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This article is about the ancient town and school. For other uses, see Nalanda (disambiguation).
Nalanda University India ruins.jpg
Ruins of Nalanda
Nalanda is located in India
Shown within India
Location Bihar, India
Coordinates 25°08′12″N 85°26′38″E / 25.13667°N 85.44389°E / 25.13667; 85.44389Coordinates: 25°08′12″N 85°26′38″E / 25.13667°N 85.44389°E / 25.13667; 85.44389
Type Centre of learning
Founded 5th century CE
Abandoned 13th century CE
Events Ransacked by Bakhtiyar Khilji in c. 1197 CE
Site notes
Excavation dates 1915–1937, 1974–1982[1]
Website Nalanda (ASI)
ASI No. N-BR-43[2]

Nālandā (Sanskrit: नालंदा Nālandā) was an acclaimed Mahāvihāra, a large Buddhist monastery in ancient Magadha (modern-day Bihar), India. The site is located about 95 kilometres southeast of Patna, and was a religious centre of learning from the fifth century CE to c. 1197 CE.[3][4] Historians often characterize Nālandā as a university.[5]:60[6]:148[7]:174[8][9]:43

Nalanda flourished between the reign of Śakrāditya (whose identity is uncertain, who might have been either Kumaragupta I or Kumaragupta II) and c. 1197 CE, supported by patronage from the Gupta Empire as well as emperors like Harsha and later rulers from the Pala Empire.[10]:329 At its peak, the school attracted scholars and students from as far away as Tibet, China, Greece, and Greater Iran.[11]

Nalanda was ransacked and destroyed by an army of the Muslim Mamluk Dynasty under Bakhtiyar Khilji in c. 1197 CE.

Early History[edit]

Nalanda was initially a small village by a major trade route that ran through the nearby city of Rajagriha (modern Rajgir) which was then the capital of Magadha.[10]:328[12] Buddha was said to have delivered lectures in a nearby forest named Pravarik and one of his two chief disciples, Sariputra, was born in this village and also attained nirvana there.[13]:29[14] The Jain thirthankara, Mahavira, was said to have spent 14 rainy seasons at Nalanda.[14][6]:148 This association with Buddha and Mahavira tenuously dates the existence of the village to at least the 5th–6th century BCE.

Nalanda in the Gupta era[edit]

Some historical studies suggest that the the school at Nalanda was established during the Gupta Dynasty.[15] Both Xuanzang and Prajñavarman cite him as the founder, as does a seal discovered at the site.[10]:329

As historian Sukumar Dutt describes it, the history of the school at Nalanda "falls into two main divisions—first, one of growth, development and fruition from the sixth century to the ninth, when it was dominated by the liberal cultural traditions inherited from the Gupta age; the second, one of gradual decline and final dissolution from the ninth century to the thirteen—a period when the tantric developments of Buddhism became most pronounced in eastern India."[10]:344

When the Chinese Buddhist traveller, Yijing, visited Nalanda in 673–695 CE, there were eight compounds, having as many as 300 rooms.[16][dead link]

Nalanda in the Pāla era[edit]

A number of monasteries grew up during the Pāla period in ancient Bengal and Magadha. According to Tibetan sources, five great Mahaviharas stood out: Vikramashila, the premier institution of higher learning of the era; Nalanda, past its prime but still illustrious, Somapura, Odantapurā, and Jaggadala.[17] The five monasteries formed a network; "all of them were under state supervision" and there existed "a system of co-ordination among them . . it seems from the evidence that the different seats of Buddhist learning that functioned in eastern India under the Pāla were regarded together as forming a network, an interlinked group of institutions," and it was common for great scholars to move easily from position to position among them.[10]:352

During the Pālā period, the Nālānda was less singularly outstanding, as other Pāla establishments "must have drawn away a number of learned monks from Nālānda when all of them ... came under the aegis of the Pālās."[10]:344

The Mahavihara[edit]

The complex covered an area between 488 by 244 metres.[18]

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.[19] The school 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. The complex was built with red bricks and its ruins occupy an area of 14 hectares (488 by 244 metres).[18]

The library was located in a nine-storied building where meticulous copies of texts were produced. The subjects taught at Nalanda covered every field of learning, and it attracted pupils and scholars from Korea, Japan, China, Tibet, Indonesia, Persia and Turkey.[4] During the period of Harsha, the monastery is reported to have owned 200 villages given as grants.

