It had 7 great pinnacles in its centre, two built by former kings and two by great Acharyas. On the outside at north were 14 lofty pinnacles. Outside of it there were 80 small Vihara; most of them were built by kings and queens. He maintains that the Sangharama was attacked by a Muslim leader but still it had survived with a little damage.
We try to build on the clues left by the four travelogues coupled with the archaeological finds,
1- At the time of Xuanzang visit there were 6 monasteries of which one built by Sakraditya was already in ruins
2- No archaeological remains have been found suggesting more than two storeys of monasteries, though Xuanzang, Itsing and Hwui Lun mention about 4 and three storeys
3- There are chances of top two storeys made up of wood. No archaeological remains of ashes and burnt wood suggesting any large scale use of wood in the structure have been found.
4- If we observe the present demography we find a very dense habitation on and around the Remains. As Broadley had also mentioned in his report the remains were used as quarry of bricks.
5- The last eyewitness accounts of Dharmasvamin (1235AD) suggest no large scale damage to the physical structures of the establishment. Though it’s apparent from his accounts most of the establishment was already in dilapidated state. It’s possible the wood and metal remains were removed by the new population in subsequent centuries. As a proof we find enough pillars and bricks removed from here to the neighboring villages.
6- Xuanzang speaks about 15 structures, including 6 monastic units, 1 unit of 8 halls, 6 temples, 4 stupas and 2 standing images. All the structure in one campus, he doesn’t speak about the greater area except of a temple 2-3 Li North of the great convent.
7- Xuanzang mentions about 6 monasteries and Itsing who visited 36 years after Xuanzang departure mentions about 8 halls. Nothing much can be concluded from the scanty description by Itsing
8- Xuanzang, Itsing and Hwui Lun speak about the story of the “Naga and the Pond” as the inspiration for name Nalanda of the Mahasanghrama.
9- Another important eyewitness account of Mahasanghrama after Itsing in 685 AD is of Dharmasvamin. Dharmasvamin visited 5 centuries after Xuanzang and Itsing but his description gives a great insight about the changes that took place in between. Hwui Lun further confirms the Xuanzang mention of structures to mark events associated with Buddha in the campus
10- Dharmasvamin mentions about one “7 great pinnacles” at centre, 14 lofty pinnacles north of it and 80 monasteries outside of it. Most striking point is 80 monasteries outside it; it gives some clues to tradition here. From Xuanzang to Dharmasvamin (i.e. till the downfall of Mahavihara) there was one central unit which had lofty structures. As per Dharmasvamin outside the central unit where 80 monasteries built by kings and queens. We may assume of some tradition where local kings, queens, chieftains, businessmen, ascetic donating monasteries or providing patronage to the monasteries.
11- Since no excavation has been done in the area outside the main campus of Mahavihara, nothing is known about the size and shape of the monasteries Dharmasvamin has mentioned. But he has left sufficient clues that these monasteries outside the main campus were not lofty but were units of all shape and size.
12- We lack sufficient clues to create some link between the three travelogues. Dharmasvamin speaks about lofty structures and groups them in two types, in one type are 7 pinnacles and the other group consists of 14 towers. If we assume the 14 towers which as per him are smaller than the 7 pinnacles, to be the monastic units then we have only 11 such units found in excavations. In that case the 7 pinnacles should be the temples, but we have only 6 temples in the campus. If we include the remains of the temple in the Chaitya’s line further north at Bargaon then the number will swell to 7 but no such mention is given by Dharmasvamin. And most important of all he places the 14 lofty towers north of 7 pinnacles, which is contrary to our assumption.
13- Dharmasvamin description will make sense in relation with the excavated remains if we put the 14 lofty towers east of the 7 Pinnacles and not north as mentioned. We can say nothing about the missing 3 lofty units and 1 more “pinnacle” till some excavation is done further north of the Monasteries row and south of the Chaitya’s row. A mound further south of temple no 3 is in exact lines with temple no 3 and needs further investigation to establish it to be the missing 7th unit of the “Pinnacle”.
14- Based on the Xuanzang and Dharmasvamin account we may now safely assume that the planned monastic units in the rows could be only 14 in number. No “Pinnacle” or maximum one “Pinnacle” was added to the count of 6 temples when Xuanzang visit in 639AD. Or in other words the foundation of all the great temples was laid during Gupta and Harsavardhan period.
15- Visit of Xuanzang coincided with period of Harsavardhan, which we can say as one of the glorious periods of Mahavihara. If we divide the periods of Mahavihara, then we can safely put it in two great epochs, the Gupta and the Pala. Xuanzang has provided us all the necessary details of contribution of Gupta. The visit of Dharmasvamin coincided with last days of Mahavihara. With help of the travelogues we can safely demarcate the contribution of Gupta from Pala and what was left at the end to eventually get converted into the mounds.
16- We can further safely assume that the rest of the mounds further north of the excavated site are remains of the 80 monastic units as described by Dharmasvamin.