Revival of the ancient Nalanda Mahavihara Library

by Rohan Lalith Jayetilleke, The Buddhist Channel, Aug 25, 2008

Colombo, Sri Lanka -- Prince Siddartha, having renounced worldly life at the age of twenty-nine, first walked from Kapilavastu (presently Tilaurakot, 26 km north-east of Lumbini, Nepal) to Rajagaha and wandered through a great part of India until he reached Buddha Gaya at the age of 35 and attained Enlightenment.

Nalanda is one place where the prince stayed. In the final stages at the age of 80, the Buddha walked from Rajagaha to Kusinara for the Mahaparinibbana a distance of nearly 500 km (310 miles) taking one year, and staying at the following places en route: Gijjakuta Rajgir - Rajgir Amrapali mango grove - Nalanda Pavarika mango grove - Pataliputra - crossing Ganges - Kotigrama - Gnatigrama - Vaishali Ambapali mango grove - Beluvagama (last rains' retreat - vas) - Bhandhagama - Hattigama - Ambagama - Jambugama - Bhoganagar (Ananda-cetiya) - Pava - Crossing Kukutha river - crossing Hiranya river - Kussinara.

Nalanda was thus graced by prince Siddhartha as well as by the Buddha after the Enlightenment and became one of the most revered centres of Buddhism.

In view of the association of Nalanda with the Buddha, a vihara at Nalanda came to be established in the 5th century. AD before the visit of Chinese pilgrim monk Fa-Hien of the 5th century AD. This Mahavihara in the form of a university flourished from 45 - AD to 1100 AD. The university of Nalanda had around 15,000 monks studying both Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism with around 1,500 monk teachers.

This university had many storied library buildings such as the Dharmaganj, Ratnasagara (Ocean of Jewels), Ratnadadhi (Sea of Jewels) and Ratnayaranjaka ( Jewel-adorned).

In addition to the study of different schools of Buddhism, the syllabi included Vedas, Hetuvidya, Sabdavidya (phonotics), Citiksavidya (surgery), Atharavidya and Sankhy (mathematics. Muhammad of Afghanistan invaded India 17 times in 1191 AD and destroyed all the Buddhist monasteries and Hindu shrines in Varanasi, Sarantha, and carried away cart loads of gems and jewellry and this destruction was carried out in other Buddhist sites too.

Mohammad Dhilji with his marauding troops invaded Nalanda, put to the sword 1500 monk students and 1500 monk teachers and set ablaze all the buildings and libraries, which were the legacies of Buddhist India. The ashes of the granaries are now in deposit in the Archeological Survey Museum at Kolkata.

Presently, the Nava Nalanda Mahavihara funded by the State Government of Bihar and established at the instance of Ven. Bhikkhu Jagdish Kashyap of West Bengal in 1951, taken over by the Department of Culture, Ministry of Human Resources Development, central government of India, as the Indian Constitution makes it mandatory that all historical sites of India numbering around 7770 shall be the property of the central government and the Archeological Survey of India is the nodal agency for their excavation, restoration, documentation etc.

All administration costs are borne by the State Government of Bihar. This Nava Nalanda Vihara was declared a University by the University Grants Commission on November 13th 2006.

The Nalanda Mahavihara Library is now being revived, on the model of the reconstruction of the Bibliotheca Alexndria, Egypt, by the Chief Minister of Bihar Sri Nitish Kumar, as this library was in existence in the 4th century B.C. Alexandria had papyrus libraries as far back as 3200 B.C. The Bibliothea Nalanda Mahavihara, a New Libaray at Nalanda, may be dedicated to recapture the spirit of the original library.

It would aspire to be the world's window on India, India's window on the world, a leading institution of the digital age, and especially, a centre for learning, compassion, dialogues, harmony, loving-kindness, mutual understanding and tolerance - the sublime concepts introduced to the world by India's greatest son, Gautama the Buddha.

The proposed complex is much more than a library. It is time Sri Lanka too revived the ancient Mahavihara at Anuradhapura set up by Arahant Mahinda in the 3rd century BC, which was the first monastic Buddhist university in the world.

The writer is a member of the Bharathiya Kala Kendra of India
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