The international conference on ‘The Heritage of Nalanda’ to be held at Nalanda from February 12 to 14, 2006, aims to highlight the contribution of the great world seat of learning which evoked response from the world of scholars, saints and scientists of various disciplines and had been the acme of glory. The conference will draw attention to its impact on the cultural processes in several countries of inner Asia, East Asia, and South-east Asia, as also the formative role it played of Mahayana, which enjoys vast popularity in Tibet, Mongolia, China, Japan, among other countries, can be traced to the acharyas of the ancient university.

The conference is international in scope. Among the participants will be important masters and eminent scholars from Bhutan, China, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Tibet and Vietnam. Distinguished scholars from major universities and research institutes from these as well as western countries have been invited to enrich the scholarship of the conference. As many as 100 foreign delegates, in addition to those from India, are expected to contribute to the proceedings.

H.H. the Dalai Lama, the living symbol of the Mahayana tradition that emanated from Nalanda, will inaugurate the conference. The three- day conference will be spread across several academic sessions besides the inaugural and the valedictory functions.

Other activities to be held simultaneously will include an exhibition of photographs of archaeological finds and ruins of Nalanda; a display of thangkas, books and manuscript in Chinese, Japanese, Tibetan, Sanskrit, Pali and other languages, and translations of some of these as well as modern scholarly works relating to siddhas and savants associated with Nalanda. The evenings will be devoted to Vajrayana ritual music and dance.

Early History

Te ruins of the ancient Buddhist establishments of Nalanda lie close to the village of  Bargaon, 90 kms south-east of Patna (capital of Bihar since) an d 11 Kms north of Rajgir, the ancient Rajgriha. The area was sanctified with several visits by Bhagawan Buddha. According to the Taranatha, Asoka, the great Mauryan emperor of the 3rd century BC, gave offerings to the chaitya of Sariputra that existed at Nalanda and erected a temple here;  Asoka  must therefore be regarded as the founder of the Naland-vihara. Nagarjuna, the famous Mahayana philosopher and alchemist of about the second century AD, began his studies at Nalanda and later on became the high-priest here.  Suvishnu, a contemporary of Nagarjuna, built 108 tempes at Nalanda. Some of the other outstanding masters connected with Nalanda were Aryadeva (early 4th century) Asanga (5th century) and his brother, Vasubandhu.

Under the Guptas

Though Nalanda had been a famous centre of Buddhism for centuries before the Gupta kings the earliest datable finds are a copper-plate of Samudragupta and a coin of Kumaragupta, Sakraditya, Buddhagupta, Tathagatagupta, Baladitya,and Vajra built monasteries at Nalanda in the fifth and the sixth centuries. Fa-hien (currently spelt as Faxian by the Chinese  experts), the Chinese pilgrim of the early fifth century, speaks of the village of Nalo, the place of birth and death of Sariputra and of a stupa existing there. This place is apparently identical with Nalanda. The great astronomer, Aryabhatta, born at Kusumapura (modern Patna) in AD 476, wrote his famous work Aryabhattiya at the age of 23 and was at Nalanda for a long time. He was the first Indian to recognize the spherical shape of the earth and it revolves around its axis. He gave a value of -------correct to four decimal places and also found the sums of arithmetic and some other series.

Under Harsha

Hiuen Tsang (currently as Xuanzang by Chinese experts) saw here a 24.4m high copper image of the Buddha raised by Purnavarman (early 6th century). The illustrations Harshvardhana of Kanauj (606-647) greatly helped the Nalanda mahavihara. He built a monastery of brass which was under construction when Hiuen Tsang visited the place. Harsha remitted ‘the revenues of about a hundred villages as an endowment of the convent and two hundred householders in these villages contributed the required amount of rice, butter and milk’. The students did not have to beg for the daily food. Harsha highly revered the Nalanda monks and called himself their servant. About a thousand monks of Nalanda were present at the royal congregation at Kanauj.

Hiuen Tsang

Hiuen Tsang set off from China in AD 627 and returned in AD 645. He traveled 10,000 miles and spent about 10 years in India. He was very warmly received at Nalanda and studied with the great philosopher Silabhadra. At that time the University had more than 1,500 teachers to look after and guide10,000 students. The courses of study included the scriptures of the Mahayana and Hinayana (Theravada) schools, the Brahmanical texts such as the Vedas and secular subjects like hetu-vidya(logic), sabda-vidya(grammar), chikitsa-vidya(medicine), sadagama-kala, sculpture, kosa, painting, metallurgy and silpa-sastra. The University had three major libraries: Ratnasagara, Ratnaranjaka, and the nine-storied Ratnodadhi.

Besides recounting a few of the monasteries and temples he saw here, Hiuen Tsang gives a long list of the other monasteries and stupas that he found. He carried 657 sutras back with him and translated many of these from Sanskrit into Chinese. On his return he set up his own, short-lived, school of Buddhist thought.

Nalanda has by now acquired a celebrity spread all over the east as a centre of Buddhist theology and educational activities. Within a short span of thirty tears following Hiuen Tsang’s departure, no less than eleven Chinese and Korean travelers are known to have visited Nalanda.

I-Tsing

I-Tsing (currently spelt as Yijing by the Chinese experts), another famous Chinese pilgrim, reached India in AD 673 and studied at Nalanda for a considerable time. He has recorded very minute details about the life led by the Nalanda monks whose number exceeded 3,000. The curriculum, besides the Buddhist scriptures, included logic, metaphysics and a very extensive study of Sanskrit grammar. The monks observed strict rules of discipline.

