Revival of Nalanda University: Traditional Lessons for a Modern World

In an era marked by constant turmoil and escalating conflicts, our world teeters on a precarious edge. From the dire threats posed by climate change to the relentless pressures of cultural and religious strife, the 21st century has expanded the arena of potential global catastrophes. UNESCO’s report on the ‘Futures of Education’ aptly captures this sentiment: “Our world is at a unique juncture in history, characterised by increasingly uncertain and complex trajectories shifting at an unprecedented speed.” Amid this chaos, a pressing question emerges: Can we envision a viable human future unless we learn to harmonize with nature and embrace the diversity of cultures around us, rather than seeking dominance?

Indian civilization has long championed the reconciliation of the material and the spiritual, proposing a common ground where differences are embraced within a shared quest for truth. This ancient wisdom, embedded in India’s educational traditions, remains strikingly relevant today. The revival of Nalanda University, an illustrious center of learning that flourished in ancient India, is a testament to this enduring legacy.

Established by Parliament in 2010 and given renewed momentum in 2014, the new Nalanda University aims to rekindle the spirit of its ancient predecessor. By 2017, efforts to create a world-class infrastructure were well underway, positioning Nalanda as a pivotal international center for education once more. This initiative not only seeks to revive ancient Indian thought and practices but also to foster a partnership between East Asia and India, celebrating a shared intellectual heritage.

The historical significance of Nalanda University cannot be overstated. As historian Pintu Kumar notes, “The emergence of ŚrīNālandāMahāvihāra and its new organised instructive practices marked the beginning of a new era in South Asian education.” Founded in the 5th century AD by King Sakaraditya (Kumara Gupta I), Nalanda represented the zenith of ancient Indian educational systems. Remarkably, this Buddhist center of learning thrived under the patronage of Hindu Vaishnava rulers, exemplifying a harmonious coexistence of divergent religious and cultural inspirations.

Accounts from travelers like Hsuan Tsang provide invaluable insights into the university’s past. Nalanda attracted scholars from across the globe, offering instruction in a wide array of subjects, including the Vedas, Hindu philosophy, logic, grammar, and medicine. It was not merely a Buddhist monastic school but a melting pot of diverse intellectual traditions. From the 5th to the 12th century, until its tragic destruction by Bakhtiyar Khilji, Nalanda significantly contributed to the growth of philosophy, logic, medicine, astronomy, and more. Renowned scholars like Nagarjuna, Dignaga, and Asanga graced its halls, and seminal works such as Shantideva’s Shisksha Sammucchchyaya were penned within its walls.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of the 21st century as an Asian century resonates deeply with the revival of Nalanda University. As he inaugurates the new campus, with its diverse student body and participation from 17 different countries, it marks a significant step in reaffirming India’s and Asia’s intellectual and cultural legacy. This event, attended by ambassadors from these nations, symbolizes a collective commitment to furthering human knowledge and fostering global cooperation.

In these times of unprecedented crisis, the rebirth of Nalanda University serves as a beacon of hope. It is a reminder of the potential for education to bridge divides, nurture mutual understanding, and inspire a future where humanity thrives in harmony with nature and each other. As we stand at this critical juncture, the lessons of Nalanda offer a timeless blueprint for creating a world that values knowledge, embraces diversity, and seeks unity in our shared pursuit of truth.

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