Bihar: 18th century univ set for conservation

IANS, November 2, 2011

Patna, India -- After lying neglected for years, the ruins of Vikramshila university, an ancient seat of Buddhist learning located in Bihar's Bhagalpur district, are set to be conserved, like its older contemporary, Nalanda university, so that current and future generations would get to know about the rich tradition of scholarship in the state.

The Archaeological Survey of India's Patna circle has decided to launch a mega plan for conservation of the university ruins, located near Antichak village in the Kahalgaon sub-division of Bhagalpur district, about 150 km from Patna, officials said.

The excavated ruins of Vikramshila university, set up in the 8th century by the Pala dynasty king Dharmapala, are awaiting conservation. "The ASI is serious about conservation of the entire excavated structure of Vikramshila like of Nalanda university," ASI Patna's superintending archaeologist Sanjay K. Manjul told reporters.

He said conservation of the ruins would help to protect it for future generations.

"We have sent the conservation plan to the director general of ASI for approval. After receiving approval, we will launch the conservation plan," he said.

According to ASI officials here, conservation of 52 shells or reading room-like structures adjoining the main stupa and a major portion of the excavated structure will be taken up.

The ASI's conservation plan comes in the wake of the Bihar government's move to develop Vikramshila's ruins as a tourist destination like Nalanda, situated around 90 km from the state capital.

Vikramshila university, set up by the Pala dynasty (750-1174 A.D) king Dharmapala in the late 8th or early 9th century, was intended to complement the existing world-class universities at Nalanda and Takshila. It lasted four centuries before it was destroyed during an attack on local kingdoms by Bakhtiyar Khilji of the Delhi Sultanate.

As per the ASI, the remains at Antichak were excavated by B.P. Sinha of Patna University during 1960-69.

The antiquities found at Vikramashila comprise terracotta objects, including a large number of plaques representing Buddhist and Brahmanical deities, animal and bird figurines and some symbolic representations, as also a large number of stone images of gods and goddesses.

A few small bronzes of Buddhist deities like the Buddha, Maitreya, Vajrapani, Avalokitesvara and Manjusri have been found. The bulk of antiquities comprise stone, iron, copper, silver and bronze objects, including a few silver and copper coins.

Locals are not happy with the pace of ASI's work.

Members of the Vikramshila Nagarik Samiti said that after more than three and a half decades of excavation by the ASI, no work has been done at the site on the pattern of Nalanda. The Samiti has been demanding Vikramshila be included in the state's Buddhist tourist circuit for its development.

The ancient university at Nalanda was a seat of higher learning in the fifth century. The university was home to over 10,000 students, including from abroad, and nearly 2,000 teachers.

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