Online exclusive: Nalanda is still a ghost of the past

It was not easy to enter. Long before entrance exams – or certainly before unbelievably high thresholds became the norm – Nalanda University had a testing system. Maybe even the first.

Hsuan-Tsang or Xuanzang, as it is now called, traveled to India and wrote about how admission was based on learning. Only 20 to 30 percent of applicants passed. As a scholar he was admitted.

With her cult fame – long before the days of advertising or social media – Nalanda, was the reason Chinese scholar Hsuan-Tsang chose to make his journey through mountains and a desert to find the source of real knowledge and study here.

He wrote: “Finally, I found Nalanda hidden like a gem under the thick mango trees.” He said that “learned men” who wished to quickly “gain fame in the discussion” came here. There were students from Indonesia, Japan, Persia and even Turkey.

His description of the university is perhaps the most striking, but it is not the only one. It is certainly very lyrical and offers just the scale. The priests always had to reach the number 10,000. (Later, researchers believe the number is exaggerated).

There was certainly a freedom to think about the program which included the 18 rival sects of Buddhism, the Vedas or the works on “magic”. He described the university at its peak. “Richly ornate towers and fairy turrets resembling pointed peaks are brought together …”

He created an image of peace, almost off Instagram, of deep translucent ponds with blue lotuses, which continue to dot the area, interspersed with deep red Kanaka blossoms and groves of trees.

But more than his cadre, Nalanda – and his myth, including his resurrection in modern times as an eastward extension under the Foreign Office – has to do with being a magnet for talent. . It became a place where scholars came – not for a brand – but for a discussion. Fa Hian and I-tsing also went to Nalanda. (Chinese Emperor Wu-ti sent a mission to Nalanda in 539 BC) This also appears in the Tibetan and Jain accounts.

He attracted the best talent. Padmasambhav, Swat teacher who introduced Buddhism to Tibet, 6e Dinnaga of the century, credited with the founding logic as well as the 7e Dharmakriti of the century which founded the primary theory of the Buddhist atom. What is certain is that his fame lasted for centuries.

Xuanzang wrote about 1,000 men who can explain 50 collections and 10 who can explain 30. “Only Silabhadra has studied and understood the whole number,” he wrote.

Discipline was certainly the order of the day. In the descriptions of life on campus, it seems that there were strict rules. There were about 100 chairs for preaching and students were expected to attend, without fail. The teachers themselves had a code to follow and there had been “no case of culpable rebellion,” he noted. As he had left without the emperor’s blessing, in a fit of rebellion himself, this is an important detail for him.

The academic scholarship was high. Students, after attending the teacher’s service, read part of the scripture and reflect on what they have learned. He acquires new knowledge every day and “searches” for old subjects month after month without wasting a minute. The emphasis was on song and song. And I-tsing also wrote about physical exercise – hours of walking were instituted in the morning and evening.

Nalanda was not the only center of learning either. Taxila also flourished among others. It, however, had a large library. Tibetan sources, including Taranatha, have described it as three stories filled with books on medicine, astronomy, astrology, theology, philosophy, literature, town planning and even law. The burning of the library by Bakhtiyar Khilji in the 13th century – the fire lasted for days, equivalent to the destruction of the library at Atlantis – is considered the final end. It was not the first attack. But Nalanda continued. In Nalanda, I think the story is incomplete because we don’t look at Tibetan sources, ” historian Himanshu Prabha Ray said. “The sources speak of the arrival of the Tibetans, the reactivation of Nalanda and its establishment. This story is lost on us because it is something we did not consider.

Tibetan sources claimed that monks saved books, and in 1235 Dharmasavin visited a 90-year-old Rahula who was teaching 70 students. But it’s never been the same.

Under former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, there was an attempt to restart it. This time under Amartya Sen, the famous economist, but a decade later the experiment was unsuccessful. Nalanda is still a ghost from the past. And its resurrection in modern times and its demise in the past intertwines with history – and recent attempts to have it seen through the prism of ideology. Can he go up?