Nalanda

Nalanda University, now in ruins, was founded in 5 th century. Spread over an area of 14 hectares, this university was totally built in red clay bricks. The Nalanda University attracted scholars from all over the world. Even Chanakya or Kautilya was once, a student of this university. It was from this university, the seat of knowledge for the world that the light of knowledge spread all over.

Today, only the memories of those glorious days are refreshed in the ruins. Whatever remains of the great university, has been well preserved. Among the ruins, one still recognizes the different sections of the place. Particularly the place of worship and the hostels are very distinct. Beautiful lawns surround the whole area.

According to literary tradition, Nalanda, 10 kms north of Rajgir and a suburb of the ancient city, was visited by Buddha and Mahavira. Ashoka is said to have worshipped at the chaitya of Sariputra, Buddha?s disciple, and erected a temple. But the excavations, which were conducted here from 1916 onwards, have not revealed any pre-Gupta remains. By the time of Harsha (A.D. 606-48), Nalanda had become the principal centre of Mahayana learning and a famed university-town with numerous shrines and monasteries, which attracted scholars from far and near. The Chinese pilgrims, Hiuen Tsang and I- Tsing studied at Nalanda and have left accounts of the settlement and its life.

The Excavations

The elaborate excavations at the site have revealed nine levels of occupation, dating back to the time of Lord Buddha and Lord Mahavira, in the 6th century. The ruins provide staggering evidence of the strength of Buddhist civilization, in its prime. The remains of the stupas, temples and eleven monasteries, most aligned north to south, with their thick walls impressively intact, are strewn all over the place.

Nalanda had a planned layout with an almost symmetrical row of monasteries facing a row of temples, with wide spaces in between. The temples were solid rectangular structures of two tiers, the sanctum being placed on the upper tier, which was approached by a grand flight of steps. The facades of both the tiers were plastered and embellished with elegant pilasters and niches containing images.

Temple 3 was more than 31 m high and consisted of seven successive accummulations of which the latest two belonged to the 11th and 12th centuries and the fifth one dating from circa 6th century, was notable for its sculptural wealth. The monasteries were imposing rectangular buildings, each with an open courtyard, enclosed by a covered verandah, which leads into cells, arrayed on the four sides. The cell facing the entrance served as a shrine.

Nalanda was an important centre of Pala sculptures and bronzes and has yielded seals and sealings of great historical significance.

The Education

In this first residential international university of the world, 2,000 teachers and 10,000 students from all over the Buddhist world lived and studied. Courses taught at the University included the study of the Mahayana and Hinayana Schools of Buddhism, Brahmanical and Vedic texts, philosophy, logic, theology, Grammar, astronomy, mathematics and medicine.

Education was provided free, as the University was supported by the revenue from surrounding villages, and by the benefactors such as the 8th century king of Sumatra.

The ancient seat of learning

Towards the Southeast of Patna is a village called the ‘Bada Gaon’, in the vicinity of which, are the world famous ruins of Nalanda University. Housing about 10,000 students and 2,000 teachers, this university attracted pupils from all over the world. A Walk in the ruins of the university, takes you to an era, that saw India leading in imparting knowledge, to the world - the era when India was a coveted place for studies. The university flourished during the 5th and 12th century.

This place saw the rise and fall of many empires and emperors who contributed in the development of Nalanda. Many monasteries and temples were built by them. King Harshwardhana gifted a 25m high copper statue of Buddha and Kumargupta endowed a college of fine arts here. Nagarjuna- a Mahayana philosopher, Dinnaga- founder of the school of logic and Dharmpala- the Brahmin scholar, taught here.

The famous Chinese traveller and scholar, Hieun-Tsang stayed here and has given a detailed description of the situations prevailing at that time. Careful excavation of the place has revealed many stupas, monasteries, hostels, stair cases, meditation halls, lecture halls and many other structures which speak of the splendour and grandeur this place enjoyed, when the place was a centre of serious study.

Kautilya and Arthashastra

Much of our knowledge about state policy under the Mauryas comes from the Arthashastra written by Kautilya (more popularly known as Chanakya), who was a Brahmin minister under Chandragupta Maurya. Though it was written at the end of the fourth century BC, it appears to have been rediscovered only in 1905, after centuries of oblivion. The treatise in its present form is most likely not the text written by Kautilya, though it is probably based on a text that was authored by Kautilya; and in no case can the text in its entirety be ascribed to Kautilya, on account of numerous stylistic and linguistic variations.

The book, written in Sanskrit, discusses theories and principles of governing a state. It is not an account of Mauryan administration. The title, Arthashastra, which means “the Science of Material Gain” or “Science of Polity”, does not leave any doubts about its ends. According to Kautilya, the ruler should use any means to attain his goal and his actions required no moral sanction. The only problems discussed are of the most practical kind. Though the kings were allowed a free rein, the citizens were subject to a rigid set of rules. This double standard has been cited as an excuse for the obsolescence of the Arthashastra, though the real cause of its ultimate neglect, as the Indian historian Romila Thapar suggests, was the formation of a totally different society to which these methods no longer applied.

Arthashastra remains unique in all of Indian literature because of its total absence of specious reasoning, or its unabashed advocacy of realpolitik, and scholars continued to study it for its clear cut arguments and formal prose till the twelfth century. Espionage and the liberal use of provocative agents is recommended on a large scale. Murder and false accusations were to be used by a king’s secret agents without any thoughts to morals or ethics. There are chapters for kings to help them keep in check the premature ambitions of their sons, and likewise chapters intended to help princes to thwart their fathers’ domineering authority. However, Kautilya ruefully admits that it is just as difficult to detect an official’s dishonesty as it is to discover how much water is drunk by the swimming fish.

Kautilya helped the young Chandragupta Maurya, who was a Vaishya, to ascend to the Nanda throne in 321 BC. Kautilya’s counsel is particularly remarkable because the young Maurya’s supporters were not as well armed as the Nandas. Kautilya continued to help Chandragupta Maurya in his campaigns and his influence was crucial in consolidating the great Mauryan empire. He has often been likened to Machiavelli by political theorists, and the name of Chanakya is still reminiscent of a vastly scheming and clever political adviser.

-The Maurya Empire Unites India as One Political Entity