Nalanda was an acclaimed Mahavihara, a large Buddhist monastery in the ancient kingdom of Magadha in India. The site is located about 95 kilometres southeast of Patna near the town of Bihar Sharif and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site According to Xuansang and Yijing Nalanda was built in honor of the Lotus Sutra - and various Lotus Sutra symbolism can be found in the Nalanda Museum. Nalanda flourished under the patronage of the Gupta Empire in the 5th and 6th centuries and later under Harsha, the liberal cultural traditions inherited from the Gupta age resulted in a period of growth and prosperity until the ninth century. The subsequent centuries were a time of decline, a period during which the tantric developments of Buddhism became most pronounced in eastern India under the Pala Empire. At its peak, the school attracted scholars and students from near and far with some travelling all the way from Tibet, China, Korea, Archaeological evidence also notes contact with the Shailendra dynasty of Indonesia, one of whose kings built a monastery in the complex. Much of our knowledge of Nalanda comes from the writings of pilgrim monks from East Asia such as Xuanzang and Yijing who travelled to the Mahavihara in the 7th century, vincent Smith remarked that a detailed history of Nalanda would be a history of Mahayanist Buddhism. Many of the listed by Xuanzang in his travelogue as products of Nalanda are the names of those who developed the philosophy of Mahayana. All students at Nalanda studied Mahayana as well as the texts of the eighteen sects of Buddhism and their curriculum also included other subjects such as the Vedas, logic, Sanskrit grammar, medicine and Samkhya. Nalanda was very likely ransacked and destroyed by an army of the Mamluk Dynasty of the Muslim Delhi Sultanate under Bakhtiyar Khilji in c. 1200 CE, systematic excavations commenced in 1915 which unearthed eleven monasteries and six brick temples neatly arranged on grounds 12 hectares in area. A trove of sculptures, coins, seals, and inscriptions have also discovered in the ruins many of which are on display in the Nalanda Archaeological Museum situated nearby. Nalanda is now a notable tourist destination and a part of the Buddhist tourism circuit, a number of theories exist about the etymology of the name, Nālandā. According to the Tang Dynasty Chinese pilgrim, Xuanzang, it comes from Na al, Yijing, another Chinese traveller, however, derives it from Nāga Nanda referring to the name of a snake in the local tank. Nalanda was initially a village by a major trade route that ran through the nearby city of Rajagriha which was then the capital of Magadha. It is said that the Jain thirthankara, Mahavira, spent 14 rainy seasons at Nalanda. Gautama Buddha too is said to have delivered lectures in a mango grove named Pavarika. This traditional association with Mahavira and Buddha tenuously dates the existence of the village to at least the 5th–6th century BCE, not much is known of Nalanda in the centuries hence. Taranatha, the 17th-century Tibetan Lama, states that the 3rd-century BCE Mauryan and Buddhist emperor, Ashoka and he also places 3rd-century CE luminaries such as the Mahayana philosopher, Nagarjuna, and his disciple, Aryadeva, at Nalanda with the former also heading the institution. Taranatha also mentions a contemporary of Nagarjuna named Suvishnu building 108 temples at the location, while this could imply that there was a flourishing centre for Buddhism at Nalanda before the 3rd century, no archaeological evidence has been unearthed to support the assertion
The ruins of Nalanda Mahavihara
A statue of Gautama Buddha at Nalanda in 1895.
Rear view of the ruins of the Baladitya Temple in 1872.
8th century Dunhuang cave mural depicts Xuanzang returning from India.