Nalanda University re-opened after 800 years

India took its first formal step to recapture its erstwhile glory as an international knowledge destination with the opening of the new Nalanda University (NU) on 1 September 2014, 12 km from where the ruins of the ancient university are located. The 11-member governing board of the university is headed by Nobel laureate Amartya Sen. Gopa Sabharwal was appointed its first Vice-Chancellor in February 2011.

The Union government has sanctioned Rs. 2,700 crore to raise the residential university, which is projected to have seven schools for postgraduate and doctorate students by its scheduled completion in 2020.  East Asia Summit (EAS) countries—including Australia, Cambodia, Singapore, Brunei, New Zealand, Laos and Myanmar—are part of the initiative.

The modern centre of excellence is to come up on a 443-acre campus, encircled by an eight-kilometer boundary wall. The architectural plan of the new university envisages a massive lake at the centre of the campus. The library, a huge dome-shaped structure, would come up in the middle of the lake and will be partially submerged in water.

China has committed $1 million for the Nalanda University project; Singapore has pledged $5-6 million, and Australia about $1 million Australian dollars. Japan and Singapore are financing the construction work on the 443-acre university campus, on land land acquired and handed over by the Bihar government, with contributions totalling around US$100 million.

For now, the new university has started in a make-shift premises, with only two schools—the school of ecology & environmental studies and the school of historical studies—seven faculty members and 15 students.

The university is being set up as a centre of excellence, so as to impart seamless knowledge that was not confined by boundaries, geographical or intellectual. The ethos is expected to be the same as the Nalanda University of the yore, “but in a modern avatar.”

The university of Nalanda, believed to have been established in the 5th century AD during the reign of a Gupta king called Sakraditya, at the peak of its glory, accommodated over 10,000 students and 2,000 teachers. It was a centre of learning unmatched by any other of that era. The Tang dynasty Chinese pilgrim and scholar Xuanzang (Hieun Tsang) spent nearly 15 years at Nalanda University, as both, teacher and student.

The university fell upon hard times when it was overrun by the Huns under Mihirakula during the reign of Skandagupta (455-467 AD). But it was restored by his successors. It was destroyed again by the Gaudas in early 7th century and was restored again by king Harshavardhana (606-648 AD).

But it could not recover from the third and final blow dealt in 1193 AD by Bakhtiar Khilji, a general of Qutbuddin Aibak. The Turkish invaders set blaze and destroyed the huge library of the university, said to rival one at Luxor in Egypt.

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