Scholars debate the revival of Nalanda University
October 1, 2011

The proposed revival of Nalanda University, one of the greatest universities of the 12th Century which taught a deeper study of the Buddha’s universal, scientific, practical teachings and attracted 10,000 resident students and 2,000 teachers – particularly from China, Korea, Japan and even Greece is facing sever bottlenecks and speed bumps.

Expected to be resurrected by 2013, 10 kilometers from the original ruins of the university, in the eastern Indian state of Bihar. It’s a joint effort also involving China, Thailand, Japan, Korea, Singapore and some Southeast Asian countries. Indian Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, the Thomas Lamont Professor of Economics and Philosophy at Harvard University, is heading the revival as chairman of the Interim Governing Board of Nalanda University. Former Indian president Abul Kalam’s fall out with Sen earlier in the year was the first jab that undid the smooth revival plans. Critics also accuse the Nalanda governing board of lacking transparency, such as in its appointment of a little-known professor of sociology, Dr Gopa Sabharwa, as vice-chancellor of the new university.

“All we want is the end of arbitrary decision-making and more transparency in the functioning of the Nalanda project,” says Ajay Kumar, editor of the Bihar Times, which has been reporting closely on the Nalanda project the past five years.

“We are not against Prof Amartya Sen or the project, but only against the ad hoc way it is being executed.” Kumar told Asia Times Online. “The feedback we are getting from a cross-section of people here is discontent with the way the Nalanda project is unraveling. Nalanda University is closely linked to the history and culture of Bihar.”

The original Nalanda University taught subjects such as astronomy, medicine and mathematics and in its heyday between the fifth and 12th century AD, included well-known Chinese travelers and historians Hiuen Tsang (Xuan Zang in Chinese) and I-Tsing. The monk Xuan Zang (602-664 AD), from Chen He village in northern China, also spent five years studying the Buddha’s teachings there.

Nalanda is said to have been destroyed by the Turkish raider Bakhtiyar Khilji in 1193. Khilji is accused of killing resident monks, and burning the nine-storey library and its millions of books to the ground. The book collection was so vast, it is said, that the library burned over three months.

Bihar was the epicenter of what is called India’s “golden age”. Patna, which lies about 55 kilometers from the Nalanda ruins, was formerly Pataliputra, the celebrated capital of Magadha.

Magadha was the seat of two of India’s greatest empires, Emperor Asoka and the Mauryan dynasty (321 to 185 BC) and the Gupta empire (320-520).

The site of Bodh Gaya, where Prince Siddhatha of the Gotama clan became a Sammasambuddha (a fully enlightened being and the most compassionate teacher of men and gods) is also about 103 kilometers from Nalanda. The area includes the famous ancient cities of Vaishali and Rajgiir, which are closely associated with the Buddha’s life.

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