Nalanda: Where Memory Lingers, History Nestles


Trodden by the lotus feet of Buddha many times in the 6th century B.C., the ruinous site of Aryavartha’s oldest university town at Nalanda in Bihar continues to remain a very major attraction of the tourists, scholars of the Hinyan and Mahajan and the architects from all parts of the world.

The place where Tathagata’s favorite-most disciple Sari Putta was born, Nalanda is integrally associated with Buddhism. It is almost ritualistic for any Indian or foreign tourist coming to Bodh Gaya to hop to this ancient-most university town.

The idea of establishing a center for higher education to enlighten the Bhikshus or monks with different forms of art, literature, science, logic, philosophy, and theology was given by none other than Buddha himself. He wanted such an academic institution to function as a Sangha or an association of the monks.

Destroyed in 1235 AD by the Islamic invaders, the university of Nalanda happened to be the world’s first center of higher learning that attracted students from different parts of the contemporary world including Tibet, Japan, China, Mongolia and many other countries of Southeast Asia.

At the same time, the university was also the world’s only institution for whose maintenance, a large number of foreign countries paid donations. Since the 1st century AD, a large number of Southeast Asian nations had been donating to Nalanda University for its upkeep. No wonder, the original structure of this 2500 years old university was spread over an area of 1.6 km x 0.8 km. in the 9th century AD, the university has virtually acquired the form of a thriving mini township of the multi-racial and multi-ethnic populace of 1500 teachers and over 10,000 students. Since the 3rd century BC, the process of honoring the scholars at this university began when Emperor Asoka announced the institution of giving cash rewards to them.

This was the first academic institution in India that began the tradition of honoring scholars posthumously. Asoka launched this tradition by honoring Sari Putta who had died nearly 300 years earlier.

Located 93 km away from Patna, Nalanda attracts over 2,000,000 people annually from almost all parts of the world. Large numbers of them are architecture students and architects who throng here to study the special architectural style of the ancient buildings of Nalanda.

Interestingly, the architectural style of Nalanda, known as Nalanda School of Architectural Art, is different from other ancient structures of India as it contains distinctive creative styles of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism.

Architectural features of Japan, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and China were also included in it nearly 1900 years ago. The reason is that a large number of Southeast Asian countries had been regularly donating money since 1st century AD for the construction of living rooms of students coming from their countries.

These countries also sent their masons and architects to design buildings in the patterns of their countries. In 132 AD, Dev Varmana, the king of Java Island first sent architects and building designers to Nalanda to officially copy the blueprint of the buildings that dotted the village.

Strange it may seem, the bricks used in building the structure of Nalanda University were prepared specially to absorb the intense heat of Central Bihar. The chemical analysis of the bricks burnt by the Islamic invaders shows that even after the entire complex was set on fire by the invaders, the structure could not be grounded completely as the bricks could absorb heat.

From the architectural angle, the ruins of Nalanda have been divided into different “Sites.” Site Number 3 forms the main part of the ruins. This site shows that architectural art had reached its apogee in Nalanda nearly 1800 years ago.

The site comprises galleries located below with stucco built on them and surrounded by a cluster of smaller stupas. Once, Lord Buddha had stayed here for 90-days to deliver lectures on religion and metaphysics.

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