ASI No. N-BR-43
UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE
Archaeological Site of
Nalanda University) at
Cultural: (iv), (vi)
2016 (40th Session )
IAST : Nālandā; /naːlən̪d̪aː/) was an acclaimed
Mahavihara , a large Buddhist monastery in the ancient kingdom of
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
World Heritage Site
World Heritage Site
The highly formalized methods of
Vedic learning helped inspire the
establishment of large teaching institutions such as
Taxila , Nalanda,
Vikramashila which are often characterised as India's early
Nalanda flourished under the patronage of the Gupta
Empire in the 5th and 6th centuries and later under
Harsha , the
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
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
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
Mahayana as well as the texts of the
Hinayana ) sects of Buddhism. Their curriculum also included
other subjects such as the
Vedas , logic,
Sanskrit grammar, medicine
Nalanda was very likely ransacked and destroyed by an army of the
Mamluk Dynasty of the Muslim
Delhi Sultanate under
Bakhtiyar Khilji in
c. 1200 CE. While some sources note that the
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 (30 acres) 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.
* 1 Etymology
* 2 Early history
Nalanda in the Gupta era
* 4 The post-Gupta era
* 4.2 Yijing in
Nalanda in the Pala era
* 6 The
* 6.1 Library
* 6.2 Curriculum
* 6.3 Administration
* 7 Influence on
* 8 Historical figures associated with
* 9 Decline and end
* 10 The remains
* 11 Surviving
* 12 Revival
* 13 Tourism
Nalanda Archaeological Museum
Xuanzang Memorial Hall
Nalanda Multimedia Museum
* 14 Gallery
* 15 See also
* 16 Notes
* 17 References
* 18 External links
A number of theories exist about the etymology of the name,
Nālandā. According to the Tang Dynasty Chinese pilgrim,
it comes from Na al,lllam dā meaning no end in gifts or charity
without intermission. Yijing , another Chinese traveller, however,
derives it from Nāga Nanda referring to the name (Nanda) of a snake
(naga) in the local tank.
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.
A statue of
Gautama Buddha at
Nalanda in 1895.
Nalanda was initially a prosperous village by a major trade route
that ran through the nearby city of Rajagriha (modern
Rajgir ) which
was then the capital of
Magadha . It is said that the Jain
Mahavira , spent 14 rainy seasons at Nalanda. Gautama
Buddha too is said to have 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. This traditional
Buddha tenuously dates the existence of
the village to at least the 5th–6th century BCE.
Not much is known of
Nalanda in the centuries hence.
Taranatha , the
17th-century Tibetan Lama, states that the 3rd-century BCE
Ashoka , built a great temple at
Nalanda at the site
of Shariputra's chaitya . He also places 3rd-century CE luminaries
such as the
Nagarjuna , and his disciple,
Aryadeva , at
Nalanda with the former also heading the institution.
Taranatha also mentions a contemporary of
Nagarjuna named Suvishnu
building 108 temples at the location. While this could imply that
there was a flourishing centre for
Nalanda before the 3rd
century, no archaeological evidence has been unearthed to support the
Faxian , an early Chinese Buddhist pilgrim to India,
visited Nalo, the site of Shariputra's parinirvana , at the turn of
the 5th century CE, all he found worth mentioning was a stupa .
NALANDA IN THE GUPTA ERA
Rear view of the ruins of the Baladitya Temple in 1872.
Nalanda's datable history begins under the
Gupta Empire and a seal
identifies a monarch named Shakraditya (Śakrāditya) as its founder.
Xuanzang and a Korean pilgrim named Prajnyavarman
(Prajñāvarman) attribute the foundation of a sangharama (monastery)
at the site to him. Shakraditya is identified with the 5th-century CE
Kumaragupta I (r. c. 415 – c. 455 CE), whose
coin has been discovered at Nalanda. His successors,
Tathagatagupta, Baladitya , and Vajra, later extended and expanded the
institution by building additional monasteries and temples.
