Nalanda mahavihara

Location and Etymology
– Nalanda is located in Bihar, India, about 16 kilometers north of Rajgir and 90 kilometers southeast of Patna.
– It is connected to India’s highway network via NH 31, 20, and 120.
– Nalanda is situated between the historical manmade lakes Gidhi, Panashokar, and Indrapuskarani.
– Nava Nalanda Mahavihara, a university, is located on the south bank of the Indrapushkarani lake.
– The name Nalanda is derived from the name of a serpent deity called Nalanda.
– Other possible meanings of Nalanda include ‘charity without intermission’ and the abundance of lotus-stalks in the area.
– In Tibetan sources, Nalanda is referred to as Nalendra or Nalakagrama.
– The name Nalanda is synonymous with Nala found in Tibetan literature.

History and Early History of Nalanda
– Nalanda was established during the Gupta Empire era and operated from 427 until 1197 CE.
– It is considered the world’s first residential university and a center of learning in the ancient world.
– Nalanda received support from Indian and Javanese patrons, both Buddhists and non-Buddhists.
– The city of Nalanda has a history dating back to 1200 BCE, with archaeological evidence suggesting human settlement in the region.
– Buddha visited a town near Rajagriha called Nalanda during his travels.
– Emperor Ashoka is said to have established a vihara at Nalanda, but no archaeological evidence has been found.
– Jaina texts mention Nalanda as a suburb of Rajagriha, where Mahavira spent fourteen varshas.

Foundation and Gupta-era Contributions
– Nalanda was founded by akraditya (Śakrāditya) in the 5th century CE.
– The foundation of Nalanda is corroborated by the travelogue of Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang.
– Nalanda became a center for formalized Vedic learning.
– Kumaragupta I was the founder patron of the Nalanda monastery-university.
– The Gupta era saw Nalanda flourish, with numerous Buddhist and Hindu seals, artwork, and inscriptions discovered in the Gupta style.
– Nalanda received support from a diverse community of donors, including non-Buddhists.
– Rulers in northeast India bequeathed villages to fund Nalanda.
– The king of Sumatra also contributed villages for the monastery’s endowment.

Visits of Xuanzang and Yijing
– Xuanzang, a Chinese pilgrim, visited Nalanda in 637 and 642.
– He studied under the guidance of Shilabhadra, the head of the institution at the time.
– Xuanzang described the grandeur of Nalanda and its surrounding structures.
– He returned to China with Sanskrit texts and relics, translating 74 of the texts himself.
– Yijing, another Chinese pilgrim, visited Nalanda in the years following Xuanzang’s return.
– Yijing stayed at Nalanda for ten years and described the practice of Buddhism and the customs of the monks.
– Nalanda had many daily procedures and rituals for the monks, including bathing and other activities described in the Buddhist Nikaya procedures.

Influence of Nalanda on East Asian Pilgrims and Scholars, Pala Dynasty, and Destruction
– Korean monks visited Nalanda in the 9th century, adopting Indian names and studying at various monasteries.
– Tibetan monks like Thonmi Sambhota came to Nalanda to study Buddhism and the Sanskrit language.
– Nalanda inspired the Tibetan king to adopt Buddhism and make it the religion of his people.
– Monks from Indonesia, Myanmar, and other parts of Southeast Asia also came to Nalanda during the Pala rule.
– The Pala Dynasty established themselves in eastern India and built new monasteries based on Vajrayana mandala ideas.
– Nalanda was subject to a catastrophic fire, traditionally blamed on the troops of Muhammad Bakhtiyar Khalji.
– The Palas continued to support Nalanda, and despite the destruction, some monks had re-gathered and resumed scholastic activities on a smaller scale.
– The condition of Nalanda after destruction is revealed through archaeological excavations, with evidence of damage and desertion.Sources: