History Podcasts

Ruins of Nalanda

Ruins of Nalanda

The Ruins of Nalanda University stand as a symbol of India’s glorious past

In 2006 former President of India late APJ Abdul Kalam proposed the idea of revival of Nalanda University. Soon the University came into existence by the Nalanda University Act passed by Parliament of India. Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen was the first Chancellor of the University. Apart from the government of India, the University received grants / contributions from various countries like Singapore, Thailand, Australia etc. The new University is located in Rajgir at a distance of around 15 kms from the old one.

What about the old one? It was destroyed in 1193 CE by the invaders and today you can see the remains only. It’s called Ruins of Nalanda University, currently well-maintained amidst a lot of open green spaces by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). It attracts a large number of visitors from all over the world and recently (2016) it has been declared as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Even after centuries of invasion and depletion of the structure, the ruins and the site still stand as a symbol of India’s glorious past. If you are inclined towards ancient Indian education and architecture, then a visit to the Ruins of Nalanda University must be on your travel list. The site would take around 2-3 hours to cover completely (although it depends on the person visiting, I have seen people who say that there is nothing to see in these ruins and can be wrapped up in 15 minutes). For me, it took around 2 hours. Just opposite to it you can see the Nalanda Archaeological Museum, which will take around 1 hour. Additionally, there are some other tourist spots (Black Buddha Temple is a must see) nearby and small refreshment stalls. So, while planning your trip, keep aside 4-5 hours for this place.

Ruins of Temple at Site No. 12


Situated in the Ancient State of Magadha (a part of modern-day Bihar State in India), Nalanda was a ‘Mahavihara’ (i.e. Great Monastery) – this term is used in almost all inscriptions on seals and copper-plate charters. Then why do we call it a University?

Well, the term ‘university’ didn’t exist that time. The term ‘university’ derives from Europe’s oldest university Bologna, founded in 1088 CE and chartered in 1158 CE. Nalanda was at its last stage that time and completely destroyed in 1193 CE. Foreign students in Bologna, grouped by nationality, hired scholars to teach them. This created an association of students from diverse nationalities, thus creating a ‘universitas’, which is the origin of the word ‘university’. Nalanda also attracted monk-students from places outside India, such as Japan, Indonesia, Persia, Turkey, China, Korea, Tibet etc.

  • It was one of the greatest learning centres of that time and subjects taught included theology, grammar, logic, astronomy, metaphysics, medicine and philosophy (ASI)
  • Inside the Nalanda compound there were 11 monasteries, an expansive library spread between three towers and an astronomical centre
  • For residential monk-students and travellers/ visitors, there were around 300 rooms and 8 halls to host meetings and events
  • In its peak, it had more than 1,500 teachers and scholars. Number of students were 10,000+

Aren’t these enough to call Nalanda a university? Off course they are when you talk in the context of a time 1500 years back.


In the 19th century, Dr. Francis Buchanon-Hamilton, a British officer, identified the site. Sir Alexander Cunningham, the founder of ASI, surveyed and provided a complete description of the site in 1860s. ASI began systematic excavation in 1915-16 that went for 20 years. The excavations have revealed evidence of construction on this site over different (at least three) periods.

  • Structures: Excavations exposed remains of 6 temples and 11 monasteries (brick structures) arranged systematically over an area of more than a sq.km. There is a 30m wide passage running north to south with temples on the west and monasteries on the east side arranged in series. There is a main temple (temple 3) at the south, which was constructed in 7 phases. It is surrounded by small stupas.
  • Sculptures: Excavations also found many sculptures of stone, bronze and stucco. Significant Buddhist sculptures are Buddha in different postures, Avalokiteswara, Manjushree, Prajnaparamita etc. Significant Hindu sculptures are Vishnu, Shiva-Parvati, Mahishasura-Mardini, Ganesha, Surya etc.
  • Excavations also included several murals, copper plates, inscriptions, seals, coins and potteries.

One should explore the Nalanda Archaeological Museum (maintained by ASI) just opposite to the heritage site to see a rich display of sculptures, coins, seals and inscriptions that were conserved from the ruins.

Left: Avalokiteswara (9-10th century CE)
Right: Nagaraja (7th century CE)
Basalt Stone sculptures obtained from the ruins of Nalanda University and preserved at Nalanda Museum


The actual origin of Nalanda is however unknown, probably it started as a small monastery dating back to 6 th century BCE. It, however, rose to its statute in 5 th century, a millennium later. According to Xuan Zang (Hiuen Tsiang), one of the Buddha’s two closest disciples Sariputra died at the town of Kalipinaka about 30 kms from Nalanda. He states that Mauryan Empire Ashoka (269-232 BCE) built a Stupa intended for Sariputra’s remains. The main Stupa (Stupa 3) is claimed as Sariputra’s Stupa.

Nalanda’s establishment is generally credited to the Gupta Period (240-550 CE) because of the archaeological evidences obtained from excavation like seals of the Gupta kings. As per ASI, the founder of the university is Shakraditya or Kumaragupta I (413-455 CE). Xuan Zang also credits Shakraditya for building a monastery at the place. However, seals found during excavation suggest earliest royal patronage for Nalanda during the last quarter of 5 th century, when Buddhagupta (476-495 CE) was the ruler.

Initial round of destructions: Some believe Mihiragula (or Mihirakula), most important ruler of Alchon Huns, who ruled between 502-530 CE attacked and partly destroyed Nalanda. It seems believable because Mihiragula was extremely cruel and ruined several Buddhist sites. Many believe that Nalanda was destroyed by Shashanka, the king of Gaud (part of Bengal) in early 7 th century.

After initial rounds of destruction, Nalanda was re-built by King Harshvardhan (606-647 CE). Seals of Harshvardhan have been discovered from the excavation, indicating his patronage for the monastery.

A vast majority of stone and bronze sculptures at Nalanda are from the Pala period (8 th -12 th century). The Pala dynasty rose to power in eastern India, ruling much of modern-day Bihar and Bengal, in the 8 th century. The Palas were Buddhist. Second Pala king Dharmapala (781-821 CE) and his successor Devapala (821-861 CE) are two important names in this context.

Final destruction and “end” of Nalanda: The decline of this great institution started in later Pala period but the final blow came in 1193 CE by the invasion of Bakhtiyar Khilji. Almost every historian attributes the “end” of Nalanda to Bakhtiyar Khilji, Afghan military commander of Qutb-ud-din Aibak. The report on this invasion comes from the Persian history Minhaj al-Siraj’s Tabaqat-i-Nasiri. It reports that in 1193, Khilji organized an attack on the fortified city of Bihar and most of the inhabitants were killed. Within the fortress there were many books and upon enquiry Khilji learned “that the whole of the fortress was a college”. There is, however, some confusion on whether Khilji ransacked Nalanda or some other monastery in Bihar Sharif. Whatever the case may be, it’s almost certain that his military invasion destabilized the region that in turn made very difficult for monasteries to survive.

Remains of Monastery No. 11


You have to reach Patna / Gaya / Bakhtiyarpur first.

The nearest Airport is Patna, which is the capital of Bihar State. You can reach Patna by train also. Alternatively, you can reach Gaya by train. Both these stations are very big, and all the major trains between Kolkata and New Delhi either go through Gaya or Patna. Gaya also has a very small Airport, but only a limited number of flights operate from there and it’s not recommended.

People may also think of going to Kolkata directly by flight. From Kolkata there are numerous overnight trains which would reach Gaya in the early morning (Some would prefer going to Bakhtiyarpur Station, but as per my opinion Gaya is preferable as it’s bigger and cabs availability are higher).

Once you reach Patna / Gaya / Bakhtiyarpur, you have to hire a cab.

  • Patna to Nalanda distance by road is 75 kms and would take around 1.5 hours
  • Gaya to Nalanda distance by road is 90 kms and would take around 2 hours.

Bakhtiyarpur to Nalanda distance by road is 30 kms and would take 45 minutes.

How History Was Unmade At Nalanda! D N Jha

I was amused to read ‘How History was Made up at Nalanda’ by Arun Shourie who has dished out to readers his ignorance masquerading as knowledge – reason enough to have pity on him and sympathy for his readers! Since he has referred to me by name and has charged me with fudging evidence to distort the historical narrative of the destruction of the ancient Nalandamahavihar, I consider it necessary to rebut his allegations and set the record straight instead of ignoring his balderdash.

My presentation at the Indian History Congress in 2006 (and not 2004 as stated by Shourie), to which he refers, was not devoted to the destruction of ancient Nalanda per se – his account misleads readers and pulls wool over their eyes. It was in fact focused on the antagonism between the Brahmins and Buddhists for which I drew on different kinds of evidence including myths and traditions. In this context I cited the tradition recorded in the 18 th century Tibetan text, Pag-sam-jon-zang by Sumpa Khan-Po Yece Pal Jor,mentioned by B N S Yadava in his Society and Culture in Northern India in the Twelfth Century (p.346) with due acknowledgement, though in his pettiness, Shourie is quick to discover plagiarism on my part! I may add that “Hindu fanatics” are not my words but Yadav’s which is why they are in quotes. How sad that one has to point this out to a Magsaysay awardee journalist!

In his conceit Shourie is disdainful and dismissive of the Tibetan tradition which, has certain elements of miracle in it, as recorded in the text. Here is the relevant extract from Sumpa’s work cited by Shourie : “While a religious sermon was being delivered in the temple that he [Kakut Siddha] had erected at Nalanda, a few young monks threw washing water at two Tirthika beggars. (The Buddhists used to designate the Hindus by the term Tirthika). The beggars being angry, set fire on the three shrines of Dharmaganja, the Buddhist University of Nalanda, viz.— Ratna Sagara, Ratna Ranjaka including the nine-storeyed temple called Ratnodadhi which contained the library of sacred books” (p.92). Shourie questions how the two beggars could go from building to building to “burn down the entire, huge, scattered complex.” Look at another passage (abridged by me in the following paragraph) from the History of Buddhism in India written by another Tibetan monk and scholar Taranatha in the 17th century:

During the consecration of the temple built by Kakutsiddha at Nalendra [Nalanda] “the young naughty sramanas threw slops at the two tirthika beggars andkept them pressed inside door panels and set ferocious dogs on them”. Angered by this, one of them went on arranging for their livelihood and the other sat in a deep pit and “engaged himself in surya sadhana” [solar worship] , first for nine years and then for three more years and having thus “acquired mantrasiddhi” he “performed a sacrifice and scattered the charmed ashes all around” which “immediately resulted in a miraculously produced fire”, consuming all the eighty four temples and the scriptures some of which, however, were saved by water flowing from an upper floor of the nine storey Ratnodadhi temple. (History of Buddhism in India, English tr. Lama Chimpa & Alka Chattopadhyaya, summary of pp.141-42).

If we look at the two narratives closely, they are similar. The role of the Tirthikas and their miraculous fire causing a conflagration are common to both. Admittedly one does not have to take the miracles literally but it is not justified to ignore their importance as part of traditions which gain in strength over time and become part of collective memory of the community. Nor is it desirable or defensible to disregard the element of long standing antagonism between the Brahmins and Buddhists which may have given rise to the Tibetan tradition and nurtured it till as late as the 18 th century or even later. It is in the context of this Buddhist-Tirthika animosity that the account of Sumpa assumes importance it also makes sense because it jibes with Taranatha’s evidence. Further, neither Sumpa, nor Taranatha, ever came to India. This should mean that the idea of Brahminical hostility to the religion of the Buddha traveled to Tibet fairly early and became part of its Buddhist tradition, and found expression in the 17 th -18 th century Tibetan writings. Acceptance or rejection of this kind of source-criticism is welcome if it comes from a professional historian and but not from someone who flirts with history as Shourie does.

Of the two Tibetan traditions, the one referred to by me has been given credence not only by Yadava (whom Shourie, in his ignorance, dubs a Marxist!) but a number of other Indian scholars like R K Mookerji (Education in Ancient India), Sukumar Dutt (Buddhist Monks and Monsteries of India), Buddha Prakash (Aspects of Indian History and Civilization), and S C Vidyabhushana who interprets the text to say that it refers to an actual “scuffle between the Buddhsit and Brahmanical mendicants and the latter, being infuriated, propitiated the Sun god for twelve years, performed a fire- sacrifice and threw the living embers and ashes from the sacrificial pit into the Buddhist temples which eventually destroyed the great library at Nalanda called Ratnodadhi” (History of Indian Logic, p516 as cited by D R Patil, The Antiquarian Remains in Bihar, p.327). Scholars named above were all polymaths of unimpeachable academic honesty and integrity. They had nothing to do, even remotely, with Marxism: which is, to Shourie in his bull avatar, a red rag.

Now juxtapose the Tibetan tradition with the contemporary account in the Tabaqat-i-Nasiri of Minhaj-i -Siraj, which Shourie not only misinterprets but also blows out of proportion. Although its testimony has no bearing on my argument about Brahmanical intolerance, a word needs to be said about it so as to expose his “false knowledge”, which as G B Shaw said, is “more dangerous than ignorance.” The famous passage from this text reads exactly as follows:

“He [ Bakhtiyar Khalji] used to carry his depredations into those parts and that country until he organized an attack upon the fortified city of Bihar. Trustworthy persons have related on this wise, that he advanced to the gateway of the fortress of Bihar with two hundred horsemen in defensive armour, and suddenly attacked the place. There were two brothers of Farghanah, men of learning, one Nizamu-ud-Din, the other Samsam-ud-Din (by name) in the service of Muhammad-i-Bakht-yar and the author of this book [ Minhaj] met with at Lakhnawati in the year 641 H., and this account is from him. These two wise brothers were soldiers among that band of holy warriors when they reached the gateway of the fortress and began the attack, at which time Muhammad-i-Bakhtiyar, by the force of his intrepidity, threw himself into the postern of the gateway of the place, and they captured the fortress and acquired great booty. The greater number of inhabitants of that place were Brahmans, and the whole of those Brahmans had their heads shaven and they were all slain. There were a great number of books there and, when all these books came under the observation of the Musalmans, they summoned a number of Hindus that they might give them information respecting the import of those books but the whole of the Hindus were killed. On becoming acquainted (with the contents of the books), it was found that the whole of that fortress and city was a college, and in the Hindui tongue, they call a college Bihar” (Tabaqat-i-Nasiri, English tr. H G Raverty, pp.551-52).

The above account mentions the fortress of Bihar as the target of Bakhtiyar’s attack. The fortified monastery which Bakhtiyar captured was, “known as Audand-Bihar or Odandapura-vihara” (Odantapuri in Biharsharif then known simply as Bihar). This is the view of many historians but, most importantly, of Jadunath Sarkar, the high priest of communal historiography in India (History of Begal, vol. 2, pp.3-4). Minhaj does not refer to Nalanda at all: he merely speaks of the ransacking of the “fortress of Bihar” (hisar-i-Bihar). But how can Shourie be satisfied unless Bakhtiyar is shown to have sacked Nalanda? Since Bakhtiyar was leading plundering expeditions in the region of Magadha, Shourie thinks that Nalanda must have been destroyed by him – and, magically, he finds ‘evidence’ in an account which does not even speak of the place. Thus an important historical testimony becomes the victim of his anti-Muslim prejudice. In his zeal, he fudges and concocts historical evidence and ignores the fact that Bakhtiyar did not go to Nalanda it “escaped the main fury of the Muslim conquest because it lay not on the main route from Delhi to Bengal but needed a separate expedition” (A S Altekar in Introduction to Roerich’s Biography of Dharmasvamin). Also, a few years after Bakhtiyar’s sack of Odantapuri, when the Tibetan monk Dharmasvamin visited Nalanda in 1234, he “found some buildings unscathed” in which some pandits and monks resided and received instruction from Mahapandita Rahulshribhadra. In fact, Bakhtiyar seems to have proceeded from Biharshrif to Nadia in Bengal through the hills and jungles of the region of Jharkhand, which, incidentally, finds first mention in an inscription of 1295 AD (Comprehensive History of India, vol IV, pt. I, p.601). I may add that his whole book, Eminent Historians, from which the article under reference is excerpted, abounds in instances of cavalier attitude to historical evidence and peddles a perverse perception of the Indian past.

It is neither possible nor necessary to deny that the Islamic invaders conquered parts of Bihar and Bengal and destroyed the famous universities in the region. But Shourie’s laboured effort to associate Bakhtiyar Khalji with the destruction and burning of the university of Nalanda is a glaring example of the wilful distortion of history. Certainly week-end historians like Shourie and others of his ilk are always free to falsify historical data but this only reveals the lack of any serious historical training.

Shourie had raised a huge controversy by publishing his scandalous and slanderous Eminent Historians in 1998 during the NDA regime and now, after sixteen years, he has issued its second edition. He appears and reappears in the historian’s avatar when the BJP comes to power, tries to please his masters and keeps waiting for crumbs to fall from their table. His view of the past is no different from that of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and their numerous outfits consisting of riffraff and goons who burn books that do not endorse their view, vandalize art objects which they consider blasphemous, present a distorted view of Indian history, and nurture a culture of intolerance. These elements demanded my arrest when my work on beef eating was published, and censured James Laine when his book on Shivaji came out. It is not unlikely that Shourie functions in perfect harmony with them and persons like Dina Nath Batra who targeted A K Ramanujan’s essay emphasizing the diversity of the Ramayana tradition Wendy Doniger’s writings, which provided an alternative view of Hinduism Megha Kumar’s work on communalism and sexual violence in Ahmedabad since 1969 and Sekhar Bandopadhyaya’s textbook on modern India which does not eulogize the RSS.

Arun Shourie seems to have inaugurated a fresh round of battle by reproducing in a second edition his faked, falsified and fabricated historical evidence, thus providing grist to the reactionary mill of Batras and their ilk.

D N Jha is Former Professor and Chair, Department of History, University of Delhi. His important publications include Early India and The Myth of the Holy Cow.

Nalanda : A Study Based on the Literary Works of Ancient Travelers

In 7th century C.E, Chinese traveler XuanZang got the fortune to interact with 300 plus scholars from Silon in Kanchipuram. He exchanged philosophical thoughts with them and tested the depth and vastness of their knowledge in various philosophy subjects.

The topic of discussion was mainly on ancient art and science of Yoga. XuanZang clearly understood that the scholars from Silon lacked the intellectual profoundness of Śīlabhadra, monk and philosopher from Nalanda. XuanZang, being the one who studied in Nalanda for two years has noted in detail about Nalandha, one of India’s oldest and greatest University.

Xuanzang travelled from China to Nalanda in search of knowledge was lucky enough to be trained under the guidance of Śīlabhadra. Before XuanZang it was Faxian who travelled from China to India with an imply to learn the rich philosophical thoughts from India.

It was Faxian’s luxuriant note on India which helped Chinese travelers to travel across mountains to reach India for learning. XuanZang followed by Yijing recorded that, in Nalanda apart from Chinese students, there were students from Japan and Korea as inmates.

While exploring Chinese travelers it is quite evident that, they visited Nalanda in search of Knowledge from a great Indian University. The ancient travelers who have travelled to Nalanda from different foreign countries other than China, Korea and Japan would have had the same intension.

To learn and understand the great Indian philosophies! Was that the same with other travelers who have been to Nalanda? This question need to be answered only after deeper research into the work of other travelers.

In the Muslim chronical Tabaqat–i-Nasiri of Minhaj-i-Siraj it is noted exactly as follow:
“He [Bakhtiyar Khalji] used to carry his depredations into those parts and that country until he organized an attack upon the fortified city of Bihar.” Are we seeing a drastic change in the intentions of the travelers? World’s image of Nalanda has a long history.

This paper check the connotations of various travelers by carefully understanding the documents of Faxian, XuanZang, Yijing and Minhaj-i-siraj.

This study is an attempt to peek into the travelogue of ancient travelers to excavate the details of the great Indian University, Nalandha.


Dwijendra Narayan Jha, a former member of the Indian Council of Historical Research has come up with an instructing argument in his new book, ‘Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History’.

Jha, wrote on Nalanda that it’s library was set on fire by “Hindu fanatics”. “The popular view, however, wrongly attributes this conflagration to the Mamluk commander Bakhtiyar Khilji, who never went there, but, in fact, sacked the nearby Odantapuri Mahavihara at modern-day Bihar Sharif” 17 .

This paper examines the above statement by DN Jha on Nalanda Mahavihara and the factors related to its destruction.

The ruins of the monastic establishments of Nalanda have been identified beyond any scope of doubt as the site of the Nalanda Mahavihara, once the cynosure of the academic world as the greatest center of Buddhist learning ” 1 notes in thesis of Chandra Shekhar Prasad.