The Guptas were traditionally a
Brahmanical dynasty. Narasimhagupta
(Baladitya) however, was brought up under the influence of the
Vasubandhu . He built a sangharama at Nalanda
and also a 300 ft (91 m) high vihara with a
Buddha statue within
which, according to Xuanzang, resembled the "great
Vihara built under
Bodhi tree ". The Chinese monk also noted that Baladitya's son,
Vajra, who commissioned a sangharama as well, "possessed a heart firm
THE POST-GUPTA ERA
The post-Gupta period saw a long succession of kings who continued
Nalanda "using all the skill of the sculptor". At some
point, a "king of central India" built a high wall along with a gate
around the now numerous edifices in the complex. Another monarch
(possibly of the
Maukhari dynasty) named Purnavarman who is described
as "the last of the race of
Ashoka -raja", erected an 80 ft (24 m)
high copper image of
Buddha to cover which he also constructed a
pavilion of six stages.
However, after the decline of the Guptas, the most notable patron of
Harsha , the 7th-century emperor of
Harsha was a converted Buddhist and considered himself a servant of
the monks of Nalanda. He built a monastery of brass within the
Mahavihara and remitted to it the revenues of 100 villages. He also
directed 200 households in these villages to supply the institution's
monks with requisite amounts of rice, butter, and milk on a daily
basis. Around a thousand monks from
Nalanda were present at Harsha's
royal congregation at Kannauj.
Much of what is known of
Nalanda before the 8th century is based on
the travelogues of the Chinese monks,
Xuanzang (Si-Yu-Ki ) and Yijing
(A Record of the Buddhist Religion As Practised in
India and the Malay
XUANZANG IN NALANDA
8th century Dunhuang cave mural depicts
Xuanzang returning from
India. A page from Xuanzang's Great Tang Records on the Western
Regions or Da Tang Xiyuji
Xuanzang (also known as Hiuen Tsang) travelled around
the years of 630 and 643 CE, and visited
Nalanda first in 637 and
then again in 642, spending a total of around two years at the
monastery. He was warmly welcomed in
Nalanda where he received the
Indian name of Mokshadeva and studied under the guidance of
Shilabhadra , the venerable head of the institution at the time. He
believed that the aim of his arduous overland journey to
been achieved as in
Shilabhadra he had at last found an incomparable
teacher to instruct him in
Yogachara , a school of thought that had
then only partially been transmitted to China. Besides Buddhist
studies, the monk also attended courses in grammar, logic, and
Sanskrit, and later also lectured at the Mahavihara.
In the detailed account of his stay at Nalanda, the pilgrim describes
the view out of the window of his quarters thus,
Moreover, the whole establishment is surrounded by a brick wall,
which encloses the entire convent from without. One gate opens into
the great college, from which are separated eight other halls standing
in the middle (of the Sangharama). The richly adorned towers, and the
fairy-like turrets, like pointed hill-tops are congregated together.
The observatories seem to be lost in the vapours (of the morning), and
the upper rooms tower above the clouds.
Xuanzang was a contemporary and an esteemed guest of
catalogued the emperor's munificence in some detail. According to
Xuanzang's biographer, Hwui-Li,
Nalanda was held in contempt by some
Sthaviras for its emphasis on
Mahayana philosophy. They reportedly
Harsha for patronising
Nalanda during one of his visits to
Odisha , mocking the "sky-flower" philosophy taught there and
suggesting that he might as well patronise a
Kapalika temple. When
Harsha notified the chancellor of Nalanda, who sent the
monks Sagaramati, Prajnyarashmi, Simharashmi, and
Xuanzang to refute
the views of the monks from
Xuanzang returned to
China with 657
Buddhist texts (many of them
Mahayanist) and 150 relics carried by 20 horses in 520 cases, and
translated 74 of the texts himself. In the thirty years following
his return, no fewer than eleven travellers from
known to have visited famed Nalanda.
