|Mohamad Khiliji the destroyer of Nalanda?|
The high points of this cultural creativity are magnificent architectures, sculptures and paintings primarily inspired by Buddhism. Wall murals flourished during this age the most famous being those of the Ajanta caves where the exquisite murals depict the life of Buddha.
It was unfortunate that the decline of the Gupta empire happened at the time of significant growth of the Nalanda University as the leading international Centre of Learning and strongly influenced by the liberal cultural traditions of the Gupta age of 5th to 6th centuries. The Gupta and Pala kings were great benefactors of Nalanda.
ASSOCIATION WITH THE BUDDHA AND EMPEROR ASOKA
After the passing away of the Buddha, one of the earliest Buddhist Shrines was built in Nalanda. In early 3rd century BCE, Emperor Asoka improved this shrine by building two stupas in honour of the two disciples of the Buddha. He also built a monastery for Bhikkhus.
In the 1st century CE, this monastery built by Emperor Asoka evolved to become a well known Buddhist learning Centre and later, in the 5th century CE, it expanded and improved to become the illustrious Nalanda International Buddhist University, as the first University in the world and also as the first residential university of the world.
University of Nalanda was established during the reign of the Gupta Emperor Kumaragupta who was the ruler of the Gupta Empire for nearly 40 years, from 415-455 CE, and retained a the vast empire. Nalanda witnessed a significant growth as an Important Centre of Learning from the sixth century to the ninth, when it was dominated by the liberal cultural traditions inherited from the Gupta age of 5th to 6th centuries.
RECORDS OF FA HIEN, HIEUEN TSIANG AND I-TSING
Another Chinese scholar-pilgrim named It-Sing (I-Tsing), visited Nalanda a few years after Hieuen-Tsiang. Several inscriptions have been discovered among the ruins of Nalanda giving further details on how kings made rich endowments towards the maintenance of the university.
The Gupta and Pala kings were great benefactors of Nalanda. Kings outside India patronized Nalanda. In his records, Fa Hien refers to the Sariputhra chethiya and monastery built by Emperor Asoka, besides other important places within Nalanda. However, he does not refer to a university in Nalanda. The University perhaps developed during the latter half of the 5th century.
FIRST RESIDENTIAL UNIVERSITY IN THE WORLD
According to the Chinese pilgrim Hieuen Tsiang, Nalanda University was an architectural masterpiece. It was marked by a lofty brick wall and a single gate and had eight separate compounds and ten temples, along with many meditation halls and classrooms. The university grounds were marked by lakes and parks.
The Chinese scholar-pilgrim named It-Sing (I-Tsing), who visited Nalanda a few years after Hieuen-Tsiang, mentions eight halls and 300 big rooms used for teaching and meetings and a grand library.
There were ponds with lotuses, well devised footpaths, extensive pleasant lawns, mango groves and lovely flower beds. There were innumerable shrines embellished with a wealth of sculptural art. With endowments from successive monarchs, the Nalanda University became a site of imposing buildings.
There were eight colleges built by different patrons including the one by the king of Srivijaya of Sumatra, who had diplomatic relations with the king of Pala dynasty of Bihar and Bengal.
PROFESSORS AND STUDENTS
Scholar saints were the greatest attraction of Nalanda. Nalanda became world famous on account of its many brilliant professors and high standard of education. In addition, strict discipline was maintained.
Among the many outstanding scholars, thinkers and Chancellors of Nalanda were Nagarjuna, Aryadeva, Asanga, Vasubandhu, Dinnaga, Dharmakirthi, Shantharakshita, Dharmapala, Shilabhadra, Santhideva and Padmasabhava. It is important to note that, Aryadeva, the favourite disciple of Nagarjuna, hailed from Sri Lanka.
The brothers Asanga and Vasubandhu were successive Abbots of Nalanda. Tibetan sources indicate by name several other great Buddhists associated with Nalanda such as Rahulabhadra, Aka, the Mahasiddha Saraha, Buddhapalita, Bhaviviveka of 5th-6th c. CE., Prasangika Madhyamika of Candrakirti of 7th c.CE, Candrakirti, Candragomin, Santarakshita of the 8th.c.CE a brilliant Abbot from Nalanda who helped Guru Padmasambhava bring Buddhism to Tibet.
