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History of Nalanda University with Interesting Facts

Last Updated : 20 Nov, 2023
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Nalanda University was one of the world’s first educational institutions. It was established in Rajagriha (now Rajgir) in Bihar in the 5th century BC by Kumararagupta of the Gupta Dynasty. It flourished under the Gupta king- Kumaragupta, Harsha- the emperor of Kannauj, and later under the Pala empire. Nalanda was not only a residential university but also a Buddhist monastery. The details of the university can be found in the writings of the famous Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang. According to him, there were 10,000 monks and 2000 teachers at Nalanda at that time. The famous mathematician and astronomer Aryabhata was the head of this university. Some prominent students were Harshavardhana, Nagarjuna, Vasubandhu, etc. Nalanda has 800 years of tradition as a university.

Who Destroyed Nalanda University?

Nalanda University was destroyed several times. According to the historian, there are a total of three attacks that happened in Nalanda. But in the 12th century, around 1193 CE, Nalanda University was sacked and destroyed by an army of the Central Asian Turic ruler Bakhtiyar Khilji.

All Three Attacks on Nalanda University

All three attacks on Nalanda are shown below with details of causes and effects

1. Destruction by Hunas:

The first attack took place between 455 AD to 470 AD when Samudragupta was the emperor of the Gupta Empire. This attack was done by the Hunas- a central Asian tribal group. They used to enter India through the Khyber Pass of the Himalayas. At that time, there were not any specific reasons for their invasion and attack except to loot expensive products. 
There were some economical sources present in the university for its maintenance purposes. Hunas looted all of them and left. As the destruction was not very severe, Skanda Gupta, emperor of the Gupta Empire, re-established it and made some improvements. At that time the famous library of Nalanda was established.

2. Destruction by Goudas Rajvansh:

The second attack in Nalanda happened during the early 7th century. This attack was done by the emperor of Bengal, Goudas Rajvansh. The main reason behind this attack was the political imbalance. At that time, the emperor of Kannuj, Harshavardhana was ruling. Many historians said that there was a conflict between Harshavardhana & Goudas Rajvansh. To take revenge, Goudas Rajvansh attacked Nalanda University. However, the destruction was not fatal enough. Harshavardhana re-established the university and again Nalanda started sharing knowledge throughout the world.

3. Destruction by Bakhtiyar Khilji:

In 1193 AD Bakhtiyar Khilji, a general of Qutubuddin Aibak attacked Nalanda university. This attack was very fatal but there was not any political desire behind this invasion. The attack was so fatal that after this invasion nobody could build the Nalanda university again.

Reason for Invasion by Bakhtiyar Khilji on Nalanda

The exact reasons for Bakhtiyar Khilji’s invasion of Nalanda University are not entirely clear, but historical accounts suggest that it might have been part of a larger campaign to suppress Buddhist institutions in the region. Some theories propose that Khilji’s forces attacked Nalanda due to a combination of factors, including religious intolerance, the wealth of the university, and possibly strategic considerations. The sack of Nalanda led to the decline of this renowned center of learning in ancient India.

  • It also had been said that Bakhtiyar Khilji was sick and moved to every medical practitioner to improve his health condition but nobody was able to suggest any medicine that could able to recover his health condition. Some people proposed to him that he can take the help of Rahul Sri Bhadra who was the principal of Nalanda University at that time. 
  • Rahul Sri Bhadra successfully treated him. Khilji felt very insecure and decided to eradicate all the knowledge of Ayurveda because he was troubled by the idea that an Indian scholar knew more than his hakims. This was only the reason for attacking the Nalanda by Bakhtiyar Khilji.
  • In his work Tabaqat-i-Nasiri, Minhaj-i-Siraj described how thousands of monks were murdered as Khilji made every effort to eradicate Buddhism and establish Islam.

Destruction Caused by Bakhtiyar Khilji in Nalanda

As the only intention of Bakhtiyar Khilji was to destroy the source of knowledge, he first attacked the library of Nalanda. He put fire in the libraries that contained around 90 lakhs of books at that time. Some books were original in writing. Historians believe that it took three months to completely burn down all the books. Bakhtiyar Khilji not only destroyed the library but also, killed all the monks and scholars residing in the university as he didn’t want that knowledge to flow from scholars to scholars. As this destruction was so fatal, no other emperor was able to rebuild it. Hence the flow of knowledge of Nalanda came to an end.

