Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Telhara University's ruins older than Nalanda, Vikramshila !

The remains of Telhara University, discovered in Bihar, are older than Nalanda and Vikramshila universities, officials said here Sunday.

Bihar's Arts, Culture and Youth Affairs Secretary Anand Kishor said that based on key findings from the excavation, it can be confirmed that Telhara University was older than Nalanda and Vikramshila.

"A team of archaeologists has found four Buddhist monastery seals made of terracotta, bearing the inscriptions - Sri Prathamshivpur Mahavihariyaye Bikshu Sanghas - in Pali language in Nalanda district that indicated the university's real name, which is usually described as Telhara University," Kishor said.

Kishor said Chinese traveller Heuen Tsang visited Telhara in the 7th century AD and he mentioned the university as "Teleadaka" in his narrative.

Kishor told IANS that archaeologists have discovered bricks that were used to lay the ancient university's foundation.

"Bricks' dimension 42x32x6 cm revealed a Kushan, first century AD, influence. That is a strong evidence that the Telhara University is older than fourth century's Nalanda University and seventh century's Vikramshila University.".

Kishor said the archaeological discovery was a landmark achievement for Bihar.

He said archaeologists based on previous findings placed the Telhara University in the Gupta period between fourth and seventh century. But the new findings cleared all doubts as to the university's age.

Atul Kumar Verma, director of state archaeology, said: "It is a positive development in the field of excavation in Bihar."

"After discovery of remains of fourth century ancient Nalanda and eight century Vikramshila universities, this is the discovery of remains of third ancient university in the state," Verma said.

He said remains of Telhara University were found during excavation of a 45-foot high mound. "We have also found a huge floor, statues in bronze and stone, and over 100 seals."

Verma said Heuen Tsanng has given a graphic account of a cluster of as many as seven Buddhist monasteries flourishing at "Teleadaka", also called "Tiladhak", at Telhara site, where about a thousand monks studied under the Mahayana school of Buddhism.

The excavation at Telhara site was started in 2009 after the then chief minister Nitish Kumar took special interest in it.
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Nalanda University to launch two more Departments !

Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, the chancellor of Nalanda University, Wednesday said the university will start two more schools from next year."There is a plan to start two new schools of health care and economics and management from 2015 academic session," Sen told reporters here.

Sen expressed happiness over the revived Nalanda University, renowned as a centre for learning till it was burnt down 800 years ago by the invading Turkish army. "I am happy that it finally happened...," he said.

Sen said the university will provide more opportunities to the students from the poorest of the poor families to move ahead in life.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj inaugurated the revived Nalanda University last month.

The university will be built in Rajgir, 12 km from where the ancient Nalanda University stood till the 12th century.

Classes at the university started with two schools - School of Ecology and Environment Studies and School of Historical Studies - Sep 1 with 15 students and half-a-dozen faculty members.

The fully residential university, to be completed by 2020, will have seven schools, all for post-graduate and doctoral students, offering courses in science, philosophy, spirituality and social sciences.
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Sunday, December 7, 2014

Now You Can Study at the World’s Oldest University

Back in September, a cadre of prominent Indians, including Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj and Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen, trouped down to Rajgir, Bihar, to mark the opening of a new university. Given the recent rapid expansion of higher education in India, a nation with almost 700 universities, you’d expect that only some new mega-facility could draw the attention of luminaries. Yet this institution, Nalanda University, boasts less than a dozen faculty members and 15 students, all huddled into the local convention center while their meager campus awaits completion. The new facility has drawn attention as a symbol of national pride and pan-Asian ambition because it’s not really an entirely new facility; it’s an attempt to resurrect an ancient school of higher education—one of the wonders of old India and perhaps the first university in the world—which once stood nearby.        
Nalanda University Seal. Photo by Tabish q/Wikimedia Commons

Ancient Nalanda emerged in the 5th century A.D., about 400 years before the University of Al-Karaouine in Fez and 600 years before the University of Bologna in Italy, often credited as the world’s oldest universities. A Buddhist institution down the road from Bodh Gaya, the revered site of Siddhartha Gautama’s enlightenment, Nalanda had 10,000 students from all over Asia (some say even from as far as Greece), at its height, studying both secular and theological topics. When Muslim invaders burned Nalanda University to the ground in 1193, legend claims its nine-story library burned for three months turning every book to ash.         

Ever since the end of colonization, India and other Buddhist states have discussed reviving the university, not as a theological school but as one specializing in pan-Asian Buddhist culture and international humanities. But the project only really picked up steam in 2006, when then-Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam endorsed the project, helping to establish an international panel led by Amartya Sen. (In 2010, Parliament passed a bill supporting the project.)         

From the start, plans for the university were ambitious. Some wanted 4,500 students and more than 450 academics within five years of the ribbon cutting. So having only 15 students in the first class (less than the desired 40) in an unfinished complex, starting a year later than expected—not to mention Kalam’s disagreement and break from the project in 2011—has led some to wonder if this isn’t all just a showy folly. After all, it’s difficult to attract professors and students to an unproven and underfunded institution in a relatively isolated part of India.
Proposed Nalanda University Campus. Photo by Radharani11/Wikimedia Commons

But Sen and others at the helm have their eyes on Nalanda's long-term development, pointing to reputation-boosting partnerships with Beijing, Seoul, and Yale universities. And they have support from the government of Bihar, which, despite the area’s relative poverty, is working towards rapid development, believing the university can help power the region’s rise. Within years, the university hopes to have seven fully operational faculties on subjects from Buddhist studies to ecology to information technology. And maybe, if they keep their ambition and pride going, one day they will be able to revive the full glory of ancient Nalanda.
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