Lost ancient educational institutions of India - a poignant story

Since the time of  Vedic civilization, education has been given an important place in ancient India. Gurukulams and ashrams were  common centers of learning with limited students. Both of them were a sort of residential centers of knowledge where the students were provided with free boarding and lodging facilities. In the case of Gurukulam, much emphasis was given to "one to one" basis of learning. This way there evolved a close relationship between Guru(Teacher) and Vidhyarthi(student). The teacher had limited students and there was plenty of scope for self-improvement as well as knowledge. Each Gurukulam was a close-knit family. Besides learning there was enough time for other activities as well. All students were required to get up in the early morning and finish their morning ablutions on time before classes which would begin with a prayer to God.

                       The ruins of Nalanda.Mahavihara.Nalanda.en.wikipedia.org

In the case of ashrams, the teachers imparted advanced knowledge in specific fields to students. Part of study included spiritual learning, yoga and meditation.

A strong and disciplined mind and body, it was thought, would promote better learning skill and  knowledge with a spirit of emulation - essential for upward growth. 

There were many ancient universities in India and among them Nalanda and Takshashila were well-known educational institutions. Unfortunately, they and other famous heritage monuments were erased from this land with just traces of evidence through vagariess of time and man's innate urge for wanton destruction and plundering.

Oldest University:  Nalanda  university, established by Sakraditya of Gupta Dynasty in present-day Bihar in the early 5th century, was the first  fully functional ancient  educational university to impart knowledge to the students using  well structured and planned syllabus and presenting them in an orderly, cogent way so that the knowledge gained at the institution could be applied later in real life situation. Nalanda was the world's first university to have residential quarters for teachers and dorms for students and international students. At its peak, the school had scholars and students from far off places such as  Tibet, China, Korea, and It had the largest library in the world having thousands of volumes of  valuable manuscripts covering various fields. Nalanda also flourished under the patronage of  emperors like Harsha and later, the rulers of the Pala Empire.

In 2010 the Indian Government passed a bill approving plans to restore this university and make it an international modern institution.

World's first university at Takshashila(Taxila) in 700 BC:  Remarkably there were 10,000 students and 2000 teachers, according to Hsuan Tsang, the famous Chinese traveler and scholar. Takshashila had "intellectual dominance over other contemporary universities in the areas of higher learning. Students' entrance age was sixteen.Sixty different subjects including the ''Vedas'', the ancient and the most revered Hindu scriptures, and the Eighteen Silpas or Arts, besides 16 other subjects in arts and science including medicine, astronomy & archery were taught. Panini(the ancient grammarian who set the rules that would define Classical Sanskrit), Chanakya (also known as Kautilya, the strategist who guided Chandragupta Maurya and was responsible in the founding of the Mauryan empire),Charaka(Ayurvedic expert),Vishnu Sharma and a galaxy of learned scholars of eminence  were well-known and proud alumni.The institution was known for Buddhist tradition of the Mahāyāna branch. 

The other ancient universities were Vikramashila, Vallabhai established with similar vision. In all these institutions  emphasis was given to artistic expression and sophistication, strong intellectual, ethical  and moral values which were set to serve as models for the future generations to emulate.

Because of the excellence of the learned teachers there, all recognized as authorities on their respective fields and the high standard of education imparted there students came to Takshashila from far-off places such as Kashi, Kosala and Magadha, despite the long and arduous journey they had to undergo to get there.They felt such a journey was worth undertaking to gain knowledge and wisdom.

Vikramashila University (8th C to 12 th C):  Founded by Dharmapala of Pala dynasty in the Bhagalpur district of modern day Bihar. It flourished for 400 years till 12th century. There were 100 teachers and over 1000 students at this University. It  was well known for its specialized training on the subject of Tantra (Tantrism. Famous alumnus was Atiśa Dipankara, a founder of the Sharma traditions of Tibetan Buddhism who also revived the Buddhism in Tibet.

Valabhi University:  Flourished for 600 years from 6th to 12 centuries, this institution was located in Saurashtra peninsula in Gujarat, in western India, near Bhavnagar. Also known as Vallabhipura, it was the capital of the ancient Maitraka dynasty  descending from general Bhatarka, a military governor of the Saurashtra peninsula at the time of Gupta ruler Skandagupta (455-467), had ruled the peninsula and parts of southern Rajasthan from Vallabhi from the fifth to the eighth centuries.and known to impart  high quality education. Vallabhi was a noted center of Jains as well as Buddhists.

