When writing the title of this post, I found myself in a bit of a quandary. Should I call it a global travel shot or an Indian travel shot? The former won.
The above image is of the red brick ruins of the world’s first residential international university—Nalanda Mahavihara—built in the Indian state of Bihar in the 5th Century AD. To be more specific, it is an image of the stupa marking the nirvana of Sariputra, Buddha’s famed disciple, within the university. A Sanskrit name, Nalanda means giver of lotus stalks; mahavihara translates to great monastery.
For 800 years, Nalanda, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, attracted the brightest brains from all over the ancient world, from as far afield as Central Asia, China, and Korea. Hungry for knowledge, these scholars flocked to Nalanda’s doors to be met by a rigorous oral examination by its gatekeepers. Only those who passed were allowed to study inside the coveted walls. Many were turned away.
Aryabhata [476 – 550 AD], the celebrated Indian mathematician and astronomer to first claim the world was round, rotated on its axis, and revolved around the sun along with eight other planets, both studied and taught here. Hiuen Tsang, the 7th Century Chinese traveller and pilgrim was initially turned away at the entrance exam. Determined to study inside its halloed precincts he studied and returned with a bang, spending around five years on campus.
Nalanda did not grant any degrees. Neither was there any time limit to one’s study. Ten thousand scholars, 2,000 teachers and a curriculum comprising theology, grammar, logic, astronomy, metaphysics, medicine, and philosophy, taught through discourse and debate made up university life. More importantly, all this was for free, sans any fees.
Imagine studying in a centre like this! The very thought puts me on a high, even though I doubt I would have made it past the entrance exam.
As I walked down the “avenue” with the monasteries flanking my right and the stupas to my left, it hit me that Nalanda was not just about India. It was about a global thirst for knowledge which found its fountainhead in India. I hope you agree with my decision to call this post, thus, a global travel shot. ❤
[Some dates to put things in context. Nalanda Mahavihara was founded by Gupta dynasty ruler Kumaragupta I [413 – 455 AD]. King Harshavardhana of Kannauj [606 – 647 AD] and the Pala kings of East India [8th – 12th Century AD] further added to the campus. Though it started losing its stature towards the end, its final demise came in the form of Bakhtiyar Khilji from Afghanistan who burnt the place down in 1193 AD.]