Modi throws open new campus of Nalanda University that once redefined the world

June 19,2024

Named after the ancient seat of learning that drew scholars from across the globe about 1,600 years ago, the Nalanda University has got a new campus. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on his first Bihar visit after his government was voted back to power for the third consecutive term, formally inaugurated the campus on Wednesday.

Earlier, PM Modi visited the ruins of ancient Nalanda university, which was declared a United Nations heritage site in 2016. The new campus was conceived as a joint collaboration between India and the 18 East Asia Summit (EAS) countries.

The campus of the Nalanda University, which began its session in September 2014 the month it was inaugurated by former External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, has 40 classrooms and student hostel for around 550 students among other facilities — much reduced compared to its ancient self.

The original Nalanda University

Buzzing with academic activity more than 500 years before the famed Oxford University was founded, India’s Nalanda University was already a renowned centre of learning. Established in 427 CE during the rule of Gupta dynasty ruler Kumargupta, Nalanda University housed a vast library of 9 million books and admitted 10,000 students from across the globe. It was the world’s first residential university.

Located near Bodhgaya in south Bihar in eastern India, Nalanda was hugely influenced by the ideas of Gautam Buddha who attained enlightenment in the region. The Nalanda University’s red-brick ruins stand as a testament to its glorious past. The university thrived for over seven centuries until invading Khilji forces led by Bakhtiyar Khilji destroyed its campus and set fire to its library.

They say it took three months for all 9 million books to burn, six months for the red cinders to die and nine months for the smoke to blow away.

What the university taught

Nalanda’s academic programme was a blend of intellectual Buddhism and higher knowledge in various fields. Buddhism was primarily a system of philosophy, which attracted students and scholars from across the world. Students came to learn medicine, logic, mathematics, and Buddhist principles from some of the era’s most esteemed scholars. The Gupta monarchs, considered devout Hindus, provided a liberal atmosphere embracing Buddhism and promoting diverse intellectual pursuits.

What Nalanda University contributed to the world

  • The ancient Indian medical system of Ayurveda was widely taught at Nalanda and spread to other parts of India through its alumni.
  • The university’s architectural style, featuring open courtyards surrounded by prayer halls and lecture rooms, influenced Buddhist institutions in Thailand, Tibet, and the Malayan peninsula.
  • Nalanda made significant contributions to mathematics and astronomy. Aryabhata, considered the father of Indian mathematics, is believed to have been associated with the university in the 6th century CE.
  • Aryabhatta introduced the revolutionary concept of zero as a digit, which simplified mathematical computations and paved the way for the development of algebra and calculus.
  • Aryabhata also made pioneering advancements in extracting square and cubic roots and applying trigonometric functions to spherical geometry.
  • Nalanda was a hub of cultural exchange. It regularly sent scholars to China, Korea, Japan, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka, spreading Buddhist philosophy.
  • The acclaimed Chinese Buddhist monk Xuanzang — more commonly spelt as Hiuen Tsang — studied and taught at Nalanda. He went back to China with 657 Buddhist scriptures that profoundly influenced Buddhist scholarship in East Asia.