Ancient Naalanda University is one among the centers of Learning in ancient India. Students all over the world came to Naalanda in search of higher knowledge. It is regarded as the first University in the recorded history of the world. The University of Paris, Bologna and Oxford were much recent and were founded in 12th Century after the destruction of Naalanda.
Naalanda was probably founded in 230 B.C. E, as Buddhist monastery in Asoka’s reign. It was the time when Buddhist monks travelled across India determined to provide religious education to the masses. During rainy season they had to take shelter in protected places. They also needed a place for meditation, study and discussion. Caves gave them this shelter. These caves eventually grew into Viharas. The viharas became the places of education. In contrast to the oral tradition of learning as attentive listening, memorizing and reproducing Viharas stressed on writing and literary education. They taught alphabet to the children of seven years. Unlike Brahmin Gurukulas, Buddhist Viharas opened doors of education to all, irrespective of caste.
Prof. S.K.Ramachandra Rao, says that there was a considerable difference between Gurukulas and Viharas of Buddhist. Gurukulas were run by a single Guru. The students lived in the Guru’s home. They were constantly in personal contact with the Guru. The education was not secular and was to teach Vedas and other Hindu scriptures. Whereas Viharas were the places in which Gurus and students lived for one particular cause, i.e.learning. Viharas had many Gurus. These Gurus were monks and therefore they did not have any personal contact with their students. The Viharas provided a secular education and taught weaving, spinning, tailoring etc. in large scale.
As the Buddhism became more and more popular, more and more viharas were opened and many became educated. As many became educated the thirst for higher knowledge increased. This resulted in big Universities near towns and cities. These Universities became the seats of higher knowledge. Students from all over the world like China, Mangolia, Java, Greece, Persia, Korea and Sri Lanka visited India in pursuit of higher knowledge.
Naalanda, which was only a Buddhist Monastery, might have reached the state of University in 415 C.E. by Kumara Gupta the first. Students all over world came to Naalanda in search of higher knowledge. Among them were the Chinese pilgrims H iuen Tsang and I-Tsing. The purpose of their visit was to collect the Buddhist Manusripts. H iuen Tsang travelled India for 17 years and lived in Naalanda for three years. I –Tsing studied in Naalanda for 10 years.
H iuen Tsang vividly describes the admission procedure in Naalanda. He says that it was not easy to get admission to Naalanda. The students who wanted admission to the university had to answer the questions of the Dwarapala. The questions were so tough that only one or two out of ten were able to get admission. The minimum age of admission was 20 years. There were 10,000 students and 2000 teachers in Naalanda. It was completely a residential university. The education, accommodation, food were free for all the students and teachers. There were 6 halls and 300 dormitories. The Naalanda was maintained by 200 villages given by the Kings.
The medium of instruction was Pali. The education was mainly through lectures and discussions. The subjects offered were works of Mahayana sect, Vedas, Hetuvidya, Sabdavidya, Chiktsavidya, Sankya and Adhyatmavidya. He talks about three ranks of teachers. The first rank of teachers were those who had mastered 50 sutras and Shastras. H iune Tsang was one of them. The second rank teachers were those who had mastered 30 sutras and rank three were those who had mastered 20 sutras and shastras. He talks about Sheelabhadra who was the Vice-Chancellor could recite all sutras and shastras. Ancient Naalanda was basically a research center.
The library of Naalanda was called Dhrama Ganj, meaning Mountain of Truth. It consisted of three main buildings of nine stories. They were called Ratnasagara, Ratnodadhi and Ratnaranjka. There were hundreds and thousands of books in the library, in the time when there were no printers. H iuen Tsang copied 500 manuscripts while I –Tsing copied 400 manuscripts during their stay at Naalanda. They carried all these manuscripts while returning to China on twenty horses each.
Such an institution came to an end by the invasion of Bhaktiya Khilji in 1193 C.E. Naalanda was burnt to ashes and the monks and students were slaughtered. Minhaj –I-Siraj a Persian Historian says that the smoke from the burning manuscripts hung for days like a dark pall over the low hills. At present Naalanda stands majestically amidst the ruins as a proof of our rich cultur[i]e in Bihar. After Naalanda no University was established, no ruler was interested in learning.
Dr. Abdul Kalam a great scholar raised the idea of reviving Naalanda University. This motivated scholars around the world to join in the endeavour of rebuilding the ancient legacy. A mentor groups of eleven members comprising the Nobel Laureate Amartya sen has been formed. They have thought of forming a new university in the name of Naalanda International University, which is basically a post graduate residential university catering different disciplines. it is a billion dollar project with six schools one of them in Delhi, a highly equipped university for the study of science, philosophy, mathematics, management, spiritualism, Buddhist subjects and language and literature. Naalanda International University rises from the ashes as phoenic in 2010.
? “Cultural History of India” Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan
? “Ancient Indian Education: Brahmanical and Buddhist” By Radhakumud Mookerji
? “Education Through Ages” by Dr. Jyotsna Kamat
? “The memories of Chinese Buddhist Scholars in connection with Nalanda Monastic International University in India in the 7th century AD”
by R.H.I.S.Ranasinghe, Sri Lanka.
? “Hiouen-Tsang in India” by J. Barthelemy Sanit-Hilaire
? “The teaching of Buddha” by Prof. S.K.Ramachandra Rao
? CNN and ND, TV News Channels
? Times of India News Paper