The Missing Tibetans of New Nalanda

Under the leadership of Amarta Sen, there is an effort to revive the Nalanda University which was destroyed by Bakhtiyar Khilji in 1193. Recently at the Indian Science Congress at Chennai, he gave a lecture on the significance of Nalanda. Anirban Ganguly of Vivekananda International Foundation explains the problems with this effort (H/T Michel Danino). The most important one: the Tibetans are left out.

Why, for example, does the Mentors Group of the proposed university comprising of public intellectuals, scientists, academics and bureaucrats not have a single representation from the Tibetan community. A glaring omission considering the historic-religious link that Tibetan Buddhism and Nalanda had and the fact that successive Tibetan monarchs in history, had through their munificence, hosted and established in Tibet a number of masters from the Nalanda Mahavihara. It was, in fact, through the efforts of these teachers from Nalanda that the ‘Golden Age of Tibet’ was inaugurated.[Recreating Nalanda – Is the Deeper Raison d’être Missing? ]

The answer probably lies here:China announces donation for Nalanda University
When asked, why the Dalai Lama was not involved with the effort, Dr. Sen gave the laughable reply that as a religious leader he was not suited for religious studies. This reply..

… speaks volumes of the group’s ‘understanding’ of the essence of religious studies and practice within the Indic paradigm. Being religiously active was an essential pre-requisite for the study of religion in the Eastern context. The religion and philosophy of India was the ‘Science of the Self’ (Adhyātma-vidyā)7 and it was only through an assiduous study of this vidyā (Science) that one could begin to practice it. In the ancient Indian scheme of things, at least when the older Nalanda was in its full bloom, the dichotomy between being religiously active and studying religion did never really exist.[Recreating Nalanda – Is the Deeper Raison d’être Missing?]

Amartya Sen's Speech on Nalanda

Nalanda RuinsRecently Amartya Sen gave the keynote at the Indian Science Congress at Chennai and the topic was Nalanda.

But how does it compare with other old universities in the world? Well, what is the oldest university in the world? In answering this question, one’s mind turns to Bologna, initiated in 1088, to Paris in 1091, and to other old citadels of learning, including of course Oxford University which was established in 1167, and Cambridge in 1209. Where does Nalanda fit into this picture? “Nowhere” is the short answer if we are looking for a university in continuous existence.
Nalanda was violently destroyed in an Afghan attack, led by the ruthless conqueror, Bakhtiyar Khilji, in 1193, shortly after the beginning of Oxford University and shortly before the initiation of Cambridge. Nalanda university, an internationally renowned centre of higher education in India, which was established in the early fifth century, was ending its continuous existence of more than seven hundred years as Oxford and Cambridge were being founded, and even compared with the oldest European university, Bologna, Nalanda was more than six hundred years old, when Bologna was born. Had it not been destroyed and had it managed to survive to our time, Nalanda would be, by a long margin, the oldest university in the world.[Nalanda and the pursuit of science]

But isn’t Takshashila the oldest university? This is what I found out

There was no single Takshashila University in the modern sense. Each teacher formed his own institution, teaching as many students as he liked and teaching subjects he liked without conforming to any centralized syllabus. If a teacher had a large number of students, he assigned one of his advanced students to teach them. Teachers did not deny education if the student was poor; those students had to do manual work in the household. Paying students like princes were lodged in the teacher’s house and were taught during the day; non-paying ones, at night.[In Pragati – Takshashila: The lighthouse of a civilization]

Coming back to Dr. Sen’s speech, credit is due to him for mentioning that it was Bakhtiyar Khilji who wiped out the place. But note that he did not mention why Bakhtiyar Khilji destroyed a six century old place of learning.

Indian History Carnival – 20

The Indian History Carnival, published on the 15th of every month, is a collection of posts related to Indian history and archaeology.

