ASI No. N-BR-43
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Archaeological Site of
Nalanda University) at
Cultural: iv, vi
2016 (40th Session)
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 fifth century CE 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 Vikramashila which are often characterised as India's early
Nalanda flourished under the patronage of
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
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
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
Nalanda was very likely ransacked and destroyed by an army of the
Mamluk Dynasty of the
Delhi Sultanate 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 (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.
2 Early history
Nalanda in the Gupta era
4 The post-Gupta era
Xuanzang in Nalanda
4.2 Yijing in Nalanda
Nalanda in the Pala era
6 The Mahavihara
7 Influence on Buddhism
8 Historical figures associated with Nalanda
9 Decline and end
Nalanda and the Tibetan Buddhist tradition
11 The excavated remains
14 Revival after India's Independence
Nalanda Archaeological Museum
Xuanzang Memorial Hall
Nalanda Multimedia Museum
17 See also
20 External links
A number of theories exist about the etymology of the name, Nālandā.
According to the Tang Dynasty Chinese pilgrim, Xuanzang, 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
thirthankara, 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 association with
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
Buddhist emperor, Ashoka, built a great temple at
Nalanda at the site
of Shariputra's chaitya. He also places 3rd-century CE luminaries such
Mahayana philosopher, Nagarjuna, and his disciple, Aryadeva, at
Nalanda with the former also heading the institution.
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 assertion.
When 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[page needed] and a seal identifies a monarch named
Shakraditya (Śakrāditya) as its founder. Both
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 Gupta emperor, Kumaragupta I
(r. c. 415 – c. 455 CE– ), whose coin has been
discovered at Nalanda. His successors, Buddhagupta,
Tathagatagupta, Baladitya, and Vajra, later extended and expanded the
institution by building additional monasteries and temples.
The Guptas were traditionally a
Brahmanical dynasty. They built a
Nalanda and also a 300 ft (91 m) high vihara
Buddha statue within which, according to Xuanzang, resembled
Vihara built under the
Bodhi tree". The Chinese monk also
noted that Baladitya's son, Vajra, who commissioned a sangharama as
well, "possessed a heart firm in faith".
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
Mahavihara was Harsha, the 7th-century emperor of Kannauj. Harsha
was a converted Buddhist and considered himself a servant of the monks
of Nalanda. He built a monastery of brass within the
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
Great Tang Records on the Western Regions or Da
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"[clarification needed] philosophy
taught there and suggesting that he might as well patronise a Kapalika
temple. When this occurred,
Harsha notified the chancellor of
Nalanda, who sent the monks Sagaramati, Prajnyarashmi, Simharashmi,
Xuanzang to refute the views of the monks from Odisha.
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
Korea are 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
Sanskrit in Srivijaya, arrived
India in 673 CE. He stayed there for fourteen years, ten of which
he spent at the
Nalanda Mahavihara. When he returned to
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 apartments. 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
Nalanda and 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
Mahavihara at Jagaddala,
Odantapura, 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
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
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
at 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
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,
Mahavihara occupied a far greater area in medieval times.
The subjects taught at
Nalanda covered every field of learning, and it
attracted pupils and scholars from Korea, Japan, China, Tibet,
Persia and Turkey.
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),
Scenes from the Buddha's Life (bottom), Folios from a Dharanisamgraha,
manuscript from Nalanda, circa 1075
Avalokiteshvara 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
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 Guhyasamaja.
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.[page needed] 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 divisions: the Vinaya, Sutra, and the
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 Samkhya.
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:
Mahayana philosophy of Nagarjuna
Mahayana philosophy of
Asanga and Vasubandhu
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
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
Bodhisattva Maitreya, gilt copper alloy,
early 8th century, Nalanda
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
theorists of 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.
Several Buddhist institutions overseas have chosen to call themselves
Nalanda to acknowledge Nalanda's influence. These include Nalanda
Buddhist Society in Malaysia and
Nalanda College, Colombo, Sri
Nalanda Buddhist Education Foundation, Indonesia.
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
Shantirakshita - Google Art Project
Aryadeva, student of Nagarjuna
Chandrakirti, student of Nagarjuna
Dignaga, founder of Buddhist Logic
Nagarjuna, formaliser of the concept of Shunyata
Naropa, student of
Tilopa and teacher of Marpa
Śāntarakṣita, founder of Yogācāra-Mādhyamika
Shilabhadra, the teacher of Xuanzang
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
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
[with the contents of those books], it was found that the whole of
that fortress and city was a college, and in the Hindui tongue, they
call a college [مدرسه] 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 Tibetan
monk-pilgrim, Dharmasvamin, who journeyed to
India between 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 including
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
Nalanda and the Tibetan Buddhist tradition
The last throne-holder of Nalanda, Shakyashri Bhadra of Kashmir,
Tibet in 1204 at the invitation of the Tibetan translator
Tropu Lotsawa (Khro-phu Lo-tsa-ba Byams-pa dpal). Some of the
Nalanda books were taken by fleeing monks to Tibet.
