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A stucco panel in the ruins of Nalanda.
The "Black Buddha Statue", photographed by Alexander E Caddy, in 1895.
The End of the Buddhist Monks, A.D. 1193 from Hutchinson's Story of the Nations depicts Khilji trying to make sense of a manuscript.

Nalanda (/'nɑːlənðɑː/) was an acclaimed Mahavihara, a large Buddhist monastery in ancient Magadha (modern-day Bihar), India. The site is located about 95 kilometres southeast of Patna, and was a centre of learning from the fifth century CE to c. 1200 CE when it was destroyed by an army of the Muslim Mamluk Dynasty under Bakhtiyar Khilji. Historians often characterize Nalanda as a university.


  • The Mussalman invaders sacked the Buddhist universities of Nalanda, Vikramshila, Jagaddala, Odantapuri to name only a few. They razed to the ground Buddhist monasteries with which the country was studded. The monks fled away in thousands to Nepal, Tibet and other places outside India. A very large number were killed outright by the Muslim commanders. How the Buddhist priesthood perished by the sword of the Muslim invaders has been recorded by the Muslim historians themselves. Summarizing the evidence relating to the slaughter of the Buddhist Monks perpetrated by the Musalman General in the course of his invasion of Bihar in 1197 AD, Mr. Vincent Smith says, "The Musalman General, who had already made his name a terror by repeated plundering expeditions in Bihar, seized the capital by a daring stroke... Great quantities of plunder were obtained, and the slaughter of the 'shaven headed Brahmans', that is to say the Buddhist monks, was so thoroughly completed, that when the victor sought for someone capable of explaining the contents of the books in the libraries of the monasteries, not a living man could be found who was able to read them. 'It was discovered,' we are told, 'that the whole of that fortress and city was a college, and in the Hindi tongue they call a college Bihar.' "Such was the slaughter of the Buddhist priesthood perpetrated by the Islamic invaders. The axe was struck at the very root. For by killing the Buddhist priesthood, Islam killed Buddhism. This was the greatest disaster that befell the religion of the Buddha in India....
    • B. R. Ambedkar, "The decline and fall of Buddhism," Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches, Vol. III, Government of Maharashtra. 1987, p. 232-233, quoting Vincent Smith
  • From his Guru the student might pass, about the age of sixteen, to one of the great universities that were the glory of ancient and medieval India: Benares, Taxila, Vidarbha, Ajanta, Ujjain, or Nalanda. Benares was the stronghold of orthodox Brahman learning in Buddha's days as in ours; Taxila, at the time of Alexander's invasion, was known to all Asia as the leading seat of Hindu scholarship, renowned above all for its medical school; Ujjain was held in high repute for astronomy, Ajanta for the teaching of art. The fagade of one of the ruined buildings at Ajanta suggests the magnificence of these old universities. Nalanda, most famous of Buddhist institutions for higher learning, had been founded shortly after the Master's death, and the state had assigned for its support the revenues of a hundred villages. It had ten thousand students, one hundred lecture- rooms, great libraries, and six immense blocks of dormitories four stories high; its observatories, said Yuan Chwang, "were lost in the vapors of the morning, and the upper rooms towered above the clouds." The old Chinese pilgrim loved the learned monks and shady groves of Nalanda so well that he stayed there for five years. "Of those from abroad who wished to enter the schools of discussion" at Nalanda, he tells us, "the majority, beaten by the difficulties of the problem, withdrew; and those who were deeply versed in old and modern learning were admitted, only two or three out of ten succeeding."" The candidates who were fortunate enough to gain admission were given free tuition, board and lodging, but they were subjected to an almost monastic discipline. Students were not permitted to talk to a woman, or to see one; even the desire to look upon a woman was held a great sin, in the fashion of the hardest saying in the New Testament. The student guilty of sex relations had to wear, for a whole year, the skin of an ass, with the tail turned upward, and had to go about begging alms and declaring his sin. Every morning the entire student body was required to bathe in the ten great swimming pools that belonged to the university. The course of study lasted for twelve years, but some students stayed thirty years, and some remained till death."
    The Mohammedans destroyed nearly all the monasteries, Buddhist or Brahman, in northern India. Nalanda was burned to the ground in 1197, and all its monks were slaughtered; we can never estimate the abundant life of ancient India from what these fanatics spared.
  • The history of the end of Nalanda, hence, is, in a sense, the history of the extinction of Buddhism from the land of its birth.
    • Sankalia: University of Nalanda, 1934
  • After more than seven hundred years of successful teaching, Nalanda was destroyed in the 1190s by invading armies from West Asia, which also demolished the other universities in Bihar. The first attack, it is widely believed, was led by the ruthless Turkic conqueror Bakhtiyar Khilji, whose armies devastated many cities and settle- ments in North India. All the teachers and monks in Nalanda were killed and much of the campus was razed to the ground. Special care was taken to demolish the beautiful statues of Buddha and other Buddhist figures that were spread across the campus. The library—a nine-story building containing thousands of manuscripts—is reputed to have burned for three days.
    • Amartya Sen, “India: A Stormy Revival of an International University,” New York Review of Books, August 13, 2015.
  • By the time the first European university was established in Bologna in 1088, Nalanda had been providing higher education to thousands of students from Asian countries for more than six hundred years.
