Nalanda U: Future perfect

by Pranava K Chaudhary,TNN, Jun 8, 2008

Bihar, India -- A throwback to the ancient and a vision for the future. That's how the present is conceived. The proposed Nalanda International University (NIU) will play a vital role in reviving the ancient glory of Nalanda and spreading Buddha's message of international peace and universal brotherhood across the world in the coming years, chief minister Nitish Kumar said in Patna recently.

To revive the ancient glory, villages neighbouring the ancient site of Nalanda will be linked with NIU. Patna-based K P Jayaswal Research Institute has been entrusted with the job to identify 200 nearby villages in this region.

That an international university at Nalanda should be set up on the pattern of the ancient centre of education excellence was one of the 10 visions of former President A P J Abdul Kalam for the overall development of Bihar. Kalam spelt out his visions during his address to the joint session of the Bihar legislature in 2006.

Foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee announced the constitution of the Nalanda Mentor Group (NMG) in Singapore to help in framing the details of the proposed university. The first meeting of NMG held in Singapore last year discussed the organizational structure and the syllabi for the new institution.

Chaired by Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, the eight-member NMG team, included Singapore's foreign minister George Yeo, Hirayama Ikou of Japan, Chinese professor Wang V besides Lord Meghnad Desai, Subhash Chandra Bose's grand nephew Sugata Bose, who teaches at Harvard University, professor of Buddhism at New York University Tansen Sen and former professor of history at Delhi University D N Jha. Last year a Japanese delegation, including two members of that country's parliament, met Nitish Kumar with a proposal to set up a university at Nalanda.

The delegation, which had earlier met the then President Kalam in New Delhi, also expressed its willingness to invest in the project so as to revive the glory of the ancient institution. Without specifying the exact quantum of investment, a member of the Japanese team said, "It will be substantial." On its part, the state government has acquired 500 acres of land between Rajgir and Nalanda for the university.

Enter Suresh Bhatia, better known as Peace Pilgrim. He has been an integral part of excavations of ancient Buddhist sites since 1987. A passionate photographer, who worked for an advertising agency before venturing into Buddhism, he is also the director of the Buddhist Heritage.

Now 60, Bhatia met his first Buddhist teacher Kalu Rinpoche, founder of Karma Karju, a Tibetan Buddhist tradition at Sonada, at Darjeeling in 1982. "I have made extensive exploration of forgotten sites of Nalanda and Gaya. In the past few months, I have been travelling in remote areas and heard stories of how the idols of Buddha and Mahayana were stolen and sold to smugglers. I am writing a book - The Buddhist Heritage of Bihar," Bhatia told TOI.

"The objective of my work," Bhatia said, "is to update history and promote the Buddhist sites in Bihar."