Nalanda University: History, Founder, library Ruins & images

Nalanda University was one of the earliest Universities in the world founded in the fifth century. Know more about Nalanda University history and its magnificent library through images of the ancient ruins of this University.

Library and stupas of Nalanda university

Nalanda University History

The Ancient University of Nalanda is believed to be founded by the Gupta Dynasty who were ruling at the parts of present-day India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh. If we look at the Gupta Empire dynasty, Nalanda University was founded around the kingdom of Chandragupta one or Samudra Gupta. In its middle phase of life, Nalanda University was supported by the Buddhist emperors and later in the last phase, by the Pala kings who ruled mostly the south and eastern part of India.

Nalanda university site entranceEntrance to the ruins of Nalanda University

A glance at Nalanda University ruins:

The whole complex of Nalanda University was protected around by the thick walls of red bricks varying in their height. It is believed that the whole University campus is spread across over 15,000,000 square meters and only 10% of which has been excavated while rest of the ruins still lie earthen under the ground.

The classroom system at Nalanda university:

There were around 10000 students and 2000 teachers in the university. The curricula of the university offered the study of abstract knowledge like Philosophy, religion, Buddhism and scientific thoughts in astronomy, mathematics, anatomy etc. in each classroom, there used to be hundreds of students and they were not allowed to go outside until the lecture was over.

To add to their facility, even a well was there in most of the classroom to quench the thirst of the students if they were thirsty. There were around 8 colleges with tens of classrooms.

Classroom Nalanda universityA classroom of Nalanda University: Teacher sat on the dash and students on the ground

Dormitory of the students:

Nalanda University was the first of its kind which was a boarding university in the true sense. The whole boarding system was divided into three layers or floors of the dormitory. New students lived in the basement, middle-level students at the ground and dormitory captain and more experienced students at the top floor. There was a stairway system to connect the floors. There were as many as 300 rooms.

Nalanda university dormitoryStudents dormitory and floors

Ventilation system at the dormitory:

There were no proper windows. However, fresh air and sunlight were ensured by the ventilation system at the dormitory was an opening. These openings where wide and inclined in nature to allow the air and sunlight to come in through.

Ventilation system at Nalanda univeristyVentilation system (The inclined wall near the stairway)

Drainage system:

The drainage system was also hierarchical in nature. There was the main drainage system which carried the water of the whole settlement then there was smaller drainage which was from households. This drainage system was more or less inspired by the Harappan culture.

The bigger drains were seated deeper in the earth while the smaller drains were shallow. so that smaller drainage could flush in the bigger and dipper seated drainage.

Drainage system, Nalanda univeristyDrainage system and Markings of the bricks on the drainage wall

The open cooking mud-oven called Chullah:

The Chullah were set in the open and could be used from both sides. A number of items could be used simultaneously at the chullah while chullah could be burned from both the sides.

Cooking chulla or oven at Nalanda UniversityBi-faced Oven, can be fired from the top & bottom at the same time

Cooking area:

Apart from the open oven, the cooking area also has an octagonal well which is scientifically proven now that the well somehow used the filtering system to keep the water always fresh. Besides well and open over, there were also quarters for the cooking staff and the whole cooking area formed a part of the university complex.

Cooking hall of Nalanda universityCooking area, Oven in the center-right of the photo surrounded by staff quarters

The Nalanda university complex:

The Nalanda university complex was divided by a central walkway which went from south to North. The east side was called ‘Viharas'(Monasteries) and the west side was called ‘ chiayas'(temples). Thus the central allay divided the personal life and study life of the students.

Inside the monasteries, the students were given knowledge and on the temple side, they lived. Each monastery had a dais on which the teacher would sit and give Gyana to the students. The walk-way was surrounded by the water-pools, grass-lawns and flowers.

The central walk-wayThe central walkway dividing the monasteries and the temples

Nalanda University Library:

The most talked and the impressive building of in the lost history of the Nalanda university is its library. The library itself used to be a grand complex to house thousands of sacred and rare scriptures. Furthermore, it was divided into three buildings and each buildings into further categorical smaller sections.

There were different libraries for the Hindu and Buddhist scholar. Even sacred texts were kept in the special cells. Some of the library buildings were as high as nine stores. Exact volume of the books are still not known. 

Library and stupas of Nalanda universityTemples and library

Destruction of Nalanda University complex by Bakhtiyar Khilji:

At its peak period when the university had students from as far as Tibet, China, Greeze, Persia, it was attacked by a muslin ruler names Bakhtiyar Khilji in 1193 and the whole university was brutly ransacked and destroyed by the Muslim king. It is said that most of the peaceful Buddhist students could not offer any counter to the ruthless attack. 

