Exploring the ruins of Nalanda

Ruins of the ancient Nalanda University in Bihar
Image courtesy: ©Shutterstock/ tscreationz

Founded in the 5th century AD, Nalanda, in Bihar, is one of the world’s oldest living cities. It is widely recognised as one of the ancient world’s great universities and an important Buddhist centre of academic excellence. When Chinese scholar and traveller Xuan Zang visited sometime between 685 and 762 AD, about 10,000 monks and students lived here, studying theology, astronomy, metaphysics, medicine and philosophy.

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Nalanda flourished as an international university under the patronage of Emperors Ashoka and Harshavardhana, who built temples and monasteries here. It was the first residential university of the world, and attracted scholars from all over the Buddhist world. The monasteries here are built on the Kushan style of architecture. There is a large courtyard that is surrounded by cells where the monks lived.

Tibetan monks in the courtyard of the university
Tibetan monks in the courtyard of the university
Image courtesy: ©Denis Dymov / Shutterstock.com

Nalanda was destroyed by Muslim invaders in the 12th century. The three libraries here were burnt down. It is said that they had such a large collection of books and manuscripts that the fire burnt for six months.

A Unesco World Heritage site, the well preserved ruins of this ancient seat of learning make it an important destination on the Buddhist tourism circuit.

Spend some time walking through the ruins of this ancient seat of learning.

Travel Tip: Next drive can be to the ancient town of Rajgir that is 10 miles from Nalanda. Rajgir was the capital of the ancient state of Magadh. Lord Buddha spent many years here and delivered some of his famous sermons here. This town is important for the Jain community, too, as Lord Mahavira is also said to have stayed in Rajgir. The travelogues of ancient Buddhist travellers Hiuen Tsang and Fa-hein also mention Rajgir. Vulture peak – Lord Buddha’s favourite retreat and Ajatshatru Fort are two important sites to visit in Rajgir.