A visit to Nalanda during my sojourn at Gaya was a rewarding and learning experience.We have heard of and read about Nalanda Mahavihar during our school days when we were taught about the illustrious and golden era of the Guptas and King Harshwardhan of Kannauj. The ruins of the ancient seat of learning speak of and bear ample testimony to our rich and glorious heritage of learning and scholarship . Nalanda enjoyed a pride of place along with other two seats of learning - Taxila and Vikramshila- and is considered the most prominent of the three. Taxila is now a part of Pakistan. Students from countries like Japan, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Korea came to Nalanda and received education and training at Nalanda, which could boast of eminent scholars like Silbhadra or Sheel Bhadra as faculty and the Vice Chancellor, who also taught the Chinese scholar and Monk Xuanzang or Hiuen Tsang. . The Nalanda Mahavihar was established during the reign of Kumaragupta- I and continued to enjoy Royal patronage during the reign of Harshvardhan of Kannauj and Dev Pala of Pala dynasty. However a decline set in during the rule of Pala dynasty and the end to all the glory and honour was caused with an attack by Bakhtiyar Khilji around 1200AD.
One of the interesting things that the Guide told us was the origin of the word ‘Nalanda’. According to him and convincingly so,’ Nalanda’ is a combination of two Sanskrit words ‘Naalam’ & ‘Da’ . Naalam stands for Lotus which is considered the source of all knowledge and learning or Knowledge itself and ‘Da’ in Sanskrit means ‘to give ‘. Nalanda thus means a Giver of Knowledge.
The excavations took place in 1917 and between 1974 and 1982 and some important relics were also found which are kept in a museum.
The ruins are spread over hundreds of acresof area, only a part of which stands excavated. The walls and structures are all made of red brick not very different from our present day bricks , though of less thickness. Some special binding material, much stronger than cement was prepared and used to fix the bricks in place.There were raised platforms, rectangular or square in shape to seat the teachers and the students. The guide, Yadunandan Singh, who took us around the Monastery No. 1, arguably the most important one, and explained certain things to us. Nalanda University was known as Mahavihar which had many Vihars or faculties, teaching many disciplines.Each faculty or department had thirty five rooms or cells housing a student each , equivalent to the cubicles we find in University hostels these days. The rooms were of sufficient dimension to be occupied by a single person. On one side was an alcove in the wall to place the lamp that burnt day and night to give light . There was an opening on the top in the roof to allow passage of air and also some natural light.
There is also a lay out plan of excavations done .
A nice and educative experience it was, indeed !