Grand revival of Nalanda University by Vastu Shilpa Consultants

Along-distance relationship between Gujarat and Bihar is brewing. Not many know about it yet. But, it is only some time before it promises to incite interest in one and all. The link for this alliance is architect Rajeev Kathpalia of Vastu Shilpa Consultants who is quietly studying drawings at his Sangath office, on the busy Drive In stretch in Ahmedabad, these days.

These drawings will take form as buildings at the Nalanda University (NU) campus in Bihar, a place that will buzz with knowledge and ideas to form a character par excellence.


Being chosen to design the prestigious NU lends a “sense of responsibility because someone from India (himself) has been awarded to design this project of international appeal.” Being culturally rooted has its gain, too.

“If it is for something that must celebrate Indian character, it would yield best results if planned and executed by an Indian.” “It does feel proud to see an international jury select someone local, and that gives a feeling of having achieved something,” Rajeev says.


As part of the competition brief, they wanted to make a net zero campus, “where whatever energy you use, you should be able to generate; even the waste must be recycled within the campus, so you don’t end up stressing and straining the systems.”

Rajeev further adds, “The idea of a university is not just a physical entity of a closed sort of place for knowledge but a linkage of strengthening community, both economically and socially.

If you give people there the possibility of economics, the community would stay there and get stronger. We are offering several amenities within the campus — schools, laboratories, sports facilities, a library.

Everyone has something that will keep them occupied. What is more, the university will sustain villages surrounding it by being a laboratory for sustainable agricultural practices.”


There is a larger agenda an institution must provide which is to take social responsibility, be it economic security, education or health care. An institute like IIM is an island of excellence but separate from the city because it is a gated community.

On the other hand, we are looking at Nalanda university to be an open campus which not only allows people to physically pass through it but also allows them to interact and participate in things happening within the campus.


Reviving an ancient history for current times, that is how working on the NU project would appear to the world. There has to be a link established between the two. Something Rajeev has planned ahead.

“The master plan endeavours to integrate sustainable practices at every phase of the project, from site planning of the campus through creation of infrastructure, cost effective ways to both reduce consumption of natural resources as well as minimise dependency on off-site building materials.

The plan also allows for incremental growth and flexible expansion or phasing while preserving the agricultural and environmental basis of the region,” explains Rajeev.


Some of the projects Rajeev and his team are working on include IIT Gandhinagar housing, Smritivan — an earthquake memorial in Bhuj and Raksha Shakti University, both for the government of Gujarat, IIM Udaipur and Bhadra Plaza near Teen Darwaza, one reason why “we were dithering whether to even participate in this competition to design the master plan of NU”.

And, how interesting is work when you have an inhouse university called B V Doshi to turn to? “We share an informal relationship. We bounce off ideas to each other. When you have an inhouse critique of this stature, why wouldn’t you want to bounce off ideas and discuss?” Rajeev says of his father-in-law.


For those who find it tough to visualise the vastness of the 455-acre NU, there are a few comparative scale drawings that form part of the architect’s proposal.

Like, all of Fatehpur Sikri could fit into the campus; The Forbidden City in Beijing is about the same size as the campus plan; two-thirds of Venice would fit into the 455-acre campus; the Nalanda excavations are the same as the academic blocks of the new proposed university; and, there will be 20 lakh volumes in the library where, for example, IIMA has about 1.8 lakh.


“In the past year-and-a-half since Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar consolidated himself, there seems to be havoc in the building fraternity. Like most of us know, labour from Bihar is spread out in other parts of the country.

They will have to get people, more mechanisation, considering labour costs are going up. As a society, we are undergoing a huge transition. From rural to urban, informal economy is now catching up fast. I haven’t been to Bihar yet, but will be there day after for the first time for one of our initial meetings,” says Rajeev. The flight to Patna has just started...


NU organised an architectural design competition to choose the master plan for the proposed university campus to be spread across 455 acres where the expert jury comprised four international architects - former chief town planner for Singapore Dr Liu Thai Ker, Japan’s Waseda University’s professor Osamu Ishiyama, Beijing’s Tsinghua University’s Professor Li Xiaodong and Ahmedabad’s CEPT University’s professor Neelkanth Chhaya.

Part of the winning design for Nalanda University by architect
Rajeev Kathpalia

There were others in the jury including Lord Meghnad Desai and Member of Parliament N K Singh. Of the 79 national and international architects/architectural firms, eight were chosen to submit their drawings and models of which Vastu Shilpa Consultants won the project.

The seven principles of study to be offered at NU are: School of Ecology and Environment Studies, School of Historical Studies, School of Information Sciences, School of Economics and Management, School of Buddhist Studies, Philosophy and Comparative Religion, School of International Relation and Peace Studies and School of Linguistics and Literature.

Now, government of China, Thailand, Japan are all contributors to the corpus of the university including faculty and students all of who are internationally selected.


One of the oldest universities of learning in India, NU located around 80 km from Patna flourished from the fourth century AD to about the 12th century. Back in those times, the university attracted scholars from China, Tibet, Greece before it was destroyed by Bakhtiyar Khilji’s army in 1193.

And while this fact may surprise you, it is believed that the library of NU was so vast that it continued to burn for close to three months after invaders destroyed and set fire to it.

It is about six years ago that countries including Japan, Singapore and China besides India proposed a plan to restore and revive the ancient site as Nalanda International University.
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