Nalanda

Nalanda (IAST: Nālandā; /naːlən̪d̪aː/) was an acclaimed Mahavihara, a large Buddhist monastery in the ancient kingdom of Magadha (modern-day Bihar) in India.

The site is located about 95 kilometres (59 mi) southeast of Patna near the town of Bihar Sharif, and was a centre of learning from the seventh century BCE to c. 1200 CE. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site

The highly formalized methods of Vedic learning helped inspire the establishment of large teaching institutions such as Taxila, Nalanda, and Vikramashilawhich are often characterised as India’s early universities.Nalanda flourished under the patronage of the Gupta Empire in the 5th and 6th centuries and later under Harsha, the emperor of Kannauj.The liberal cultural traditions inherited from the Gupta age resulted in a period of growth and prosperity until the ninth century. The subsequent centuries were a time of gradual decline, a period during which the tantric developments of Buddhism became most pronounced in eastern India under the Pala Empire.

At its peak, the school attracted scholars and students from near and far with some travelling all the way from Tibet, China, Korea, and Central Asia. Archaeological evidence also notes contact with the Shailendra dynasty of Indonesia, one of whose kings built a monastery in the complex.

Much of our knowledge of Nalanda comes from the writings of pilgrim monks from East Asia such as Xuanzang and Yijing who travelled to the Mahavihara in the 7th century. Vincent Smith remarked that “a detailed history of Nalanda would be a history of Mahayanist Buddhism”. Many of the names listed by Xuanzang in his travelogue as products of Nalanda are the names of those who developed the philosophy of Mahayana. All students at Nalanda studied Mahayana as well as the texts of the eighteen (Hinayana) sects of Buddhism. Their curriculum also included other subjects such as the Vedas, logic, Sanskrit grammar, medicine and Samkhya.

Nalanda was very likely ransacked and destroyed by an army of the Muslim Mamluk Dynasty under Bakhtiyar Khilji in c. 1200 CE. While some sources note that the Mahavihara continued to function in a makeshift fashion for a while longer, it was eventually abandoned and forgotten until the 19th century when the site was surveyed and preliminary excavations were conducted by the Archaeological Survey of India. Systematic excavations commenced in 1915 which unearthed eleven monasteries and six brick temples neatly arranged on grounds 12 hectares in area. A trove of sculptures, coins, seals, and inscriptions have also been discovered in the ruins many of which are on display in the Nalanda Archaeological Museum situated nearby. Nalanda is now a notable tourist destination and a part of the Buddhist tourism circuit.

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