History of Ancient Nalanda - World's first University

History of Ancient Nalanda – World’s first University

Share This Post With Friends

When most of the countries of the world were passing through the era of civilization and culture, then India had made its own identity in the world in the field of education. ‘The world’s first university – History of Nalanda’ It was situated near the modern village named Badgaon in the south of Patna (Bihar), the capital of the present Bihar state. This place is 40 miles away from Patna. Thousands of students from all over the country and abroad used to visit the ancient Nalanda University. Today in this blog we will learn about the most ancient and famous university of India, Nalanda.

History of Ancient Nalanda - World's first University

Ancient Nalanda University

Nalanda University was one of the world’s first universities and was located in the ancient city of Nalanda in Bihar, India. It was founded in the 5th century CE and was a center for learning and research for over 800 years.

The university was founded by the Gupta Empire, under the patronage of Emperor Kumaragupta. It was initially a small center for Buddhist studies but grew in size and reputation over the centuries, attracting scholars and students from all over the world.

Nalanda University was known for its advanced courses in fields such as philosophy, theology, astronomy, and mathematics. It had a vast library that housed over 9 million books and manuscripts, making it one of the largest libraries in the world at that time.

The university also had a unique system of education, with a focus on debate and discussion. Students were encouraged to question and challenge their teachers, and debates were a regular feature of the university’s academic life.

Nalanda University reached its peak during the reign of the Pala dynasty in the 8th-12th centuries CE. The university attracted scholars and students from China, Tibet, Korea, and Central Asia, and became a hub for the spread of Buddhism and Buddhist philosophy.

Unfortunately, the university was destroyed in the 12th century by Turkish invader Bakhtiyar Khilji, who burned the library and the surrounding buildings, killing many scholars and students. Despite this, Nalanda University remains an important historical and cultural site, and efforts have been made to revive it as a modern-day university.

Founder of Nalanda University

A Buddhist Vihara was first established in the place of Nalanda University in the Gupta period. The distance from Nalanda to Rajgriha is 8 miles. The Chinese traveler Huan Tsang wrote in his account about this university that “This university was founded by Shakraditya because he had deep faith in the three gems of Buddhism. This Shakraditya was identified by the Gupta ruler Kumar Gupta I (415- 455 AD). The title of Kumar Gupta I was Mahendraditya.

After Kumaragupta I, his successor and son Buddhagupta, giving impetus to the work started by his father, built a second vihara in its southern part. After this Tathagata Gupta got the construction work of a vihara in the east and after that Baladitya built another Buddhist vihara towards the northeast. Baladitya’s son Bajra completed the construction of a vihara on the western side of this vihara.

A ruler of central India (possibly Harsh Vardhan) built a copper vihara and built a huge boundary wall to bring all the viharas within one boundary wall. The first five names are associated with the Gupta rulers by the Chinese traveler Huan Tsang. Although their identity and chronology are not certain. Till the eleventh century, the patrons of Hinduism and Buddhism continued to build monasteries and viharas in Nalanda. By the time of Harshavardhana, Nalanda Mahavihara was established as a famous international university.

The greatness of Nalanda University

The facts which have come out from the excavations of the ruins of Nalanda University, it is known that Nalanda University was spread over an area of ​​about one mile long and half a mile wide. The viharas, buildings, stupas, etc. built in this complex were all constructed with the scientific method. We do not believe it, but it is absolutely true that there were eight big rooms and 300 small rooms in this complex. This university had a huge library which was in three buildings named ‘Dharmanja’. The main buildings of Nalanda were high and multi-storeyed.

Huensang’s biographer Wei-Li has given a very interesting description of the buildings of Nalanda – According to Whi-Li, ‘the whole complex was surrounded by brick walls. Towards the Vidyapeeth, there is a gate from which eight more halls (of the Sangharam) are separated from it. The finely decorated ornate minarets and the fairy-like domes of the heavens stand in sync with each other like the sharp peaks of the mountain.

The Man Mandir (early morning) seems to be merged in smoke and the upper rooms seem to be seated above the clouds. From the windows, one can clearly see how the wind and the clouds take on new forms, and the radiance of the sun and the moon can be seen over the high eaves. Above the deep and defined ponds are blooming Nile lotus, which is interspersed with deep red-colored Kanaka flowers, and in between, the mango groves scatter their shadows all around.

All the outside classrooms in which the Shramana residence is there are four stories each. Their capricious barges, colorful eaves, decorated and painted pearl-like red pillars, ornate miniature pillars, and roofs covered with pillars that reflect the sun’s light in thousands of forms – all add to the splendor of the vihara.’

The above Chinese description is also corroborated to some extent by the stone inscription obtained from Nalanda of King Yashovarman of Kanauj of the eighth century, which states that ‘the monasteries like the skyscraper mountain peak of Nalanda are like a beautiful garland created by Brahma above the earth’. It was getting beautiful. Nalanda had not only Viharas, apart from Viharas there were also many stupas in which statues of Buddha and Bodhisattvas were kept. Thus the University of Nalanda was spread over a wide area amidst all these buildings.

Great Nalanda University


Nalanda’s fame in the field of education

Nalanda’s reputation as a well-known educational center began to gain momentum from the fifth century onwards and by the sixth century it was gaining fame not only in India but also outside India. Faxian, a Chinese traveler who visited India in the 4th century, made no mention of Nalanda in his travelogue, in contrast to Huensang and Itsing, another Chinese traveler who came two centuries later, praising it freely. Huh. This means that during the reign of Harshavardhana, Nalanda received state patronage, due to which it was established as a world-famous university.