History of Nalanda University

Nalanda is the name of an ancient centre of higher studies in Bihar, present India. It is located in Bihar, about 95 km southeast of Patna, the capital of Bihar. It was a Buddhist centre of studies from 427 CE to 1197 CE.
It is found from various historical studies that the University of Nalanda was established during the period of Gupta emperor Kumaragupta. But it started to flourish in the 5th century during the rule of the Gupta empire. Later, the emperor of Kannauj, Harshavardhana improved the University.

From its beginning, Nalanda was the centre of excellence. At that time, it was built only to give knowledge about Buddhism. However later, it started its journey as a full-fledged university that focused not only on religious knowledge but also spread knowledge about architecture, medicine, grammar, mathematics, and many other subjects. Students not only from India but from China, Tibet, Korea, and Central Asia joined Nalanda university. As it was a residential university, students live there & gain knowledge in various subjects.

Structure of Nalanda University

  • It is said that Nalanda was an architectural masterpiece. It was made entirely of bright red bricks with elevated walls and a huge gate to the entrance. The compound had many temples, stupas, classrooms, meditation halls, etc. along with lakes and parks.
  • The main attraction of the university is the library which is called “Dharma Gunj” meaning Mountain of Truth. It was well equipped & colossal housed in nature. The library was so huge that it consists of three multistore buildings. These buildings also had names. They are Ratnasagar (Means Ocean of Jewels), Ratnodadhi (Sea of Jewels), and Ratnaranjaka (Jewel Adorned). 
  • Among all of these Ratnodadhi was the largest one. The most sacred books and manuscripts were kept in Ratnodadhi. It was a building that was nine stories high. 
  • From this data, we can assume the huge number of books present in the library. It is said that Nalanda had Upanishads in original writings. Also, some Sanskrit books like Astasahasrika, Prajnaparamita, etc. were destroyed by the invasions.

Important Terms Related to Nalanda University

  • Nalanda: Nalanda is a combination of three Sanskrit words Na-Alam-Da which means the “Unstoppable flow of Knowledge”.
  • Hiuen Tsang: Hiuen Tsang was a Chinese scholar, traveller. Details about the university can be found in his writings. It is said that he was a student of Nalanda University.
  • Aryabhata: Aryabhata is one of the most famous mathematicians and astronomers in India. He invented the Zero (0) digit, that had changed the pattern of calculation. He was the Head of Nalanda University.


Mahipala was the last king to patronage Nalanda before it was plundered in 1193. The university was forgotten until the ASI started excavations in 19C. Nalanda was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site on January 9, 2009. In 2010, the Indian Parliament approved a bill that called for the restoration of the University of Nalanda based on a Joint Press Statement at the 4th East Asia Summit held in Thailand in October 2009. It formally reopened for academic purposes on September 14, 2014. Only 15 candidates, out of a total of 1000 applications from throughout the world, were accepted to honour the old selection procedure. The government has designated it as an “Institute of National Importance.”

Questions And Answers on Nalanda University

1. What was the name of the library at Nalanda?

“Dharma Gunj” was the name of the library at Nalanda. It was a building where 90 lacks of book can able to store. It was so huge that during the invasion of Bakhtiyar Khilji, it took 3 months to completely burn out.

2. Nalanda University library buildings consist of how many multistore buildings?

Nalanda University library buildings consists 3 multistore buildings. This building made with lofty walls & they are well-equipped. Some of the buildings were nine stories high.

3. Name the multistore library buildings of Nalanda University.

The multistore library buildings are: Ratnasagar (Means Ocean of Jewels), Ratnodadhi (Sea of Jewels), Ratnaranjaka (Jewel Adorned). Among these Ratnodadhi was the largest one. It was nine stories high & can able to keep high amount of book rather than other buildings.

4. Name some subjects which were taught at Nalanda.

Some subjects taught at Nalanda were Astronomy, Philosophy, Mathematics, Grammar, Architecture etc. It is very surprising that at time when there was an absence of mordent technologies how the Nalanda university was able to teach these subjects. Some subject like architecture is so difficult nowadays also. From this perspective Nalanda is incomparable.

5. Write names of some famous students of Nalanda University.

Some students of Nalanda University are: Harshavardhana, Nagarjuna, Vasubandhu etc. Among them Harshavardhana was the emperor of Kannauj Empire. Later he rebuild the Nalanda university after being attacked by Goudas Rajvansh of Bengal.

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