By Harshmeet Singh
India’s present education system leaves a lot to be desired. With hardly any Indian representation in the top Universities around the world, the disappointment about our education system seems to be justified. Even worse is the situation at the primary level with 43% kids dropping out of school before completing upper primary education. Such despicable condition of education is all the more disheartening when considering the fact that India gave the world some of the earliest centers of learning and attracted students from all over the world long before modern civilization set in.
One such center of learning that has caught recent attention due to Government’s plans of reinstating it is the Nalanda University. The famed Nalanda University first came into being in 427 AD when Kumaragupta of the Gupta Dynasty established it as a center for learning of Mahayana Buddhism. Though it was set up as a Buddhist University, many secular subjects also formed a part of the curriculum. It was during the rule of emperor Harsha of Kannauj that the University reached its peak and achieved the status of a great learning center. Students from China, Korea, Indonesia, Central Asian countries and Tibet thronged the University with great expectations. Some of the excavations suggest that the University was four stories high. The campus also housed a nine stories high library with thousands of books and manuscripts. According to Hiuen Tsang, the famous Chinese Buddhist monk scholar and traveler, Nalanda was home to over 10,000 students. The University was supported by the revenue generated from 200 villages.
It is said that Harsha invited 1,000 learned monks of Nalanda to Kannauj to hold a philosophical assembly. Nalanda’s Acharya Kamalasheel was invited by the King of Tibet to visit his country. He died while he was preaching in Tibet, following which, his body was placed at a monastery in Lhasa. Though it was established as a center for Buddhist studies, Nalanda attracted world class professors undertaking research work in astronomy and mathematics.
By the time Universities like Oxford started to come up in the west, Nalanda was fighting for its survival due to the attacks from Turkish invaders. It was eventually brought down to the ground by the army of Bakhtiyar Khilji, Qutb-ud-din Aybak’s military general. His destruction of Nalanda and the following conquest of Bengal laid the foundation for the commencement of Muslim rule in India.
When the idea for the revival of Nalanda first came up in 2007, it garnered much support from countries like China, Australia, Japan, Korea, New Zealand and Singapore, each of which thought that they should “bring together the brightest and the most dedicated students from all countries of Asia — irrespective of gender, caste, creed, disability, ethnicity or social-economic background — to enable them to acquire liberal and human education.” The first batch of students was admitted through a rigorous admission process and had their first session on 1st September 2014. Whether Nalanda manages to regain its lost stature remains to be seen, but the authorities must be lauded for their efforts to bring back something that was the first mark of India’s knowledge prowess.
The author is a freelance writer. This piece was written exclusively for NewsGram.