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Nalanda University: The First International University and the Tragedy of Lost Knowledge


In the annals of history, one name stands out as the world’s first International University – Nalanda. Imagine, 1500 years ago, when the concept of international education was still in its infancy, Nalanda was a shining beacon of knowledge.

Nalanda university

Hi there, I’m your guide, and today we’re embarking on a journey to explore Nalanda, one of the oldest universities in the world. 

Nalanda University – A Glimpse into History

Nalanda University often hailed as the world’s first International University, was a hub of enlightenment founded 1500 years ago. Its name, originating from the Sanskrit words “Nava Alam Da,” meaning “No stopping the gift of knowledge,” perfectly encapsulates its essence. 

Nalanda university

At its zenith, Nalanda hosted over 10,000 students and scholars from diverse corners of the world. What’s astonishing is that these eager learners didn’t bear the burden of tuition fees; instead, benevolent local kings shouldered their educational and living expenses.

The Role of Education in Ancient India

Education was the lifeblood of ancient India, and it flowed richly through Nalanda. Local rulers of the time recognized that education was the bedrock of societal progress. Nalanda’s inception wasn’t merely about brick and mortar; it represented the core values of a civilization that revered learning. The university was a crucible for shaping the minds of those who would later influence the course of history.

Nalanda university

Next, we will delve into the very purpose of Nalanda and the sorrowful event that led to its destruction.

Nalanda’s Purpose and Destruction

Nalanda wasn’t just a centre for academic pursuit; it was a sacred ground for meditation and the preservation of knowledge. Its solemn purpose was to nurture the intellect, nurture wisdom, and store the wealth of human understanding. Yet, a dark chapter looms over its history. 

In 1193 CE, Nalanda University, a leading centre of Buddhist learning, was destroyed by Bakhtiyar Khilji. The fire burned for over three months, destroying the university’s vast library and its collection of irreplaceable manuscripts. This was a major setback for the spread of Buddhism in India and a major loss for the world’s heritage.

Nalanda university

The consequences of this calamity extended far beyond India’s borders. The world lost an irreplaceable repository of knowledge. The library, often referred to as Dharmakosh or the mountain of knowledge held hundreds of thousands of handwritten books. 

These priceless manuscripts covered a wide range of subjects, including religion, literature, astrology, astronomy, medicine, and more. When the library was set ablaze, it burned for over three months. This was long before the printing press was invented, and these books had no duplicates elsewhere on Earth. 

Nalanda university

The destruction of Nalanda was nothing short of a tragedy, a deliberate act to suppress the knowledge it held. In the next section, we will explore the implications of losing such a treasure trove of wisdom.

The Loss of Knowledge and Ideological Suppression

The loss of Nalanda was a catastrophic blow, not only to India but to the entire world. It’s a stark reminder of the impact one act of destruction can have on the collective wisdom of humanity. 

The burning of Nalanda wasn’t just a fire; it was a suppression of ideas and an attempt to erase history. It’s a reflection of the age-old adage: “Knowledge is power.”

Nalanda university

Consider this: imagine writing a book, and you’re the only author, and you burn that book with no copies in existence. What kind of person would destroy nine million books? It’s a question that echoes through history. The destruction of Nalanda was the destruction of knowledge, observations, and the cultural heritage of a civilization.

The tragic part is that the records of Nalanda’s greatness are found in the extensive writings of Chinese monks who journeyed here for education. Even today, after decades of excavations, only a fraction of the university has been uncovered, revealing just how immense the loss truly was.

In the next section, we’ll explore the cultural respect for knowledge and how it’s still relevant in our modern times.

Respecting Knowledge in Modern Times

The tragedy of Nalanda serves as a powerful reminder of the deep-rooted respect for knowledge in Indian culture. Even today, when we study, we use pencils instead of pens to underline, showing a level of respect for our books. 

When we finish a book, we don’t discard it; we pass it on to someone who can benefit from its wisdom. This cultural respect for knowledge has been passed down through generations.

Nalanda university

What happened at Nalanda was deeply disheartening. The loss of knowledge at such a grand scale was a tragedy not just for a single nation, but for all of humanity. It’s a testament to the importance of cherishing and preserving knowledge, not only for our generation but for the generations to come.

Nalanda University and its library held a vast wealth of information. It was an embodiment of India’s ancient knowledge in fields like medicine, astronomy, literature, religion, and much more. The destruction of Nalanda was not just the loss of books; it was the obliteration of a cultural treasure.

Nalanda university

In the next section, we’ll explore the resurgence of this ancient knowledge and the significance of its revival.

