Nalanda University reopens after 800 years

The remnants of the library of Nalanda University which is reported to have burned for three months after the invaders set fire to it.

The remnants of the library of Nalanda University which is reported to have burned for three months after the invaders set fire to it, ransacked and destroyed the monasteries, and drove the monks from the site. Wikimedia Commons/Arunava de Sarkar

By Rai Atul Krishna | Hindustan Times

PATNA, India, 1 September 2014

India took its first formal step to recapture its erstwhile, middle kingdoms (classical India) glory as an international knowledge destination when the new Nalanda University (NU) opened its doors to the world on Monday.

The union government’s department of expenditure has sanctioned Rs 2,700 crore to raise the residential university, which is projected to have seven schools for postgraduate and doctorate students by its scheduled completion in 2020.

However, the new university took off with only two schools – the school of ecology & environmental studies and the school of historical studies, seven faculty members and 15 students.

“Many more students and faculty members will join us in the coming days and months,” said NU vice-chancellor (VC) Gopa Sabharwal, ahead of the opening of the university..

The university, she said, had been set up as a centre of excellence so as to impart seamless knowledge that was not confined by boundaries, geographical or intellectual.

“Our ethos will be the same as the Nalanda University of the yore, but in a modern avatar”, said Sabharwal. “We had our orientation programme with students and faculty members for the two days,” Sabharwal told HT.

The programme was held at the International Convention Centre at Rajgir, a Buddhist pilgrimage centre located about 100 km east of Patna and 12 kilometres from the ruins of the earlier Nalanda University, where the campus of the new university is coming up.

“Postgraduate classes of both the schools, for now, would be conducted in two rooms of the convention centre,” said an official.

The students enrolled in two schools of Nalanda University will be provided hostel accommodation in Hotel Tathagat at Rajgir, owned by the Bihar state tourism development corporation (BSTDC).

“A part of the sprawling hotel will function as hostel for two to five years,” the official added.

The university will pay over Rs. 1 crore ($166,000) per annum to the BSTDC for the facility.

The new university has much to live up to by way of the haloed status of its namesake from a bygone era.

The university of Nalanda, believed to have been established in the 5th century AD during the reign of a Gupta king called Sakraditya, at the peak of its glory, accommodated over 10,000 students and 2,000 teachers.

It was a centre of learning unmatched by any other of that era. The Tang dynasty Chinese pilgrim and scholar Xuanzang (Hieun Tsang) spent nearly 15 years at Nalanda University, as both, teacher and student.

The university fell upon hard times when it was overrun by the Huns under Mihirakula during the reign of Skandagupta (455-467 AD). But it was restored by his successors.

The university was destroyed again by the Gaudas in early 7th century but was restored again by king Harshavardhana (606-648 AD).

But it could not recover from the third and final blow dealt in 1193 AD by Bakhtiar Khilji, a general of Qutbuddin Aibak, out to uproot Buddhism. The Turkish
invaders set blaze and destroyed the huge library of the university, said to rival one at Luxor in Egypt.

An official familiar with developments said more than 1,000 students from 40 countries had sought admission in the new edition of Nalanda University.

“The applicants are from the US, Russia, England, Spain, Germany, Japan, Myanmar, Austria and Sri Lanka, as also from West Asian and Southeast Asian countries among others”, he said.

This modern centre of excellence is to come up on a 443-acre campus, encircled by an eight-kilometre boundary wall.

Last May, the Nalanda university board had approved the architectural plan of the proposed university, which envisages, among other things, a massive lake at the centre of the campus.

The library, a huge dome-shaped structure, would come up in the middle of the lake and will be partially submerged in water.

But till the proposed buildings come up, the university will have to conduct itself on makeshift accommodation.

The university, an initiative of the Indian government and the 18 East Asia Summit (EAS) countries, has plentiful by way of committed foreign funding.

Sources said China had committed $1 million for the Nalanda University project, Singapore had pledged $5-6 million and Australia about $1 million Australian dollars.

During a trip to Brunei last October, the then prime minister Manmohan Singh, had signed agreements with seven EAS countries, which pledged their commitment to the Nalanda university project.

The memoranda of understanding (MoUs) were signed with Australia, Cambodia, Singapore, Brunei, New Zealand, Laos and Myanmar. Thereafter, an MoU with China was signed during the prime minister’s visit to Beijing last November.

Sources said initially it would be a five-day work week for the faculty at NU. But in line with the “openness’ that characterises the university, classes might be held during weekends as well if the students wanted it.

The idea of ‘revival’ of the Nalanda University was first voice on 28 March 2006 by the then president of India APJ Abdul Kalam, while addressing a joint session of the Bihar legislature.

The Nalanda University bill was passed by parliament in August 2010 and it received presidential assent on 21 September 2010, thereby becoming an Act. The university came into existence on 25 November 2010, after gazette notification.

Japan and Singapore are financing the construction work on the 443-acre university campus, on land land acquired and handed over by the Bihar government, with contributions totalling around US$100 million.

The 11-member governing board of the university is headed by Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, Gopa Sabharwal was appointed its first vice-chancellor in February 2011.
As per official estimates, US$500m will be required to build the new facility, with another US$500m expected to be needed to improve the surrounding infrastructure.

Vastu Shilpa Consultants have been selected as the winner of a global design competition held by the university authorities for construction of an international state-of-the-art institution.

Apart from the school of historical studies and school of environment and ecological studies, which will start functioning from Monday, processes are underway to get going the remaining five proposed schools.

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