In order to have a proper understanding of Nalanda Mahavihara, and to find out what was present in Nalanda before it was destroyed, we need to trace back to 1500 years of history. On the course of finding the history, this paper will also explore the travel documents by various travelers to Nalanda from 3 C.E (Common Era).

Course of learning about Nalanda raises at least three difficult questions. (1) How is it important to document the travel logue and history of the places we visit? (2) Who destroyed Nalanda? (3) What was the intension behind destroying a great Indian University?

This paper aims to find out the truth by following the travel records by Faxian, XuanZang, Yijing, Minhaj-i-siraj and Chaglo-Tsaba Chos rje-dpal Aka Dharmasvamin.

Let us examine the travelogues of foreign travelers and try to address the above mentioned questions. Since the beginning of understanding the history of Magadha kingdom, the travel accounts preserved have formed a very valuable source of information.

Travel Records of Chinese Pilgrim Fa-xian

Indo-China cultural and philosophical exchange flourished from the 4th Century and till the mid of 13th century. Duni Chand’s thesis serve as the best authority to the above stated assessment, “With the fall of the extensive and centralised Han Empire in 3rd century A.D., the relations between India and China lost its smoothness for some time.

Official relations between India and China began to revive at the close of the 4th century A.D𔄤.
The Chinese monk Fa-Hien’s parents wanted their son to be a Buddhist monk, and is believed to be the first prominent traveler who visited India11. Fa-Xian, who had had been living in Ch’ang-gan started his journey and reached the emporium of Chang-yih.

When he was in Ch’ang-gan “He entered into an engagement with Hwuy-king, Tao-Ching, Hwuy-ying and Hwuy-wei that they should go to India and seek for the disciplinary rules󈭠, snice the books of discipline available with them was imperfect.

Fa-Xian undertook a visit to India in search of better copies of Buddhist books than were presently obtainable in China. Started from Chang-yih they reached T’un-hwang then to Lou-lan, were he notes that the place had nearly four-thousand monks.

Many days of journey from this to the east brought the travelers to the kingdom of Taxila. Fa-Hien’s time embraced a large area starting from Udyana, north of the Punjab till Tamralipti, located on the Bay of Bengal, strongholds of good monasteries. He noticed in Udyana alone no less than 500 monasteries inhabited by monks of the Hinayana school.

Fa-Hien notes the social condition in India as prosperous and people were content with their lives. But he dint detail on the political condition and administration details. Even though he has travelled through Pataliputra, there is no mention of Nalandha University as such.

Fa-Hien took many years for his complete travel from China to Central India, in a journey full of physical hazards and trouble.

He noted in his memoirs:
“When I look back on what I have gone through, my heart is involuntarily moved, and the perspiration flows forth. That I encountered danger and trod the most perilous places, without thinking of or sparing myself was because I had a definite aim, and thought of nothing but to do my best in my simplicity and straightforwardness.

Thus it was that I exposed my life where death seemed inevitable if I might achieve a ten-thousandth part of what I had hoped.”

Fa-Hien’s account brings us into touch with Buddhist India, the main hub of Chinese learning.He returned to China in 415 C.E via the port of Tamralipti situated near the Ganges delta.

Travel Records of Chinese Pilgrim Xuanzang

The Chinese Pilgrim Xuanzang (Huan-Tsang) came to India during Harsha Vardhan’s period. Xuanzang, who left behind detailed accounts, note only promoted India’s rich philosophical doctrines but also tried to foster diplomatic exchange between china and India.

Xuanzang started his pilgrimage to India without formal authorization from the Tang court, as Tang China and Gokturks were at war at that time. He reached Turpan in 630 C.E. Moving further in a westerly direction he reached Karasahr, moved further west to Samarkand.

He reached Adinapur, in Yin-tu were he meet Buddhist monks. “The pilgrim having now arrived at the frontiers of the great country which he calls Yin-tu (India) gives his readers a “Ksgah-sight” of the land before taking them through its various kingdoms”.

His journey included, passing through Khyber Pass, reaching the former capital of Gandhara, Peshawar. “He followed the northern branch of the Silk Road round the Taklimakan on his outward journey, and he returned to the Tang capital at Xian via the southern route. He is still seen by the Chinese as an important influence in the development of Buddhism in China and his travels were dramatized by in the popular classic “Tales of a journey to the West”.

Xuanzang set of from Lumbini in 637 C.E to Kusinagara, the place of Buddha’s death, moving eastward, at first via Varanasi, Xuanzang reached Vaisali, Pataliputra and Bodh Gaya. Local monks accompanied him to Nalanda.

Xuanzang’s arrival period to Nalanda is at a time when China had taken deep root interest in Indian Monastic institutions and doctrines. “Hiuen Tsang tells us that sanaka a dark red cloth made of the fibre of the sanaka plant (a kind of hemp) was used by the bhiksus “.

According to the accounts of Xuanzang, Nalanda had as many as 8,500 students and 1,500 teachers. According to the accounts of Xuanzang, a wide range of subjects were taught in Nalanda,it was the best education available at that time.

Xuanzang who studied there for five years, studied Yoga shastra under Silabhadra.He also studied Nyaya, Hetuvidya, Shabdavidya and the Sanskrit grammar of Panini.

Other Monasteries seen by Xuanzang includes Bamian, Kapis, Lampa, Nagarkot, Gandhara, Paiusha, Udyana, Bolor, Taxila, Hayamukha, Magadha. He had the fortune to visit Chola Country. At the time of Xuanzang’s visit 300 bhikshus of ceylon also reached Chola capital.

Xuanzang meet these Bhikshus and told his future intention to visit Ceylon for to learn Scriptures. Bhikshus told him that there were no brethren there superior to them.

Then the Bhikshus discussed some yoga texts with Xuanzang and he found that their explanation could not excel those given to him by Silabhadra of Nalanda.

Xuanzang’s account also “goes to show to what extent hospitality and tourism flourished in India of his time. We owe a lot to this Buddhist traveler for his unbiased accounts of social, political history of all the lands he visited”.

Travel Records of Chinese Pilgrim Yijing

“The mission of Yijing(I-tsing) was mainly the study of the vinaya rules and the observance of those rules by the Indian monks”[6]. Yijing set -off his trip to India in 671 C.E and went back to China in 695 C.E. “I-tsing, was in the Western Capital (Ch’ang-an) in the first year of the Hsien-heng period (670), studying and hearing lectures.

At that time there were with me Ch’u-i, a teacher of the Law, of Ping-pu Hung-i, a teacher of the Sastra, of Lai-chou , and also two or three other Bhadantas we all made an agreement together to visit die Vulture Peak (Gr/dhraku/a), and set our hearts on (seeing) the Tree of Knowledge (Bodhidruma) in India[14] “.

Even though Yijing’s account is very less in content but he too has left a touching account of the love of learning in Nalanda. According to Yijing, in a day minimum of 100 lectures were held at Nalanda.

According to Yijing, Nalanda was also famous for its well-equipped big library with three huge buildings called Ratnasagara, Ratnadadhi and Ratnaranjaka of which Ratnasagara was a nine-storeyed building.

