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The establishment of the ancient Nalanda as an undisputed seat of learning was a natural consequence of the time and place in which it was situated. Ancient Magadha was characterized by an intellectual ferment unlike any known to mankind. This heritage was divided into two parts – both Buddhist and non-Buddhist. This ability to meld multiple discourses and to embrace knowledge in its entirety is what made Nalanda uniquely attractive for all seekers of pure knowledge.

Historical sources indicate that the University had a long and illustrious life which lasted almost continually for 800 years from the fifth to the twelfth century CE. It was a completely residential university with over 2,000 teachers and 10,000 students. The Nalanda ruins reveal through their architectural components the holistic nature of knowledge that was sought and imparted at this University. It suggests a seamless co-existence between nature and man and between living and learning.

The profound knowledge of the Nalanda teachers attracted scholars from places as distant as China, Korea, Japan, Tibet, Mongolia, Turkey, Sri Lanka and South East Asia. These scholars have left records about the ambience, architecture and learning of this unique university. The most detailed accounts have come from Chinese scholars and the best known of these is Xuan Zang who carried back many hundred scriptures which were later translated into Chinese.

Close to the end of the twelfth century Nalanda was destroyed by invaders. The period from which Nalanda ceased to exist was a time that the great universities of the western world came into being, marking the shift in knowledge production and dissemination from the East to the West. Only Al Azhar in Cairo (972 CE), Bologna in Italy (1088 CE) and Oxford in the United Kingdom (1167 CE )had been founded before the destruction of Nalanda.

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