According to Tibetan sources, Nagarjuna was the first Principal of Nalanda University. According to Tibetan sources, Mañjuśrīmitra was a respected Yogachara scholar of Nalanda whose works dealing with Vajrayana Buddhism had great impact on Tibetan Buddhism.
Associated with Nalanda were several thousands of monks who were men of the highest ability and talent. Some of them were from different countries. The international character of Nalanda was quite prominent even during the time of Hieuen Tsiang’s association with Nalanda in the seventh century.
Students from far and near flocked to learn at the feet of the great scholars of Nalanda. According to Hieuen Tsiang, Nalanda University had students from all over the Buddhist world. There were students from Sri Lanka, Tibet, Nepal, China, Mongolia, Turkistan, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Central Asia, Vietnam, Sumatra, Java, Persia, Greece and Turkey.
There are reports that Jesus Christ spent several years at Nalanda University the only university that existed in the world at that time– check www.Utube.com – Where was Jesus for 18 years? By Yogeeshsharam who states that there are historical records to the effect in Tibet.
WIDE-RANGING UNIVERSITY CURRICULUM
Nalanda’s curricula covered a wide range of subjects including all branches of Buddhism, other Indian philosophical systems, Chikitsavidya or Medicine, Astronomy, Geography, Mathematics, Hetuvidya or Logic, Sabdavidya or Grammer and other arts and science subjects of the day. As the university was run by the Sangha, Buddhist Studies assumed importance and pride of place at Nalanda.
The subjects taught at Nalanda University covered every field of learning. According to records the curriculum of Nalanda University at the time of Mañjuśrīmitra who was a respected Yogachara scholar and practitioner at Nalanda, included virtually the entire range of world knowledge then available.
Courses were drawn from every field of learning, Buddhist and Hindu, sacred and secular, foreign and native. Students studied science, astronomy, medicine, and logic as diligently as they applied themselves to metaphysics, philosophy, Samkhya, Yoga-shastra, the Veda, and the scriptures of Buddhism.
They studied foreign philosophy likewise. The scholars and Chancellors of Nalanda played a significant role in the propagation of the Buddha Dhamma outside India, in Nepal, Tibet, Central Asia, China and Southeast Asia. Among the prominent ones were Atisa Dipankara, Shantharakshita, Kamalashila, and Padmasambhava.
A vast amount of what came to comprise Tibetan Buddhism, both its Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions, stems from the late 9th–12th century Nalanda teachers and traditions.
Most of Mañjuśrīmitra's works deal with a tantric or Vajrayana Buddhism and these had a strong impact on Tibetan Buddhism. Other forms of Buddhism, especially of Mahāyāna Buddhism followed in Vietnam, China, Korea and Japan, flourished within the walls of this ancient university.
According to Hwui-Li, a Chinese visitor, at a certain time, Nalanda was held in contempt by some Theravadins for its emphasis on Mahayana philosophy.
Being basically a post-graduate institution, only advanced students were admitted to Nalanda. Those seeking admission were required to satisfy the test prescribed by the ‘Dwar Pandit’ or the “the gatekeeper” of the Board of Admission.
Hieuen-Tsiang records that "the entrance examination was severe and only about two or three out of every ten applicants succeeded in passing it." Students could specialize in any subject but Buddhist philosophy was compulsory with a strong emphasis on Mahayana philosophy. About 100 discourses took place each day. There were about 30 students under each lecturer. Teaching was mainly through discussions with active participation of professors and students.
GREAT LITERARY WORKS
Only very few of the great literary works of Nalanda scholars have come down to us in their original form. However, most of the work is available in their Tibetan and Chinese translations. Most of Mañjuśrīmitra's works deal with a tantric or Vajrayana Buddhism. He was the son of an upper class Brahmin and was a respected Yogachara scholar.
Scholars have yet to study and discover the depth and magnitude of this vast store of knowledge. Nalanda's monastery library contained the main collection of Mahayana texts in the ancient world.
