The History of Nalanda University


A renowned institution that flourished for several centuries in South Asia -- long before Oxford and Cambridge, Harvard and Yale -- Nalanda University was one of the world's first great universities.


  • Buddhist monks, under the patronage of the Gupta emperor Kumaragupta I (415 to 455), founded Nalanda in about 427. The location of the center of learning in this part of ancient India was of special significance, since it was a place the founder of the monks' religion, Gautama Buddha (c. 563 to 483 B.C.), had made his "capital" to teach his students. The name "Nalanda" in Sanskrit means "giver of knowledge": a combination of "nalam" (lotus, representing knowledge) and "da" ("to give").

Curriculum and Description

  • Nalanda University was not only devoted to teachings of Buddhism; the instructors taught subjects such as fine arts, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, war tactics and politics. Nalanda was also known for its architectural beauty and splendid visual setting. It was a complex, massive campus of several-story buildings containing several classrooms and meditation halls, with eight separate compounds dotted with lotus-adorned lakes and parks decorated with mango trees.

Extent of Fame and Power

  • At its zenith, Nalanda University housed more than 2,000 professors, providing free education to more than 10,000 students of varying religious backgrounds from South Asia through southeastern Europe to the Middle East. It also enjoyed patronage from regional rulers, thus securing its finances and even being endowed with additional buildings.

Decline and Destruction

  • Nalanda University was destroyed thrice: in the mid-fifth (when it was only a few years old), early seventh and late 12th centuries. The first two times, Nalanda was rebuilt by the rulers of the day. But by the time Turkish Muslim invaders destroyed it for a third time in 1197, the enthusiasm for Buddhist learning had long declined, and there was no ruler in the region with enough clout to restore the institution to its former glory. As a result, Nalanda has languished in its ruins ever since.

Revived Nalanda to begin classes

  • In 2008, representatives from India and several other Asian countries convened in New York to discuss founding a new Nalanda University with six faculties: a School of Buddhist Studies, Philosophy, and Comparative Religion; School of Historical Studies; School of International Relations and Peace; School of Business Management and Development; School of Languages and Literature; and School of Ecology and Environmental Studies.

    The revived Nalanda University in the modern-day Indian state of Bihat is set to begin classes in September 2014, according to The Times of India. The postgraduate research facility, called Nalanda International University, will launch with two programs, Historical Studies and Ecology and Environment Studies, The Times of India reported.


  • Photo Credit Keystone Features/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
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