Nalanda Again

Nalanda just allures and excites me. It got a mention in the President’s address to ‘Bihar Global Meet’ in Patna again.

“Renaissance – Nalanda International University: University with international partnership with an outlay of Rs. 500 crores ($100 million). The focus of the university is the evolution of world of peace and prosperity, devoid of crime, terrorism and war. It will draw inspiration from the rich historical traditions of Nalanda, Bodhgaya where Lord Buddha got enlightenment and other spiritual centers in Bihar to create a new framework, in the modern context, to generate, share and disseminate knowledge and skills. It will be a place for meeting of minds from the national and international arena to do research on unity of minds linking human welfare, science, technologies, economics and spirituality with reference to ancient and modern thinking.

I dream of a unique huge university campus or city, the largest in the world with 100 or more extensions of the best institutions of higher learning such as Stanford, Harvard, MIT, Tokyo University, Oxford, and Cambridge; and with teachers, researchers, and students from all over the world living together and pursuing the ultimate in knowledge.

I find even the Prime Minister quite enthusiastic of the project. His speech to Pravashi Bhartiya Diwas had a special mention on this:

“Singapore, along with China, Japan, South Korea and other countries in the region, is supporting us in the Nalanda Project to which Professor Jayakumar made such a handsome reference. I agree with the sentiments expressed recently by Hon’ble Mr. George Yeo, the Foreign Minister of Singapore, that the Nalanda Project should emerge as “an icon of Asian renaissance”, and “a centre of civilizational dialogue and inter-faith understanding”, as indeed it was in the ancient times.”

Addressing a gathering in New Delhi recently, the Dalai Lama pleaded for a revival of the Nalanda tradition that fell to ruin after surviving long years of invasions and incursions.

Can this dream of Nalanda International University be realized?

It requires a very dynamic head to lead the project as his life mission and no inference of this or any government that comes hereafter at the state level or at the center. Can’t the government of India take this as a project of national importance?

However, the editorial of Times of India on January 20 came out with an interesting idea when it talked about using the ancient universities of the subcontinent to bring India and Pakistan together forgetting the enmity through these ancient links.

The ancient universities of the subcontinent included Taxila or Takshashila near present-day Islamabad, Nalanda, near Patna in Bihar, Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu, and Ratnagiri in Orissa. There were many more in South Asia, including Sri Lanka. Centuries before America’s Ivy League colleges, UK’s Oxford and Cambridge universities, France’s Sorbonne or even Germany’s Heidelberg University, the subcontinent’s centres of higher learning thrived in a climate of eclecticism, freedom and cross-cultural knowledge-sharing, spanning not just Buddhist and Hindu philosophical studies but also other arts and science subjects.

Nalanda University, established by the Guptas in the fifth century, was rebuilt several times but was neglected after the period of Harshavardhana. The Nalanda (“giver of know-ledge”) tradition refers to study of various scriptures, arts and sciences, focusing on both learning and practice. Similarly, Taxila University, established in the seventh century, was possibly the most ancient university in the world. As a centre of Gandhara, Greek, Vedic and Buddhist learning, Taxila too was eventually ruined following invasions and neglect.

It is a wonderful idea to revive these learning traditions and re-establishing Taxila and Nalanda universities. The idea of Nalanda International University is the step in the right direction.
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