The first and largest Buddhist Monastery built in India is Nalanda, most popularly acknowledged Mahavihara of ancient India located in ancient Magadha kingdom now its Bihar state. It was a learning centre from 7th century and widely known as one of the early universities of India. Students and scholars from China, Korea, Central Asia and Tibet studies in this Mahavihara, where Mahayana, Hirayana, Sanskrit, Vedas and samkhya used to taught. Gautam Buddha delivered lectures in mango grove called as ‘Pavarika’ and Jain Tirthankar Mahavir also stayed here for many years.
The Nalanda was originally was a village and in 5th century emperor Kumargupta I of Gupta Dynasty laid a foundation stone of Mahavihara. During the Gupta period expansions and development including building new temples and monasteries took place by the reigns of his successors till 12th century. During the post Gupta period emperor Purnavarman continues to build pavilion structures in the campus of about 65 acres. By the time Buddhism were deeply rooted in many parts of Asia and Nalanda spread up like banyan tree.
Hieun Tsang also known as Xuanzang was a Chinese Buddhist monk, scholar, translator and traveller who started the first communication between India – China. He took up education in Buddhist studies, Sanskrit, logic and grammar and later on he was expertise to deliver lectures at Nalanda. He carried 657 Buddhist texts, mostly of Mahayana with him while travelling back to China. Most of the texts were translated by him. Around 15 travellers from China and Korea travelled to Nalanda being inspired from him.
I–tsing was another Chinese Buddhist monk. He spent 10 years in Nalanda and translated about 400 Sanskrit texts in Chinese and bought back with him. The disciplinary lessons given by him mostly focus on the practice of the Buddha religion in India, briefing of the traditions, rules, norms and customs followed by monks of Nalanda. He mentioned about the daily schedule of the monks that included an array of rites meant for all starting from the bathing hour to ablution Lord Buddha to perfoming Chaitya Vandana in evening that included chanting of Shlokas and hymns.
These two were considered to be the first foreign students studied in India.
Nalanda was an architectural miracle of that time; today it is in dilapidated condition with some remaining excavated ruins spread over 12 hectares. Remaining of 10 temples, 8 individual compounds, classrooms, meditation halls, parks and residential schools with dormitories can accommodate more than 2,000 teachers and 10,000 students during its prime. Now, students from far off places including China, Japan, Turkey, Persia, Korea, Tibet and Indonesia attend at Mahavihara. According to Tibetan conventional sources, Nalanda houses a big library called ‘Dharmaganja’ (Piety Mart) that encompassed three multi – storey edifices called ‘Ratnaranjaka’ (Jewel – adorned), ‘Ratnadadhi’ (sea of jewels) and ‘Ratnasagaral’ (ocean of jewels). Collections of the library included religious manuscript and texts on medicines, astronomy, astrology, logic and literature.
In 1200 CE. Nalanda faced declination as Muslim Mamluk Dynasty destroyed it. In 19th century Archaeological Survey of India brought light on to it and excavated 6 brick temples, 11 monasteries. Several antiques including inscriptions, coins, sculptures and seals were found. After a visit you will wondered of this UNESCO World Heritage Site for its magnificent scale.