Ancient Universities Of India – As the saying goes, “Education is the powerful weapon which can change the world” and in this transforming world, education is gathering more significance each passing day. Education has always played a prominent role in Indian society since the Vedic times, with profound Ashrams, Ancient universities and Gurukuls constructed from time-to-time. Since time, it has proved to be the home to some of the eminent universities in the world.
Ancient Universities Of India
With the advance of Buddhism in India, there emerged numerous centers of learning. Buddhist monks lead a life of educating, preaching and inculcating the Dharma. These monastic learning eventually developed into some full-fledged universities. As a result, Ancient India comprised of some major universities and a huge number of learning centers which foreseen wide fame. These were:
As early as 700 B.C., there prevailed a great University at Takshashila (Taxila), situated in the northwest region of India (present day Pakistan).
It is the most prominent centres for learning also one of the best universities in the world. This institute has consisted within the panel, such as Charaka, Chanakya, Jivaka, Panini, and Vishnu Sharma. The university proffered a wide range of courses and included 68 subjects including archery, agriculture, astronomy, Ayurveda, commerce, cryptography, dance, documentation, futurology, Grammar, mathematical sciences, medicine, music, mystical sciences, Philosophy, politics, surgery, Vedas, warfare, and other performing arts, etc. Minimum entry age was 16. At the time, 10,500 students studied there, including those from China, Babylon, Syria and Greece.
Alexander took many scholars from Takshashila with him to Greece.
As Takshashila was situated near the north-west frontier of India, it had to face the brunt of attacks and invasions. The Persians, the Greeks, the Parthians, the Shakas and the Kushanas all left their destructive marks on the university. The final blow, however, came from the Huns who razed the university in 450 A.D.
Nalanda is an ancient center of higher learning established in the 5th century AD in Bihar, India. It flourished for over 8 centuries from 500 to 1300 AD. It was the period when its operational functionalities attained a great fame. Nalanda university occupied an area of 30 acres and possess 300 lecture halls with stone seating benches; libraries, observatory laboratories and other facilities. The entrance examination was tough to pass with a rate of 3 out of 10 pupils. Despite the hindrance, the university prospered with 10,000 students and 200 professors and survived until 1197.
Courses were drawn from every field of learning. Students studied astronomy, foreign philosophy, medicine, metaphysics, philosophy, Samkhya, science, Veda, Yoga-shastra, and the scriptures of Buddhism. The place possess 10 temples, meditation centers, lakes, and parks. It had constructed dormitories providing accommodations for almost 10,000 students and about 3,000 professors. This university attracted pupils from almost all east-asian countries like Indonesia, China, Japan, Korea, Persia, Tibet and Turkey.
The library of the university is termed as Dharma Gunj (Mountain of Truth) which incorporated most of Buddhist knowledge in the world at that time. The collection was so huge and extensive that it took almost three months to gain back normal when set aflame by invaders. The most destructive attack came by the Muslim army led by the Turkish leader Bakhtiyar Khilji in 1193.
Now it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 2010, the Indian parliament passed a bill sanctioning the plans to restore the University as modern Nalanda International University exclusively for post-graduate research. Responding to the bill, many east-asian countries like China, Japan and Singapore have extended their hands to fund this modern structure.
Vickramasila is said to have been located in the Bhagalpur district of modern day Bihar. It was founded by a monk Kamapala and prospered for over 400 years till 12th century in response to a supposed decline in the quality of scholarship at Nalanda. It possess over 1000 students and 160 teachers within the premises.
The centre of the university had a large lecture-hall named “Vidyagriha”. There were six gateways with “Dvara Panditas” to the building and near each entrance was a monastery housing almost 150 monks in each. The university maintained very high standards. This learning center engaged 108 Professors in teaching as well as operating administrative duties. Dipankara Sri Gnana (also known as Atisha) was one of the eminent scholars of Vickramasila and the university attained highest water mark of prosperty under him. The alumni of the university were profound scholars who were often got invitation from various foreign countries to preach Buddhist culture, and learning. Curriculum incorporated grammar, Indian logic, metaphysics, and philosophy, etc, but the prominent branch included Tantrism.
It was demolished by the warfare of Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khilji around 12th century.
Valabhi University was established in around the 6th century in modern Gujarat and flourished for almost 600 years till 12th century. The elders Gunamoti and Sthiramati are the two famous Buddhist scholars prevailed as the teachers at this University. They are said to be the founders of Vallabhi.
I-Tsing records that foreign students were found at Vallabhi who arrived from many lands far and near. The university had a large library. The course of studies included secular subjects, comparative Religion. The Six systems of Hindu Philosophy, Agriculture, Economics, Buddhism, Law, Politics, also formed a part of the curriculum. There are about 100 shrines and about 6,000 resident monks studying at Vallabhi. Graduates of this University prevailed in higher executive posts under the Kings of region at those times.
It met the same fate as other Universities at the hands of the Muslim invaders.
Pushpagiri University was founded in 3rd century and flourished till 11th century and was spread across Jajpur and Cuttack districts of Orissa. The university campus was expanded across 3 neighbouring hills – Lalitgiri, Ratnagiri and Udayagiri. Recently few pictures of Emperor Ashoka have been founded here, suggesting that the University was founded by him.
The university campus held high several monasteries, sculptures, stupas, temples in the architectural style of the Gupta period. Puspagiri university ruins were discovered in 1995, and the work is now being carried out by the ASI.
Odantapuri University was founded by Dharmapala during late 8th century in Magadha, Bihar. It remained in existence for almost four centuries and served as the ultimate center for Buddhist teachings. The well-known Acharya Sri Ganga, an alumni of Odantapuri University served as a professor at the Vikramashila University. The Tibetan records show that there were about 12,000 students studying at this University. It primarily propagated Buddhist learning and teachings.
This university too faded at the hands of the Muslim invaders. In 1193 AD when Notorious Muslim Turkish invader Bhakhtiyar Khilji found this university, he mistakenly believed it as a fortress due to its long walls and ordered his army to destroy it.
Somapura University was established by Dharmapala during late 8th century in Bengal and flourished for four centuries. The University area was spread over 27 acres of land and served as a primary center of learning for Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism. The present day ornamental terracotta found on the outer walls of the university depict the influence of these traditions.
It incorporated almost 177 cells for monks in addition to the image houses. A typical refectory and a kitchen were founded among the ruins, along with a three-strayed building. It was demolished later by the Muslim invasion.
King Ramapala is the founder of Jagaddala University. It’s construction works were undertaken by the rulers belonging to Pala dynasty. This learning center highlighted Tantric Buddhism and observed the traditions and practices of Nalanda. Many manuscripts were interpreted to the Tibetan language at Jagaddala. The well-known Buddhist professor Sakya Sri Bhadra, after prospering studies in Nalanda, Vickramsila, and Odantapuri, later joined Jagaddala due to Muslim invasions. However, Jaggadala university too had to face the destructions by the Muslim invaders in 1027.
Demolition of Ancient Universities in INDIA
As one can notice, all the above-mentioned universities came to an end at around 12th century mostly during the Muslim invasion by Bakhtiyar Khilji from Turkey in 1193 CE. The professors were beheaded and killed whereas the library manuscripts were burnt by the soldiers. The demolition of these centers and other places across northern India laid responsibility for the decease of ancient Indian scientific thoughts on various subjects.
Thus it would be seen that Buddhism rendered yeomen services in the field of learning and culture throughout its prosperous period in India. However, the misdeeds of invaders proved to be the last nail in the coffin for the glorious universities of ancient India.