The main library of Nalanda was known as Dharma Gunj which meant ‘Mountain of Truth’ or Dharmagañja or ‘Treasury of Truth’, and was the most renowned repository of Buddhist knowledge in the world at the time. Its collection comprised hundreds of thousands of volumes and manuscripts.
This main library had three main buildings each with nine storeys - Ratnasagara (Sea of Jewels), Ratnodadhi (Ocean of Jewels), and Ratnarañjaka (Delighter of Jewels). Inscriptional evidence (Yasovarmadeva) reveals that these were tall nine storey high buildings.
GRADUAL DECLINE OF NALANDA
The Jain community was also not quiet supportive of Buddhist teachings. Some Indian sources indicate that these two communities were envious of the stature and influence of this great Centre of intellectual activities in various fields of knowledge, which has developed as the leading center of dissemination of Buddhist knowledge and becoming the focal point of the Buddhist world for over 700 years.
The period of declining trend of Nalanda coincided with the heydays of the Pala Empire of the mid 8th to late 12th centuries, although the Pala kings were not in any way inimical or opposed to Nalanda. The Pāla Empire as major kingdom of ancient India was ruled by a Buddhist dynasty from Bengal.
The Palas were followers of the Mahayana and Tantric schools of Buddhism and supported Nalanda and other Buddhist universities such as Vikramashil, equally. The Pala Buddhist dynasty ushered in a period of stability and prosperity in Bengal. They created many colossal temples and exquisite works of art.
The Pala period is considered as the golden era of Bengal. Never had the Bengali people reached such heights of power and glory as during the Pala period. Palas were responsible for the introduction of Mahayana Buddhism in Tibet, Bhutan and Myanmar. The Palas had extensive trade as well as cultural influence in south-east Asia.
This is well evident in the sculptures and architectural style of historic sites in present-day Malaya, Java and Sumatra in particular. This remarkable Buddhist Empire eventually disintegrated in the 12th century, most drastically with the invasion of Bakhtiyar Khilji's Muslim armies.
It is most unfortunate that at the time of arrival of the ruthless Muslim invaders, politically India had disintegrated without strong leaders and strong empires to confront the enemy. For example, the Gupta empire (3) of the Magadha kingdom was one of the largest political and military empires of ancient India covering much of the Indian sub continent.
This was the time of a significant growth of the Nalanda University near Rajagaha, then Capital of the Magadha Kingdom, as an Important international Centre of Learning when it was dominated by the liberal cultural traditions inherited from the Gupta age of 5th to 6th centuries.
With great kings like Chandragupta I, Samudragupta, and Chandragupta- II, political administration reached new heights. The decline and collapse of this empire since mid 6th century CE. led to political instability and weakness from which India suffered for several centuries. This situation was capitalized by Muslim invaders.
TANTRIC OR VAJRAYANA OR ESOTERIC BUDDHISM
It developed out of the Mahayana school of teaching and also was strongly influenced by Hinduism which was also gaining ground during this period. Several Vajrayana texts were written at the Nalanda University. The Bodhisattva concept is dominant.
The personal goal of a bodhisattva is to almost achieve enlightenment, but to make the decision to return to the world in their next reincarnation in order to help others reach enlightenment. Unlike in Theravada teachings, a practitioner can attain full Buddhahood in a single lifetime.
A distinctive feature of Vajrayana is ritual as a substitute for abstract meditational practices. In fact, Vajrayana relies on various tantric techniques rooted in scriptures known as tantras. A “sadhana” is a means by which a practitioner can attain enlightenment and it includes among other practices, a verbal repetition of mantras which helps to clear the mind and connect the practitioner to the spiritual.
Various Yoga techniques are also used such as ‘pranayama or breath control, “mudra” or symbolic gestures made with fingers and hands. Visual aids in the forms of cosmic ‘mandala’ diagrams are popularly used.
In addition spiritual sounds by means of symbolic tools, musical instruments, thunderbolts, bells, hand drums are used to produce spiritual music and sounds that help practitioners to improve their spiritual potential and achieve inner transformation.
Vajrayanists believe that the best way to achieve the goal of overcoming desire, and to work towards enlightenment, may be to experience desire.