The Tang Dynasty Chinese pilgrim 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."[20]:158 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 protective shade."[20]:159

The entrance of many of the viharas in the Nalanda ruins can be seen with a bow marked floor; the bow was the royal sign of the Guptas.


The remnants of the library of Nalanda, which is reported to have burned for three months after the invaders set fire to it, ransacked and destroyed the monasteries, and drove the monks from the site.[citation needed]


The library at Nalanda was an immense complex. Called the Dharmaganga, or Piety Mart, it was separated into three large buildings: the Ratnasagara, the Ratnadadhi, and the Ratnaranjaka. The Ratnadadhi (Ocean of Gems) was nine stories high and housed the most sacred manuscripts including the Prajnaparamita Sutra and the Samajguhya.[21]

The towers were supposedly immense, bejewelled and gilded to reflect the rays of the sun.[10] According to the Bhaskara Samhita, an ancient text on organizational practices, the library was to be built in a “finely built stone building” and each manuscript would have been placed on iron shelves or stack and covered with cloth and tied up. Furthermore, the librarian in charge, according to the text, was not only responsible for maintaining the materials but also for guiding readers in their studies.[22]

The exact number of volumes of the Nalanda library is not known. But it is estimated to have been in the hundreds of thousands.[23] The library not only collected religious manuscripts but also had texts on such subjects as grammar, logic, literature, astrology, astronomy, and medicine.[24]


It is clear that the Nalanda library had a classification scheme[21] which was possibly based on a text classification scheme developed by the great Sanskrit linguist Panini.[22]:4 Buddhists texts were most likely divided into three classes based on the Tripitaka’s three main divisions: the Vinaya, Sutra, and the Abhidamma.[25]:37 Like most other Indian ancient and medieval period libraries, Nalanda would have used a basic catalogue to help patrons find materials. This bibliography, or Anukamanikas, would have listed the books by hymns, authors, form of sutras, Rishi’s name, and the hymnal metre.[25]


The library was destroyed in c. 1197 CE – c. 1203 CE during the Muslim invasion in which Bakhtiyar Khalji sacked it and set it to flames.[24]:22 It was so vast that it is reported to have burned for three months after the invaders set fire to it, ransacked and destroyed the monasteries and killed or drove the monks from the site. According to Tibetan legend, the school and library were reportedly repaired shortly after by Mudita Bhadra, a Buddhist sage. Unfortunately, the library was again burned by Tirthaka mendicants.[21]:28


Tibetan tradition holds that there were "four doxographies" (Tibetan: grub-mtha’) which were taught at Nālandā, and Alexander Berzin specifies these as:[26]

  1. Sarvāstivāda Vaibhāṣika
  2. Sarvāstivāda Sautrāntika
  3. Mādhyamaka, the Mahāyāna philosophy of Nāgārjuna
  4. Chittamatra, the Mahāyāna philosophy of Asaṅga and Vasubandhu

In the 7th century, Xuanzang records the number of teachers at Nālandā as being around 1510.[27] Of these, approximately 1000 were able to explain 20 collections of sūtras and śāstras, 500 were able to explain 30 collections, and only 10 teachers were able to explain 50 collections.[27] Xuanzang was among the few who were able to explain 50 collections or more.[27] At this time, only the abbot Śīlabhadra had studied all the major collections of sūtras and śāstras at Nālandā.[27]

A page from the Great Tang Records on the Western Regions, a text widely used for its accurate descriptions of 7th century India

The Chinese monk Yijing wrote that matters of discussion and administration at Nālandā would require assembly and consensus on decisions by all those at the assembly, as well as resident monks:[28]

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 writes: "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."[20]:159

Influence on Buddhism[edit]

A vast amount of what came to comprise Tibetan Buddhism, both its Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions, stems from the late 9th–12th century teachers and traditions at Nalanda.[citation needed] The scholar Dharmakirti (ca. 7th century), one of the Buddhist founders of Indian philosophical logic, as well as and one of the primary theorists of Buddhist atomism, taught at Nalanda.[citation needed]