All the libraries stored rare sacred manuscripts. Yijing, accounts of having collected 400 different texts and 500,000 shlokas from India. Collecting scriptures from India and carrying to China for propagation was considers as a great holy duty by many scholars.

“Yijing (I-tsing) writes that he visited the monastery Bha – ra – ha or Barahat or Varaha at Tamralipti(modem Tamluk and adjoining areas in the Midnapur district)𔄩.

Yijing through his records provided the followers of Buddhist doctrine in China to envision a journey to India. He notes “If you read this Record of mine, you may, without moving one step, travel in all the five countries of India.”[14].

These travel accounts details us the difficult journeys of Chinese seekers by foot and on board ships just to imbibe knowledge from Indian professors.

Travel Records of Khilji dynasty

The history of India from the first half of 12th century has been reconstructed mainly from the accounts of Muslim records. Tabaqat-i Nasiri, written in Persian by Minhaj-i-Siraj Juzjani is a detail account of to account for the Muslim dynasties that started in Iran and Central Asia.

“Tabaqat-i-Nasiri deals with the early Muslim rulers of Central Asia, extension of their rule in India – from Md. Ghori to Sultan Nasiruddin of the slave dynasty” 8.

Tabaqat–i-Nasiri, account mentions the attack of Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khalji on Bihar.”He led a force towards Bihar, and ravaged that territory. He used to carry his depredations into those parts and that country until he organized an attack upon the fortified city of Bihar.

Trustworthy persons have related on this wise, that he advanced to the gateway of the fortress of Bihar with two hundred horsemen in defensive armour, and suddenly attacked the place 󈫿. It also noted that the greater number of inhabitants of fortified city of Bihar are clean shaven Brahmans.

As per the view of Jadunath Sarkar, the high priest of communal historiography in India “The above account mentions the fortress of Bihar as the target of Khalji’s attack. The fortified monastery which Bakhtiyar captured was ‘known as Audand-Bihar or Odandapura-vihara’(Odantapuri ) 󈬀 .

Odandapura-vihara (Odantapuri ), a Buddhist Mahavihara located not too far from Nalanda. This attack by Khalji destroyed Odandapura-vihara and he killed all the inhabitants and burned it completely. We can also notice the concept of ‘Holy war’ from the account of Minhaj-i-Siraj where Khalji and his men were leading plundering expeditions in Bihar over infidels. Holy war was not limited to Bihar, it was a common scene in other parts of India as well.

“Till the 18th century the Buddhists were practically displaced from the soil of Bengal due to the destructive strategy adopted by the Muslim rulers” 10.

Travel Records of Tibetan monk Chaglo-Tsaba Chos rje-dpal (Dharmasvamin), mentions that he found a small class still conducted in the ruins of Nalanda by a 90 old monk, Sribhadra.

Dharmaswamin visited Nalanda in 1235, after forty years of its sack.The old monk was taken care by a local Brahmin, Javadeva. When a group of 300 Turks again came for ethnic cleansing Dharmaswamin carried Shibhadra on his back and took the surviving manuscripts under his robe and made their exit from India 19.

This account of Dhamaswamin shed light on the Brahmin – Buddhist relation and the Turkish hate on the infidels. But sadly D N Jha fails to see such reality, and argues that Nalanda was set on fire by “Hindu fanatics”.

This argument is against the reality that “The Indian subcontinent has been the homeland of many religions and sects that have flourished independently as well as influenced one another.

In ancient Bihar too, a similar situation prevailed with religions like Buddhism, Jainism and the Brahmanical faith flourishing in a social atmosphere of mutual tolerance and respect.” [9]

An expert from the book ‘History Of Magadha’ states “The Buddhism Of Magadha was finally swept away by the Mughal invasion under Bakhtiyar Khilji, In 1197 the capital Bihar was seized by a two hundred horsemen,who rushed the postern gate, and sacked the town. [18]”. Both the universities, Odantapuri and Nalandha situated in Maghada.

Tibetan records says there were about 12,000 students at Odantapuri. Dr N Jha’s book ‘Against the grain notes on identity intolerance and history’ is, as usual a leftist polemics, an effort in misdirection. The evidences belonging to the past of Nalanda points to the fact that it was destroyed by warriors for Islam.

  1. Chandra Shekhar Prasad, Nalanda vis-a-vis the Birthplace of Sariputra , The Istituto Italiano per l’Africa e l’Oriente (IsIAO) in 2015.
  2. Duni Chand, Sino Indian relations in the post cold war era, Himachal Pradesh University, 2016.
  3. Marylin M. Rhie, ‘Aspects of the two Colossal Budhas at Bamiyan’ ,Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi, January 17-19, 2003, pp.2-3.
  4. Bhagaban Goswami, Pragjyotishpur the capital of the kamarupa rulers through the ages till 11th century AD as depicted in literature, Gauhati University, 2008.
  5. P Premkanna, Role of hospitality industry in promoting tourism in India, Madurai Kamraj University, 2015.
  6. Kshanika Saha, Buddhism and Buddhist literature in central Asia, University of Culcutta, 1966.
  7. Krishnendu Ray, Socio economic background of religious institutions and establishments in eastern India during early medieval times AD 600 AD 1200, University of Calcutta, 2002.
  8. Nasrin Jahan, A study of pre Moghul histories written in Persian prose in India 1206 1388 A D, University of Calcutta, 1978.
  9. Nilkamal Choudhary, A cultural history of Nalanda C 400 A D C 900 A D, 1990.
  10. Saswati Dasgupta, Buddhist studies and culture in West Bengal, 2007.
  11. K.C Khanna, As They Saw India, 7th Edition, 2015.
  12. A Record of Buddhist Kingdoms Being As Account By The Chinese Monk Fa-Hien Of His Travels In India And Ceylon by James Legge, The Clarendon Press, 1886.
  13. Thomas Watters M.R.A.S. On Yuan Chwang’s Travels in India, 629-645 A.D. Vol.1, London Royal Asiatic Society, 1904.
  14. Junjiro Takakusu, A Record of Buddhist Practices Sent Home from the Southern Sea, 1896.
  15. Tabaqat-i-Nasiri, Translated from Persian by Major H.G Raverty, 1873.
  16. History of Bengal, vol. 2, Dacca, 1948.
  17. Dwijendra Narayan Jha, Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History, 2018.
  18. L.L.S Omalley and J.F.W James, History of Magadha.
  19. Dr A S Altekar , Biography of Dharmasvamin, 1959

(This paper was presented by Sooraj Rajendran at Indic Yatra conference)

The Historical Ruins of Nalanda: Exploring the Ancient University’s Architecture and Philosophy

The Nalanda trip was my first experience with Bihar. My college fest had ended, I needed a break, and the “let’s go somewhere” idea of my friends, made us catch the 2:30 AM train from Varanasi to Nalanda. I had read about the ruins of Nalanda in my history textbooks in school but hadn’t heard anything about the place after that. I didn’t Google a single thing before embarking on the trip. I wanted to surprise myself and indeed, I got my first one next morning at Nalanda junction.