He took with him several Indian masters: Sugataśrī, (an expert in
Madhyamaka and Prajñāpāramitā); Jayadatta (Vinaya); Vibhūticandra
(grammar and Abhidharma), Dānaśīla (logic), Saṅghaśrī
(Candavyākaraṇa), Jīvagupta (books of Maitreya),
Mahābodhi,(Bodhicaryāvatāra); and Kālacandra (Kālacakra).
Tibetan Buddhist tradition is regarded to be a continuation of the
Nalanda tradition. The Dalai
Buddhism is not an invention of the Tibetans. Rather, it is
quite clear that it derives from the pure lineage of the tradition of
Nalanda Monastery. The master
Nagarjuna hailed from this
institution, as did many other important philosophers and logicians...
Lama refers to himself as a follower of the lineage of the
An Astasahasrika Prajnaparamita
Sutra manuscript preserved at the
Tsethang monastery has superbly painted and well preserved wooden
covers and 139 leaves. According to its colophon it was donated by the
mother of the great pandita Sri Asoka in the second year of the reign
of King Surapala, at the very end of the 11th century.
The excavated remains
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 occasion.
The map give the layout of the excavated structures. Temple 3 in the
south was the most imposing structure. Temple 12, 13, 14 face the
monasteries and face east. 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. Temple 2 was to the east.
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
Nalanda copper-plate of Devapala). The building was originally at
least 2 storeys high and contained a colossal statue of a seated
A map of the excavated remains of Nalanda.
Temple no. 3 (also termed
Sariputta Stupa) is the most iconic of
Nalanda's structures 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. 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. According to Win Maung, the stupa was derived from the
early Kushana type and in turn influenced Gwe Bin Tet Kon (Sri
Khettara) stupa in Myanmar. In a shrine near the bottom of the
staircase, a large image of Avalotiteshvar was found which was
eventually moved to the Museum.
Temple no. 2 notably features a dado of 211 sculptured panels
depicting a variety of religious motifs such as Shiva, Parvati,
Kartikeya, and Gajalakshmi, Kinnaras playing musical instruments,
various representations of Makaras, as well as human couples in
amorous postures, as well as scenes of art and of everyday life. It
has been suggested that Temple 2 was of
however that is not settled. 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 Temple 13 lie the remains of Temple no. 14. An
enormous image of the
Buddha was discovered here. The image's pedestal
features fragments of the only surviving exhibit of mural painting at
To the east of Temple 2, lie the remains of Sarai Temple in the
recently excavated Sarai Mound. This multi-storeyed Buddhist temple
with many stupas and shrines was enclosed by a massive wall enclosure.
The remains in the sanctum suggest that the
Buddha statue was around
eighty feet high.
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
different postures, Avalokiteshvara, Jambhala, Manjushri, Marichi, and
Brahmanical idols of Vishnu, Shiva-Parvathi, Ganesha,
Mahishasura Mardini, and
Surya have also been found in the ruins.
Buddha Statue", photographed by Alexander E Caddy, in 1895.
Another view 
A modern temple termed the Black
Buddha temple (termed by locals as
the Telia Bhairav, "tel" refers to use of oil as a protective
coating) has emerged near Temple 14 with has a ancient large black
Buddha image in bhumisparha mudra. This the same temple
termed Baithak Bhairab in Cunningham's 1861–62 ASI report (See "A
Nalanda and its environs from Alexander Cunningham's 1861–62
ASI report" above), suggesting that the
Buddha image was in worship by
the locals even then, suggesting a continuity of religious activity in
the ruins of Nalanda. Replicas of the Black
Buddha image have been
installed in temples in Thailand. It is notable that the
temple is outside of the ASI protected area, presumable because was in
active worship before ASI took control.
In nearby villages, such as Ghosrawan, Sarilchak, Mustafpur,
Jagdishpur, there are several
Buddha images in active worship by the
local people. Some of the statues have been stolen and some
have been deliberately vandalized.
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 Folios from a Dharanisamgraha,
Asia Society This Ashtasahasrika Prajnaparamita manuscript
Sanskrit and Tibetan, the history of the manuscript from
its creation at the famous
Nalanda monastery in
India through its use
Tibet by the compiler of the first Tibetan canon of Buddhism,
Tsetang (From the On ke ru Lha khang monastery)
Sanskrit palm-leaf manuscript, with 139
leaves and painted wooden covers. According to the colophon the this
manuscript was donated by the mother of the great pandita Sri Asoka in
the second year of the reign of King Surapala, at end of the 11th
A number of inscriptions were found during the excavation, which are
now preserved in the
Nalanda Museum. These include:
Son of a minister of Yashovarman donated to the temple built by king
Baladitya. 8th cent CE, basalt slab found in monastery 1.