YIJING IN NALANDA
A map of
Nalanda and its environs from Alexander Cunningham's
1861–62 ASI report which shows a number of ponds (pokhar) around the
Inspired by the journeys of
Faxian and Xuanzang, the pilgrim, Yijing
(also known as I-tsing), after studying
India in 673 CE. He stayed there for fourteen years, ten of
which he spent at the
Nalanda Mahavihara. When he returned to China
in 695, he had with him 400
Sanskrit texts which were subsequently
Unlike his predecessor, Xuanzang, who also describes the geography
and culture of 7th-century India, Yijing's account primarily
concentrates on the practice of
Buddhism in the land of its origin and
detailed descriptions of the customs, rules, and regulations of the
monks at the monastery. In his chronicle, Yijing notes that revenues
from 200 villages (as opposed to 100 in Xuanzang's time) had been
assigned toward the maintenance of Nalanda. He described there being
eight halls with as many as 300 cells. According to him, daily life
Nalanda included a series of rites that were followed by all. Each
morning, a bell was rung signalling the bathing hour which led to
hundreds or thousands of monks proceeding from their viharas towards a
number of great pools of water in and around the campus where all of
them took their bath. This was followed by another gong which
signalled the ritual ablution of the image of the Buddha. The
chaityavandana was conducted in the evenings which included a
"three-part service", the chanting of a prescribed set of hymns,
shlokas , and selections from scriptures. While it was usually
performed at a central location, Yijing states that the sheer number
of residents at
Nalanda made large daily assemblies difficult. This
resulted in an adapted ritual which involved a priest, accompanied by
lay servants and children carrying incense and flowers, travelling
from one hall to the next chanting the service. The ritual was
completed by twilight.
NALANDA IN THE PALA ERA
The Palas established themselves in North-eastern
India in the 8th
century and reigned until the 12th century. Although they were a
Buddhism in their time was a mixture of the Mahayana
Vajrayana , a
Tantra -influenced version of
Nalanda was a cultural legacy from the great
age of the Guptas and it was prized and cherished. The Palas were
prolific builders and their rule oversaw the establishment of four
other Mahaviharas modelled on the
Somapura , and
Vikramashila respectively. Remarkably,
Odantapura was founded by Gopala , the progenitor of the royal line,
only 6 miles (9.7 km) away from Nalanda. Replica of the seal of
Nalanda set in terracotta on display in the Archaeological Survey of
India Museum in
Nalanda suggest that Gopala's son, Dharmapala , who
Mahavihara at Vikramshila, also appears to have been a
benefactor of the ancient monastery in some form. It is however,
Dharmapala's son, the 9th century emperor and founder of the
Mahavihara at Somapura, Devapala , who appears to have been Nalanda's
most distinguished patron in this age. A number of metallic figures
containing references to Devapala have been found in its ruins as well
as two notable inscriptions. The first, a copper plate inscription
unearthed at Nalanda, details an endowment by the Shailendra King,
Balaputradeva of Suvarnadvipa (
Sumatra in modern-day
Indonesia ). This
Srivijayan king, "attracted by the manifold excellences of Nalanda"
had built a monastery there and had requested Devapala to grant the
revenue of five villages for its upkeep, a request which was granted.
Ghosrawan inscription is the other inscription from Devapala's
time and it mentions that he received and patronised a learned Vedic
scholar named Viradeva who was later elected the head of Nalanda.
The now five different seats of Buddhist learning in eastern India
formed a state-supervised network and it was common for great scholars
to move easily from position to position among them. Each
establishment had its own official seal with a dharmachakra flanked by
a deer on either side, a motif referring to Buddha's deer park sermon
Sarnath . Below this device was the name of the institution which
in Nalanda's case read,
translates to "of the Community of Venerable Monks of the Great
Monastery at Nalanda".
