Archaeological Site of Nalanda Mahavihara (Nalanda University) Gets Inscribed in World Heritage List

Share this News:
“The Excavated Remains at Nalanda” got included in the Tentative List of World Heritage on 09.01.2009. The nomination dossier for ‘Excavated Remains of Nalanda Mahavihara’ was prepared by the ASI and submitted in January 2015 to the World Heritage Committee for the purpose of its inscription in the year 2016 and on 15 July 2016 it has got inscribed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

The “Excavated remains of Nalanda Mahavihara”, the great monastic-cum-scholastic establishment are located around 88 km away from Patna, state capital of Bihar in India. It presents a key archaeological evidence of a truly international centre for organised learning. Nalanda Mahavihara was founded by Kumargupta I of the Gupta dynasty in 5th century CE. It was patronized by various rulers including King Harshavardhana of Kannauj (7th century CE) and the Pala rulers (8th – 12th century CE) as well as various scholars. Later, number of factors spread over centuries caused the decline of this famed institution. The same region, later, saw emergence of a number of reputed educational institutions like Vikramshila and Odantpuri but the eminence of Nalanda remains unrivaled. About six centuries after Nalanda’s decline, the site was first discovered and reported by Sir Francis Buchanan. The site was systematically excavated and consolidated by Archaeological Survey of India from 1915 to 1937 and again from 1974 to 1982.

Nalanda is a rare combination of outstanding achievements in institution-building, site-planning, art and architecture. Nalanda symbolized the multiplicity of knowledge production, the innovative processes of the organized transmission of ideas through education, and a shared heritage of people living in multiple regions of Asia.

Built ensembles in Nalanda are physical manifestation of influence of ancient Indian pedagogy where planning, architecture and artistic traditions of Indian sub-continent and beyond developed into subsequent architectural and artistic prototypes. Nalanda distinguished itself as the earliest planned university of the Indian subcontinent. Thematic and iconographic assimilation of features from major art-centres of the sub-continent with local practices is evident in art of Nalanda. While Nalanda stucco influenced practices in Thailand, its metal art influenced art of the Malayan archipelago, Nepal, Myanmar and Tibet travelling out through scholars.

Nalanda attracted scholars from the Indian subcontinent and beyond and received patronage of local rulers and foreign kings for unbroken period of 800 years. Students were admitted after rigorous evaluation only. Apart from teaching of topics related to Buddhism, contemporary texts and philosophies, logic, grammar, science, and medicine were also part of the knowledge imparted at Nalanda. Earning the title of ‘Medieval School of Discussion and Logic’, Nalanda`s scholars mastered the art and science of debate developing it into a critical tool for higher learning. Today, the continuity of its systems is also evident in contemporary monasteries in Sri Lanka, Tibet and Nepal. In fact, the term Nalanda has become synonymous with aspired standard of education as evidenced in several 21st century namesake institutions all over the world.

All surviving remains of Nalanda Mahavihara in the proposed property area demonstrate amply the attributes of the property such as its planning and layout, its architectural manifestation and extant building materials and applied ornamental embellishments. Preserved in-situ is structural remains of viharas (residential-cum-scholastic structure) and chaityas (temple-like structure) whose layers of construction show evolution of the respective forms. The positioning of these structures over the length of the site shows the planned layout unique to Nalanda. The viharas retain infrastructure for residential-cum-scholastic functions. The quincuxial or five-fold plan-form characteristic of a Nalanda chaitya is evident in the temple within the property. The site also retains a corpus of moveable and immoveable artefacts and artistic embellishment that shows iconographic development reflecting changes in Buddhist belief system. While stucco and engraved art are conserved in-situ, metal and stone objects are exhibited today at the adjoining Site Museum.