  1. Where do Nairs come from? Maddy does a literature survey and “To summarize, the Nayars have been considered a derivative of local people with invading Aryans, have been wandering Scythins who settled down, the Nagas and so on. No one theory holds forte, though from all the above, the Scythian link seems to be the near fetched one”
  2. In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Paul Beckett wondered why Indians were not contributing to charity like Americans. He also used the derogatory term “Hindu rate of growth” to which Sarvesh Tiwari responds, “Here we shall share some random thoughts from the historical perspectives on Hindu outlook to economy and charity, and try showing how, there is continuity even today, although latent, of the same outlook prevailing among the more traditional Hindu shreShThins of our age.”
  3. The effort to set up a Sanskrit University in Karnataka is facing considerable opposition. Sandeep B says, “Sanskrit is what gives identity to the Indian civilisation as we know it. From Valmiki to Kalidas, every major Sanskrit literary work spoke of this identity in its own way.”
  4. History and Mythology, a blog about Amar Chitra Katha, has a post about Chandragupta II: “He is almost certainly the King Chandra eulogized in the Sanskrit inscription on iron pillar in the Quwat al-Islam mosque in New Delhi’s Qutub Minar campus, which dates back to 4th century.”
  5. “Located near the city of Jogjakarta on the island of Java, it’s a stunning remnant of the days when the Dharmic religions were politically ascendant in the islands. It was commissioned and built between 800 and 900 CE by the local monarchs so that devotees need not travel all the way to India for spiritual pilgrimage.” Usha Alexander writes about the Borobudur stupa.
  6. “In 1193 CE, Nalanda was put to a brutal and decisive end by Bakhtiyar Khilji, a Turkish Muslim invader on his way to conquer Bengal. He looted and burned the monastery, and beheaded or burned alive perhaps thousands of monks,” writes Namit Arora on his post on Nalanda.
  7. Feanor has translated Afanasii Nikitin’s fifteenth century memoirs of his travel to India. Nikitin was a merchant from the Mongol areas of Russia. He had heard that horses were in demand in India and spent few years in Deccan.
  8. Hari, based on Vaasanthi’s Cut-outs, Caste and Cine Stars, looks at the life of MG Ramachandran (1917-1987), “one of the most important figures of Tamil politics, who, with help from other prominent leaders of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), including the crafty script writer Karunanidhi, seamlessly moved between cinema and politics as if the two were one.”

f you find any posts related to Indian history published in the past one month, please send it to jk AT varnam DOT org. Please send me links which are similar to the ones posted, in terms of content.The next carnival will be up on Sep 15th.
See Also: Previous Carnivals

Vikramashila University

From the end of the Gupta period in India, religion in India was more into magic and sexual mysticism. This affected even Buddhism and a new branch called Vajrayana appeared in Eastern India in the 8th century and grew in Bihar and Bengal. A version of this branch, modified by local cults and practices was established in Tibet as a result of missions sent from India. The monastery responsible for this was the Vikramasila, in Bihar[13].
The ruins of this monastery is located a few miles away from Bargaon village, where Nalanda University was located.

The Tibetan Taranatha’s description in his work, History of Indian Buddhism, in the early 18th century and other minor historiographical works and from references in the colophons of a number manuscripts recovered from Tibet elaborate Vikramasila was the greatest and most famous educational establishment of the time. This university was located on the right bank of the Ganges where the holy river flows northwards.
It was in the Augustan period of Buddhist Pala kings of Bengal Vikramasila emerged the pre-eminent position in the contemporary educational structure of the then India.
This stately educational establishment had six noble gates, each of which was guarded by a scholar Buddhist monk officer of the university designated ‘Gate-keeper Scholar’ (Dvarapalaka Pandit) who examined applicants to the university. It is said that these entry examinations were so tough that of ten applicants only three gained admission. The university granted the degree of Pandit, equivalent now to Master of Arts.
The fame and prestige of Vikramasila are recorded in Tibetan records. This institution had a large measure of association with the great scholar Dipankara Srijnana (980-1053 AD), who having completed his education at Odantapuri University, became the head of the Vikramasila (1034-38 AD). [The historic Vikramasila Buddhist university]

The Palas, the last major dynasty to champion Buddhism were responsible for the revival of Nalanda University and the massive building programme at Somapura, which is now in Paharpur in Bangladesh.