While there is ample epigraphic and literary evidence to show that
the Palas continued to patronise
Nalanda liberally, the
less singularly outstanding during this period as the other Pala
establishments must have drawn away a number of learned monks from
Vajrayana influence on
Buddhism grew strong under the
Palas and this appears to have also had an effect on Nalanda. What had
once been a centre of liberal scholarship with a Mahayanist focus grew
more fixated with Tantric doctrines and magic rites. Taranatha's
17th-century history claims that
Nalanda might have even been under
the control of the head of the Vikramshila
Mahavihara at some point.
While its excavated ruins today only occupy an area of around 1,600
feet (488 m) by 800 feet (244 m) or roughly 12 hectares, Nalanda
Mahavihara occupied a far greater area in medieval times. It was
considered an architectural masterpiece, and was marked by a lofty
wall and one gate.
Nalanda had eight separate compounds and ten
temples, along with many other meditation halls and classrooms. On the
grounds were lakes and parks.
Nalanda was a residential school, i.e.
it had dormitories for students. In its heyday, it is claimed to have
accommodated over 10,000 students and 2,000 teachers. Chinese pilgrims
estimated the number of students to have been between 3,000 and 5,000.
The subjects taught at
Nalanda covered every field of learning, and
it attracted pupils and scholars from Korea, Japan, China, Tibet,
Xuanzang left detailed accounts of the school in the 7th century. He
described how the regularly laid-out towers, forest of pavilions,
harmikas and temples seemed to "soar above the mists in the sky" so
that from their cells the monks "might witness the birth of the winds
and clouds". The pilgrim states: "An azure pool winds around the
monasteries, adorned with the full-blown cups of the blue lotus; the
dazzling red flowers of the lovely kanaka hang here and there, and
outside groves of mango trees offer the inhabitants their dense and
Prajnaparamita and Scenes from the Buddha's Life (top), Maitreya
and Scenes from the Buddha's Life (bottom), Folios from a
Dharanisamgraha, manuscript from Nalanda, circa 1075
Bodhisattva . Ashtasahasrika
manuscript from Nalanda's Pala period .
It is evident from the large numbers of texts that Yijing carried
back with him after his 10-year residence at Nalanda, that the
Mahavihara must have featured a well-equipped library. Traditional
Tibetan sources mention the existence of a great library at Nalanda
named Dharmaganja (Piety Mart) which comprised three large
multi-storeyed buildings, the Ratnasagara (Ocean of Jewels), the
Ratnodadhi (Sea of Jewels), and the Ratnaranjaka (Jewel-adorned).
Ratnodadhi was nine storeys high and housed the most sacred
manuscripts including the
Sutra and the
The exact number of volumes in the
Nalanda library is not known. But
it is estimated to have been in the hundreds of thousands. The
library not only collected religious manuscripts but also had texts on
such subjects as grammar , logic, literature, astrology , astronomy ,
and medicine. The
Nalanda library must have had a classification
scheme which was possibly based on a text classification scheme
developed by the
Sanskrit linguist, Panini .
Buddhist texts were most
likely divided into three classes based on the
Tripitaka 's three main
Sutra , and the Abhidhamma .
In his biography of Xuanzang, Hwui-Li states that all the students of
Nalanda studied the Great Vehicle (Mahayana) as well as the works of
the eighteen (
Hinayana ) sects of Buddhism. In addition to these, they
studied other subjects such as the
Vedas , Hetuvidyā (Logic),
Grammar and Philology), Chikitsavidya (Medicine), the
works on magic (the
Atharvaveda ), and
Xuanzang himself studied a number of these subjects at
Shilabhadra and others. Besides Theology and Philosophy, frequent
debates and discussions necessitated competence in Logic. A student at
Mahavihara had to be well-versed in the systems of Logic
associated with all the different schools of thought of the time as he
was expected to defend Buddhist systems against the others. Other
subjects believed to have been taught at
Nalanda include law,
astronomy, and city-planning.
