Nalanda University Reviewed as Potential World Heritage Site

By Craig Lewis
Buddhistdoor Global | 2015-08-31 |
The stupa of Shariputra at Nalanda University. From veda.wikidot.comThe stupa of Shariputra at Nalanda University. From

Nalanda University, an ancient seat of Buddhist learning in the East Indian state of Bihar, is in the running to become a World Heritage Site, state officials said last week. Officials from UNESCO and the Paris-based International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) arrived on 29 August to view the historic monument, about 62 miles from the state capital of Patna, to determine whether the site meets the necessary criteria to qualify.

“The ancient Nalanda University is a step closer to becoming the second World Heritage Site in Bihar after the Mahabodhi Temple dedicated to Lord Gautama Buddha in Bodh Gaya,” said a district official in Nalanda. (The Times of India)

Said to be one of the world’s oldest universities, Nalanda was a renowned mahavihara or Buddhist monastery and center of learning in Magadha, one of the 16 kingdoms of ancient India. It was established in the 5th century and at its peak accommodated more than 2,000 teachers and over 10,000 students, attracting scholars and students from as far away as China, Indonesia, Korea, Persia, Tibet, and Turkey.

The noted Chinese Buddhist monk and scholar Xuanzang (602–64), who spent many years traveling in India, visited Nalanda first in 637 and again in 642, spending a total of about two years there. The monk attended courses in grammar, logic, Sanskrit, and the Yogacara school of Buddhist philosophy. He also wrote a detailed description of the university and its stupas, monasteries, temples, and meditation halls. 

Stupa remains at Nalanda University. From arounddeglobe.comStupa remains at Nalanda University. From

In the 12th century, Nalanda was ransacked and destroyed by an invading army commanded by the Turkic general Bakhtiar Khilji (d. 1206). According to references in literature, both Nalanda and the university of Vikramshila were sacked in 1193. In his historical chronicle of the Islamic world Tabaqat-i-Nasiri, the Persian historian Minhaj-i-Siraj reported that thousands of monks were burned alive and thousands more beheaded as Khilji sought to uproot Buddhism. The burning of the university’s library lasted several months and “smoke from the burning manuscripts hung for days like a dark pall over the low hills.” (Wikipedia)

The UNESCO-ICOMOS team inspected the architectural remains of the site, including the walls and ramparts of the structure. Bihar state officials said the team also spoke to local residents for details on the way of life and traditions at the university.

“ICOMOS expert Masaya Masui has inspected the site at Nalanda to examine the details that we have mentioned in the nomination dossier. He toured and evaluated the site for the coveted [World Heritage Site] tag,” said H. A. Naik, superintending archaeologist for the Archaeological Survey of India’s Patna Circle. (The Hindu)

The excavated remains of Nalanda extend some 1,600 feet north to south and about 800 feet east to west. Archaeological digs have uncovered 11 monasteries and 6 major brick temples. Most structures show evidence of multiple periods of construction, with newer buildings raised on the ruins of old ones. Many of the buildings also show signs of fire damage.

Nalanda was the subject of a symbolic revival in 2014, when a new university named Nalanda University was opened in nearby Rajgir for postgraduate and doctoral studies, following a proposal by India’s late former president A. P. J. Abdul Kalam in 2006. It began its first academic session with just 15 students on 1 September 2014. A modern campus is scheduled for completion by 2020.

See more

Nalanda university site inspected for World Heritage tag (The Times of India)
Heritage expert inspects Nalanda for Unesco tag (The Hindu)
Nalanda, The World's Oldest University, Might Soon Become A World Heritage Site (India Times)
An old seat of learning (The Nation)
Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khilji (Wikipedia)
Nalanda University Open Again (Buddhistdoor Global)

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