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The Ancient University of Nalanda ,NALANDA UNIVERSITY- Bihar

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The Ancient University of Nalanda ,NALANDA UNIVERSITY- Bihar

Description

Nalanda (Nālandā, pronounced [naːlən̪d̪aː]) was a renowned mahavihara (Buddhist monastic university) in ancient Magadha (modern-day Bihar), eastern India. Considered by historians to be the world’s first residential university and among the greatest centers of learning in the ancient world, it was located near the city of Rajagriha (now Rajgir) and about 90 kilometres (56 mi) southeast of Pataliputra (now Patna). Operating from 427 until 1197 CE,Nalanda played a vital role in promoting the patronage of arts and academics during the 5th and 6th century CE, a period that has since been described as the “Golden Age of India” by scholars.

Nalanda was established during the Gupta Empire era, and was supported by numerous Indian and Javanese patrons – both Buddhists and non-Buddhists.Over some 750 years, its faculty included some of the most revered scholars of Mahayana Buddhism. Nalanda mahavihara taught six major Buddhist schools and philosophies such as Yogachara and Sarvastivada as well as subjects such as Vedas, grammar, medicine, logic and mathematics.The university was also a major source of the 657 Sanskrit texts carried by pilgrim Xuanzang and the 400 Sanskrit texts carried by Yijing to China in the 7th century, which influenced East Asian Buddhism. Many of the texts composed at Nalanda played an important role in the development of Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism including the Mahavairocana Tantra and the Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra of Shantideva.Nalanda may have been attacked and damaged by Muhammad Bakhtiyar Khalji, but it managed to remain operational for decades (or possibly even centuries) following the raids.It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In 2010, the Government of India passed a resolution to revive the famous university, and a contemporary institute, Nalanda University, was established at Rajgir.It has been listed as an “Institute of National Importance” by the Government of India.

Location
Nalanda is about 16 kilometres (10 mi) north of the city of Rajgir and about 90 kilometres (56 mi) southeast of Patna, connected via NH 31, 20 and 120 to India’s highway network. It is about 80 kilometres (50 mi) northeast of Bodh Gaya – another important Buddhist site in Bihar. The Nalanda archaeological site is spread over a large area to the northwest of Bargaon (Nalanda) village, and is between the historical manmade lakes Gidhi, Panashokar and Indrapuskarani. On the south bank of the Indrapushkarani lake is the Nava Nalanda Mahavihara – a university founded in its memory.
Etymology
Mahavihara (Mahāvihāra) is the Sanskrit and Pali term for a great vihara (centre of learning or Buddhist monastery) and is used to describe a monastic complex of viharas.

According to the early 7th-century Tang dynasty Chinese pilgrim, Xuanzang, the local tradition explains that the name Nālandā (Hindi/Magahi: नालन्दा) came from a nāga (serpent deity in Indian religions) whose name was Nalanda. He offers an alternate meaning “charity without intermission”, from “na-alam-da”; however, this split does not mean this. Hiranand Sastri, an archaeologist who headed the excavation of the ruins, attributes the name to the abundance of nālas (lotus-stalks) in the area and believes that Nalanda would then represent the giver of lotus-stalks.

In some Tibetan sources, including the 17th-century work of Taranatha, Nalanda is referred to as Nalendra, and is likely synonymous with Nala, Nalaka, Nalakagrama found in Tibetan literature.

History
Early history of the city of Nalanda (1200 BCE–300 CE)

A map of Nalanda and its environs from Alexander Cunningham’s 1861–62 ASI report which shows a number of ponds (pokhar) around the Mahavihara.
The history of Nalanda in the 1st-millennium BCE is linked to the nearby city of Rajagriha (modern Rajgir) – the capital of Magadha and on the trade routes of ancient India.Given the university’s prestige, rulers in northeast India bequeathed villages to help fund Nalanda; the king of Sumatra contributed villages for the monastery’s endowment. A special fund was also established to support scholars from China.

Early Buddhist texts state that Buddha visited a town near Rajagriha called Nalanda on his preregrinations. He delivered lectures in a nearby mango grove named Pavarika and one of his two chief disciples, Shariputra, was born in the area and later attained nirvana there.These Buddhist texts were written down centuries after the death of the Buddha, are not consistent in either the name or the relative location. For example, texts such as the Mahasudassana Jataka states that Nalaka or Nalakagrama is about a yojana (10 miles) from Rajagriha, while texts such as Mahavastu call the place Nalanda-gramaka and place it half a yojana away.A Buddhist text Nikayasamgraha does state that emperor Ashoka established a vihara (monastery) at Nalanda. However, archaeological excavations so far have not yielded any monuments from Ashoka period or from another 600 years after his death.

Chapter 2.7 of the Jaina text Sutrakritanga states that Nalanda is a “suburb” of capital Rajagriha, has numerous buildings, and this is where Mahavira (6th/5th century BCE) spent fourteen varshas – a term that refers to a traditional retreat during monsoons for the monks in Indian religions. This is corroborated in the Kalpasutra, another cherished text in Jainism. However, other than the mention of Nalanda, Jaina texts do not provide further details, nor were they written down for nearly a millennium after Mahavira’s death. Like the Buddhist texts, this has raised questions about reliability and whether the current Nalanda is same as the one in Jaina texts. According to Scharfe, though the Buddhist and Jaina texts generate problems with place identification, it is “virtually certain” that the modern Nalanda is near or the site these texts are referring to.

Archaeological excavations at sites near Nalanda, such as the Juafardih site about 3 kilometres away, have yielded black ware and other items. These have been carbon dated to about 1200 BCE. This suggests that the region around Nalanda in Magadha had a human settlement centuries before the birth of the Mahavira and the Buddha.

Faxian visit (399–412 CE)
When Faxian, a Chinese Buddhist pilgrim monk, visited the city of Nalanda, there probably was no university yet. Faxian had come to India to acquire Buddhist texts, and spent 10 years in India in the early fifth century, visiting major Buddhist pilgrimage sites including the Nalanda area. He also wrote a travelogue, which inspired other Chinese and Korean Buddhists to visit India over the centuries; in it he mentions many Buddhist monasteries and monuments across India. However, he makes no mention of any monastery or university at Nalanda even though he was looking for Sanskrit texts and took a large number of them from other parts of India back to China. Combined with a lack of any archaeological discoveries of pre-400 CE monuments in Nalanda, the silence in Faxian’s memoir suggests that Nalanda monastery-university did not exist around 400 CE

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