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History of Nalanda University
Nalanda near Patna grew to be the foremost Buddhist monastery and educational centre in the north. Most of the information that is available about Nalanda University during the 6th and 7th centuries A.D. is due to the accounts left by the Chinese pilgrims, Hiuen-Tsang who lived here for three years in the first half of the 7th century and I-Tsing who stayed here for ten years towards the later part of the same century. From Chinese accounts, it is evident that about one thousand and five hundred teachers and ten thousand monk students lived in Nalanda. However, at the time of I-Tsing, the numerical strength of students studying at the University was about three thousand. Nalanda attracted students from places as distant as China and South-east Asia. The excavations at Nalanda have revealed a large area of well-constructed monasteries and temples. Nalanda was supported by the income from a number of villages which the monastery acquired over the years through donations. These villages and estates covered the expenses of the University, which was thus able to provide free educational facilities and residence to most of its teachers and students.
Admission to studentship in the University was extremely strict. Intending students came from all parts of India and even beyond. They were lodged in a Guest House and some learned professors, who acted as Great Scholars, entered into conversation with them and closely observed their mental qualities, conduct and mode of life for many days, where-after the selection was made. All academic activities as well as the lives of the inmates were regulated by very strict rules of discipline and with due regard to punctuality, the time being announced at regular intervals from a water clock. Out of the total number of 10,000 resident monks at Nalanda, 8500 were students and 1500 belonged to the ranks of teachers. Of these, there were 1000 teachers who could explain twenty collections of Sutras, 500 teachers specialized in thirty collections, and perhaps, 10 in fifty collections. In Hiuen-Tsang's time, monk Shilabhadra was the Rector of the University. Before him, monk Dharmapala of Kanchi was the Rector as well as a teacher of Shilabhadra also. Hiuen- Tsang was the pupil of Shilabhadra. After Shilabhadra, monk Dharmakirti became the Rector.
The teaching was carried on in hundreds of lectures to large and small groups or classes, from morning till sunset. The Seminar system of questions and discussions was adopted by the teachers. The courses of study offered by Nalanda University covered a wide range of subjects, almost the entire circle of knowledge then available. They were drawn from different fields of learning, Brahmanical and Buddhist, sacred and secular, philosophical and practical, science and arts etc. However, great emphasis at Nalanda was given to Mahayana learning (the Great Vehicle), along with the study of 18 sects, the Vedas and other books, the Hetuvidya, Sabdavidya, the Chikitsavidya, the words on Magic or Atharvaveda, the Samkhya, and the Sanskrit Grammar etc. After the study was over, the award ceremony was solemnized and degrees were awarded to students, taking into account their merit and social status.
Information on the Nalanda University Library is given in Tibetan accounts from which we understand that the library, situated in a special area known as Dharmagana, comprised three huge buildings called Ratnasagara, Ratnadadhi and Ratnaranjaka. Of these, Ratnasagara was a nine-storeyed building, which housed the collection of manuscripts and rare sacred works, like Prajnaparamita Sutra etc. In 1197-1203 A.D., Bukhtiyar Khilji destroyed Nalanda and set fire to the establishment.