Perhaps, we stopped at some outer area of the junction, but there was no bridge to cross the track, open fields spread out for kilometers and kilometers, small mud-brick houses, and an isolated railway junction. We crossed the railway track with some local ladies and a narrow route going between the small houses, took us to the highway.

I’ve been to numerous historical places, like Delhi but it was nothing like the capital, at first sight. Fortunately, a well-constructed road and a rickshaw took us to our destination, “The ruins of Nalanda”.

To my extreme amusement, a friend of mine wondered that since it was not a Sunday, there must be some students and a crowd on the University campus! We all couldn’t help but laugh at his innocence.

So, if you are also like my friend who thought that Nalanda University is housing students and academic facilities, let me tell you that, Nalanda was a prestigious center of learning from the 5th century CE to 12th century CE, often acknowledged as “the first residential university of the world with 10000 students and 2000 teachers residing in the campus”. It was a famous Buddhist monastery, where thousands of Buddhist monks used to live, learn, and practice their religion. It rose to its legendary status due to the emerging power of the Indian subcontinent and its influence on the world.

For travellers who have a thing for historical ruins or architectural masterpieces of our past, Nalanda is a must-visit. The beautiful architecture and history behind it, provide a sense of belonging and splendour, which is unique to this place.

The grand complex (believed, that a large part is yet to be excavated) contains red-bricked monasteries, stupas, temples, classrooms, and hostels of the past.

Every brick of the majestic architecture makes you wonder about how it would have been filled with so many students a millennium ago, and what kind of knowledge, teachings, and lifestyle would have been in practice here. It is believed that students at Nalanda used to learn texts of Buddhism, Vedas, logic, Sanskrit grammar, theology, philosophy, law, astronomy, and even city-planning.

A map of the excavated remains of Nalanda. Cpt.a.haddock

The university flourished, as an establishment, under the rule and patronage of the Gupta Empire and King Harshavardhana of Kannauj. It attracted scholars and Buddhist monks from various kingdoms, and foreign nations like China, Korea, Tibet, Japan, Indonesia, Persia, and Turkey. It is believed that there existed a large library in the complex with hundreds of thousands of volumes of manuscripts. These manuscripts were not only religious, but they also contained texts on grammar, literature, astronomy, astrology, etc.

The university saw its downfall in the 12th century with Turkish invasions and gradually, its buildings were ransacked and set on fire. Many of its monks and scholars were killed, and the rest of them fled the campus.

There are a lot of legends and theories about the destruction of such a prominent site of knowledge, education, and learning. Even today, many buildings and sites have a sign of damage by fire displayed on them. According to a popular legend, when the invaders set the great library on fire, it kept burning for 3 months because it had around 9 million manuscripts at that time! It is thought that the demise of Nalanda, was somewhat predicted by the slow decaying of Buddhism in India. The slow disappearance of Buddhism in the region served as a premonition to the forthcoming demise of Nalanda.

Now, the complex contains ruins of its glorious past. The vast remains of Nalanda expand around 1600 ft. north to south, and 800 ft. east to west. The red-bricked monasteries and temples, pathways, and compounds keep the magnificent history of such a beautiful and prestigious place alive. Even some of the manuscripts that were saved by the fleeing monks, live on today in various museums and cultural centers across the world.

Nalanda museum is located near the site that contains hundreds of excavated artefacts. Near the ruins, there is a temple of the Black Buddha, where a black-coloured sculpture of Gautam Buddha, which was also excavated from the site, is placed.

Nalanda is a mystery and a great symbol in itself. It is a place that witnessed profound knowledge, discipline, and glory and at the same time faced bloodshed, fire, and destruction. All these emotions are present in Nalanda’s air. Pay a visit to this UNESCO World Heritage Site and experience the splendour of its complex, beautiful past.

And yes! There is a Nalanda University that is packed with students, faculty, and academic facilities. It is located near Nalanda in Rajgir, Bihar. Established in 2014, it has been designated as an “International Institution of National Importance” by the Parliament and commenced classes from September 1, 2014. It was constructed recently and is quite different from the ancient Nalanda University. So, my innocent friend was not that wrong, I guess?

Nalanda University Ruins

We were a group of 15 of us from South India visiting the Nalanda University Ruins on the 2nd Feb. 2020. We had gone there to attend a wedding happening in Patna on the 3rd Feb. 2020.

We hired a tourist guide and paid for the entry tickets as well. We were led by the Guide in the first section of the ruins where the student hostels etc were shown by the guide. We took a few pics and moved on the open area. It was around 11.30 am. We were suddenly attacked by a massive group of Forest and Wild BEES. It started attacking the head,face,back and hands. We were caught unawares and 4-5 of us were severely attacked and stung with the BEE venom. We tried our best to cover our faces with hankies and Duppata's but the BEES were relentless and appeared very aggressive. The Guide quietly walked away without a word to the group. We were caught in the situation for about 15 minutes by which time over 500 BEES must have stung each of us. We were feeling dizzy and profusely sweating. After much effort and no help whatsoever in sight we managed to walk back to the areas where shops are located on the main road. Even then the BEES would not leave us. Some of the shopkeepers saw our helpless state and lit a fire using leaves and paper and we were asked to sit around the fire so that the smoke would dissuade the BEES. We were also given Avil 25 Mgs. tables by the shop keepers. It appears that the BEE attackes are common here. 3 of us were badly stung with over 100's of stings on each of us. We were directed to a Primary health centre nearby where the health workers administered an injection of anti-allergy. We were then told to be taken to a hospital about 6 Kms away where another injection of Antibiotic was given to us. We were severely nauseated and began having severe vomiting and loose motions. 3 of us in the group were very seriously injured and about 4-5 others were more mildly attacked. We had to finally make our way back to Patna which is 3 hrs. away.

We were surprised that there were no warning boards about BEE Attacks anywhere near Ruins at least as a warning to people to look out for. The guide never any warning either about such a situation ever arising. Instead he quietly walked away. The shop keepers around seems to know about the same but no body told us. We were ill equipped with only handkerchiefs and Duppatta's and some caps but they don't really help in the situation. We would like Bihar Tourism Development Authority( considering that it is an UNESCO world heritage site) to take steps to provide warning signals and perhaps have some head coverage equipment being made available to hire. Also it looks like someone has disturbed the BEE Hives nearby that we could not see and that seems have caused the BEE Swarm to come and attack humans in the vicinity. Bihar Tourism Development Authority should make sure that Locals are sensitized to this so that no one else suffers like we did.

It is one week since the attack and we had to come back to Bangalore. Several Stings were removed by the Dermatologist from our body and we are on anti- allergy,antibiotic tablets,steroid and anti- tetanus injections and recovering. Each of our faces are swollen and my wife has the left side of her mouth and face paralysed by the BEE Stings and venom. It is going to take at least another 2 weeks for both of us to get back to normal.

The event was traumatic for both of us and came with the conviction that we will never go back to BIHAR State ever again.

