The Nalanda Mahavihara site is in the State of Bihar, in north-eastern India. It was founded by Kumaragupta I (413-455 AD) of the great Gupta dynasty. It comprises the archaeological remains of a monastic and scholastic institution dating from the 3rd century BCE to the 13th century CE. It includes votive stupas, shrines, exquisite viharas (residential and educational buildings), impressive chaityas and artistically carved out niches showcasing beautiful, important art works in stucco, stone and metal in different mudras.
Nalanda stands out as the most ancient, spectacular residential monastic-university of the Indian Subcontinent. It engaged in the organized transmission of knowledge over an uninterrupted period of 800 years. The historical development of the site testifies to the development of Buddhism into a religion and the flourishing of monastic and educational traditions.
Nalanda was an important center of Vedic learning between 5th to 1200 AD with scholars from many parts of the world, including China, Tibet, Korea, and Central Asia gathering here for acquiring knowledge. The university flourished under the kingdom of Magadha but was destroyed in 1193 AD during the invasion of Turkish army led by its commander Bakhtiar Khilji.
Nalanda was discovered on the basis of travelogues of 7th Century AD Chinese monk scholar and legendary traveller, Xuanzang in 1862. There are two prominent ancient remains in the proximity of the inscribed property that bear resemblance with Xuanzang’s description. ‘Parnami Tillah’ on the south side of the excavated remains has the remains of the Buddha’s hair and nail as mentioned by Xuanzang.
Nalanda is also confluence of Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism and there are many ancient sites in vicinity of Nalanda. According to locals, more than two ponds/tanks are there in the vicinity of Nalanda mound which are of archaeological importance.
Nalanda as a place has no parallel. It once housed more than 1,500 teachers and 8,000 students from across the globe, and also exquisite libraries, namely Ratnasagar, Ratnaranjak and Ratnodadhi.
I-tsing, the famous Chinese traveller, also provides a mesmerizing description of the life at Mahavihara. The university campus always reverberated with lively discourses and in-depth discussions on vastly diverse subjects ranging from the religious texts of the Hinayana and Mahayana sects of Buddhism to Hetu Vidya (logic), from Shabda Vidya (grammar) to Chikitsa Vidya (medicine) and from Shilpasthana Vidya (arts and crafts) to Adhyatma Vidya (philosophy).