History tells us that successive Gupta kings constructed additional Viharas which eventually led to the establishment of the Mahavihara. Tibetan historical accounts of Taranatha indicate that Nalanda came into existence at the beginning of the Christian era with the background of the rise of Mahayana Buddhism. He accredited Nagarjuna ( 1st/2nd century A.D.), with having first propounded the Madhyamika School of Mahayana Philosophy, as its first Acarya and listed all the prominent Acaryas of later times who resided in the Mahavihara. The Chinese traveller Xuanzang also suggests a date which may be pushed back to the 1st century AD. In the 7th century A.D. he said that no monk from the Sangharama has been found guilty of breaking rule for the last seven hundred years.
After the Gupta kings. The Mahavihara never suffered for want of royal assistance. The next important royal patron was the king of Kannauj. During his time, the Mahavihara was at the apex of its development and was considered to be a model academic institution whose reputation spread far and wide in the East and Far East. It was during Harsa's reign that the famous Chinese traveller Xuanzang came to Nalanda to study. The cultural legacy of Nalanda was finally taken over by the Pala kings who promoted it for several centuries. The contributions of the Pala Kings to the Mahavihara are preserved in its ruins most of which date back to the Pala period (810-850 A.D.). The conception of Mahavihara-bhikshu-sanghasya perhaps developed during this period for the earlier Chinese travellers Xuanzang and I-tsing use the term Sangharama. Besides the Mahavihara of Nalanda, some other establishments that flourished during the Pala period also refer to the phraseology indicating the name. Xuanzang and I-tsing provide the details of the infrastructure of the Mahavihara. Xuanzang speaks of 10,000 students and I-tsing of 3000. Students were selected after strict entrance test and the scrutiny was conducted by the guardians of the gates (dvarapala). Courses of study was drawn from all fields of knowledge; Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism and Brahmanism, sacred and secular, philosophical and practical. The study of philosophy took precedence. but logic, grammar. Astronomy and 'medicines were also taught.
The contribution of the Mahavihara to the development of Buddhist learning, particularly to its idealistic philosophy was well recognized. Silabhadra, who is reported to have been the only one having mastery over the Sutras, instructed Xuanzang in the intricacies of idealistic philosophy and the latter in turn founded a new school of it after his return to China. Nalanda was also a centre of Buddhist Logic. Dignnaga, the father of Buddhist logic, was an acarya here. He was followed by Dharmakirti who further developed logic. Prajanakaramitra of the Pala period was another luminary in this field.
The Mahavihara also became a centre of esoteric Buddhism. and its contribution to the spread of Buddhism abroad, particularly in Tibet, forms a golden chapter of its history. Shantaraksita was first invited to Tibet by the king Thri-song. On his recommendation, the Tibetan king invited Padmasambhava of the Nalanda Mahavihara who converted Tibet in to the Tantric form of Buddhism and came to be deified as the Guru (Lama). Shantaraksita preached there the doctrinal aspects of Buddhism.
Book's Contents and Sample Pages
Language & Literature (451)
Sacred Sites (105)
Tantric Buddhism (86)
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