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Chapter 5: Nalanda University: The View from 1,400 Years Ago

Nalanda Vihara, between 629 and 645 CE: Xuánzàng, a renowned scholar from China, arrived in India. The objective of his historic visit was to learn about the Buddhist principles and doctrines, see India’s famous shrines, and gather sacred texts. He traveled extensively and spent several years at Nalanda University. Xuánzàng was one of many scholars who visited India from around the world, especially China, Indonesia, Korea, Mongolia, Sri Lanka, and Tibet, who were attracted by India’s religious and intellectual advancements and higher education institutions such as Nalanda University.

Nalanda and many of the universities established during these times in India had roots in Buddhism. Yet, it offered opportunities to learn in fields that were comprehensive at the time—Buddhist and Vedic philosophy, logic, grammar, practical sciences, and arts. It was large in scale—1,500 teachers and 3,000 to 10,000 students. Education was holistic and student life was disciplined.

  • Why did scholars from around the world travel to Nalanda?

  • What could India learn from one of the first universities in the world?

In Chapter 5, I address these and related questions. Nalanda University was built over 1,000 years before the first universities in the western world such as Bologna in Italy and University of Oxford in England. Nalanda University attracted scholars from numerous countries and regions. It was famous for its excellence and holistic education. This chapter is drawn from books on ancient India. What can we learn from India’s glorious past? Find out in my book.

(Shail Kumar is the author of Building Golden India: How to unleash India's vast potential and transform its higher education system. Now. To find out more about the author and the book, visit:

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