The ordained or monks and laity work closely in the practice of Buddhist rituals. In this esoteric relationship between the guru or teacher and student, the guru or teacher gradually releases hidden or inner knowledge to his student.
Vajrayāna Buddhists celebrate New Year’s, harvest festivals and anniversaries of the five important events in the life of the Buddha.
WANTON DESTRUCTION BY RUTHLESS MUSLIMS
The destruction of Nālandā is in one of the greatest acts of cultural vandalism by Muslim invaders of India. The final dissolution of this once outstanding international university was evident in the 13th century when the world lost an unparalleled and inimitable institution of the ancient world that promoted globally, the path of virtue, compassion and wisdom.
In the year 1193, these invaders led by Mohammad Bakhtiar Khilji, attacked and burnt down and demolished this great Centre of Learning that existed for some 700 years. They destroyed its magnificent buildings and massacred its inmates, who at the time were mostly Buddhist monks.
Mirjah-i-Siraj the famous Persian Muslim historian in his chronicle Tabaquat-I-Nasiri has left a detailed horrid account of Khilji’s vandalism and violence. He reports that the gigantic library complex of Nalanda containing a total of over 9 million invaluable treasures of books, mostly manuscripts were set on fire and the burning continued for over six months.
Mirjah-i-Siraj reports that thousands of Buddhist monks were burned alive and thousands beheaded as Khilji who tried his best to uproot Buddhism and plant Islam by the sword. He says that Buddhism virtually disappeared under the brutal impact of Muslim fanaticism. Nalanda which was a true spearhead of Buddhist learning in the world for several centuries became a deserted and desolate place and its ruins were covered by jungle.
A sharp decline of Buddhist Sangha and Buddhism was evident after the fall of the Pala dynasty in the 12 c. CE. continuing with later destruction of monasteries by Muslim invaders. Mughal invasions and rule contributed significantly to the decline of Buddhism in India.
In 1193 Muslim invaders seized control of Delhi, leaving defenseless the northeastern territories that were the heart of Buddhist India. The invading Muslim forces destroyed Buddhist temples and raided places in which Buddhism had flourished. Here, they mercilessly killed Buddhists including monks.
The Generals of Qutb-ud-Din, the first Muslim Emperor of India, who ruled from Delhi, resorted to widespread destruction of Buddhist monasteries and killing their inmates. Many Buddhist monuments and sanctuaries near Benares were destroyed by these invading Muslim armies.
Mughal rulers like Aurangzeb destroyed Buddhist temples and monasteries and replaced them with Islamic mosques. There were deliberate and organized designs to convert Buddhists to Islam. Girls and married women with children were taken and converted to Islam.
Buddhism became virtually extinct in India by the end of the 19th century, excluding small isolated communities in eastern Bengal and Nepal. Buddhism saw some revival in India in the 20-21st centuries, through the influence of Anagarika Dharmapala and Dr. B.R.Ambedkar.
NEGLECT, EXPLORATIONS AND PRESENT STATUS OF NALANDA
The place remained neglected again until the 1860’s when Alexander Cunningham the first Director of Archeology and pioneer explorer of Buddhist heritage in India identified more details and discovered two inscriptions citing details on Nalanda. His excavation work helped to uncover a wealth of archeological remains and the findings were published in 1871.
In 1872, archeologist Bradley carried out some excavations in Nalanda and published a monograph. Systematic excavation work started by the Archaeological Survey of India in 1915, led to many more discoveries that are of archeological significance. A very large number of relics have been found and action taken to save monuments from further ruin. Some of the monuments and cultural treasures that were uncovered are kept in the Archaeological museum at Nalanda and also in the Calcutta and Patna museums.
Today, visitors and pilgrims to Nalanda find vast and well-excavated ruins, many of which are more substantial than the mere foundations remaining in other places. It has archeological remains of the great university, including monasteries, temples, and stupas built by different Buddhist kings. It is easier here to imagine the former glory of the monasteries and temples described by Hieuen Tsiang.
In the excavated area are the ruins of wonderful monuments, stupas, vihares, monasteries, hostels, image houses, images of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas, statues of deities of the Mahayana tradition, inscriptions, official seals of Nalanda, personal seals of university professors, coins issued by monarchs of different kingdoms, plaques, ornaments, pottery and a range of other antiquities of historical importance.
