Ancient Nalanda University
Nalanda was the seat of learning and culture during the reign of Harshavardhana and continued to be so long after Harsha. I-tsing who visited India after Hiuen Tsang compared Nalanda with the best of the Chinese Universities. The Nalanda monastery was founded by one of the later Gupta Kings, in the 5th century A.D. It received patronage not only from the Indian King, but being a centre of learning where especially Buddhist philosophy was taught as also the Vedic Philosophy, logic, grammar, medicine, received patronage from foreigner. Originally started as a Buddhist monastery, Nalanda soon outgrew its limits as a seat of Buddhist learning and became a seat of learning of various subjects, giving it the real character of a University.
The Ancient Nalanda University had a very vast campus with magnificent buildings. There were eight colleges in it, one of which was built by King Balaputradewa of Sumatra. On the inscription of Yasovarmandeva there is eloquent praise of grandeur of the buildings of the Nalanda University. According to Hiuen Tsang the University campus was enclosed by a wall made of bricks. The eight colleges were built in a row and one gate opened into the great college from which eight other halls were separated. There were Priests’ chambers which were of four stages. ‘The stages have dragon projections and colored caves, pearled pillars, carved and ornamented, richly adorned balustrades, and roofs covered with tiles that reflect the light in a thousand sheds”.
The students were provided with all kinds of facilities expected in a University. There were three great libraries in the University, namely, the Ratnasagara, Ratnadodhi and Ratnaranjak. Hiuen Tsang who studied in the University of Nalanda for long five years saw more than 10,000 students and teachers there. The students and teachers came from all over India as well from countries like china, Japan, Korea, Tibet, Ceylon, Sumatra and other countries of south East Asia.
The Nalanda University of Ancient India did not only attract scholars in large numbers particularly from the Buddhist countries but sent out scholars to outside countries like China, Tibet etc. Santarakshit, Padmasambhava, Buddhakirti, Sthiramati, Kamalashila went to Tibet while Kumarajiva, Paramartha, Subhakara and Dharma-deva west to China. They were responsible for the spread of Buddhism in those countries.
Some of the most famous teachers at Nalanda were Nagarjuna, Anga, Aryadeva, Vasubandhu, Dinnaga, Silabhadra, Dharmapala, Jinamitra, Prabhamitra, Chandrapala etc. Atisa Dipankara had been a student and later a teacher at Nalanda before he was sent to Tibet at the request of the Tibetan King for the purpose of reforming Buddhism there. A huge number of scholars of great ability and learning were there whose fame had spread far and wide. The students and teachers discussed subjects of studies and they found the day to be too short and spent day and night in scholarly discussion for perfection of their knowledge.
Nalanda had the true character of a university for it stood for freedom of knowledge and welcomed knowledge from all quarters, religions and sects. Admission to this University was restricted by selection test and the percentage of rejection of intending candidates was as high as 80%. According to Hiuen Tsang, Nalanda University was joined by learned scholars for attaining perfection.
The expenses of the Nalanda University was met from rich endowments made to it by Indians and foreigners and the liberal patronage it received from the Indian royal houses, such as the Guptas, Harshavardhana, and the Palas. The University had vast agricultural lands, dairy farms from which supplies of rice, milk, butter, etc. came.
The Nalanda University was not only a residential University but it had Viharas affiliated to it as is evident from the find of seals inscribed with Sri Nalanda-Mahavihara-Arya-Bhikshu-Samghasya, that is, ‘of the Governing Body of the august University of Nalanda. Seals had Dharmachakra inscribed on them. Likewise Viharas or colleges also used seals mentioning the fact of their affiliation to the Nalanda University. Obviously association of the name of the Nalanda University was by itself a great honor for colleges of the time.
When I-Tsing visited India in the last quarter of the seventh century, he found the Nalanda University equally great and important centre of learning. He found more than 3,000 resident students at Nalanda. It had then 200 villages under it for meeting the expenditure of the University. He mentions that the rules of the monastery of Nalanda were very strict. Nalanda University continued to be the most important centre of learning up to the twelfth century A.D. and its end came in the wake of the end of Buddhism in India.