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Revival of the ancient Nalanda Mahavihara Library

by Rohan Lalith Jayetilleke, The Island (Sri Lanka), Monday, August 25, 2008

Prince Siddartha, having renounced worldly life at the age of twenty-nine, first walked from Kapilavastu (presently Tilaurakot, 26 km north-east of Lumbini, Nepal) to Rajagaha and wandered through the following places until he reached Buddha Gaya at the age of 35 and attained Enlightenment. This route was Kapilavastu - Koliya kingdom - Malla Kingdom - Anoma river (Habrorah) - Ramagram where the prince directed the horseman Channa to return to the palace with the horse Kanthaka - Lauriya Nandanagar (the Anupiya mango grove where he stayed for some time) - Lauriya Araraj (the ashram of Alara Kamala under whom the prince studied his teachings) - in the vicinity was the ashram of Udaka Ramaputta under whom to the prince studied - Kesaputtagama (Kesariya, where now the tallest stupa in India has been discovered) - Vaishali, the republic of the Licchavis - crossing the Ganges - Magadhadesha - Pataliputra (modern Patna capital of Bihar State) - Rajagaha (Rajgir) - Tapodarama - Gayasirsha - Uruvela Senanigama - Buddha Gaya. The entire walk approximates to 550km (344 miles). Thus returning from Rajgir to Uruvela Senanigama too, the entire period was six years and it is not that the prince engaged himself in self-mortification for six years, as he would have spent around four years studying under Alara Kalama and Udakarama Putta and walking in stages staying at the above places. The self mortification at Uruvela (presently too it resembles a hell, with no water, sandy earth and thousands of ill-nourished, sick, physically disabled people swarming around pilgrims for a few coins, and the people as black in complexion as coal) would have been roughly about a month.

Nalanda is one place where the prince stayed. In the final stages at the age of 80, the Buddha walked from Rajagaha to Kusinara for the Mahaparinibbana – a distance of nearly 500 km (310 miles) taking one year, and staying at the following places en route: Gijjakuta Rajgir - Rajgir Amrapali mango grove - Nalanda Pavarika mango grove - Pataliputra - crossing Ganges - Kotigrama - Gnatigrama - Vaishali Ambapali mango grove - Beluvagama (last rains' retreat - vas) - Bhandhagama - Hattigama - Ambagama - Jambugama - Bhoganagar (Ananda-cetiya) - Pava - Crossing Kukutha river - crossing Hiranya river - Kussinara. Thus He stayed at Nalanda too which was an extensive mango grove. Nalanda was thus graced by prince Siddhartha as well as by the Buddha after the Enlightenment and became one of the most revered centres of Buddhism.

In view of the association of Nalanda with the Buddha, a well organized vihara at Nalanda came to be established in the 5th century. AD before the visit of Chinese pilgrim monk Fa-Hien of the 5th century AD and this Mahavihara in the form of a university flourished from 45 - AD to 1100 AD This university of Nalanda had around 15000 monks studying both Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism with around 1500 monk teachers. This university had many storied library buildings Dharmaganj, Ratnasagara (Ocean of Jewels), Ratnadadhi (Sea of Jewels) and Ratnayaranjaka ( Jewel-adorned). In addition to the study of different schools of Buddhism the syllabi included Vedas, Hetuvidya, Sabdavidya (phonotics), Citiksavidya (surgery), Atharavidya and Sankhy (mathematics. Muhammad of Afghanistan invaded India 17 times in 1191 AD and destroyed all the Buddhist monasteries and Hindu shrines in Varanasi, Sarantha, and carried away cart loads of gems and jewellry and this destruction was carried out in other Buddhist sites too. Mohammad Dhilji with his marauding troops invaded Nalanda, put to the sword 1500 monk students and 1500 monk teachers and set ablaze all the buildings and libraries, which were the legacies of Buddhist India. The ashes of the granaries are now in deposit in the Archeological Survey Museum at Kolkata.

Presently, the Nava Nalanda Mahavihara funded by the State Government of Bihar and established at the instance of Ven. Bhikkhu Jagdish Kashyap of West Bengal in 1951, taken over by the Department of Culture, Ministry of Human Resources Development, central government of India, as the Indian Constitution makes it mandatory that all historical sites of India numbering around 7770 shall be the property of the central government and the Archeological Survey of India is the nodal agency for their excavation, restoration, documentation etc., (Unlike in Sri Lanka, where there is no such constitutional provisions and the subject of Archaeology is dichotomized into the Department of Archaeology and Central Cultural Fund) All administration costs are borne by the State Government of Bihar. This Nava Nalanda Vihara was declared a deemed University by the University Grants Commission on November 13th 2006.

