Thursday, November 19, 2009

The mystery continues...

The mystery of Nalanda is not limited to Nalanda excavated remains but also extends to 100 of villages around it. There are hidden treasures that surface periodically and then there are those well hidden but find there mention in the literature. To know more about the heritage of Nalanda, these scattered gems need to be cherished and all the sites and villages that find mention in the plaques and inscriptions found during the excavations need to be referenced and tabulated in a database so that the information is readily accessible and research is promoted to explore them further. NNM is currently working on “The mapping of Nalanda” project. The project is about the documenting the heritage spread in the villages around Nalanda.

Nalanda Mahasangharama was not the lone monastery in the vicinity, Xuanzang mentions more than 50 Monasteries in the Magadha region. We have more than 10 monastic remains in 15 km radius of Nalanda Sangharama. Other than monastic remains we have many villages with ancient remains. All the archaeological remains in the vicinity are very important and there is a need to explore the possible links between them. We have historical evidence of 100 villages supporting Nalanda Mahasangharama. The heritage of Nalanda extends much beyond present stretch of excavated and unexcavated remains at Bargaon. There is a need to study the archaeological profile of Nalanda to find all the unanswered questions.

The earliest record of the Nalanda Mahasangharama comes from the accounts of Xuanzang, Itsing and Hwui Lin; they mentioned the temples and stupas, raised at the places associated with the Buddha. A temple at the place were the Buddha preached law for 7 days, a Stupa where foreign Bhikkhus met the Buddha, another stupa where the Buddha preached and a tree developing from the tooth pick of the Buddha. These observations by the pilgrims inform us that Nalanda was an important destination even during the Buddha times. Pali commentaries and Jain literature too mention about a prosperous Nalanda where the Buddha and the Mahavira had rich devotees. On the basis of Xuanzang’s travelogue; we can say that the Nalanda as mentioned from the Buddha time of the same as the Nalanda of Mahasangharama. Also, these travelogues don’t mention any other place named “Nalanda” in the vicinity of Nalanda Mahasangharama. It is important to note that Fahien’s travelogue does not leave a detailed account of this place leading us to assume that Nalanda was not a prominent place at the time of his visit. Also his stay in this particular area was very brief; he didn’t visit Kulika, the birth place of the Moggallana.

Another important logical connection is as per Pali literature which states that the Nalanda was associated with the Buddha and was about 1 Yojan from Rajgir and the Nalanda ruins are about that distance from Rajgir. These facts help us establish the link about Nalanda’s historic past.

From the travelogues we know the first monastery was raised by King Sakraditya. Xuanzang says about south of the sangharama in the middle of amra there is tank. The naga of this tank was called Nalanda. By the side of the tank is the sangharama, therefore, takes the name of the naga. But another account which he feels is true says Buddha in previous birth was king of this place. Moved by the pity of the living things, he delighted in continually relieving them, and the “Charity without intermission” is in perpetuation of his benevolence.

Hwui Lun also describes that Nalanda University was built by the old king Sakraditya for Bhikshu of north India. And that he had to struggle a lot to establish the monastery here and it was later kings who took care of the obstruction and later developed it as a glorious institution in whole of Jambudvipa.

The Nalanda Mahasangharama was a magnificent centre of learning for more than 800 years. It attracted students from whole of South-East Asia. We have archaeological evidence of it receiving patronage from kings and lay patrons from India and abroad. Broadly the royal patronage is clubbed in Gupta and Pala periods. As per the accounts of Dharmaswamin who was here in 1234 AD, a decade after the Muslim invasion, Nalanda was counting its last days with 70 odd students and one octogenarian teacher, taking piggy back ride to escape the attacks of Muslim soldiers stationed at Odantapuri (now Bihar Sharif). And we don’t have any eyewitness accounts of life at Nalanda Mahasangharama after Dharmaswamin visit.

The first record of the extensive mound of Nalanda (Bargaon) comes from Botanist Buchanan who in 1814 AD was doing survey of the region. He had little idea about its potential, he treated it as just another mound he saw in his career as surveyor. He mentions the mound as remains of palace of King Bhimika as told by the Hindu population there. It was only after English translations of the book by Xuanzang “Ta-Tang-Hsi-yu-chi”, i.e., records of the western lands of the great Tang period, came into hands of then orientalists like Cunningham in mid 19th century that they discovered that the big mound at Bargaon as remains of Ancient Nalanda sangharama. This was also confirmed by many seals reading “Sri-Nalandamahavihariy-Arya-Bhikshu-Sanghasya" found during the excavations from 1913 to 1934.

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