One of India’s most famous universities from antiquity, . Both the ruins of the old Nalanda University and the new Nalanda University are located near Rajgir in India’s Bihar state, an area that has a high concentration of ancient religious and historical sites, including Bodh Gaya, the site where the Buddha gained Enlightenment. This area was the core of ancient Magadha, a kingdom in ancient India that was known for its intellectual and political ferment.
In addition to being a center of Hinduism, it was in Magadha that Buddhism and Jainism arose. India’s first empire, the Mauryan Empire, arose from Magadha; its most famous emperor, Ashoka, was highly influential in patronizing and spreading Buddhism throughout Asia. In fact, the present day state of Bihar’s name is derived from the word vihara, the term for a Buddhist monastery, which is testament to the large number of monasteries that dotted the region that became Bihar.
Nalanda University arose from this context, the same way the schools of Athens and Alexandria arose from the intellectual fervor of the Hellenistic Mediterranean. There were many other ancient Indian universities as well, including Takshashila (Taxila) in modern day Pakistan, but Nalanda University stood out due to its size and cosmopolitanism.
Built during the Gupta Empire – the state associated with India’s golden age of culture and science – the original Nalanda University existed from between 413 C.E. and 1193 C.E. Although it was founded as a center for Buddhist philosophical study, it eventually became an institution for the study of various subjects, including secular ones, similar to the manner in which many medieval Christian universities evolved from being scholastic centers to more general institutions. Nalanda University was especially famous for the study of mathematics and medicine.
Photo:Arunava de Sarkar/Wikimedia Commons