Rear view of the stupa of Śāriputra

Other forms of Buddhism, such as the Mahāyāna Buddhism followed in Vietnam, China, Korea and Japan, flourished within the walls of the ancient school. A number of scholars have associated some Mahāyāna texts such as the Śūraṅgama Sūtra, an important sūtra in East Asian Buddhism, with the Buddhist tradition at Nālandā.[10]:264[29] Ron Epstein also notes that the general doctrinal position of the sūtra does indeed correspond to what is known about the Buddhist teachings at Nālandā toward the end of the Gupta period when it was translated.[30]

According to Xuanzang's biographer, Hwui-Li, Nālandā was held in contempt by some Sthaviras for its emphasis on Mahayana philosophy. They reportedly chided King Harṣa 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.[10]:334 When this occurred, Harṣa notified the chancellor of Nālandā, who sent the monks Sāgaramati, Prajñāraśmi, Siṃharaśmi, and Xuanzang to refute the views of the monks from Odisha.[31]

Historical figures associated with Nalanda[edit]

Nalanda was visited by both Mahavira and Buddha in sixth and fifth centuries BCE.[1] It is also the place of birth and nirvana of Sariputra, one of the famous disciples of Buddha.[13] Many scholars and historical figures of note are associated with Nalanda including,

Decline and end[edit]

Evidence in literature suggests that in c. 1197 CE Nalanda was ransacked by Bakhtiyar Khilji, a Turk.[33] The Persian historian Minhaj-i-Siraj, in his chronicle the Tabaqat-i-Nasiri, reported that thousands of monks were burned alive and thousands beheaded as Khilji tried his best to uproot Buddhism. The burning of the library continued for several months and "smoke from the burning manuscripts hung for days like a dark pall over the low hills."[34]

The last throne-holder of Nalanda, Shakyashribhadra, fled to Tibet in 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 ones.

When the Tibetan translator Chag Lotsawa Dharmasvamin (Chag Lo-tsa-ba, 1197–1264) visited the site in 1235, he found it damaged and looted, with a 90-year-old teacher, Rahula Shribhadra, instructing a class of about 70 students.[35][36] During Chag Lotsawa's time there, an incursion by Turkic soldiers caused the remaining students to flee. Despite all this, "remnants of the debilitated Buddhist community continued to struggle on under scarce resources until c. 1400 when Chagalaraja was reportedly the last king to have patronized Nalanda."[5]{rp|60}

Some historians consider the destruction of the temples, monasteries, centres of learning at Nalanda and Northern India to be responsible for the demise of ancient Indian scientific thought in mathematics, astronomy, alchemy, and anatomy.[37]

Ruins and rediscovery[edit]

After its decline, Nalanda was largely forgotten until Francis Buchanan-Hamilton surveyed the site in 1811–1812 CE 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 1847 CE.[38] Alexander Cunningham and the newly formed Archaeological Survey of India conducted an official survey in 1861–1862 CE.[5]{rp|59}

A number of 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. Nālandā is no longer inhabited. Today the nearest habitation is a village called Bargaon.

Another ancient school, Tiladhaka, has been discovered nearby at Telhara. This school was also mentioned by Xuanzang.[6]:152[39]

In 1951, a modern centre for Pali (Theravadin) Buddhist studies was founded nearby by Bhikshu Jagdish Kashyap, the Nava Nalanda Mahavihara. Presently, this institute is pursuing an ambitious program of satellite imaging of the entire region.

Surviving Nalanda Manuscripts[edit]

Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva. Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra manuscript from Nālandā, Pāla period in Asia Society collection

Fleeing monks took some of the Nalanda manuscripts. A few of them have survived and are preserved in collections such as those at:


Main article: Nalanda University

September 1, 2014, saw the commencement of the first academic year of a modern Nalanda University, with 15 students, in nearby Rajgir.[43] 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.[44] It is also being funded by the governments of China, Singapore, Australia, Thailand, and others.[45]


Nalanda is a popular tourist destination in the state attracting a number of Indian and overseas visitors.[46] It is also an important stop on the Buddhist tourism circuit.[45]

Nalanda Archaeological Museum[edit]

Replica of the seal of Nalanda set in terracotta on display in the Archaeological Survey of India Museum in Nalanda

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.[47]

Nalanda Multimedia Museum[edit]

Another museum adjoining the excavated site is the privately run Nalanda multimedia museum.[48] It showcases the history of Nalanda through 3-D animation and other multimedia presentations.

