Nalanda was the seat of Buddhist learning. It was built largely by Buddhist disciples, but Guptas, the orthodox Hindus also patronised it. The university had a plan of its own. Monastic buildings and stupas were arranged in a regular fashion round the central college which had 7 halls.
It has 300 smaller rooms for lecturing work. The building was exceptionally high. The very name Nalanda has been derived from the word Na-alam-da insatiable in giving, implying that the university education in those days did not cram the mind with knowledge but created an insatiable thirst for it.
Rise and fall
The date of its foundation is not known for certain. Though as a monastic seat it was founded long ago, as a seat of learning it raised into prominence about 450 A.D. General Cunningham assigns the probable date of the founding of university from 425 to 625 A.D.
The University began to decline during the and 12th centuries when it was suppressed by Vikramshila and as finally destroyed by Muslim rulers in the beginning of the 13th
Throughout these seven centuries of its existence Nalanda attracted students from all parts of India as well as from abroad- Students from China, Tibet, Bokhara and Korea came to Nalanda For example, Fa-Hien, Yuan, Chwang, Itsing were Chinese
And Hwni Lun, Hwuii Viah was Koreans. Budhdharma was from Bokhara. The standard of admission to the university was naturally very high.
Watters say, “Of those from abroad who wished to enter the schools of discussion, the majority beaten by the difficulty or problems, withdrew: and those who were deeply versed in old and modern learning were admitted: only two or three out of ten succeeded.”
The standards of scholarship among the teachers were very high. They were not only famous for their piety, but were renowned for scholarship also. They were eminent for ‘conspicuous talent, solid learning, great ability and illustrious virtues.’
Saraha, the tutor of Nagaijun, Nagaijuna the founder of the school of Madhyamika Philosophy, Aryadeva the pupil of Nagaijuna, Arya Asanga and his younger brother Vasubhandu, Dharampala the famous logician and grammarian, and Silbhadra were some of the illustrious pundits of the University.
The university was controlled and administered well. At the head was the Abbot-Principal who was assisted by two councils, one academic and the other administrative. The chief Abbot was elected by the members of the Sangha on the basis of his scholarship, seniority and character. Local and provincial jealousies did not influence the election.
The academic council regulated admissions, determined courses and assigned work to different teachers.
The administrative council looked after general administration and finance. The officials of this council were in- charges of construction of buildings, and distribution of rations, superintendents of hostels, and revenue officers.
The head (chancellor) in Hiuen Tsang’s time was Silbhadra. In the middle of the 8th century A.D. Kamalshila was its head. Besides the Dwarpandit and the Abbot Principal there were two other important officers. The Karmadana was the sub-director of the university and the Stavira, the presiding priest.
The methods of teaching at the Nalanda University were tutorial as well as professional. Beal says, “They arrange every day about 100 pupils for preaching and the students attend these discourses without fail even for a minute.”
There was a close touch between students and professors. It sings says, “I have always been very glad that I had the opportunity of acquiring Knowledge from teacher personally.” A great importance was laid on discussion and debate.
“The brethren are often assembled for discussion to test intellectual capacity, to reject the worthless and to advance the intellect”, says Watters, “the day is not sufficient for asking and answering profound questions. From morning till night they engage in discussion; the old and the young mutually help one another”
Library facilities for self-study were abundant. A monastery without a library was like a castle without an armory.
From the Tibetan accounts mentioned by S. C. Vidyabhushan in Medieval School of Indian Logic we learn that Nalanda had a fine library situated in Dharmganj and was housed in three splendid buildings: Ratansagara, Ratnadadhi, and Ratnarayaka. Ratnadadhi was nine-storied. Such spacious libraries met the needs of hundreds of teachers and thousands of students.
Subjects of Study
The curriculum at Nalanda was catholic; for example, the works of Hinayana and Mahayana schools of Buddhist philosophy both were studied. It was not sectarian because it was not confined to Buddhism alone.
Subjects like Hindu religion and philosophy were also taught there. Vedas, Vedanta and Sankhya philosophy were taught at the university with miscellaneous works. Subjects like grammar, logic, literature, astronomy and astrology, medicine which were of common interest were taught profusely.
Hostel arrangements were adequate. Satras were free-boarding hostels where students were supplied with necessaries out of the endowments to the university. Students were so abundantly supplied with clothes, food, bedding and medicine that they engaged themselves wholeheartedly in studies.
For example, it is learnt that Hiuen Tsang received each day 120 fruits, 20 nutmegs, and an ounce of tack and peck of Mahasali rice. He was supplied with butter daily and other things that he needed.
The Crest Jewel of Buddhist Monasteries
Thus Nalanda had all the best qualities that a university should possess. It was a centre when Europe was enveloped with darkness of ignorance and when even Arabs had no seats of learning, mark of the university was of such a great value that some persons usurped its name and, in going to and from, received honour in consequence.