India has always been revered as a land of learning. From ancient sciences to arts, philosophy, and literature, the country has always been a destination for learners from all over the world. Ancient universities and institutes have drawn travelers and philosophers who sought knowledge and wisdom from this rich Asian region. The Nalanda University is one such place that stood as an education hub from 500 CE to 1200 CE. Even today, after centuries of invasion and depletion of the structure, the ruins and the site still stand as a symbol of India’s illustrious past. If you are inclined towards ancient Indian education and architecture, then a visit to the Nalanda University must be on your travel list.
How to reach
Nalanda University site is easily accessible from Patna city by road. The site is located at a mere 67.3km from the city and takes about an hour and a half to reach by car. You can book a cab with Savaari Car Rentals to Nalanda campus.
Developed under the patronage of the Gupta dynasty, Nalanda University was the first international residential university in the world. The institute was known among scholars and students who traveled from different parts of Sri lanka, Tibet, China, Korea and Central Asia. It is said that the university hosted about 1,500 teachers and scholars, and about 10,000 students, in its peak years. The Institute engaged in imparting education and knowledge about philosophy, politics, law, science, and arts. Famous Chinese traveler, Hiuen Tsang was also a student at this reputed university.
Ancient Magadha (modern-day Bihar) was largely influenced by Buddhism. With more than 10 Buddhist temples on campus, Nalanda University was recognized as the largest Mahaviharaor a Buddhist monastery. In the 7th century, Nalanda saw pilgrim monks from East Asia like Xuanzang and Yijing. If you explore the archeological evidence you would discover that the kings of Shailendra dynasty built monasteries on this academic campus. The place was also considered as a sacred place for the Jains of that era.
The ruins of Nalanda speak of the architectural distinctiveness of the Gupta period in India. The structures depict iconic statements of the periodic design aesthetics and skilled craftsmanship. Archeological excavations have revealed evidence of construction on this site over different periods, with an attempt to restore the campus.
The premise of this ancient institute stretches across 1.5 KM in length and 0.75 KM in width. Being the largest educational center of its time, Nalanda University housed 11 monasteries, an expansive library spread between three towers and an astronomical center - a sign of an advanced academic culture. For residential students and travelers, there were 300 rooms and eight halls to host meetings and events. The highlight of the entire structure is the SariputtaStupa, with multiple flights of stairs leading to the center and an apex to hold a Buddha shrine.
Universities, especially the ancient ones, are wonderful places to discover the knowledge of the eras gone by and the lessons they left behind for the future generations to come. The Pali inscriptions on stone tablets and walls of Nalanda are evidence of how erudite the community was in its time. Explore the Nalanda Archeological Museum near the heritage site to see a rich display of sculptures, coins, seals and inscriptions that were conserved from the ruins.
For those unaware of ancient history, the structure, and operational model of Nalanda University served as a model for numerous modern day institutes in India. Though in ruins in the modern day, the structures across the site have been restored by the Archeological Society of India and the campus is regarded as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you’re planning a trip to this archeological and academic marvel, there are outstation taxi from Patna available for hire on an hourly basis.