Forgotten Nalanda University Ruins: Visiting World’s Most Ancient University

Towards the Southeast of Patna, the Capital City of Bihar State in India, is a village called the ‘Bada Gaon’, in the vicinity of which, are the world-famous ruins of Nalanda University. The ruins of the world’s most ancient university lies here which is 62 km from Bodhgaya and 90 km south of Patna.

A combination of the Sanskrit words “Nalum” depicting lotus (a symbol of knowledge) and “Da”, giver is the root of the word Nalanda-The Knowledge Giver, which, in its simplicity, describes the legendary International University situated in the present state of Bihar in eastern India.

According to history there were three major learning centres between the 4 th and the 9 th century: Takshashila, Vikramshila and Nalanda. Though Takshashila was the first to be established, Nalanda was the one that was most renowned for its huge capacity, its residential system of learning and the diversity of subjects professed.

Its existence came to light only in the 1800s by the preliminary report of Francis Buchanan Hamilton (a physician and surveyor for British East India Company). Official survey of the site was carried out by Sir Alexander Cunningham (founder of the Archaeological Survey of India) following the accounts of a Chinese traveller Hsuan-tsang.

Hsuan-tsang is believed to have travelled from China to research Buddhism and had come across Nalanda University that he described as “azure pool winds around the monasteries, adorned with the full-blown cups of the blue lotus the dazzling red flowers of the lovely kanaka hang here and there, and outside groves of mango trees offer the inhabitants their dense and protective shade”.

The Nalanda University had thrived through the rules of three successive dynasties and three visibly distinct architectural levels are identifiable with each dynasty. Ancient Buddhist scriptures records Nalanda to be first established by Ashoka of the Mauryan Dynasty as a Buddhist temple in the 2 nd century. It was the core of Budhdhist learning and home to the legendary alchemist: Nagarjuna.

It became a full-fledged University under the patronage of the Gupta Dynasty in the 5 th century and 6 th century. Later, it flourished during the reign of King Harshavardana of the Pushyabhuti Dynasty. Finally, the Pala Dynasty saw the fall of the Great University when it was destroyed by the invader Bhaktiyar Khilji who mistook it to be a fort of the empire.

The architecture of the Nalanda University was at par with the modern-day. The vast campus was divided into 8 separate compounds with an open air classroom surrounded by dormitories for the students and a bore well as a source of water.

Nalanda University Ruins

The total area of the excavation is about 14 hectares. All the edifices are of the red brick and the gardens are beautiful. The buildings are divided by a central walk way that goes south to north. The monasteries or “Viharas” are east of this central alley and the temple or “Chaiyas” to the west. The Vihara-1 is perhaps the most interesting with its cells on two floors built around a central courtyard where steps lead up to what must have been a dais for the professors to address their students. A small chapel still retains a half-broken statue of the Lord Buddha.

The classroom could hold over 30 students and had a raised platform on one end constructed for the teacher’s seating.

The dormitories were series of small square rooms with one window and a door which could slide shut. It had shelves engraved into the walls to hold the boarder’s belongings. The walls were made thick to provide natural cooling in the intense summers and heating in the harsh winters. It also boasted of a highly efficient drainage system.

Along with the 8 compounds there is evidence of a communal kitchen, storage areas, lakes, parks and temples and memorials of students and teachers who were deceased during their tenure.

Nalanda Burning

Nalanda also housed a library which held innumerable manuscripts and texts not only of Budhdhism but also of various literature and sciences like astronomy and medicine. It was said that the collection of texts were so huge in number, that the library burnt for three months when Bhaktiyar Khilji destroyed it.

The students of the University were highly regarded throughout. It was visited by both Lord Mahavira (founder of Jainism) and Lord Buddha (founder of Buddhism). Shariputra, one of the most notable followers of Buddha was born here and also attained nirvana. Other notable students include Aryabhatta (propagator of the decimal system) and Nagarjuna (The Father of Iatrochemistry). The students were admitted by gate keepers who were learned monks. Admission was granted only when the seeker passed a preliminary examination by the gate keepers. The historic version of Entrance Exams!

At its peak, the institution attracted students and scholars from far off places like Korea, China, Tibet, and Central Asia as well. It was home to more than 2,000 teachers and 10,000 students. History has it that Mahavira and Buddha visited Nalanda in the 5 th and 6 th centuries. Renowned Chinese scholar Hsuan-Tsang also visited the institution in the 7 th century to learn the Vedas, Buddhist theology, and metaphysics.

After its decline, Nalanda remained forgotten until the 19 th century when the Archaeological Survey of India started conducting excavations on the site. These excavations have led to the discovery of many ruins but the excavated area comprises of just a minor portion of the whole institution of Nalanda.

Nalanda University Information
Location Nalanda district
Timings 9:00 am to 5:00 pm every day
Entry Fee ₹ 15 for Indians and SAARC and BIMSTEC citizens ₹ 200 for foreigners free entry for children below 15 years of age
Video Camera ₹ 25
Distance from Patna 84 km
Year of Establishment 5th century
Year of Abandonment 12th century
Type Archaeological complex
Status UNESCO World Heritage Site
Area 30 acres

This historical site is painstakingly restored and maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India. It is a must visit for travellers with both historic and non-historic interests. You are welcome to marvel the art and architecture and the philosophy behind them or you can get into one of the student quarters and relive the pranks they would have played on their friends and teachers.

An interesting video to watch on this World’s oldest Nalanda University:

Things to See in the Nalanda Complex

Though much of the Nalanda Mahavihara is yet to be excavated, there is a lot to see in the excavated area that spreads across 30 acres. This includes the following:

  • Ruins of the Nalanda University
  • Ruins of monasteries
  • Ruins of brick temples
  • Stupa of Sariputta
  • Sarai Temple
  • Nalanda Archaeological Museum
  • Nalanda Multimedia Museum (privately run)
  • Xuan Zang Memorial
  • Surya Mandir
  • Black Buddha Temple
  • Nalanda Vipasana Centre
How To Reach

By Air – The nearest airport from Nalanda is Patna around 89 km away. There are regular flights from Patna connecting to Kolkata, Delhi, Ranchi, Mumbai, Varanasi, Lucknow, and Kathmandu.

By Rail – Rajgir 12 km away is the nearest railway station from Nalanda. nearest major railway point is Gaya around 65 km away, from where one can take trains for Delhi, Kolkata, Varanasi, and some of the major centers in eastern India.

By Road – Nalanda is connected through a good road network with Rajgir 12 km, Bodh Gaya 50 km, Gaya 65 km, Patna 90 km, Pawapuri 26 km, and Bihar Sharif 13 km.

Archaeological remains of Nalanda Mahavihara were systematically unearthed and preserved simultaneously. These are the most significant parts of the property that demonstrate development in planning, architecture and artistic tradition of Nalanda. As evinced by the surviving antiquities, the site is explicit of a scholar’s life recorded a monastic cum scholastic establishment.