Rediscovering Nalanda’s Legacy

While the destruction of Nalanda was an irreplaceable loss, what’s heartening to know is that remnants of its legacy continue to resurface. The surviving records of Chinese monks who ventured to Nalanda for education serve as invaluable sources of information about the university.

In recent decades, extensive excavations have been undertaken, revealing just a fraction of Nalanda’s grandeur. This ongoing quest to rediscover Nalanda’s heritage reminds us of the importance of preserving our historical treasures.

Nalanda university

The story of Nalanda, with its rise, fall, and now resurgence, embodies the resilience of knowledge. It’s a testament to the enduring human spirit that seeks to revive and reclaim its intellectual heritage.

In the next section, we’ll explore how the respect for knowledge, deeply rooted in Indian culture, is making a resurgence.

The Resurgence of Ancient Indian Knowledge

Nalanda’s legacy isn’t confined to history books alone; it’s experiencing a revival in the modern world. India is witnessing a resurgence of its ancient knowledge, and the ripple effects are felt globally. The treasure trove of wisdom that Nalanda once represented is slowly making a comeback.

Today, whether it’s Indians taking control of knowledge or the revival of ancient Indian wisdom, we are witnessing a remarkable renaissance. The knowledge that was once great and profound is regaining its significance.

Nalanda university

This resurgence isn’t limited to any single field but spans various areas, from philosophy and medicine to yoga and meditation. It’s a rekindling of the torch of wisdom that was temporarily extinguished but has now been reignited.

Knowledge, they say, is timeless, and Nalanda’s story exemplifies this. The past is becoming the present, as ancient Indian knowledge finds its place in the contemporary world.

In the final section, we’ll summarize the importance of Nalanda in the grand tapestry of history.


In the heart of India, Nalanda University stands as a symbol of both the heights of human achievement and the depths of tragedy. This ancient institution, the first International University in the world, was a beacon of knowledge and enlightenment. Its very name, “Nalanda,” means “No stopping the gift of knowledge,” and indeed, knowledge knows no boundaries.

We’ve journeyed through the corridors of history, exploring the vibrant past of Nalanda, the importance of education in ancient India, and the tragic destruction that sought to extinguish the flame of knowledge. 

The burning of Nalanda’s library, a mountain of knowledge in its own right, remains a stark reminder of the perils of suppressing knowledge.

But even in the face of such loss, Nalanda’s legacy endures. The resilience of the human spirit and the enduring respect for knowledge are guiding us on a path of revival. Ancient Indian wisdom, once profound and great, is making a remarkable comeback, rekindling the flames of enlightenment.

As we reflect on Nalanda’s journey, we’re reminded that knowledge is a timeless entity, capable of withstanding the ravages of time. Nalanda’s story is a testament to the enduring human quest for knowledge, a pursuit that transcends boundaries and centuries.

Let Nalanda’s legacy inspire us to cherish and preserve knowledge for generations to come. As we navigate the present and envision the future, we must remember the profound wisdom held within the pages of history.

Thank you for joining us on this journey through the corridors of Nalanda, a place where knowledge once thrived, and where it continues to inspire us today.


1. What is Nalanda University?

– Nalanda University is one of the oldest known universities in the world, dating back 1500 years.

2. Why is Nalanda famous?

– Nalanda is famous for being the world’s first International University and a hub of ancient knowledge.

3. What does “Nalanda” mean?

– “Nalanda” originates from “Nava Alam Da,” which means “No stopping the gift of knowledge” in Sanskrit.

4. How many students studied at Nalanda?

– Nalanda hosted over 10,000 students and scholars from around the world.

5. Did students have to pay fees at Nalanda?

– No, students at Nalanda did not have to pay any tuition fees; their education and expenses were supported by local kings.

6. Why was Nalanda destroyed?

– Nalanda was destroyed in the 12th century by Bakhtiyar Khilji, who sought to suppress Buddhism and obliterate knowledge.

7. What was the Nalanda library like?

– Nalanda’s library, called Dharmakosh, was a vast collection of handwritten books, burning for over three months when set on fire.

8. Why is Nalanda’s destruction considered a tragedy?

– The destruction of Nalanda resulted in the loss of a vast repository of knowledge, impacting not only India but the entire world.

9. Is Nalanda still being excavated today?

– Yes, extensive excavations continue, with only a fraction of the university uncovered so far.

10. Is Nalanda’s legacy making a comeback?

– Yes, ancient Indian knowledge associated with Nalanda is experiencing a resurgence in the modern world.

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