Under the Palas

Te Pala emperors held east India from the 8th century to the 12th century Ad and were great patrons of Mahayana Buddhism. They established other monasteries at Vikramasila, Somapura, Odantapura and Jagaddala. They continued to be liberal in their munificence to Nalanda.

Renowned Scholars

After Vasubandhu the high priests of Nalanda in point of chronology were Dingnaga, Dharmapala, Silabhadra, Dharmakirti, Santarakshita and Padmasabhava. Nalanda succeeded in attracting the best Buddhist scholars whose fame spread to distant countries.

End of Nalanda

Buddhism was slowly decaying when Hiuen Tsang visited India. Important centres of early Buddhism were deserted, though some new centres such as Nalanda, Valabhi (in the west) and Kanchi (in the south) has sprung up. After some time Buddhism flourished only in Bihar and Bengal. However, slowly Buddhism came to be strongly imbued with ideas of Tantricism, inculcating belief in the efficacy of charms and spells and involving secret practices and rituals.

The buildings and stupas at Nalanda were destroyed for the first time by the Huna invader, Mihirakula, and , later, among others, by Sasanka, the king of Gauda. The final destruction was caused by Muhammad Bakhtiyar Khalji at the end of the 12th century and the monks fled abroad. The summer of 1235 saw another attack on Nalanda, at that time with only two surviving monasteries inhabited by some seventy monks, including a Tibetan Dharmasvamin who has left an eye witness account of the incident.

According to another Tibetan text, Pag-samjon-Zong, after the raid of the Turks the temples and chaityas were repaired by a sage, Muditabhadra. Soon after this Kukutashidha, minister of the king of Magadh, erected a Buddhist temple at Nalanda. In an incident two indignant Tirthika (Brahmanical) medicants performed a yajna and threw living embers and ashes from the sacrificial pit into the Buddhist temples, etc. This produced a great conflagration which consumed the famous library, Ratnodadhi.

The first European account of the ruins of Nalanda was given by Buchanon-Hamilton who visited the place in the first quarter of the 19th century. But it was only in1860’s that Alexander Cunnigham identified the place with the ancient Nalanda and drew attention of the archaeological world to the importance of this site. After a few years A.M. Broadley carried out some unsystematic excavation in Chaitya Site 12 and published a monograph on the place (1872). The Archaeological Survey of India excavated the site for about twenty years beginning with 1915-16. Still much remains to be excavated. Nalanda is one of the largest archaeological sites in India.

(Mainly based on A.Ghosh’s monograph Nalanda published by the archaeological Survey of India, 1971 edition)

Contemporary Significance

Nalanda represents and symbolizes the highest standards ever achieved in the realm of scholarship, philosophical speculation and spiritual sadhana. Its name is enough to conjure up a glowing image in the hearts of Buddhists, especially followers of the Mahayana tradition. Their leading lineages can be traced to great acharyas associated with the university. They include great masters like Nagarjuna, Padmasambhava, Dharmapala, Maitreya, Asanga, Vasubandhu, Sarahpad. Nalanda remains permanently etched in the India and the Buddhist psyche. The heritage of Nalanda should be recollected and rediscovered for rejuvenation of the traditions of scholarship, dharma and sadhana. It can once again reinforce the religious and spiritual relationship between great countries of Asia.

In the perspective of the above mentioned facts and objectives the conference will deliberate upon the following themes:

  • Rediscovering Nalanda in history and art.
  • Nalanda as a world centre of learning: the system of education and subjects of study.
  • Spiritual lineages of Nalanda: the various schools of Buddhism; the great masters.
  • The Buddhist tantra: tenets, literature and iconography; the 84 siddhas; the earliest poetry in the North Indian Languages(apabhransha)
  • The Nalanda School of Arts and its impact on the Asian pictorial art
  • Hiuen Tsang (Xuanzang), the celebrated pilgrim-scholar of Nalanda.
  • Regeneration of Nalanda: Looking ahead

Organizing Committee

Patrons
H.E. Sardar Buta Singh, Governor of Bihar
H.E. T.N. Chaturvedi, Governor of Karnataka
Chairperson
Ms. Nirmal Deshpande, Eminent Gandhian, Member of Parliament
Vice-Chairperson
Shri Thupustan Chhewang, Member of Parliament
Prof. Pema Gyalpo, Toin university of Yokohoma, Japan
Convener
Ven. Lama Lobzang, President Asoka Mission
Members
Ven. Lochen Rinpoche, Head, Key Monastery, Spiti
Shri P.K. Thungon, Former Chief Minister Arunachal Pradesh
Prof. G.C. Pande
Prof. Nawang Samten, Director, Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, Sarnath
Dr. R. Panth, Director, Nava Nalanda Mahavihara
Prof. Ramesh Chandra Tiwari
Prof. Krishna Nath
Shri P.Namgyal Ajita, Executive Secretary, Won-Buddhism(S.E.Asia)
Coordinator
Shri C.B. Tripathi
Asstt. Coordinator
Ven. Gyeltshen (from Bhutan)
Dates
February 12 to 14 (Sunday to Tuesday), 2006
Venue
Hiuen Tsang Memorial Hall, Nalanda
Official Languages
The official language of the conference will be English. Besides, arrangements will be made for simultaneous translation from Hindi, Chinese and Japanese into English.
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