Xuanzang Memorial Hall[edit]

The Xuanzang Memorial Hall at Nalanda

The Xuanzang Memorial Hall is an Indo-Chinese undertaking to honour the famed Buddhist monk and traveller, Xuanzang (more commonly referred to in India as Hiuen Tsang). Born in China in 602 CE, he travelled to Nalanda and stayed there for five years, studying Buddhism under the elderly Śīlabhadra.

A relic, comprising a skull bone of the Chinese monk, is on display in the memorial hall.[49]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Nalanda". Archaeological Survey of India. Retrieved 18 September 2014. 
  2. ^ "Alphabetical List of Monuments - Bihar". Archaeological Survey of India. Retrieved 17 September 2014. 
  3. ^ Scharfe, Hartmut (2002). Education in Ancient India. Brill. p. 149. ISBN 978-90-04-12556-8. 
  4. ^ a b Garten, Jeffrey E. (9 December 2006). "Really Old School". 
  5. ^ a b c Le, Huu Phuoc (2010). Buddhist Architecture. Grafikol. pp. 58–66. ISBN 0984404309. 
  6. ^ a b c Scharfe, Hartmut (2002). Handbook of Oriental Studies. BRILL. p. 355. ISBN 9004125566. 
  7. ^ Monroe, Paul (2000). Paul Monroe's encyclopaedia of history of education, Volume 1. Genesis Publishing. p. 1250. ISBN 8177550918. Retrieved 14 September 2014. 
  8. ^ a b c Sankalia, Hasmukhlal Dhirajlal (1934). The University of Nālandā. B. G. Paul & co. p. 259. 
  9. ^ a b c Wayman, Alex (1984). Buddhist Insight: Essays. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 470. ISBN 8120806751. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i Sukumar Dutt (1962). Buddhist Monks And Monasteries of India: Their History And Contribution To Indian Culture. George Allen and Unwin Ltd, London. ISBN 81-208-0498-8. 
  11. ^ Nalanda Digital Library. "Nalanda Digital Library-Nalanda Heritage-Nalanda,the first residential international University of the World". Retrieved 22 February 2010. 
  12. ^ Sastri, Kallidaikurichi Aiyah Nilakanta (1988). Age of the Nandas and Mauryas. Motilal Banarsidass Publishers. p. 268. ISBN 812080466X. 
  13. ^ a b Jayapalan, N (2000). History Of Education In India. Atlantic Publishers & Dist. pp. 29–33. ISBN 8171569226. 
  14. ^ a b Archaological Survey of India (2009). "Excavated Remains at Nalanda". UNESCO. Retrieved 5 September 2014. 
  15. ^ Altekar, Anant Sadashiv (1965). Education in Ancient India, Sixth, Varanasi: Nand Kishore & Bros.
  16. ^ Research Bulletin of the National Institute for Educational Research – Kokuritsu Kyōiku Kenkyūjo (Japan) – Google Boeken. Retrieved on 18 July 2013.
  17. ^ Vajrayogini: Her Visualization, Rituals, and Forms by Elizabeth English. Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86171-329-X pg 15
  18. ^ a b The First Spring: The Golden Age of India – Abraham Eraly – Google Boeken. Retrieved on 18 July 2013.
  19. ^ Encyclopaedia of Higher Education: Historical survey-pre-independence period – Suresh Kant Sharma – Google Boeken. Retrieved on 18 July 2013.
  20. ^ a b c Rene Grousset (1971). In the Footsteps of the Buddha. Orion Press. ISBN 0-7661-9347-0. 
  21. ^ a b c Datta, Bimal Kumar (1970). Libraries & Librarianship of Ancient and Medieval India. Atma Ram. 
  22. ^ a b Patel, Jashu, Kumar, Krishan (2001). Libraries and Librarianship in India. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 0313294232. 
  23. ^ Khurshid, A. (1972). Growth of libraries in India. International Library Review. 4:21–65.
