research students before 2020. The ancient seat of learning was reopened on a small scale to give students and teachers a chance to settle down. The event also fulfilled the idea proposed by former President APJ Abdul Kalam in a joint session of Bihar Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council in 2006.
The campus of the newly built university will be spread over 455 acres and its construction is in progress around 12 km from the site of the ancient university, which was originally established during the Gupta period in the 6th century AD by Gupta Kings.
For over 800 years NU was one of the best universities in the world. Students from across the globe came here to study in one of the greatest libraries in the world. It was spread over three buildings: Ratnasagara, Ratnadadhi and Ratnaranjaka. Each building was nine stories high and had an enormous collection of books that covered various subjects ranging from religion, literature, astrology, astronomy, medicine and much more.
At the height of it’s glory, Nalanda University was devoted to not only Buddhist studies, but also trained students in fine arts, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, politics and the art of war.
The entrance procedure at the Nalanda Univesity was considered to be very rigid and difficult. Students had to go through three levels of tests to prove their ability. The unmatched discipline and rules were considered necessary in the University. It is believed that the great astronomer and mathematician Aryabhatt was the head of the university.
Before it was destroyed scholars and teachers from places as far as Korea, Japan, Persia, Tibet, China, Greece, and Greater Iran were part of the University. The notable scholars who studied in NU included Harshavardhana, Vasubandhu, Dharmapal, Suvishnu, Asanga, Dharmakirti, Shantarakhsita, Nagarjuna, Aryadeva, Padmasambhava, Xuanzang and Hwui Li.
The premises of the University were so huge that they accommodated over 10,000 students and 2,000 teachers. It was considered as an architectural masterpiece, and was marked by a tall wall and a strong gate.
The fall of Nalanda University
According to the records Nalanda University was destroyed three times by invaders, but rebuilt only twice. The first destruction was caused by the Huns under Mihirakula during the reign of Skandagupta (455–467 AD). But Skanda’s successors restored the library and improved it with an even bigger building.
The second destruction came in the early 7th century by the Gaudas. This time, the Buddhist king Harshavardhana (606–648 AD) restored the university.
The third and most destructive attack came when the ancient Nalanda University was destroyed by the Muslim army led by the Turkish leader Bakhtiyar Khilji in 1193. It is believed that Buddhism as a major religion in India had a setback for hundreds of years due to the loss of the religious texts during the attack. And, since then, the NU has not been restored until the recent developments.
The lesser known story
It is said that Bakhtiyar Khilji had fallen sick and doctors in his court failed to cure him. Then, someone advised him to get himself cured by Rahul Sri Bhadra, the principal of Nalanda University.
Khilji was too proud of his Islamic culture and refused to get himself treated by a person outside his religion. But his health worsened and he was left with no other option but to invite Bhadra from Nalanda.
But Khilji put a condition and asked Bhadra to cure him without any medicines. Bhadra then asked Khilji to read some pages from the Koran as a remedy to his illness and to everyone’s surprise Khilji was cured.
Disturbed by the fact that an Indian scholar and teacher knew more than the doctors of his court, Khilji decided to destroy the roots of knowledge, Buddhism and Ayurveda, from the country. He set fire to the great library of Nalanda and burned down nearly 9 million manuscripts.
The library was so vast and strong that it took three months to completely destroy it. The Turkish invaders also murdered monks and scholars in the university.
The new start
The new campus will have a huge lake and a library is proposed to be located in the middle of it. The government of India has sanctioned Rs. 2,700 crore for a period of 10 years for the university.
Apart from that, Singapore has pledged around US $5 million, China US $1 million, while the Thailand Ambassador to India donated US $1,00,000 for the restoration of the building. Also, Australia will be providing AUD 1 million for a chair at the School of Ecology and Environment studies for three years.
The University came into existence by the Nalanda University Act passed by Parliament. Economist Amartya Sen is the Chairman of the Governing Body of the university and renowned teachers from various countries are its members. The university plans to keep a faculty to student ratio of 1:8.
Construction work on the campus is expected to start from February 2015 and classes will be shifted from Rajgir Convention Centre to a makeshift building in a month.
It is a new beginning for one of the greatest universities in the world. We welcome the recent developments and hope it reaches new heights over the period of time.