Voices Across Borders: The Communication Legacy of Nalanda University


“When India says ‘One Earth, One Family, and One Future’, the world stands with it.”

 – Narendra Modi, Prime Minister


In a significant move to revive an ancient centre of learning, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the new campus of Nalanda University at Rajgir, Bihar. The modern iteration of Nalanda, conceived as a collaboration between India and East Asia Summit (EAS) countries, marks a significant step in showcasing India’s educational capabilities to the world. The inauguration ceremony saw the presence of several eminent personalities, including the Head of Missions from 17 countries. As a symbolic gesture, the Prime Minister planted a sapling to commemorate the occasion.

The revival of Nalanda University, located near its ancient ruins, underscores India’s commitment to preserving its historical and cultural heritage. The new campus is a testament to modern sustainability and self-sufficiency. It features a ‘Net Zero’ Green Campus equipped with solar plants, domestic and drinking water treatment facilities, water recycling systems, and extensive water bodies to minimize environmental impact. The campus includes two academic blocks with 40 classrooms accommodating 1900 students, two auditoriums with 300 seats each, a hostel for 550 students, an international centre, an amphitheatre for 2000 individuals, a faculty club, and a sports complex.

The Legacy of Nalanda University

The establishment of Nalanda University dates back to approximately 427 CE, making it the world’s first residential university. Revered as a medieval Ivy League institution, Nalanda was a center of knowledge, with a vast library containing nine million books and attracting around 10,000 students globally. Operating from the 5th century to the 13th century, Nalanda University built an enduring legacy of academic excellence and enlightenment, profoundly influencing the art of communication across cultures and borders.

Nalanda’s intellectual and cultural dynamism was deeply rooted in ancient India, founded during the Gupta Empire’s golden age. The university symbolised the era’s commitment to scholarly pursuits and philosophical discourse. Its curriculum was comprehensive and diverse, covering subjects such as logic, grammar, medicine, metaphysics, and Buddhist scriptures, reflecting a multidisciplinary approach to education and communication.

The university’s expansive library, renowned for its extensive collection of manuscripts, served as an invaluable resource for both teaching and research. The nine million volumes housed within its walls facilitated the spread of ideas through written communication, shaping the intellectual landscape of the region and beyond.

Nalanda’s international appeal was evident in its diverse student body, attracting students from countries such as China, Korea, Japan, Tibet, Mongolia, Turkey, Sri Lanka, and Southeast Asia. This diversity fostered a rich exchange of ideas and cultures, contributing to the university’s reputation as a global centre of learning and communication. The interactions among these diverse groups not only enhanced academic discourse but also established a network of communication that transcended geographical boundaries.

The university’s communication legacy is also marked by its role in the propagation of Buddhism. Scholars from Nalanda travelled extensively to disseminate Buddhist teachings, influencing religious and philosophical thought across Asia. This ancient cultural exchange programme helped spread and shape Buddhism, creating a lasting impact on the religious landscape of many countries.

Despite its eventual destruction in the late 12th century by Turko-Afghan invader Bakhtiyar Khilji, Nalanda’s influence endured. The site, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, offers a glimpse into its ancient splendour, with excavated ruins spanning 23 hectares.

A Bridge Between Past and Present

The new Nalanda University campus bridges the ancient heritage with modern innovation. The original Nalanda University, established around 1600 years ago, was one of the first residential universities in the world. The ruins of this historic institution were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2016, cementing its place in global heritage.

Nalanda University’s legacy is not just a relic of the past but a living symbol of the enduring power of knowledge and learning. Its contributions to education, philosophy, mathematics, and the spread of Buddhism continue to resonate across the world, reminding us of the profound impact of ancient civilizations on modern society. The voices that echoed through its halls centuries ago continue to resonate across borders, a testament to the enduring power of knowledge and the unifying force of communication.

10 Things You Might Not Know About the Prestigious Nalanda University in Bihar

  1. World’s First Residential University: Established around 427 CE, Nalanda University is recognised as the world’s first residential university.
  2. Medieval Academic Excellence: Functioning between the 5th and 13th centuries, Nalanda was a beacon of academic excellence. Students from across Eastern and Central Asia came to learn medicine, logic, mathematics, and Buddhist principles from some of the era’s most revered scholars.
  3. Gupta Empire’s Influence: Interestingly, the monarchs of the Gupta Empire, who were devout Hindus, founded Nalanda University. They were sympathetic towards Buddhism, which influenced the university’s multidisciplinary curriculum blending intellectual Buddhism with various fields of knowledge.
  4. Achievements in Mathematics and Astronomy: Aryabhata, considered the father of Indian mathematics, is speculated to have headed Nalanda in the 6th Century CE. He introduced the concept of zero as a digit and made significant contributions to algebra, calculus, and spherical geometry.
  5. Influence on Asian Culture: Nalanda’s enlightened approach to philosophy and religion helped shape the culture of Asia long after the university ceased to exist. Its architectural design inspired other Buddhist institutions, and its metal and stucco art influenced regions like Thailand, Tibet, and the Malayan peninsula.
  6. Spread of Buddhist Teachings: The university regularly sent its best scholars to propagate Buddhist teachings in China, Korea, Japan, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka. This ancient cultural exchange programme significantly shaped Buddhism across Asia.
  1. Destruction and Legacy: In the 1190s, Nalanda was destroyed by Turko-Afghan military general Bakhtiyar Khilji. The fire set by the invaders burned for three months. Today, the 23-hectare excavated site is a UNESCO World Heritage site, though it represents only a fraction of the original campus.
  2. Rigorous Admission Process: Admission to Nalanda was as tough as modern elite universities. Aspiring students had to undergo rigorous oral interviews with top professors. Successful candidates were tutored by an eclectic group of scholars from different corners of India.
  3. Xuanzang’s Contributions: The acclaimed Chinese Buddhist monk and traveller Xuanzang studied and taught at Nalanda. He returned to China in 645 CE with 657 Buddhist scriptures, significantly contributing to the spread of Buddhism in East Asia. His disciple, Dosho, introduced his doctrines to Japan.
  4. The Great Stupa: Predating the university, the Great Stupa was built in the 3rd Century CE by Emperor Ashoka in memory of one of Lord Buddha’s chief disciples. The structure was remodelled several times over eight centuries and remains a significant historical monument.

Nalanda’s legacy continues to be celebrated for its contributions to education, culture, and religion, making it one of the most prestigious centres of learning in ancient history.

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