The Nalanda Mahavihara Library is now being revived, on the model of the reconstruction of the Bibliotheca Alexndria, Egypt, by the Chief Minister of Bihar Sri Nitish Kumar, as this library was in existence in the 4th century B.C. Alexandria had papyrus libraries as far back as 3200 B.C. The Bibliothea Nalanda Mahavihara, a New Libaray at Nalanda, may be dedicated to recapture the spirit of the original library. It would aspire to be the world's window on India, India's window on the world, a leading institution of the digital age, and especially, a centre for learning, compassion, dialogues, harmony, loving-kindness, mutual understanding and tolerance - the sublime concepts introduced to the world by India's greatest son, Gautama the Buddha.

The proposed complex is much more than a library. It would comprise of:

1. A Digital Library which would hold millions of books/Ratnasagara.
2. A Centre For Inter-Connectivity and Internet Archives.
3. Nine research Institutes covering (i) Pali and Buddhist studies; (ii) Manuscripts, (iii) Documentation of Indian Heritage and Legacies, (iv) Calligraphy and Writing, (v) Library and Information Science, (vi) Indian Ocean Studies, (vii) Humanities, (viii) Scientific Research and (ix) Medical Research.
4. Seven Specialized Libraries for (i) Audio-visual materials, (ii)the Visually impaired, (iii) Physically handicapped, other than blind, with the help of mobile vans, (iv) Children's (v) Young People's, (vii) Rare books and social collections, (viii) Medical. Of these, numbers (i) to (iii) would be grouped under the Ratnadadhi and Numbers (iv) to (vii) would be under Ratnanjaka.
5. A Planetarium.
6. Five Museums for (a) Antiquities (b) Manuscripts, (c) History of Science and technology (d) History of Indian Medicine, (history of Indian civilisation and cultures).
7. A centre for children's exposure to humanities and sciences.
8. Three Permanent Exhibition Halls.
9. Five Art-galleries for temporary exhibitions.
10. A Conference Hall for thousands of persons.
11. A Dissuasion Forum.
12. Restoration Laboratory for rare manuscripts.
13. One Language Laboratory
14. Reproduction and Printing Section.
15. Three four-storied hostels for students.
16. Three, three-storied Guest Houses for Teachers and researchers.
17. One two-storied Residence of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and
18. Five four-storied buildings to be used by the staff.

The estimated expenditure of this great project before its formal inauguration would be approximately Rs. 300 croes (Indian rupees) excluding consultant fees, travelling expenses and cost of land at Nalanda. The construction cost of the proposed Bibliotheca at the Nalanda Mahavihara Complex would be around Rs. 150 croes and the cost of purchasing books as well as periodicals and the cost of equipment would be Rs. 150 croes, each item costing Rs. 75 croes. The tentative details for completion of the project are as follows: L. Total site area required at Nalanda 5 sq miles. 2. Number of floors of the library 15, 3. Total library floor area, 50,000 sq feet per floor. 4. Number of seats for users 3,000. 5. Number of printed volumes 3 -9 millions. 6. Number of manuscripts including rare ms, 50,000. 7. Number of rare and out-of-print volumes 50,000. 8. Number of Electronic materials, 300 CD - ROM and DVD-ROM titles 9. Number of electronic applications 25. 10. Number of Audio-Visual materials 50,000 11. Strength of staff 500.

One may take an Indian to any part of the world, but no power on earth, can take the Indianess out of the Indian. This is so not only with the Indians in India, but with the Indian Diaspora of 26 million around the world. This writer too being a descendant of Malawa Vaishya-settis (merchants/bankers) of Madhya Pradesh India, rooted now in Sri Lanka thought, the Indianness in him lives in him running from one generation to another. If one visits India, please look at the sides of the huge trucks that transport merchandise across the country, approximately 9 million such trucks operate daily in India, you would see a painting of the Indian Tri-colour flag full mast and written above and below it in Hindi and English - INDIA IS GREAT - I LOVE INDIA. In this mindset, the New Nalanda Library would preserve the legacy of the ancient library and Mahavihara of Nalanda of the 4th or 5th centuries AD, the epicentre of the entire East then, and retain the former sectional names, namely, Dharmaganj (Mart of Religion, the entire new library complex - Ratnasagara (Ocean of Jewels) - New main library building - Ratnadahi (Sea of Jewels - a subsidiary library) Ratnaranjaka (Jewel-adorned - another subsidiary Library.

It is time Sri Lanka too revived the ancient Mahavihara at Anuradhapura set up by Arahant Mahinda in the 3rd century BC, which was the first monastic Buddhist university in the world.

source: http://www.island.lk/2008/08/25/features4.html

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Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Sammāsambuddhassa.
Buddha sāsana.m cira.m ti.t.thatu.