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Nālandā was a small village about 11 kilometres north of Rajagaha on the main road to Pāṭaligāma. The Buddha passed through or sometimes stayed at Nālandā and delivered several important discourses there. One of his disciples, Kevaḍḍha, described the village as "rich, prosperous, filled with people, crowded with those devoted to the Buddha" (Digha Nikaya I. 211).

Sariputta was born and passed away in Nalanda. King Ashoka built a stupa commemorating Sariputta at Nalanda.

Nalanda University

Historical studies suggest that the University at Nalanda was established during the reign of a king called Śakrāditya. Both Xuanzang and Prajñavarman cite him as the founder, as does a seal discovered at the site.

Nalanda University was one of the first great universities in recorded history and one of the world's first residential university as it had dormitories for students. It is also one of the most famous universities. The university was considered an architectural masterpiece, and was marked by a lofty wall and one gate. Nalanda had eight separate compounds and ten temples, along with many other meditation halls and classrooms. On the grounds were lakes and parks. The library was located in a nine storied building where meticulous copies of texts were produced.

The Tang Dynasty Chinese pilgrim and scholar Xuanzang studied, taught and spent nearly 15 years at Nalanda University. He has left detailed accounts of the university in the 7th century.

During the early Gupta period (4th century CE) a monastery was built at Nālandā which gradually evolved into a monastic university and became the premier seat of Buddhist learning in India. Much of what we know of this university is derived from the accounts of Chinese monks who came to study there. The university was established in about 427 CE, which makes it the oldest Buddhist university and also one of the oldest universities of any kind. At its height during the 7th century there were 8,500 students and 1,510 teachers. Students are known to have come from all over India and also from China, Korea, Tibet, Sri Lanka and Java. The curriculum included early Buddhism, Mahāyāna, Hindu philosophy and secular subjects like grammar, prosody, logic and rhetoric. There were three large libraries housing books from different countries and in a variety of languages. When Nālandā was sacked and burned by Muslim invaders in 1193 it had already been in decline for several centuries. Today the ruins of Nālandā cover a huge area and are a popular destination with pilgrims and tourists. A nearby museum displays many of the sculptures that once graced the university’s halls.

Today Nalanda University is undergoing a revival and offers several courses in Buddhist studies. A former center of higher education for mostly the Mahayana, today it is becoming a central place of higher education for primarily Theravada monks and nuns.

Timeline of revival

  • On December 9, 2006, the New York Times detailed a plan to spend $1 billion to revive Nalanda University near the ancient site. A consortium led by Singapore and including China, India, Japan and other nations will attempt to raise $500 million to build a new university and another $500 million to develop necessary infrastructure.
  • On May 28, 2007, Merinews reported that the revived university's enrollment will be 1,137 in its first year, and 4,530 by the fifth. In the second phase, enrollment will reach 5,812.
  • On June 12, 2007, News Post India reported that the Japanese diplomat Noro Motoyasu said that "Japan will fund the setting up an international university in Nalanda in Bihar." The report goes on to say that "The proposed university will be fully residential, like the ancient seat of learning at Nalanda. In the first phase of the project, seven schools with 46 foreign faculty members and over 400 Indian academics would come up." ... "The university will impart courses in science, philosophy and spiritualism along with other subjects. A renowned international scholar will be its chancellor."
  • On August 15, 2007, The Times of India reported that Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam has accepted the offer to join the revived Nalanda International University sometime in September 2007."
  • On May 5, 2008, NDTV reported that, according to Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, the foundation of the university would likely be in the year 2009 and the first teaching class could begin in a few years from then. Sen, who heads the Nalanda Mentor Group, said the final report in this regard, is expected to be presented to the East Asia Summit in December 2008.
  • On May 11, 2008, The Times of India reported that host nation India and a consortium of East Asian countries met in New York to further discuss Nalanda plans. It was decided that Nalanda would largely be a post-graduate research university, with the following schools: Buddhist Studies, Philosophy, and Comparative Religion; Historical Studies; International Relations and Peace; Business Management and Development; Languages and Literature; and Ecology and Environmental Studies. The objective of the university was claimed to be "aimed at advancing the concept of an Asian community...and rediscovering old relationships."
  • On December 16, 2010, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao contributed US$ 1 million dollars for the Nalanda University during his visit to India.
  • In May 2011, George Yeo confirmed his suppport of the project to Bihar CM Nitish Kumar. During May, Nitish Kumar also met SM Krishna to receive reassurement that the Central Government would allocate sufficient funds to the project.
  • On July 7, 2011, iNewsOne reported that a global competition will be held to get the best architectural design for the Nalanda International University at the ancient seat of learning in Bihar, officials said. For the sake of the best design for Nalanda university, a global competition will be held soon,’ said N.K. Singh, a member of the Nalanda Mentor Group (NMG) headed by Nobel laureate Amartya Sen.