The Land of Knowledge, The Nalanda name reminds us the entire once greatest place of learning, The Nalanda University. Nalanda district is situated nearly 90 km to southeast of Patna. How the name Nalanda was coined has many legends related to it. However the most logical seems to be the one given by Hiranand Shastri. According to him, the name was derived from two Sanskrit words ‘Nalam’ and ‘Da’. Nalam means lotus stalks which symbolizes knowledge and ‘Da’ means giver, together ‘Nalanda’, the knowledge giver. Nalanda became an important Buddhist and Jain pilgrimage destination as it was regularly visited by Lord Buddha and Lord Mahavira.Nalanda came into prominence after Nalanda University was founded in 5th century by the Gupta Emperors. Nalanda University was one of the first residential universities in the world with dormitories for its students. There were approximately 10000 students and 2000 teachers from around the world. This also made Nalanda the first international university in the world. The university had lofty walls, one gate, meditation halls along with hundreds of classrooms. One of the most important feature of the university was the library atop a nine storey building where punctilious copies of texts were produced. The courses of study in Nalanda covered all the fields of learning. It included scriptures of Buddhism, Vedas, Hetu Vidya (logic), Shabda Vidya (grammer), Chikitsa Vidya (medicine) etc. The university remained among the best places to study in the world till it was destroyed by Bakhtiar Khilji in 12th century. Today, Nalanda is strewn with ruin of many Buddhist structures, stupas and pillars with numerous carvings on it. There are number of monasteries as well here. The best time to visit Nalanda is between October and March during the temperature and climate are very conducive to traveling. The Glory of Ruins – On top of the list of attractions that tourist wish to see in Nalanda is definitely the ruins of Nalanda University. However there is lot more to see in Nalanda like the Archaeological museum, Huien Tsang Memorial hall and nearby excursions sites in Rajgir, Pawapuri and Gaya.
The Nalanda University Archaeological Complex
Archaeological complex where once the great Nalanda University stood covers an area of nearly 14 hectares. The complex is dotted with exquisitely maintained gardens and red brick buildings. Looking at these buildings which are divided by a central walkway running from north to south, one gets the idea that the university was build in Kushana style of architecture. Monasteries are towards the eastern side whereas the Temples of Chaiyas are to the west. Temple No.3 is the most dominating in the complex and one can get a splendid view of the surroundings from its top. It is surrounded by many smaller stupas which are engrossed with numerous statues of Lord Buddha, some of which are partially destroyed.
The Nalanda Archaeological Museum
Situated to the opposite side of university complex, The Nalanda Archaeological Museum is among the most important attractions in Nalanda. The main display of the museum is the collection of numerous Buddhist and Hindu statues. The undamaged statues of Lord Buddha earn extra attention of the tourists. There are two gigantic terracotta jars behind the museum that date back to 1st century. Other items on display includes coins, copper plates, pottery, sample of burnt rice and stone inscriptions. The museum is open on all days except Friday between 10 am and 5 pm.
Nava Nalanda Mahavira
Set up in year 1951, Nava Nalanda Mahavira is an international institute that attracts students from all corners of the world. Keeping the tradition of world class education alive, the institute imparts specialization in research and study of Pali literature and Buddhism. It is situated to the south of the complex of Nalanda University.
Situated on the north of Nalanda, this is a lake with a temple dedicated to Sun God. The temple houses number of statues of Buddhist and Hindu gods. Most impressive of them all is a 5 feet high statue of Goddess Parvati. The temple sees most rush of pilgrims during Indian month of ‘Vaishakha’ (April-May) and ‘Kartika’ (October-November). However the best time to visit the temple is during Chhath Puja which is the festival for worshiping Sun God. The colorful celebrations have to be seen to be believed.
How to Get There
The nearest airport is in Patna which is around 93 Km from Nalanda. Flights from all major cities of India connect to Patna. From the airport, tourists can catch a state transport bus or privately run buses which take nearly 3 hrs to cover the distance. One can also taxis from the airport which is a more comfortable way of commuting.
Rajgir at a distance of 15 km is the nearest railway station to Nalanda, however it from Gaya one can catch Buy Trains to Delhi, Mumbai and other major cities of India. Gaya is nearly 68 Km away from Nalanda. There are regular buses between these two destinations. Taxis are also available.
Being a major destination in Bihar, Nalanda is well connected by good network of roads to Patna, Bodhgaya, Gaya and other important cities of the state.