Tibetan tradition holds that there were "four doxographies "
(Tibetan: grub-mtha’) which were taught at Nalanda:
Madhyamaka , the
Mahayana philosophy of
Chittamatra , the
Mahayana philosophy of
In the 7th century,
Xuanzang recorded the number of teachers at
Nalanda as being around 1510. Of these, approximately 1000 were able
to explain 20 collections of sutras and shastras, 500 were able to
explain 30 collections, and only 10 teachers were able to explain 50
Xuanzang was among the few who were able to explain 50
collections or more. At this time, only the abbot
studied all the major collections of sutras and shastras at Nalanda.
The Chinese monk Yijing wrote that matters of discussion and
Nalanda would require assembly and consensus on
decisions by all those at the assembly, as well as resident monks:
If the monks had some business, they would assemble to discuss the
matter. Then they ordered the officer, Vihārpāl, to circulate and
report the matter to the resident monks one by one with folded hands.
With the objection of a single monk, it would not pass. There was no
use of beating or thumping to announce his case. In case a monk did
something without consent of all the residents, he would be forced to
leave the monastery. If there was a difference of opinion on a certain
issue, they would give reason to convince (the other group). No force
or coercion was used to convince.
Xuanzang also noted:
The lives of all these virtuous men were naturally governed by habits
of the most solemn and strictest kind. Thus in the seven hundred years
of the monastery's existence no man has ever contravened the rules of
the discipline. The king showers it with the signs of his respect and
veneration and has assigned the revenue from a hundred cities to pay
for the maintenance of the religious.
INFLUENCE ON BUDDHISM
Buddha Shakyamuni or the
Maitreya , gilt copper
alloy, early 8th century,
THE FOUR MAIN SITES
FOUR ADDITIONAL SITES
A vast amount of what came to comprise Tibetan
Buddhism , both its
Vajrayana traditions, stems from the teachers and
traditions at Nalanda.
Shantarakshita , who pioneered the propagation
Tibet in the 8th century was a scholar of Nalanda. He
was invited by the Tibetan king, Khri-sron-deu-tsan , and established
the monastery at
Samye , serving as its first abbot. He and his
Kamalashila (who was also of Nalanda) essentially taught
Tibetans how to do philosophy.
Padmasambhava , who was also invited
Mahavihara by the king in 747 CE, is credited as a
founder of Tibetan Buddhism.
Dharmakirti (c. 7th century), one of the Buddhist
founders of Indian philosophical logic , as well as one of the primary
Buddhist atomism , taught at Nalanda.
Other forms of Buddhism, such as the
Buddhism followed in
Korea and Japan, flourished within the walls of the
ancient school. A number of scholars have associated some Mahayana
texts such as the
Shurangama Sutra , an important sutra in East Asian
Buddhism, with the Buddhist tradition at Nalanda. Ron Epstein also
notes that the general doctrinal position of the sutra does indeed
correspond to what is known about the Buddhist teachings at Nalanda
toward the end of the Gupta period when it was translated.
HISTORICAL FIGURES ASSOCIATED WITH NALANDA
Traditional sources state that
Nalanda was visited by both Mahavira
Buddha in c. 6th and 5th century BCE. It is also the place of
birth and nirvana of
Shariputra , one of the famous disciples of
Aryadeva , student of
Chandrakirti , student of Nagarjuna
Dharmakirti , logician
Dignaga , founder of
Nagarjuna , formaliser of the concept of
Naropa , student of
Tilopa and teacher of Marpa
Shilabhadra , the teacher of
Xuanzang , Chinese Buddhist traveller
* Yijing , Chinese Buddhist traveller
DECLINE AND END
The decline of
Nalanda is concomitant with the disappearance of
Buddhism in India. When
Xuanzang travelled the length and breadth of
India in the 7th century, he observed that his religion was in slow
decay and even had ominous premonitions of Nalanda's forthcoming
Buddhism had steadily lost popularity with the laity and
thrived, thanks to royal patronage, only in the monasteries of Bihar
and Bengal. By the time of the Palas, the traditional
Hinayana forms of
Buddhism were imbued with Tantric practices
involving secret rituals and magic. The rise of
Hindu philosophies in
the subcontinent and the waning of the Buddhist Pala dynasty after the
11th century meant that
Buddhism was hemmed in on multiple fronts,
political, philosophical, and moral. The final blow was delivered when
its still-flourishing monasteries, the last visible symbols of its
existence in India, were overrun during the Muslim invasion that swept
India at the turn of the 13th century.
