determination and military genius of crown prince Skandagupta averted the
day of reckoning and the empire was saved.
The Nalanda Mahavihara site is in Bihar. 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.
Its history goes back to the days of Buddha and Mahavira in the 6th
century BC. The town was home to Nalanda Mahavihara, a monastic
university of international repute. Both Buddha and Mahavira often stayed
at Nalanda during the rainy season. Buddhist scriptures reveal that they
once stayed at Nalanda at the same time, but there is no record of them
meeting one another.
Ancient Buddhist sources say that Asoka built a temple at Nalanda. It was
a flourishing hub where the philosopher and alchemist, Nagarjuna, studied
and taught in the 2nd century AD. However, excavations have not revealed
anything to suggest that the site was occupied before the Gupta period, the
earliest finds being a copper plate of Samudragupta and a coin of
Kumaragupta. Fahien makes no mention of the massive monastic
establishments at Nalanda. But Hiuen Tsang who came during Harsha"s
reign (606-647 AD) refers to the great monastery that Harsha endowed
with liberal grants.
The highly formalized methods of Vedic learning helped inspire the
establishment of large teaching institutions such as Taxila, Nalanda and
Vikramashila which are often characterised as India"s early universities.
Nalanda flourished under the patronage of Kumaragupta and later under
Harsha. The liberal cultural