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Of Nalanda University: The Past We Have Lost


Nalanda Museum is an archaeological site of Nalanda Mahavihara (Nalanda University) located in Bihar and included among the world heritage list of UNESCO. Unlike most other museums that display the agent of destruction i.e. weapons and shields, this museum mostly displays instruments of learning like manuscripts and texts, of philosophy, of theology as well as plates on science and technology, all unearthed from the earlier Nalanda University.

Founded around the 5th Century, Nalanda once had over 10,000 students and 2,000 monks. The university was one of the finest institutions of learning in Asia and people from neighboring empires migrated to the place for learning. The university held debates and seminars in the modern style much before the oldest European University (Bologna) came into being and much before the natives of America knew what dialogue and discussion meant. The exact number of volumes in the Nalanda library is not known, but it is estimated to have been in the hundreds of thousands since the library was nine-story high. When a Buddhist scholar at Nalanda died, his manuscripts were added to the library collection and so the collection was ever-increasing.

Interesting to note that Aryabhatta, Nagarjuna, and other such scientists who excelled in astronomy and medicine and laid the foundations of different science schools across the nation were alumni of Nalanda University.

Learning and intellectual capabilities aren’t the only impressive features of Nalanda. This monastery-cum university was run in a democratic manner where all the people were consulted before a decision was taken. The Chinese monk Yijing recollected that matters of discussion and administration at Nalanda would require assembly and consensus on decisions by all those at the assembly, as well as resident monks. No force or coercion was used to convince. Mind it that at that time, equality and freedom of conscience were a fairy tale in the Western world.

That was the peak of Indian civilization, then came the downfall! The Buddhist rulers of the erstwhile state were overthrown, as a result, the funding stopped for the university, it started getting deserted. Civil wars began, people who at one time had equal opportunities for learning and advancing were now divided into castes and sects. An era of learning was coming to an end and there began an era of annexations and battles. It was evident that the intellectual standard of Indians was in free fall and would soon hit the ground.

Meanwhile, the Europeans had focused on their education system, granted freedom and equality rights to all the citizens. Induced fraternity and loyalty among the people, soon they had become much more advanced than Indians in all the aspects of science and technology, freedom, and accountability.

We see contrasting images ahead, a nation which rose from the dark ages to become enlightened, and another that fell into darkness and stood divided after bearing the torch of scientific curiosity and social fraternity for ages.

A visit to the Nalanda museum is a meaningful journey through the corridors of our glorious past, not an imaginary one proposed by the fascists, but a real one where love and learning and peaceful co-existence prevailed. An era when people who sought knowledge from as far as Korea, Japan, China, Tibet, Indonesia, Persia, and Turkey used to come to India for learning and go back with heads high. At that time, we had real things to boast about, and we didn’t have to think of fables like “Indian PM is declared the best PM by the UNO!”

Before we head to the polling booth next time, we must decide if we want a government that promotes universities and learning, instills love and peace, or a government that promotes destruction and revenge, and divides the nation! This decision of ours will decide our future and the world which our children shall inherit.

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A human being who is being humane.. An aspiring law student in a lawless nation.. Dreams to live in a society free of judicial bias and administrative tyranny.. Regular columnist in The companion, has published articles in TDN world and Rafeeq Manzil too.