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nalanda university

Ancient Universities in India

Ancient Pushpagiri University

Education in ancient India was always given the highest prominence in Indian society since the Vedic period. During these times, Gurukuls and Ashrams formed the centers of learning, however with evolving times, a large number of centers were established across India. Universities in ancient India often remind us of the two famous universities, Nalanda and Takhshashila. However, there were many more which rose to prominence in different parts of the country under different periods.

Takhshashila University

An early center of learning, Takshashila University is dated back to the 5th BCE. Student s from across the world came to study various subjects ranging from vedas to dance and music. The university is well known for producing great personalities like Chanakya, Panini, Charaka, Jivaka and Vishnu Sharma.  Takshahila is best known for it’s association with Chanakya, the composer of Arthashastra, which is said to have been written in the university itself. The ruins of the university are spread over a large area and are comprised of buildings and stupas. The site is divided into three major cities, each of these belonging to different time periods. The Bhir mound dating from 6th century BCE, Sirkap, built by Graeco Bactrians in 2nd century BCE and Sirsukh, the Kushan kings.

Nalanda University

Established in the 5th century AD, Nalanda attracted students from various parts of the world. The university is said to have had the largest library with thousands of manuscripts on various subjects that included grammar, literature, astrology, logic, astronomy, medicine and many more. More than 10,000 students and around 2000 professors were housed by the university in it’s heyday. The site was a pilgrimage destination due to the link with Buddha who often visited the place and two of his chief disciples, Sariputra and Mogallana hailed from this area. The largest stupa of the former marks the spot of not only the place where his relics are entombed but also where he was born. Heiun Tsang, the famous pilgrim from China studied and taught for 5 years, in the 7th century AD.

Vikramshila University

This university flourished for 400 years, since it was established by Dharmapala of Pala dynasty, in the late 8th century. The university was well known for it’s specialized training it offered in the subject of Tantrism. One of the popular graduates from Vikramshila was Atisa Dipankara, the founder of Sharma traditions of the Tibetan Buddhism. Curriculum of the two universities, Nalanda and Vikramshila was similar.

Vallabhi University

Having achieved as much fame as Nalanda, Vallabhi University flourished for almost 600 years. The university was established in Saurashtra in around 6th century. Visited by Itsing, the Chinese traveler, it was described by him as a great center of learning, where, Gunmati and Sthiramati, the Buddhist scholars, graduated from. While Nalanda was the center for Mahayana Buddhism, Vallabhi became the center for Hinayana.

Pushpagiri, Odantapuri and Sompura were some of the other universities which achieved great importance during their time offering various subjects, attracting students from all parts of the country and world. Most of the universities saw a downfall in the 12th century with the Muslim invaders who destroyed and ransacked the universities. According to many, this destruction was responsible for the end of ancient Indian knowledge in mathematics, astronomy, alchemy and many more subjects.

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