In around 1200 CE,
Bakhtiyar Khilji , a Turkic chieftain out to make
a name for himself, was in the service of a commander in
Awadh . The
Minhaj-i-Siraj in his
Tabaqat-i Nasiri , recorded
his deeds a few decades later. Khilji was assigned two villages on the
Bihar which had become a political no-man's land. Sensing an
opportunity, he began a series of plundering raids into
Bihar and was
recognised and rewarded for his efforts by his superiors. Emboldened,
Khilji decided to attack a fort in
Bihar and was able to successfully
capture it, looting it of a great booty.
Minhaj-i-Siraj wrote of this
Muhammad-i-Bakht-yar, by the force of his intrepidity, threw himself
into the postern of the gateway of the place, and they captured the
fortress, and acquired great booty. The greater number of the
inhabitants of that place were Brahmans, and the whole of those
Brahmans had their heads shaven; and they were all slain. There were a
great number of books there; and, when all these books came under the
observation of the Musalmans, they summoned a number of Hindus that
they might give them information respecting the import of those books;
but the whole of the Hindus had been killed. On becoming acquainted ,
it was found that the whole of that fortress and city was a college,
and in the Hindui tongue, they call a college Bihar. The End of
the Buddhist Monks, A.D. 1193 from Hutchinson's Story of the Nations
depicts Khilji trying to make sense of a manuscript.
This passage refers to an attack on a Buddhist monastery (the "Bihar"
or Vihara) and its monks (the shaved Brahmans). The exact date of this
event is not known with scholarly estimates ranging from 1197 to 1206.
While many historians believe that this monastery which was mistaken
for a fort was Odantapura, some are of the opinion that it was Nalanda
itself. However, considering that these two Mahaviharas were only a
few kilometres apart, both very likely befell a similar fate. The
other great Mahaviharas of the age such as Vikramshila and later,
Jagaddala, also met their ends at the hands of the Turks at around the
Another important account of the times is the biography of the
Dharmasvamin , who journeyed to
1234 and 1236. When he visited
Nalanda in 1235, he found it still
surviving, but a ghost of its past existence. Most of the buildings
had been damaged by the Muslims and had since fallen into disrepair.
But two viharas, which he named Dhanaba and Ghunaba, were still in
serviceable condition with a 90-year-old teacher named Rahula
Shribhadra instructing a class of about 70 students on the premises.
Dharmasvamin believed that the
Mahavihara had not been completely
destroyed for superstitious reasons as one of the soldiers who had
participated in the desecration of a Jnananatha temple in the complex
had immediately fallen ill.
While he stayed there for six months under the tutelage of Rahula
Dharmasvamin makes no mention of the legendary library of
Nalanda which possibly did not survive the initial wave of Turkic
attacks. He, however, provides an eyewitness account of an attack on
Mahavihara by the Muslim soldiers stationed at nearby
Bihar Sharif ) which had been turned into a military
headquarters. Only the Tibetan and his nonagenarian instructor stayed
behind and hid themselves while the rest of the monks fled Nalanda.
Contemporary sources end at this point. But traditional Tibetan works
which were written much later suggest that Nalanda's story might have
managed to endure for a while longer even if the institution was only
a pale shadow of its former glory. The Lama, Taranatha, states that
the whole of
Magadha fell to the Turks who destroyed many monasteries
Nalanda which suffered heavy damage. He however also notes
that a king of Bengal named Chagalaraja and his queen later patronised
Nalanda in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, although no major
work was done there.
