Parched at a corner of about one sq km excavated area full of remains of six red-brick temples and eleven monasteries – unearthed by the archaeologists – one’s mind flies about 1,600 years back when India was considered as a principal seat of learning and Nalanda was one of the most important centres. As you stand in front of the ruins of the lecture-hall, your mind harks back to about 1,000 years ago when Sariputra, Taranath, Asanga and many other scholars and disciples of Lord Buddha took part in debate and discourses; expressed their views on several philosophical theories; interpreted different nuances of Oriental art and Buddhism in the light of their significance in global scenario. Past comes alive – you can hear rustles of their feet; pages of history begin to open one by one before your eyes.
Those pieces of rubble identifying sculptures, images in stone and bronze pieces, murals, copper plates, brick inscriptions, plaques, coins, terracotta pieces, potteries and parts of architectural marvels, battered with onslaught of time, become eloquent on extraordinary skills of the master artisans and architects who lived here even more than thousand years ago. Those sculptures of Buddha in various postures – Avalokitesvara, Manjusri, Tara, Prajnaparamita, Marichi, Jambhala and of Brahmanical deities like Vishnu, Siva-Parvati, Mahishasur-Mardini, Ganesha, Surya, etc., – are so flesh and blood that it seems at any moment the Sage will start addressing his disciples.
Primarily an archaeological site, Nalanda is miles away from modernisation, industrialisation above all urbanisation. And perhaps that is the reason why it still retains its original splendour.
Once you reach here, you wander along the pathways to reach from one marvel to another and discover the treasure trove that has been holding pilgrims and archaeologists alike around the globe in awe for ages.
From the Eyes of Visitors
Chinese traveller and scholar Tsiang made an arduous journey to ancient Magadha in the 7th century in search of what was then the most diverse seat of learning. He stayed here for three years studying Yoga shastra under the guidance of the legendary scholar Shilbhadra, also the Chancellor of Nalanda. He described Nalanda as a flourishing university of a monastic order where 1,500 teachers and over 10,000 students lived together. King Ashoka and Harshabardhan came forward as two most effective patrons who lent their resources, as and when required, to take any project forward to an effective culmination.
According to aesthetic accounts written by Tsiang, the architecture of the university was simply unique. “The complex was magnificently and meticulously planned…” he added. Even Yijing who spent about 10 years in Nalanda echoed Tsiang. Yijiang (673 CE) wrote, ‘There were 8 monastic buildings and over 300 apartments. Each apartment was equipped with a bed and a bookcase for students. Compartments meant for the monks were spread on all four sides.’
The Glorious Past
A walk in the ruins of this university reminds you of the golden period of India in the field of art, architecture, literature and learning. Remains of the row of lockers proved the tight security measure for personal belongings of students and other scholars. Effective drainage system set an example of conscious health and hygiene practice. Granaries that were once filled with seasonal harvest to feed thousands of boarders stand today like other structures scattered around, as the mute evidences of an era gone by.
Studying at Nalanda was a matter of prestige. After graduation, scholars would be sent out to the king’s court for special induction before they were groomed enough to take higher responsibility, while a few of them would be invited by other countries like Ceylon, China, Tibet, Java and Korea to attend seminars and discussions on Buddhism, Philosophy and uniqueness of Oriental Art. A few like Padmasambhava, a great luminary of Nalanda, a teacher of Yoga and consciences, travelled out to propagate Buddhism. Padmasambhava, as learnt from the archival sources, went to Tibet and established the first monastery there and became the founder of ‘Lamaism’.
Splendid in decay, Nalanda University continues to draw visitors from many parts of the globe. As we stand amidst the ruins of the first residential international university in the world, the only expression that comes out of our lips is ‘incredible’.
GoAir Connect: To reach Nalanda by air, Patna is the nearest airport. It is 89 km from Nalanda. GoAir operates direct flights to Patna from Delhi, Kolkata and Ranchi, and easy connections from Ahmedabad, Pune, etc.
(Written by Partha Mukherjee)