  • ‘In the 7th century of the Christian era,’ Vincent Smith wrote, ‘the Nalanda establishment undoubtedly was the most important and splendid of its kind in India, or, in fact, the world. It was the principal centre of Buddhist learning, and was crowded with students from every quarter. It was truly a great university…’
    • Vincent Smith, quoted in Shourie, Arun (2014). Eminent historians: Their technology, their line, their fraud. Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India : HarperCollins Publishers.
  • The university was the centre of Mahayana learning, of course – so much so that, reviewing its significance, Vincent Smith observed, ‘A detailed history of Nalanda would be a history of Mahayanist Buddhism, from the time of Nagarjuna in the 2nd cent A.D. (?), or possibly even from an earlier date, until the Muhammadan conquest of Bihar in A.D. 1197 – a period well over a millennium. All the most noted doctors of the Mahayana seem to have studied at Nalanda…’
    • Vincent Smith, quoted in Shourie, Arun (2014). Eminent historians: Their technology, their line, their fraud. Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India : HarperCollins Publishers.
  • ‘The mine of learning, honoured Nalanda’ – that is how the sixteenth-seventeenth century Tibetan historian, Taranath, referred to the university at Nalanda.
    • Taranath, quoted in Shourie, Arun (2014). Eminent historians: Their technology, their line, their fraud. Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India : HarperCollins Publishers.
  • The whole establishment is surrounded by a brick wall, which encloses the entire convent from without. One gate opens into the great college, from which are separated eight other halls standing in the middle (of the Sangharama) [monasteries]. The richly adorned towers, and the fairy-like turrets, like pointed hill-tops are congregated together. The observatories seem to be lost in the vapours (of the morning), and the upper rooms tower above the clouds.
  • Scholars who had passed its rigorous programme were honoured throughout the Buddhist world. Yuan Chwang’s – Hieun Tsang’s – telling expression gives a glimpse: ‘…Hence foreign students came to the establishment to put an end to their doubts and then became celebrated, and those who stole the name (of Nalanda Brother) were all treated with respect wherever they went….’
    • Yuan Chwang, quoted in Shourie, Arun (2014). Eminent historians: Their technology, their line, their fraud. Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India : HarperCollins Publishers.
  • The greater number of inhabitants of that place were Brahmans, and the whole of those Brahmans had their heads shaven, and they were all slain. There were a great number of books there; and when all these books came under the observation of the Musalmans, they summoned a number of Hindus that they might give them information respecting the import of those books; but the whole of the Hindus had been killed. On being acquainted (with the contents of the books), it was found that the whole of that fortress and city was a college, and in the Hindu tongue, they call a college, Bihar [vihara].
    • Maulana Minhaj-ud-din, Tabakat-i-Nasiri, H.G Raverty [trans.], Volume I, Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1881, reprinted by Oriental Books Reprint Corporation, Delhi, 1970, pp. 548–53. quoted in Shourie, Arun (2014). Eminent historians: Their technology, their line, their fraud. Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India : HarperCollins Publishers.
    • Also in Elliot and Dowson, The History of India, Vol.II, p.306, with different translation: "most of inhabitants were Brahmins with shaven heads. They were put to death. Large number of books were found there, and, when the Muhammadans saw them, they called for some persons to explain their contents, but all the men had been killed. It was discovered that the whole fort and city was a place of study. In the Hindi language the word Behar (vihar) means a college".
  • The Tibetan monk Dharmaswamin came to India in AD 1234, that is, within forty years of the destruction and plunder of Nalanda. He stayed in Magadha for about two and half years, and spent about six months in Nalanda itself. People lived and hid in dread of the marauding Muslim rulers: ‘… he [Dharmaswamin] and his hosts were always in apprehension of a Muslim attack any time,’ Dr. A.S. Altekar informs us while introducing the Biography. Altekar summarizes Dharmaswamin’s account: When Dharmaswmin reached Vaisali on his way to Bodh Gaya, the town was all deserted on account of the apprehended arrival of a Muslim force. People used to desert their houses by day and come back to them at night. Vikramsila had been completely destroyed before 1206 A.D. and its foundation stones had been hurled into the Ganga. The Bodh Gaya establishment had been deserted by all except four monks. The ancient image had been walled up by a brick wall and a new one had been put in the ante-chamber. The old image had, however, been already despoiled of its emerald eyes earlier. The king of Bodh Gaya had fled to the forest. Dharmaswamin himself had to flee away for seventeen days… Dharmaswamin found Nalanda to be a ghost of what it had been. Of the eight temples and the fourteen large and eighty-four smaller monasteries, only two viharas were in serviceable condition. There was ‘absolutely no one to look after them or make offerings,’ Dharmaswami noted.
    • Biography of Dharmaswamin, (Chag lo tsa-ba Chos-rje-dpal), original Tibetan text deciphered and translated by George Roerich, reprinted by K.P. Jayaswal Research Institute, Patna, 1959, p. xix., quoted in Shourie, Arun (2014). Eminent historians: Their technology, their line, their fraud. Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India : HarperCollins Publishers.

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  1. "India: The Stormy Revival of an International University". The New York Review of Books (August 13, 2015 Issue). Retrieved on 11 July 2015.