An 18th-century work named Pag sam jon zang recounts another Tibetan
legend which states that chaityas and viharas at
Nalanda were repaired
once again by a Buddhist sage named
Mudita Bhadra and that
Kukutasiddha, a minister of the reigning king, erected a temple there.
A story goes that when the structure was being inaugurated, two
Tirthika mendicants who had appeared there
were treated with disdain by some young novice monks who threw washing
water at them. In retaliation, the mendicants performed a 12-year
penance propitiating the sun, at the end of which they performed a
fire-sacrifice and threw "living embers" from the sacrificial pit into
the Buddhist temples. The resulting conflagration is said to have hit
Nalanda's library. Fortunately, a miraculous stream of water gushed
forth from holy manuscripts in the ninth storey of Ratnodadhi which
enabled many manuscripts to be saved. The heretics perished in the
very fire that they had kindled. While it is unknown when this
event was supposed to have occurred, archaeological evidence
(including a small heap of burnt rice) does suggest that a large fire
did consume a number of structures in the complex on more than one
occasion. A stone inscription notes the destruction by fire and
subsequent restoration at the
Mahavihara during the reign of Mahipala
(r. 988 – 1038).
The last throne-holder of Nalanda, Shakyashribhadra, fled to
1204 at the invitation of the Tibetan translator Tropu Lotsawa
(Khro-phu Lo-tsa-ba Byams-pa dpal). In Tibet, he started an ordination
lineage of the
Mulasarvastivada lineage to complement the two existing
Excavated ruins of the monasteries of Nalanda.
After its decline,
Nalanda was largely forgotten until Francis
Buchanan-Hamilton surveyed the site in 1811–1812 after locals in the
vicinity drew his attention to a vast complex of ruins in the area.
He, however, did not associate the mounds of earth and debris with
famed Nalanda. That link was established by Major Markham Kittoe in
Alexander Cunningham and the newly formed Archaeological Survey
India conducted an official survey in 1861–1862. Systematic
excavation of the ruins by the ASI did not begin until 1915 and ended
in 1937. A second round of excavation and restoration took place
between 1974 and 1982.
The remains of
Nalanda today extend some 1,600 feet (488 m) north to
south and around 800 feet (244 m) east to west. Excavations have
revealed eleven monasteries and six major brick temples arranged in an
ordered layout. A 100 ft (30 m) wide passage runs from north to south
with the temples to its west and the monasteries to its east. Most
structures show evidence of multiple periods of construction with new
buildings being raised atop the ruins of old ones. Many of the
buildings also display signs of damage by fire on at least one
All the monasteries at
Nalanda are very similar in layout and general
appearance. Their plan involves a rectangular form with a central
quadrangular court which is surrounded by a verandah which, in turn,
is bounded by an outer row of cells for the monks. The central cell
facing the entrance leading into the court is a shrine chamber. Its
strategic position means that it would have been the first thing that
drew the eye when entering the edifice. With the exception of those
designated 1A and 1B, the monasteries all face west with drains
emptying out in the east and staircases positioned in the south-west
corner of the buildings.
Monastery 1 is considered the oldest and
the most important of the monastery group and shows as many as nine
levels of construction. Its lower monastery is believed to be the one
sponsored by Balaputradeva, the Srivijayan king, during the reign of
Devapala in the 9th century. The building was originally at least 2
storeys high and contained a colossal statue of a seated Buddha.
A map of the excavated remains of Nalanda.
