Monday, July 27, 2009

The Mystique of Nalanda

Centuries ago as the remainders the biggest university curled up under the earth, the stories surrounding it became more dramatic. The grandeur of Nalanda was so magnificent that it needed no accolades yet the believers kept weaving the facts with mystical ornamentation in the hope of convincing the non-believers.
As the mounds grew bigger so did the legends… facts and myths intricately interwoven to mystify the readers and to make sure that the stories stay alive on the tips of the tongues if not in the literatures.
When Buchanan first found the mounds of the Nalanda University he was told that they are the remnants from the palace of King Bhimika, father in law of Lord Krishna; it seemed as if that the locals changed the characters of the story based on the changing allegiance of the population just so that the sacredness of the place was maintained…

Now as we try to retrace the steps to the beginning it seems impossible to strip the beliefs out and consider just the cold facts. So at some spots we have let the faith slide in and we’ll let the readers decide, cause as Stuart Chase has said, ‘For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don’t believe, no proof is possible.’
As you read further you’ll encounter several opportunities to scrutinize the facts and test your belief system…

Just to fill colors to your imaginations, we’d ask you to begin by thinking of the best, most prestigious university of modern times and depending upon your interests and aspirations you might think of Oxford, Harvard, Yale, Stanford, the IITs or some other on similar lines and then what if we tell you that the grandeur of Nalanda was much more than any of these universities and it lasted for more than 700 years.
In the times when modes of communications were awfully slow, it claimed its fame to the best University and catered to scholars from the entire civilized world of the time.
Not just that after enjoying the luxury of the best teachers from the era and multitudes of students, it ceased to existed in the 13th century without leaving much traces behind to give us any insight into its existence and then 500 years later it resurrected from the rubble and now presents itself as the most mystical discoveries waiting to be resolved.
All that we have written in the above paragraph sounds like a big myth and though there are a number of those surrounding this place, the one written above is not one of them.

The fact that this place was buried under the pile of earth for almost 5 centuries and has absolutely no written history to describe its legacy; is prompting us to piece it together from the remains of the place and from the accounts of its students and travelers of the area. We are re-visiting each piece of evidence and questioning our own reasoning and deductions; and that has led to a number of theories which unless proved otherwise can belong to the category of a myth or fact based on your belief system.
As an example, up ahead you’ll come across half a dozen interpretation of just the name ‘NALANDA’ and all of them are valid deductions. With each individual fact as fascinating as that there is absolutely no room for any legends or any myth but like with any captivating mystery, in certain cases they were required to make the story complete and just add to the charm of the area.
Before we move on, a piece of visual aid to put things into perspective…

Above is a sketch based on the facts collected so far from various sources about the expanse of Nalanda, the university; and given below is an aerial picture of excavated area that you see in the above picture as a tiny little yellow rectangle.

And its physical scale is a very small part of its legacy.

Nalanda prospered from the patronages of several great kings and that tells us a lot about our culture, our belief in strong education and respect for knowledge and wisdom. It ran uninterruptedly for 700 years and as Xuanzang points out there weren’t any power tussles and issues over hierarchies that were ever disclosed.
Most of our knowledge about Nalanda that we’ll be discussing in up coming topics is based on travelogues and detail accounts left by Xuanzang, Itsing, Hwui Lun and Dharmasvamin. In forthcoming posts we explore the facts and myths that have been inter-twined in this beautiful and serene place…

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