For more information on archaeological findings by UNESCO, do read: Archaeological Site of Nalanda Mahavihara at Nalanda, Bihar

Author: Krittika Nandy – A molecular biologist with inherited homologous dominant travel genes, I have lived in or traveled to most Indian states and have friends from the rest. I am less of an adventurous traveler and more of a luxury vacationer. Put me in a middle of a city or a crowded beach, I am in my element. An uninhabited mountain trek or a forest camp would probably be the cause of my death. I absolutely hate stereotypes and yes, I am a Bengali who hates fish!

Reliving the Chapters of History in the Ruins of Nalanda

Imagine being at a place filled with a number of monasteries. You walk from a complex to another with students of Buddhist Monks, young and old walking around you. If I ask you to tell the name of this place you’ll automatically imagine Spiti or Ladakh. But older than the monastery of The Himalayas, there was a place where these ancient institutions once existed and now stand in ruins. I am talking about Nalanda and the historical ruins of the university that once created a benchmark in the field of education. Nalanda University originated from the land where Buddhism first came into being. The first school of Buddhist studies were first established here and thrived for several hundred years before they were destroyed in an attack of invaders.

The word “Nalanda” is a Sanskrit combination of three words, Na+alam+Daa, meaning “no stopping of the gift of knowledge”. It is said that each of these monasteries had its own unique curriculum, library, and hostel system. In total there were 20000 students studying in the complex and around 2000 teachers to oversee the entire process and operations.

Nalanda is a small town located on the Bihar Jharkhand Border. One can access Nalanda by taking a train till Patna or Gaya from where one can find buses plying towards Bihar Shareef. Nalanda holds a unique importance among the Hindu, Buddhist and the Jain pilgrims. During the winters and especially the New Years the excavation site is crowded with tourists who come here from India and abroad to take a feel of how life used to be back when Buddhism originated and Bihar and slowly spread in Asia and beyond.

Nalanda University Archaeological Complex has been declared a world heritage site by UNESCO. The ruins are being researched upon and it is being said that the university complex lies in a greater span of area compared to what has been uncovered.

How to Reach Nalanda – The nearest railway station near Nalanda is Gaya, which is said to be the place where Lord Buddha first attained Enlightenment. One can arrive in Bodh Gaya and visit the Mahabodhi temple and later take a bus or a private taxi till Nalanda. It takes around 2 hours to reach the excavation site and depending on the distance you can walk, it can take between four to five hours to walk the entire area.

Other places to see around – Nalanda is a part of Buddhist circuit and devotees often cover it as a part of their Buddhist circuit trail that starts from Nepal and ends in Sarnath. Here is how you can explore it. Bodh Gaya – Rajgir – Nalanda – Sarnath – Gorakhpur – Kushinagar – Lumbini – Saraswat – Lucknow – New Delhi.

Silao is a famous village near Nalanda that is famous for its sweet dish called Khaja. The sellers of Khaja are known to have set their shop and running it since generations.

A Little bit away from Nalanda excavation site is the peaceful Hieum Tsang Memorial Hall. Here you can explore and learn about the life and journeys of the great ancient traveller.

A few kilometres away from the University ruins you can visit Black Buddha statue. This statue of Lord Buddha is made using black stone in Bhumisparsha mudra! The statue was found during the excavation and the temple was added recently.

Kundalpur Jain temple is birthplace of disciples of Mahavira and hence is important pilgrimage center for Jains.

Nalanda is one of the places where solo travelling is a little impossible. It is tough to find public buses and most of the buses don’t run on time. You can find package tours that start from Banaras and end in Banaras after five days. If you are planning to explore this side of the Buddhist circuit, it will be smart to team up with other travellers.

Ancient Nalanda University resumes after 800 year

Eight hundred years after the destruction of Nalanda, former President of India Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, while addressing the Bihar State Legislative Assembly, in March 2006 mooted the idea of reviving the university. In his speech he envisaged it as a university that would revive the glory of the ancient seat of learning.

The State Government of Bihar quickly adopted the visionary idea and consulted the Government of India on the way ahead. It also began its search for a suitable location for the new Nalanda University. It identified and acquired 450 acres of land for the University in Rajgir, Bihar, just 12 km away from the original site.

The University began its first academic session on September 1, 2014. with 15 students including five women. Initially set up in temporary facilities in Rajgir, a modern campus is expected to be finished by 2020.

The university’s chancellor, Amartya Sen, is confident that the new Nalanda University will be a success. Whilst the original Nalanda University took about 200 years to achieve prominence, Sen believes that the new university will be able to establish its place in the academic world in just a few decades.

Now, it is also important to know “ Who created the Nalanda University?”

The ruins of Nalanda University are located in the Indian state of Bihar about 52–54 miles southeast of Patna.

It was the center of learning from 427 to 1197 CE. It has been called “one of the first great universities in recorded history.

The Ancient University of Nalanda is believed to be founded by the Gupta Dynasty who was ruling in India. If we look at the Gupta Empire dynasty, Nalanda University was founded around the kingdom of Chandragupta one of Samudra Gupta. In its middle phase of life, Nalanda University was supported by the Buddhist emperors and later in the last phase, by the Pala kings who ruled mostly the south and eastern part of India.

It was a completely residential university believed to have 2,000 teachers and 10,000 students.

The curriculam of the university offered the study of abstract knowledge like Philosophy, religion, Buddhism, and scientific thoughts in astronomy, mathematics, anatomy, etc. in each classroom, there used to be hundreds of students and they were not allowed to go outside until the lecture was over.

Ruins of Nalanda - History

Nalanda near Patna is where you can find the archaeological remains of a Mahavihara or Buddhist monastery, which was one of the earliest and finest universities in India. In ancient days, this monastic and scholastic institution was located in the kingdom of Magadha, which is now the modern state of Bihar. Nalanda University Archaeological Complex is currently located about 84 km away from Patna, the capital city of Bihar. A visit to the complex makes for an enriching journey into history, architecture, culture, and Buddhism. If you are a history buff, make sure to include this ancient university in your itinerary when planning a trip to and booking your hotels in Patna.

Open and Closing Time

9:00 am till 5:00 pm. closed on Fridays.


Nearest Hotel

Gargee Gautam Vihar Resort

Nearest Resturant

Near By Attraction

Application Available Which Save Some Money

Interesting facts about Nalanda University Ruins

Nalanda was founded by Buddhist monks in the 5th century AD during the reign of the Gupta dynasty, and is a famous Buddhist and Jain pilgrimage city too.

Chinese travelers are a well-known source and students of Nalanda University.

Well known scholars studied in Nalanda University.The strength and vastness of the library.


The Nalanda Mahavihara site is in the State of Bihar, in north-eastern India. It comprises the archaeological remains of a monastic and scholastic institution dating from the 3rd century BCE to the 13th century CE. It includes stupas, shrines, viharas (residential and educational buildings) and important art works in stucco, stone and metal. Nalanda stands out as the most ancient university of the Indian Subcontinent. It engaged in the organized transmission of knowledge over an uninterrupted period of 800 years. The historical development of the site testifies to the development of Buddhism into a religion and the flourishing of monastic and educational traditions.

List of site sources >>>

Watch the video: The Ancient Ruins of Nalanda. Final Episode - 8 (January 2022).