The most iconic of Nalanda's structures is Temple no. 3 with its
multiple flights of stairs that lead all the way to the top. The
temple was originally a small structure which was built upon and
enlarged by later constructions. Archaeological evidence shows that
the final structure was a result of at least seven successive such
accumulations of construction. The fifth of these layered temples is
the most interesting and the best preserved with four corner towers of
which three have been exposed. The towers as well as the sides of the
stairs are decorated with exquisite panels of Gupta-era art depicting
a variety of stucco figures including
Buddha and the Bodhisattvas ,
scenes from the
Jataka tales ,
Brahmanical deities such as
Kartikeya , and
Gajalakshmi , Kinnaras playing musical
instruments, various representations of Makaras , as well as human
couples in amorous postures. The temple is surrounded by numerous
votive stupas some of which have been built with bricks inscribed with
passages from sacred Buddhist texts. The apex of Temple no. 3 features
a shrine chamber which now only contains the pedestal upon which an
immense statue of
Buddha must have once rested.
Temple no. 2 notably features a dado of 211 sculptured panels
depicting a variety of religious motifs as well as scenes of art and
of everyday life. The site of Temple no. 13 features a brick-made
smelting furnace with four chambers. The discovery of burnt metal and
slag suggests that it was used to cast metallic objects. To the north
of this temple lie the remains of Temple no. 14. An enormous image of
Buddha was discovered here. The image's pedestal features
fragments of the only surviving exhibit of mural painting at Nalanda.
Numerous sculptures, murals, copper plates, inscriptions, seals,
coins, plaques, potteries and works in stone, bronze, stucco and
terracotta have been unearthed within the ruins of Nalanda. The
Buddhist sculptures discovered notably include those of the
Manjushri , Marichi ,
and Tara .
Brahmanical idols of
Vishnu , Shiva-Parvathi,
Mahishasura Mardini , and
Surya have also been found in the ruins.
A number of other ruined structures survive. Nearby is the Surya
Mandir , a
Hindu temple. The known and excavated ruins extend over an
area of about 150,000 square metres, although if
Xuanzang 's account
of Nalanda's extent is correlated with present excavations, almost 90%
of it remains unexcavated.
Nalanda is no longer inhabited.
SURVIVING NALANDA MANUSCRIPTS
Fleeing monks took some of the
Nalanda manuscripts. A few of them
have survived and are preserved in collections such as those at:
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
* Yarlung Museum,
Tsetang (From the On ke ru Lha khang monastery)
In 1951, the Nava
Nalanda Mahavihara), a
modern centre for
Buddhism in the spirit of the ancient
institution, was founded by the Government of
Bihar near Nalanda's
ruins. It was deemed to be a university in 2006.
September 1, 2014, saw the commencement of the first academic year of
Nalanda University , with 15 students, in nearby
Rajgir . It
has been established in a bid to revive the ancient seat of learning.
The university has acquired 455 acres of land for its campus and has
been allotted ₹2727 crores (around $454M) by the Indian government.
It is also being funded by the governments of China, Singapore,
Australia, Thailand, and others.
Xuanzang Memorial Hall at
Nalanda is a popular tourist destination in the state attracting a
number of Indian and overseas visitors. It is also an important stop
on the Buddhist tourism circuit.
NALANDA ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM
The Archaeological Survey of
India maintains a museum near the ruins
for the benefit of visitors. The museum exhibits the antiquities that
have been unearthed at
Nalanda as well as from nearby
Rajgir . Out of
13,463 items, only 349 are on display in four galleries.
XUANZANG MEMORIAL HALL
Xuanzang Memorial Hall is an Indo-Chinese undertaking to honour
the famed Buddhist monk and traveller. A relic, comprising a skull
bone of the Chinese monk, is on display in the memorial hall.
NALANDA MULTIMEDIA MUSEUM
Another museum adjoining the excavated site is the privately run
Nalanda Multimedia Museum. It showcases the history of Nalanda
through 3-D animation and other multimedia presentations.
An ASI guide stone detailing the history of Nalanda.
Sculpted stucco panels on a tower
A teaching platform in the ruins of
A post-8th century bronze statue of
A stone statue of the Khasarpana Lokeshvara form of
Avalokisteshvara from 9th-century Nalanda.
Details on one of numerous votive stupas at the site
Ancient higher-learning institutions
* List of Monuments of National Importance in
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