Among the ruins are remains of the most renowned stupa with a series of smaller stupas surrounding it. Five of these stupas are extremely well preserved. There are in all eleven monasteries, sites and several chaitya sites that have been excavated.
Among the Buddha statues recovered was one in preaching attitude and a colossal stucco statue of the seated Buddha in Bhumi sparsa mudra, which has been dated to belong to the 9th century CE. There is a large stone image of Bodhisattva Avaloketisvara. There is also a small shrine with an image believed to be that of Nagarjuna.
In 2006, Singapore, China, India, Japan, and other nations, announced a proposed plan to restore and revive the ancient site as Nalanda International University. India's first Multimedia Museum at Nalanda was opened in January 2008, which recreates the fascinating history of Nalanda using a 3D animation film.
Dr. Daya Hewapathirane
(1) Magadha Kingdom was established around 1760 BCE by the Brihadratha Dynasty by king Jarasandha. Magadha kingdom covered mainly the area of Bihar south of the Ganges and later expanded to include Bengal and much of eastern Uttar Pradesh. Rajagriha or modern Rajgir was its first capital and then Pataliputra or modern Patna.
Haryanka Dynasty of Magadha
The Pradyota dynasty took over Magadha kingdom in 809 BCE and ruled until it was captured by the Haryanka dynasty in 684 BCE. Magadha was ruled by the Haryanka dynasty from 684 BCE to 424 BCE. Siddhartha Gautama was born at Kapilavastu in Kosala around the 5th century BCE, during the Haryanka dynasty. As the scene of many incidents in his life, including his enlightenment, Magadha is often considered a blessed land.
King Bimbisara of the Haryanka dynasty led an active and expansive policy, conquering Anga in what is now West Bengal. King Bimbisara was followed by his son Ajatashatru. Pataliputra became the capital of Magadha after Ajatashatru's death. The Haryanka dynasty was overthrown by the Shishunaga dynasty which was subsequently overthrown by the Nanda Dynasty who ruled for about 100 years.
Mauryan Dynasty of Magadha
The Nanda Dynasty ended around 321 BCE and was followed by the famous Mauryan dynasty. Chandragupta Maurya founded the Maurya dynasty and established the Maurya Empire. During this time, most of the subcontinent was united under a single government for the first time. Capitalizing on the destabilization of northern India by the Persian and Greek incursions, the Mauryan Empire under Chandragupta would not only conquer most of the Indian subcontinent, but also push its boundaries into Persia and Central Asia, conquering the Gandhara region. Chandragupta was succeeded by his son Bindusara, who expanded the kingdom over most of present day India.
(2) The prominence of Magadha kingdom and the Maurya dynasty of kings peaked with the reign of the Asoka one of India's most legendary and famous emperors. The Empire experienced half a century of peace and security under Emperor Asoka. Mauryan India enjoyed an era of social harmony, religious transformation, and expansion of the sciences and of knowledge. Chandragupta Maurya's embrace of Jainism increased social and religious renewal and reform across his society, while Asoka's embrace of Buddhism has been said to have been the foundation of the reign of social and political peace and non-violence across all of India.
The Sunga dynasty is associated with the period 185 to 73 BCE. It was replaced by the Kanva dynasty who ruled until 26 BCE. The Kanva dynasty collapsed and the Satavahana dynasty of the Andhra kingdom became the most powerful Indian state.
(3) The Gupta Empire was established around 240 CE and ruled until 550 CE. It was one of the largest political and military empires in ancient India covering much of the Indian sub continent. Its capital was at Pataliputra. The peace and prosperity created under leadership of Gupta's enabled the pursuit of scientific and artistic endeavors.
This period is called the Classical or Golden Age of India and was marked by extensive inventions and discoveries in science, technology, engineering, art, dialectic, literature, logic, mathematics, astronomy, religion and philosophy. The high points of this cultural creativity are magnificent architectures, sculptures and paintings. Temples were mostly made of brick or stone. The doorways were very decorative. Wall murals flourished during this age the most famous being those of the Ajanta caves where the exquisite murals depict the life of Buddha.