and the ruins of the ancient Mahavihara are almost synonymous. The name
‘Nalanda’ conjures up a picture of the ancient Mahavihara, which was
one of the great seats of Buddhist education for nearly seven hundred
years between the 5th and 12th centuries. It is
said that at one time, 10,000 monks and students resided in Nalanda. The
word ‘Nalanda’ is derived from nala meaning lotus flower,
which is a symbol of knowledge or wisdom and da meaning to
the lifetime of the Buddha and his contemporary Mahavihara, Nalanda was
a prominent centre of religious activity. The Buddha’s chief
disciples, Sariputta and Moggallana, came from the nearby villages of
Nalaka and Kulika. The names of several lay followers of the locality
also figure prominently in the literary sources.
to early sources, Nalanda was a yojana away from the outskirts of
Rajagraha, the capital of the Magadhan empire. It lay on the route from
Buddha-Gaya to Kapilavastu via Rajagraha. The Buddha and his disciples
often stayed for a night in the Pavarika Mango Grove.
literature records that Prince Pavarika constructed a halting place in
the grove, then donated it to the Buddha. The Buddha delivered ten
On his last journey from Rajagraha to Kushinagar, the
Buddha spent one night at Nalanda.
Asoka, in the third century BC, constructed a stupa at the birthplace of
Sariputta in the
ESTABLISHMENT OF THE NALANDA MAHAVIHARA
most illustrious of the Chinese pilgrims, Xuanzang, who was also an
alumnus of the Mahavihara, wrote that Gupta King Sakraditya, otherwise
known as Kumara Gupta I (415-455 AD), constructed a vihara in the middle
of the Mango Grove. Successive Gupta kings also constructed viharas,
which eventually led to the establishment of the Nalanda Mahavihara.
Nalanda Mahavihara was an example of a common phenomena found in
Buddhist history. Resting places in the form of aramas, or viharas, that
were originally intended to provide a night’s stay for wandering
monks, gradually turned into places of permanent residences for monks
and thus quite naturally into places of spiritual learning and
upliftment, the ultimate motive of education in ancient India. In the
process of imparting teachings, these places were ultimately transformed
into prominent centres of higher learning.
Gupta kings, famous for their love of education, art and culture,
bestowed royal patronage on the Mahavihara. During the patronage of the
king of Kannauj, the Mahavihara reached the height of its development
and was considered a model academic institution with a reputation that
spread far and wide in East and
cultural legacy of Nalanda was finally taken over by the Pala kings who
promoted the Mahavihara for several centuries. Their contribution is
preserved in the ruins, most of which date back to the Pala period.
contribution of the Mahavihara in the development of Buddhist education,
particularly in the field of philosophy was well recognised. Silabhadra,
reportedly the only one having mastery over the Sutras, instructed
Xuanzang in the intricacies of philosophy and the latter in turn founded
a new school after his return to China. Nalanda also specialized in
Buddhist Logic. Dignaga, an acarya at Nalanda, was the father of
Buddhist Logic. Dharmakirti further developed the subject.
Prajnakaramitra of the Pala period was another luminary in this field.
Mahavihara was also a centre of esoteric Buddhism, and its contribution
to the spread of Buddhism abroad, particularly in
they established contact with
to conflicting forces, Nalanda Mahavihara was gradually deserted and
eventually forgotten. The site was eventually reduced to mounds of
earth. Francis Buchanan was the first to initiate a survey of the site
in January 1812. However, it was Sir Alexander Cunningham who finally
identified the complex of ruins of the Mahavihara in 1861-62. In 1870,
A.M. Broadly excavated a portion of the site, but systematic excavation
work did not start until 1916 under Spooner. The work continued for 20
years under several excavators. Shri Hirananda Shastri eventually
completed the major portion of the work. The findings are now preserved
at the site in Nalanda and the antiquities in the form of inscriptions,
icons, terracottas, seals, and sculptures, are preserved in the