Persian historian in his chronicle Tabaqat-I-Nasiri writes that the monks were driven away, burned alive and thousands of them were beheaded to uproot the Buddhism. It is also believed that the library burned for more than three months and the sky had almost turned grey because of the heavy black smokes.
To save their life, remaining monks fled away to Tibet or to other monasteries which are now in West Bengal and Bangladesh which were also a part of this University.  

Nalanda university a brief

A few years later, a few of the monks dared to return to the site but it had turned black and due to the heartless rage of the Muslim king terror, even though tried, but Nalanda University could not gain much attraction. 

Nalanda University in modern days:

The Government of Bihar has taken an initiative for Nalanda Open university for subjects like Philosophy , peace study, Buddhist studies etc. The project has been funded by many of the Buddhist as well as non-Buddhist countries. To know more about the new University click here

Buddhist practices at the ruins of the Nalanda university
Reviving the Buddhist practices in the modern world

Another place of interest nearby Nalanda is Bodhgaya famous for Mahabodhi temple, a UNESCO world heritage site.

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About trekkerp

Author of The Girl from the Woods and a Travel writer from India looking forward to collect quirky tales from around the world

28 Replies to “Nalanda University: History, Founder, library Ruins & images”

  1. Janki Dekhtawala

    Hey, your blog is very informative. You have given good detailing about cooking area, ventilation etc. When I don’t find it anywhere else. Thanks for updating.

  2. Chhaya pundir

    All historical buildings are demanding an attention seeker who justifies with them.. All Muslim rulers destroyed our heritages and kept there dummy mummy (graveyard) in our palaces and used as graveyards.. Really shameful

  3. Abhijit.S

    why are nt they excavating it further. are’nt there chances of finding more history down there? is there any particular reason the excavation has been stopped??

  4. Kunal

    Great Reading the history of Nalanda Univ. Sad that it was burnt by ignorant barbarians . Thorugh out history we seem be destroying the most creative and artistic part of our common wealth .

    Well done .

  5. pati lRau

    padhake akho me asu aa gaye yar…mera desh sach me bahot mahan hai… our khamkha dusaro ko follo kar rahe hai
    hamare pass hi bahot gyan hai har shetra me………jay bharat

    • Seema

      how true. it brought tears to me too.

      india was culturally so rich and so advanced and developed compared to the current so called western developed nations.

      We are proud to be Indians… Jai Bharat.

      • SR


        Yes, India has had a LONG and rich history, perhaps unequaled in the world. But dismissing “so called western developed nations” to praise CURRENT India will be a fallacy.

        India is NOWHERE compared to western nations. Take a measure – ANY measure – for the quality of life and India will fail in EVERY measure. Bad air, bad water, bad healthcare system, bad education system, bad judiciary, etc., etc. etc. – are results of BAD governance.

        So please, BEFORE you comment about western countries, look at these issues in India first. One CANNOT rest on past laurels. The golden age of India is LONG LONG gone!

        Of course, this will trigger a backlash from Indians, because, Indians very RARELY – if ever – accept their own FLAWS. They simply lash out at critiques. However, unless a flaw is first acknowledged/admitted, it can NEVER be corrected.

        The rticle is quite informative though.

  6. James Immanuvel

    Thanks for your great information. Its unremarkable one in india and its bring out the value of Educational System.

  7. Madhusudan Epte

    I really felt bad after reading that the university and ancient books were burnt.This university at that time was one of largest universities of world with students coming from foreign countries as well.No doubt if this was present today it would have been in top 10 universities of world.Lot of books with our ancestors culture and impeccable knowledge were destroyed,this was really a disgusting act by muslim invaders.But I am happy that Nalanda university have received funding from many countries so that it can impart knowledge.

  8. Heather Upadhyay

    I just finished teaching a segment of Jainism and Buddhism to my Class 9 students.This propelled me to learn more about these ancient universites. The article on Nalanda with the various pictures made a fascinating read with its pictures creating an insight about life in that period.

  9. karan

    Mere pass kehne k liye word nahi hai…….
    Great wonderful…..amazing…..very best technology used to constructed this university

  10. Shiv Narayan Thakur

    It is very much high time for the Government of Bihar that Nalanda University should be fully excavated. The mighty Bihar had slept for more than too long. If Bihar Government is not able to step it handover in Central Government. Bihar was not ment to be like this.
    As we know other country is now very cousious and excied to rediscover many antient templeand sites and seens, many thing are discovered, analysed and learned that it really exist. At Bihar should explore Nalanda University and let the history repeats that Nalanda University is still the greatest of all the University. Thank You.

      • Dilip Kumar

        You good share knowlege about Nalanda University , I was visit 1 year ago.

    • trekkerp Post author

      Hi shiva, I totally agree with you. I was really surprised to see the condition with which the whole site was maintened. If course we need to preserve our historic monuments.

      • Farhan Gazi

        Wow, what a wonderful university.The best studies, the best administration, the marvellous buildings, Even so many years ago. Even better than the present age.

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