On Monday 01, Sept 2014, while rest of the India went around their usual business, something extraordinary happened. A moment to be written with golden letters in history of not just India, but that of the world. Because today an ancient institution springs back to life. An institution which once symbolized the culture and knowledge traditions of India, and had a remarkable influence on the very idea of India itself.
Ladies and Gentlemen, after 800 years of break, Today, on Sept 01 2014, classes were conducted for the first time in University of Nalanda. After almost a millenium, the campus is buzzing again with professors, oblivious to the backdrop of frantic construction activity around.
An institution so old in time that in predates Oxford and Cambridge by many centuries. An institution so vast in expanse that it enrolled more than 10,000 students from all over the world, about 1500 professors and staff and more than 200,000 books (hand written, there was no printing), in its nine storied tall library. Wide range of subjects like philosophy, astronomy, mathematics, arts, languages, were taught here.
List of people who visited or stayed at Nalanda sounds like a who’s who, or sort of directory of most influential names in ancient Indian history. It includes names such as Verdhaman Mahavira, Gautam Buddha, Ashoka, Chandragupta, Bramhagupta, Nagarjun, Adi Shankarachayra and so on.
But time is a tide. In twelfth century, Nalanda was attacked and burned by Khiljis. The library burned for days. The students and teachers dispersed in decades to come. A visitor hundred years later found an alone monk Rahul Bhadra conducting classes for about 10 students.
Eventually it all stopped. The dark days began. for the next several centuries the ancient halls slowly crumbled with time as India was colonized by people who did not share the same passion for knowledge.
After independence, Nalanda ruins gained attraction as a tourist destination. The grounds that once witnessed contemplation on the meaning of existence now witnessed hurried chatter of tourists to take pictures. Those few who could imagine the expanse, were still in awe. But the soul of university is knowledge and it wasn’t there.
Then President of India, Abdul Kalam, floated the idea of reviving Nalanda in 2006. The idea got momentum next year when a group of Asian countries including India, China, Japan, Singapore, and Thailand set up a joint team for the same purpose – reviving Nalanda. The winds of positive change began to blow. Committees were formed, proposals were sent around. Engineers put on their hard hats. Architects got back to drawing boards. Bureaucrats and accountants dug into their balance sheets.
Things began to change for Nalanda.
A decade of efforts showed first fruits on Sept 01, 2014, as the university formally began operations with 11 professors and 20 students, headed by Chancellor Amartya Sen, a Nobel prize winning economist. Initially began on a small scale, the university budget is over 1 billion dollars with major plans to expand soon.
Let’s take a moment to salute Nalanda for this tremendous inspirational journey. Nalanda not only represents a university, but it represents a spirit. Phoenix like spirit. A shining proof that no matter how hard you are stomped, you can always rise again.
Here is new Nalanda university website
(Photograph below is artistic rendering of the proposed plan of new Nalanda campus)