 Harshavardhana gave the income of 100 villages of his empire for the maintenance of Nalanda University. Chinese evidence shows that 200 families living in these villages donated several hundred Pakal (one Pakal = 133 lb) of ordinary rice and several hundred katti (one katti = 160 lb) of ghee and butter to Nalanda University every day. Thus, the students studying in Nalanda were available in abundance for the items of daily life and did not have to go anywhere to ask for them.

Students in which countries were studying in Nalanda?

Nalanda University was not only famous in India, but outside India, students from countries like China, Mongolia, Tibet, Korea, Central Asia, etc. came to get an education. According to Whee-Lee, ten thousand students used to receive education here. The teaching at Nalanda was of a very high standard. The students who came to study here were able to get admission to the university only after passing a difficult entrance exam. The graduates here were highly respected. Due to all this, there was a crowd of students coming to study here.

Major Subjects Taught at Nalanda University

Although Nalanda University was famous for the education and philosophy of Buddhism,but other subjects were also taught here. In addition to the texts of eighteen sects of Mahayana and Buddhism, the education of Vedas, Litavidya, Yogashastra therapy, Tantra Vidya, texts of Samkhya philosophy, etc., was imparted through oral lectures. The expert Acharyas of various subjects used to give hundreds of lectures to the students every day. Attendance of every student was mandatory.

The Chinese traveler Huan Tsang, who lived and studied here for 18 months, describes in his verse that ‘there were a thousand persons who could explain the meaning of twenty collections of sutras and scriptures, 500 persons who could teach 30 collections, There were ten such Acharyas of Dharma who could explain 50 collections. In all this, Shilabhadra was the only one who was the knower of all the collections. Thus establishing harmony in various disciplines, ideas and beliefs was the main feature of Nalanda University. Here education was imparted in the spirit of freedom of thought and beliefs and tolerance.

At the time when Huensang came to Nalanda to study, then Shilabhadra was the Vice Chancellor of the university. Shilabhadra’s character and scholarship have been highly praised by all Chinese travelers. He was a great scholar of all subjects. Huensang himself did his studies sitting at his feet.

He calls them a storehouse of truth and dharma. Other prominent scholars here include Dharmapala (who was the guru of Shilabhadra and his predecessor as the patriarch). The names Chandrapal, Gunamati, Sthiramati, Prabhamitra, Jinmitra, Gyanchand, etc. are prominent. All these were eminent scholars. All these scholars were not only cable teachers but also the authors of many high-quality texts. His works were highly respected at that time. Apart from these scholars, there were other scholars in Nalanda who illuminated the whole country with the knowledge of their high coats.

Famous Library of Nalanda University

The library of Nalanda University had a huge collection of different types of texts. A huge collection of texts ranging from ancient manuscripts was stored in this library. The main center of attraction for Chinese travelers was the manuscripts related to Buddhist texts that drew them to India. Itsing had prepared copies of 400 Sanskrit texts while staying here. The library here named Dhanganj was located in three huge grand buildings – Ratnagar, Ratnodadhi, and Ratanranjak. There were two councils to run the university administration – intellectual and administrative.

The Vice-Chancellor was over both of them. The expenses of the university were met by the donations given by the patron rulers and other donors and the money received from the revenue of the villages. At the time of Itsing, it had revenue of 200 villages in its possession. The seals and letters of some villages have been found in the excavation which have been written by addressing the university.

Nalanda University was destroyed by

After Harshavardhana, its fame remained the same till about the 12th century. The stone inscription of Mandsaur (8th century) shows that Nalanda was the most famous of all the cities due to its scholars, who were experts in the field of various religious texts and philosophy. It was also gaining international fame in the 9th century.

It is known that attracted by its fame, Balaputradev, the ruler of Java and Sumatra, built a monastery in Nalanda and donated five villages from his friend King Devpal of Bengal for its subsistence. Got it From the eleventh century, the Pala rulers started giving royal protection to Vikramshila in place of Nalanda. Nalanda’s fame declined a bit and its importance began to decline.

It is known from Tibetan sources that from this time the influence of Tantra Gyan started increasing on Nalanda, due to which the reputation of Nalanda also got hurt. The university was finally demolished by the Muslim invader Bakhtiyar Khilji at the end of the 12th century.

The children here were murdered and the valuable library was burnt. Thus the sad end of an education center of international repute. Some scholars of that time have said that there were so many books in the library that smoke kept coming out of the library for a year.

the destroyer of nalnda university
Bakhtiyar Khilji The Destroyer Of Nalanda University 1202 AD


The achievement of Nalanda University scholars is that they propagated Buddhism and Indian culture in Tibet. From the 8th century, the scholars of Nalanda started going to Tibet for the propagation of Buddhism.

The study of the Tibetan language also started in Nalanda. Chandragomin’s name is notable among the first preachers of Buddhism in Tibet. His texts were translated into Tibetan. Shantarakshita, another Buddhist scholar from Nalanda, went there in the middle of the eighth century at the invitation of the Tibet king and preached Buddhism. Under his direction, the first Tibetan Buddhist monastery was built. Shantarakshita propagated Buddhism in Tibet during his life as the president of this monastery. In this work, the Kashmiri monk Padmasambhava, educated in Nalanda, provided a lot of help.

Thus Nalanda was an important center of ancient learning whose fame spread not only in India but also abroad. In fact, it was a Visva-Bharati from where the culture spread throughout the country. As a result of the greatness, generosity, and scholarship of the scholars here, the name of Nalanda had become synonymous with the best qualities of learning in the then world.

Share This Post With Friends

Leave a Comment

Discover more from 𝓗𝓲𝓼𝓽𝓸𝓻𝔂 𝓘𝓷 𝓗𝓲𝓷𝓭𝓲

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading