Ancient Indian Universities

Apart from the famous Takshasila and Nalanda Universities, there were many more such places where vedic sciences and research were done by students from various neighbouring countries.
Education has always been given great prominence in Indian society since the times of the vedic civilization, with gurukul and ashrams being the centers of learning.
Most ancient gurukul known in history of India was Dronacharya’s gurukul (5200 years old), which later became guru-gaon (guru’s village) and went on to become modern day’s Gurgaon, near Delhi.

Takshasila University in present day Pakistan

Taxila as it is called today in Pakistan, Takshasila University established around 3700 years ago (around 1700 BC) was home to over 10500 students where the students from all across the world used to come to attain specialization in over 64 different fields of study like vedas, grammar, philosophy, ayurveda, agriculture, surgery, politics, archery, warfare, astronomy, commerce, futurology, music, dance, etc.
Famous graduates of this University include the ones like Panini, Chanakya, Charaka, Vishnu Sarma, Jivaka etc.
This is the world’s oldest university found till date.
takshasila university

Nalanda University in present day Bihar

nalanda university

Nalanda University was established by Shakraditya of Gupta dynasty in modern Bihar during early 5th century and flourished for 600 years till 12th century. Nalanda was the world’s first university to have residential quarters for both students and teachers. It also had large public lecture halls. Students from countries like Korea, Japan, China, Tibet, Indonesia, Persia and Turkey came to study in this university.

The library of this university was the largest library of the ancient world and had thousands of volumes of manuscripts on various subjects like grammar, logic, literature, astrology, astronomy, and medicine. The library complex was called Dharmaganja, and had three large buildings: the Ratnasagara, the Ratnadadhi, and the Ratnaranjaka. Ratnadadhi was nine stories tall and stored the most sacred manuscripts including the Prajnaparamita Sutra and the Samajguhya. In 2010, the parliament of India passed a bill approving the plans to restore the ancient Nalanda University as a modern Nalanda International University dedicated for post-graduate research. Many east asian countries including China, Singapore and Japan have come forward to fund the construction of this revived Nalanda University.

Vikramasila University in present day Bihar

vikramshila university
Vikramaśīla University was one of the two most important centres of Buddhist learning in India during the Pala empire, along with Nālandā University. Vikramaśīla was established by King Dharmapala (783 to 820) in response to a supposed decline in the quality of scholarship at Nālandā. Atisha, the renowned pandit, is sometimes listed as a notable abbot.
Vikramashila (village Antichak, district Bhagalpur, Bihar) is located at about 50 km east of Bhagalpur and about 13 km north-east of Kahalgaon, a railway station on Bhagalpur-Sahebganj section of Eastern Railway.

It gave direct competition to Nalanda University with over 100 teachers and over 1000 students listed in this University. This university was well known for its specialized training on the subject of Tantra (Tantrism). One of the most popular graduates from this University was Atiśa Dipankara, a founder of the Sharma traditions of Tibetan Buddhism who also revived the Buddhism in Tibet.

Vallabhi University in present day Saurrashtra, Gujarat

vallabhi university

Vallabhi University was established in Saurashtra of modern Gujarat at around 6th century and it flourished for 600 years till 12th century. Chinese traveler Itsing who visited this university during the 7th century describes it as a great center of learning. Gunamati and Sthiramati, the two famous Buddhist scholars are said to have graduated from this University. This University was popular for its training in secular subjects and students from all over the country came to study in this University. Because of its high quality of education, graduates of this University were given higher executive posts.

Pushpagiri University in present day Odisha

pushpagiri university odisha

Pushpagiri University was established in ancient Kalinga kingdom (modern day Odisha) and was spread across Cuttack and Jajpur districts. It was established in 3rd century and flourished for the next 800 years till 11th century. The university campus was spread across three adjoining hills – Lalitgiri, Ratnagiri and Udayagiri. This was one of the most prominent centers of higher education in ancient India along with the universities of Takshashila, Nalanda and Vikramashila. The Chinese traveler Xuanzang (Huien Tsang) visited this university in 639 CE. Lalitgiri is said to have been commissioned by early 2nd century BCE itself and is the oldest Buddhist establishments in the world. Recently a few images of Emperor Ashoka have been discovered here, and it has been suggested that the Pushpagiri University was established by Emperor Ashoka himself.

Odantapuri University in present day Bihar

odantapuri universityOdantapuri, also called Odantapura or Uddandapura, was a Buddhist vihara in what is now Bihar, India. It was established by King Gopala of the Pala dynasty in the 7th century. It is considered the second oldest of India’s universities and was situated in Magadh. Recently it is known as the Bihar Sharif (Headquarters of Nalanda District). Acharya Sri Ganga of Vikramashila had been a student here. According to the Tibetan records there were about 12,000 students at Odantapuri. Odantpuri was situated at a mountain called Hiranya Prabhat Parvat and the bank of the river Panchanan.
In a Tibetan history of the Kalachakra tantra called dpal dus kyi ‘khor lo’i zab pa dang rgya che ba’i dam pa’i chos byung ba’i tshul legs par bshad pa ngo mtshar dad pa’i shing rta, by the Sakya master Jamgon Amye Zhab (1597–1659) (‘jam mgon a myes zhabs ngag dbang kun dga’ bsod nams), it is mentioned that Odantapuri was administered by “Sendhapas,” the Tibetan referent for Sri Lankan Theravadins.

A number of monasteries grew up during the Pala period in ancient Bengal and Magadha. According to Tibetan sources, five great Mahaviharas stood out: Vikramashila, the premier university of the era; Nalanda, past its prime but still illustrious, Somapura Mahavihara, Odantapuri, and Jaggadala.
The five monasteries formed a network; “all of them were under state supervision” and there existed “a system of co-ordination among them . . it seems from the evidence that the different seats of Buddhist learning that functioned in eastern India under the Pala were regarded together as forming a network, an interlinked group of institutions,” and it was common for great scholars to move easily from position to position among them.

Somapura University in present day Bangladesh

somapura university

Somapura Mahavihara was established by Dharmapala of Pala dynasty during late 8th century in Bengal and flourished for 400 years till 12th century. The University spread over 27 acres of land of which the main complex was 21 acres was one of the largest of its kind. It was a major center of learning for Bauddha Dharma (Buddhism), Jina Dharma (Jainism) and Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism). Even today one can find ornamental terracotta on its outer walls depicting the influence of these three traditions. Other Ancient Universities The above mentioned list is not a complete list of ancient Indian universities either. Dharmapala of Pala dynasty alone is said to have established 50 mega learning centers across his kingdom, and they have been as huge and as popular as the ones mentioned above. For instance, the Munshiganj Vihara discovered as recently as Marh 23, 2013 in Bengal is said to have been established in 9th century and was home to 8000 students who came from faraway places like China, Tibet, Nepal and Thailand.

Destruction of Ancient Indian Universities by Invaders

Many of the universities mentioned above came to an end around 12th century. The universities like Nalanda, Vikramashila etc were destroyed around this period during the Muslim invasion of India by the fanatic Bakhtiyar Khilji from Turkey in 1193 CE. The great library of Nalanda University was destroyed, ransacked and burnt by the soldiers of Khilji’s army and it is said that it was so vast that the manuscripts kept burning for three months.

In-numerous number of ancient Indian manuscripts carefully preserved for thousands of years were destroyed in this fire. Thousands of monks in the University were burnt alive and beheaded by Khilji’s army.
Destruction of these centres of learning at Nalanda and other places across northern India was responsible for the demise of ancient Indian scientific thought in mathematics, astronomy, alchemy, and anatomy.

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