  24. ^ a b Bhatt, Rakesh Kumar (1995). History and Development of Libraries in India. Mittal Publications. ISBN 8170995825. 
  25. ^ a b Taher, Mohamed, Davis, Donald Gordon (1994). Librarianship and library science in India : an outline of historical perspectives. New Delhi: Concept Pub. Co. p. 37. ISBN 8170225248. 
  26. ^ Berzin, Alexander (2002). The Four Indian Buddhist Tenet Systems Regarding Illusion: A Practical Approach. Berlin, Germany. Source: [1] (accessed: 2 January 2008). "In the Indian Mahayana Buddhist monasteries, such as Nalanda, monks studied four systems of Buddhist tenets. Two – Vaibhashika and Sautrantika – were subdivisions of the Sarvastivada school within Hinayana. The other two – Chittamatra and Madhyamaka – were subdivisions within Mahayana."
  27. ^ a b c d Mookerji, Radhakumud. Ancient Indian Education: Brahmanical and Buddhist. 1989. p. 565
  28. ^ Walser, Joseph. Nāgārjun in Context: Mahājān Buddhism and Early Indian Culture. 2005. p. 102
  29. ^ Humphreys, Christmas. The Wisdom of Buddhism. 1995. p. 111
  30. ^ "The Shurangama Sutra (T. 945): A Reappraisal of its Authenticity". 
  31. ^ Joshi, Lalmai. Studies in the Buddhistic Culture of India. 1987. p. 171
  32. ^ Jarzombek, Mark M.; Prakash, Vikramaditya; Ching, Francis D.K. (2011). A Global History of Architecture. John Wiley & Sons. p. 312. ISBN 0470902450. 
  33. ^ Scott, David (May 1995). "Buddhism and Islam: Past to Present Encounters and Interfaith Lessons". Numen 42 (2): 141. doi:10.1163/1568527952598657. 
  34. ^ Gertrude Emerson Sen (1964). The Story of Early Indian Civilization. Orient Longmans. 
  35. ^ "About Us". Nalanda Open University. 29 December 2009. Retrieved 22 February 2010. 
  36. ^ "The Historical Interaction between the Buddhist and Islamic Cultures before the Mongol Empire" The Berzin Archives.
  37. ^ Ahir, D. C. (2005). Buddhism Declined in India: How and why. B. R. Publishing Corporation. ISBN 81-7646-447-3. 
  38. ^ Saint-Hilaire, J. Barthélemy (2014). The Buddha and His Religion (Routledge Revivals). Routledge. p. 244. ISBN 1317811135. 
  39. ^ "Remains of Ancient Tiladhaka University unearthed at Nalanda". Biharprabha News. Retrieved 15 January 2014. 
  40. ^ Receptacle of the Sacred: Illustrated Manuscripts and the Buddhist Book Cult in South Asia, Jinah Kim, University of California Press, 2013 p. 52
  41. ^ Five of the Leaves from an Ashtasahasrika Prajnaparamita Manuscipt
  42. ^ TIBET – Monasteries Open Their Treasure Rooms – the exhibition and its book: A Review, Michael Henss, December 25, 2007
  43. ^ Singh, Santosh (September 1, 2014). "Nalanda University starts today with 15 students, 11 faculty members". The Indian Express. Retrieved 3 September 2014. 
  44. ^ "Sushma Swaraj inaugurates Nalanda University". Economic Times. 19 September 2014. Retrieved 19 September 2014. 
  45. ^ a b "Nalanda University reopens". Times of India. 1 September 2014. Retrieved 10 September 2014. 
  46. ^ Chatterjee, Chandan (1 September 2014). "Nalanda route to prosperity — Varsity will boost trade, feel residents". The Telegraph. Retrieved 10 September 2014. 
  47. ^ "The Archaeological Museum, Nalanda". Archaeological Survey of India, Government of India. Retrieved 10 September 2014. 
  48. ^ "NALANDA MULTIMEDIA MUSEUM". Prachin Bharat. Retrieved 10 September 2014. 
  49. ^ Chaudhary, Pranava K (Dec 27, 2006). "Nalanda gets set for relic". Times of India. Retrieved 10 September 2014. 

External links[edit]