Tuesday 28 January 2014

The Great Nalanda - Past and Present

The Nalanda Mahavihara
The Nalanda Mahavihara  (ancient Nalanda University) had been a great seat of learning for about eight hundred years (from 5th century to 13th century A. D.). At the very beginning it was a monastic institution accommodating thousands of travelling monks coming from different regions. During their stay at Nalanda monastery the Buddha’sDhamma and Vinaya based on ‘Pariyatti’ and ‘Patipatti-dhammasasanam’ etc. senior monks gave their sermons while the junior monks attended. This was the beginning of the ancient Nalanda Mahavihara. This monastic establishment developed and ultimately it became the foremost University unparalleled in the world. This reputation was so furthered that it came to be known as the ‘University of Universities.”
Actually the Nalanda Mahavihara had not only been a great seat of learning. But it also became a great centre of culture and civilization. This was a fact that Buddhism was studied here in all its branches. But the comparative study of non-Buddhism thoughts and culture too had been studied here thoroughly. Thus it became a centre not only for Buddhist culture, but also of the Indian culture.
The name and fame of this University spread throughout Asia. Scholars from different parts of Asia specially from China, Tibet, Korea, Mangolia, Bhutan, Indonesia, Central Asia and the like came here for studying.
Gradually there was exchange of scholars between several countries. Buddhist monks from Nalanda went to Korea, China and Tibet. Tibetan scholars too came to Nalanda to enhance their knowledge of Buddhism as well as Indian culture. Thus, the monk-scholars of Nalanda Mahavihara served as the apostles.
Geographically speaking, Nalanda can be spotted on tourist map of India as one of the best archaeological sites that we Indians can be proud of. The ruins of famed University were found in Bargaon situated near the Nalanda Railway Station of Bakhtiyarpur-Rajgirbranch line of the Eastern Railway. If one goes to trace the place today, one comes across partially excavated ruins of the ancient University of Nalanda with a number of villages around having variety of Buddha images in different forms.
Although, Francis Buchanan had earlier seen the place in 1812, but could not identify it. Regular excavations started in 1915 and with the untiring efforts on PanditHiranand Shastri for two decades, the mighty and majestic Nalanda resurfaced from the womb of earth. It is now locally known as “Khandahara” (ruins) of Nalanda.
Like Bodhisattva, Mahavihara was born and reborn with the word ‘NAVA’ preceding the nomenclature through the dedication of Ven. Bhikshu Jagadish Kashyap in 1951. It was nourished and looked after well by his worthy successors. Students and scholars from India and foreign countries are seen engrossed in their studies, meditation, and spiritual elevation. A good reference library, several important publication of the Institute, digital edition of theTripitakasindepth study of Buddhism with the help of original Parakrita Sanskrit texts, decipherment and study of old and obscure scripts are some of the commendable achievements of the Nava Nalanda Mahavihara.
This resurgence is also marked by taking over the Xuanzang (popularly known asHuensang) Memorial which seems to vibrate with the saintly and scholarly sentiments of the great Chinese pilgrim. His contribution towards understanding and furtherance of Buddhist thought in the world is as meritorious as of any Indian Buddhist Acharya who went abroad with the torch of India’s great heritage. The great Nalanda is now transformed into an attractive tourist spot where an impressive life size bronze statue of Xuanzang has been installed in the beautiful surrounding with lush green large lawns, fountain and pond.
Nalanda was an example of the Guru-Shishya parampara, a great Indian tradition. The authority of the Guru (teacher) over the Shishya (student) was absolute, and yet dissent was permitted in academic matters. The tradition, although going back thousands of years, flourished at Nalanda more than elsewhere.
Describing the Guru-Shishya relationship, I-Tsing says” “He (Shishya) goes to the teacher at the fist watch and at the last watch in the night. First the teacher bids him to sit down comfortably selecting some passages from Tripatakas, he gives a lesson in a way that suits the circumstances and does not leave any fact or theory unexplained. He inspects his pupil’s moral conduct, and warns him of defects and transgressions. 
Whenever he finds his pupil at fault, he makes him seek remedies and repent. The pupil rubs the teacher’s body, folds his clothes and sometimes sweeps, the apartment and the yard. Then having examined the water to ensure there are no insects in it, he gives it to his teacher. Thus, if there is anything to be done, he does all on behalf of the teacher.”
It is, therefore, not surprising that the students and the teachers wore the same yellow robes whose details are available in the Buddhists texts, “wrapped round the loin and reaching below the knee”. Food was simple and ‘satvik’. According to Shaoman Hwui Li, the author of “the Life of Hiuan Tasan”, all the provisions were contributed by two hundred house-holders from about a hundred villages situated around the Nalanda University.
The fall of Nalanda at the hands of the Turks is a story too deep for tears. Like Nero, Bakhtiar Khilji, its destroyer in 1205 A. D. laughed while Nalanda burnt. The city of knowledge, which took several centuries to build, took only a few hours to be destroyed. Legend has it that when some monks fell at the feet of the invader to spare at least its world-famed library, Ratnabodhi, he kicked them and had them thrown in the fire along with the books. The monks fled to foreign lands, citizens became denizens and Nalanda was relegated to a memory.
Thus ended the story of Nalanda till it was retold first by Hamilton and later by Alexander Cunningham. The excavation started in 1915 and continued for twenty years. Yet much remains to be done. At the Nava Nalanda Mahavihara, which stands close to this ancient site, Sakyamuni seems to be beckon all men of knowledge to restore the glory of the great centre of culture and learning.
However, the Governments initiative has been already taken for the revival of Nalanda. Now the Parliament has passed Nalanda University Bill. Accordingly the Central and State Government started the work for making Nalanda an academic institution of world class.

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