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Wednesday / March 29.

‘THE REVIVAL OF NALANDA UNIVERSITY’ Could it represent a giant leap forward for India’s higher education and cultural power?

By Mehul Shinde

Edited by Shambhavi Singh, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist

One of India’s most famous universities from ancient times re-opened after a hiatus of over 800 years without much fanfare. Even the overzealous media’s response to it was lukewarm. No wonder our ‘sense of history ‘ is always questioned. In present the competitive world, geo-political and economic power is chiefly sought after. But amidst this, the importance of cultural power cannot be undermined. It is an irony that India, the birthplace of civilization, does not have a single university featuring in the Top 100 list. Nalanda University in ancient times represented India’s golden age of science and culture. Will it be able to live up to the reputation?

Nalanda -which literally means ‘The giver of knowledge’ was founded in 435CE by the Gupta dynasty king Kumaragupta-I. It was world’s oldest residential university and most prestigious for close to 800 years. Strength of Nalanda’s course of studies was the ecumenical approach to knowledge. It was basically a Buddhist center for study and contemplation. But it also served the greater educational needs by providing basic education in grammar, poetics, logic and epistemology, medicine, arts, religious and political philosophy. It had a faculty and student body in excess of 10,000. Its reputation was so great that it attracted students from Tibet, China, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka. The famous Chinese pilgrims Hieun Tsang and Fi Han were distinguished students of this university. Hieun Tsang has left a detailed description of the excellence of education system and purity of monastic life practiced here, and also about the ambience and architecture of this unique university. Could the modern version of Nalanda live up to the expectations?

From the profound ethical teachings of Buddha, a great philosophical and theological system was created at Nalanda. The re-opened university’s goal is to revive this spirit and the spirit of the cosmopolitan. The Indian government along with 18 other countries initiated its establishment in 2008. It has been designated as ‘an institution of national importance’. Its vision is to create an international university with broad curriculum. But lack of funding, slow bureaucracy, and sloppy publicity has marred it. At the time of its opening, only15 students were enrolled.

Its foundational philosophy seeks to recover the lost connections and partnerships that existed in India before the onset of historical forces that led to their dissolution. Ancient Nalanda University was ransacked and destroyed by an army of Bakhtiyar Khalji in 1193CE. With a stable government in Delhi, India needs to realign its domestic and foreign policies with its socio economic and cultural goals. Asian cultures have deep rooted links which are reflected in many cultural features. It is a good opportunity to establish Asian unity as a new power bloc in world politics. Such cultural and educational initiatives can become an important pillar of India’s soft power diplomacy.

To achieve this, minimum we can expect from the government is that it lays down proper roadmap so that red tape and financial constraints do not become present times Bakhtiyar Khalji. India needs to endorse Nalanda University with an aggressive approach.

Hopes and expectations nationwide match with the lines mentioned on the university’s website :

“Nalanda university is envisaged as the icon of the new Asian renaissance, a creative space that will be for future generations a center of inter-civilization dialogue”