Pushpagiri University (2rd to 11th Century):  Puphagiri ranks as one of the primary institutions of higher learning in ancient India, along with Nalanda, Vikramshila and Takshila universities. The famous Chinese traveller Xuanzang (Huien Tsang) visited Puphagiri and the institutions there in 639 CE. Founded in Kalinga kingdom in  modern-day Odisha  It's believed it was founded by Emperor Ashoka himself. Evidence suggests that it was the oldest Buddhist establishments in the world. The discovery of this university is of recent origin. Unlike Takshila and Nalanda, the ruins of Puphagiri were not discovered until 1995, when a lecturer from a local college first stumbled upon the site stretching over 143 acres (0.58 km2) of land.Work was undertaken by the Odisha Institute of Maritime and South East Asian Studies between 1996 and 2006. 

Ratnagiri: Part of Puphagiri Mahaviharaen.wikipedia.org/

Odantapuri  University (8th C to 12th C) and Somapura  Mahavihara(8th C to 12th C) were established by Dharmapala of Pala dynasty. Ancient records show that the former had 12,000 students  and the later occupying about 27 acres of land was a large  university where they taught Hinduism (Sanatana Dharma), Jainism (Jina Dharma) and 

Nalanda University.Bihar.India.www.indian-tour-operators.com
Buddhism (Buddha Dharma).

The university perished, along with Nalanda, at the hands of the Ali Bakhtiar Muhammad Khilji around 1193. Dharmapala of Pala dynasty alone is said to have founded 50 big learning centers across his kingdom, and they were huge and  equally popular.

Before the advent of Muslim rulers on the Indian soil, there were as many as 20 large universities, some of them were international in nature and well-known. Some of the prominent ones were Takshashila, Nalanda, Sharada Peeth ( Kashmir), Varanasi, Kanchipuram, Valabhi, Vikramshila, Jagaddala, Lalitgiri, Phuphagiri, Udayagiri, Odantapuri, Ratnagiri (Odisha) etc., where students from across the world could study Mathematics, Algebra, Astronomy Physics, Alchemy, Medicine, Anatomy, Surgery, Literature and a lot of other subjects of their choice.

The  Turkish Muslim invaders from NW, accompanied by  treacherous and merciless Arab soldiers, who were actually ruffians,
moving  across India,
Ancient Valabhi University in Saurashtra India. ankurlearningsolutions
destroyed these Universities  one by one starting with Takshashila, the largest and the oldest university in the world.  Brutal and mindless destruction and burning of Nalanda  by the Mamluk Dynasty (often referred to as Slave Dynasty or Ghulam Dynasty) under Bhaktiyar Khailji in 1193 AD was an act of insane person only. None of these foreign invaders and  later Mogul conquerors  with one or two exceptions promoted science, education and learning and  guided the people to improve their
knowledge, wisdom and quality of life.

The Persian historian Minhaj-i-Siraj, in his chronicle the Tabaqat-I-Nasiri, reported that thousands of Buddhist monks were burned alive and thousands beheaded as Khailji tried his best to uproot Buddhism from India. The burning of the Nalanda library continued for several months (120 days) and "smoke from the burning manuscripts hung for days like a dark pall over the low hills." (En-Quote).  

Minhaj-i-Siraj further wrote of  Khailji's attack:

''Muhammad-i-Bakht-yar, by the force of his intrepidity, threw himself into the pastern of the gateway of the place, and they captured the fortress, and acquired great booty. The greater number of the inhabitants of that place were Brahmans, and the whole of them had their heads shaven; and later they were all slain. There were a great number of books there; and, when all these books came under the observation of the Musalmans, they summoned a number of Hindus that they might give them information respecting the import of those books; but the whole of the Hindus had been killed. On becoming acquainted with the contents of those books, it was found that the whole of that fortress and city was a college.......''

For the posterity it was a colossal  loss of wonderful,valuable heritage and a repository of knowledge and ancient wisdom.

Awakening Indians to India – Central Chinmaya Mission Trust.
D.C. Ahir (2005). Buddhism Declined in India : How and Why?  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Ancient_universities_of_the_Indian_subcontinent

Minhaj-ud-Din, Maulana (1881). Tabakat-i-Nasiri - A General History of the Muhammadan Dynasties of Asia Including Hindustan. Translated by Major H. G. Raverty. p. 552. Retrieved 22 December 2014.