Murnavarman constructed a 24.3 meter high brass image of Buddha. 7th
cent CE, basalt slab, found in Sarai mound.
Monk Vipulshrimitra built a monastery. Basalt slab, later half of 12th
cent, found in the uppermost level of
Donation of Balaputradeva, the king of Suvarnadvipa of Sailendra
dynasty. 860 CE Copperplate found by Hirananda Shastri in 1921 in the
Monastery 1 at Nalanda.
Revival after India's Independence
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 at the suggestion of Dr. Rajendra Prasad, India's first
president. 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
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.
Plaque - Stupas and Inscription -
Terracotta - Gupta Period Circa
Stupa of Sariputta, (Temple 3)
Stupa of Sariputta, secondary shrines
Sculpted stucco panels on a tower,
Stupa of Sariputta
Buddha Image at Nalanda,
Stupa of Sariputta
People on second story of an excavated monastery
Monastery 4 with well and stepped platform
A post-8th century bronze statue of
Buddha from Nalanda
A stone statue of the Khasarpana Lokeshvara form of Avalokisteshvara
from 9th-century Nalanda
Buddha in Bhumisparsha
Mudra - Bronze - ca 9th-10th Century CE
Details on one of numerous votive stupas at the site
Vajrapani - Basalt Circa 8th Century AD
Birth of Siddhartha ca 10th Century CE
Skanda, Temple 2
Jain Tirthankara, Bronze, from Nalanda, Bihar, dating from 10th
Ganesha, Bronze, from Nalanda, Bihar, dating from 10th century A.D
Ancient higher-learning institutions
List of Monuments of National Importance in Bihar
India learning centers:
Odantapuri, adjacent to Nalanda
Pushpagiri Vihara, Odissa
Sharada Peeth, Kashmir
Teladhaka, near Nalanda
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^ a b Dutt 1962, p. 329.
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^ Monroe 2000, pp. 169.
^ a b Dutt 1962, p. 334.
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Hiranand Sastri 1986, pp. 3–4.
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Shurangama Sutra (T. 945): A Reappraisal of its
Nalanda Buddhist Society, Sri Serdang, Selangor
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^ a b Ghosh 1965, p. 13.
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Opening the Treasure of the Profound: Teachings on the Songs of Jigten
Sumgon and Milarepa, Khenchen Konchog Gyaltshen Rinpoche, Milarepa,
Jigten Sumgon, Editor Khenmo Trinlay Chodron, Shambhala Publications,
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Lama XIV Bstan-ʼdzin-rgya-mtsho, Jose
Ignacio Cabezon, Simon and Schuster, 2011 p. 15
^ The Seventeen Pandits of
Nalanda Monastery, James Blumenthal,
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Ajahn Withoon Putamee, Oct 7,
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อินเดีย, Eing Eing Siddhini Kittisiddho, May 2, 2012
โชติปภัสส์ ก่อแก้ว, Feb 13, 2016
เสถียรธรรมสถาน SDS Channel, May 25, 2012
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remote sensing, MB Rajani, Archive of Asian Art, V 66, No. 1, pp.
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Buddha statue back to village, ALOK KUMAR, The Telegraph,
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Nalanda University starts today
with 15 students, 11 faculty members". The Indian Express. Retrieved 3
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of the Muhammadan Dynasties of Asia Including Hindustan. Translated by
Major H. G. Raverty. p. 552.
Dutt, Sukumar (1962). Buddhist Monks And Monasteries of India: Their
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the Mughals. Har-Anand Publications. ISBN 8124110646.
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Nalanda (5 ed.). New Delhi: The
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Upasaka (1959). Biography of
Dharmasvamin (Chag Lo Tsa-ba
Chos-rje-dpal), a Tibetan Monk Pilgrim. Translated by George Roerich,
Introduction by A.S. Altekar: The account was narrated by Dharmasvamin
to his student, Chos-dar.
Altekar, Anant Sadashiv (1965). Education in Ancient India. Nand
Kishore. ISBN 8182054923.
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Footsteps of the Buddha. Translated from French by JA Underwood. Orion
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During the Seventh and Eighth Centuries A.D. Motilal Banarsidass
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Wriggins, Sally Hovey (1996). Xuanzang : a Buddhist pilgrim on
the Silk Road. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press. ISBN 0-8133-2801-2
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science in India : an outline of historical perspectives. New
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