The Ancient Knowledge Network: Reviving Nalanda, Reconnecting India’s Illustrious Past with the World

The revival of Nalanda, a moment long-awaited, has breathed new life into the world's first residential university. With the inauguration of the new campus by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Nalanda University in Bihar's Rajgir is rising again, nestled a stone's throw away from the ancient Nalanda Mahavihara, now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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On Wednesday (June 19), Prime Minister Modi unveiled a campus in the presence of a large number of foreign envoys, especially from ASEAN countries, and proclaimed that a golden era of India will commence with the restoration of this ancient university.

“Nalanda is more than just a name; it’s a mantra, an identity, and a declaration that while books may be destroyed by fire, knowledge endures,” said Narendra Modi. “The revival of Nalanda signals the beginning of India’s Golden Age.”

Highlighting the historical significance of Nalanda, the Indian Prime Minister stated that it symbolizes the country’s renaissance and reflects the heritage of various nations, particularly those in Asia.

“Nalanda was once the epicenter of India’s educational identity. Education transcends borders, profits, and losses, shaping our thoughts and behavior,” he added.

Modi also mentioned that in ancient times, admission to Nalanda University was not based on a student’s nationality, and people from all walks of life came to seek knowledge.

PM visits the Ruins of Nalanda, Bihar, on June 19, 2024.

The event was attended by Union Minister for External Affairs S Jaishankar, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, and Ambassadors from 17 partner countries.

According to reports, attendees included representatives from ASEAN countries such as Australia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Brunei, among others, who have signed MoUs in support of the university.

The modern Nalanda University was re-established in 2010 through an act of the Indian Parliament, marking the reawakening of the ancient Nalanda Buddhist mahavihara, the world’s first residential and second-oldest university.

A proposal to establish an international university, modeled after the ancient site of learning that functioned until the 13th century, was endorsed by member countries at the 4th East Asia Summit in 2009.

The revival of the historic university gained momentum in 2006 when the then President of India, late APJ Abdul Kalam, proposed its re-establishment. By 2014, the first batch of students had enrolled, marking the rebirth of Nalanda University.

The new campus, designed by the celebrated architect Padma Vibhushan late BV Doshi, combines eco-friendly architecture with ancient Vaastu principles, creating a sustainable and aesthetically pleasing environment.

The ASEAN member nations, during the 4th East Asia Summit, praised India’s initiative to revive Nalanda University, recognizing its historical significance as a great ancient center of intellectual activity in various disciplines, including Buddhist philosophy, mathematics, and medicine.

According to historical data, Nalanda, in its heyday, had an impressive faculty of 2,000 teachers and accommodated 10,000 students from diverse regions such as China, Korea, Japan, and Southeast Asia.

The architectural design of the ancient university, with its open courtyards, prayer halls, and lecture rooms, inspired Buddhist institutions across Asia, and its influence extended to the art and metalwork of neighboring regions.

The ASEAN countries expressed their support for the establishment of Nalanda University as a non-state, non-profit, secular, and self-governing international institution, committed to bringing together the brightest students from all Asian countries, regardless of their background, to foster a culture of tolerance and academic excellence.

Nalanda, one of the greatest centers of learning in ancient times, was known for its diverse intellectual pursuits, including Ayurveda, mathematics, and astronomy. Its library, with nine million manuscripts, was a treasure trove of knowledge, making it a true “Mountain of Truth.”

Unfortunately, the university met a tragic end in the 1190s when it was destroyed by military general Muhammad Bakhtiyar Khilji. However, it was rediscovered in the 19th century, and archaeological excavations revealed the extent of its former glory.

Tarah Nguyen
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