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After Nalanda, Odantapuri was ancient India’s greatest seat of Buddhist learning. Founded by one on the Pāla kings in the early 8th century, it got its name because it was situated on a high steep-sided hill and from the plain below looked like a ‘flying’ (uḍḍenti) ‘city' (purī).

Odantapuri started as and remained for centuries the premier centre of Vajrayāna and many of the early texts of this school of Buddhism were either composed at the university or by its graduates. So prolific was the literary output of Odantapuri's monks and lay scholars that a distinct script called Bhaiksuki evolved there and became the standard script in northern India for writing Buddhist texts. At its height, the university accommodated about a thousand scholars and students. Monks from Odantapuri played a central role in introducing Buddhism into Tibet and that country’s first monastery, Samye, was built as a copy of it.

As with all Buddhist temples and monasteries in India, Odantapurī was finally destroyed during the Islamic invasion in the 13th century. A Muslim work, the Tabaqāt-i-Nāsirī, describes the university's tragic end. ‘With great vigour and audacity Muhammad Bakhtyar rushed at the gates of the fort and gained possession of it. Great plunder fell into the hands of the victors. Most of the inhabitants were Brahmins with shaven heads (i.e. Buddhist monks). They were all put to death. Large numbers of books were found and when the Muslims saw them they called for some person to explain their content but all the men had been killed. It was discovered that the whole fort was a place of study.’ Today the ruins of Odantapuri lie buried under the town of Biharsharif.