If the world recognizes and respects India today, its not because of Bollywood or movies, but its because of its immense culture, knowledge and the contribution to the world in the field of Science, literature, astrology, astronomy, mathematics, architecture and medicine. Today most people do not really know the contribution of ancient India and believe that every invention were made by the western world.
India’s contributions doesn’t begin at 1 CE or 2 CE but date back to thousands of years to 3500 BCE. It is believed that the Vedic science was even more advanced than present day’s scientific inventions. Indians had immense knowledge in the field of Mathematics, Astrology, Astronomy which is exactly why a number of universities flourished during the 300-200 BCE. These universities were the first ones to be started in the world and were regarded the best. Students from all over the world came to these universities to learn Sanskrit, Hinduism, Jainism, Astrology, Astronomy, Ayurveda, Medicine and many other subjects. The university housed some of the greatest scholars like Chanakya and Chandra Gupta Maurya.
The vast collection of books in these Universities did not happen overnight, but it was a collective efforts of all the scholars, saints and sages for thousands of years which lead to the building of the greatest libraries in the world. When we talk about Universities of ancient India, people remember only two names, Nalanda and Takshashila. But there were a number of universities which flourished in ancient India which were the centres of learning. Today none of these universities exist and what we see is the broken walls, burnt cities and the stairs which lead to nowhere.
- Vikramashila University
Vikramashila University was established during 730 AD during the rule of King Dharmapala of the Pala dynasty. It is located 50 Km from Bhagalpur in Bihar. The King established the university as he wanted to see more scholars and believed that the quality of education was declining. It was one of the best universities in his times and attracted students from all over the world. It grew very famous during the 800 AD and gave a direct competition to Nalanda. One of the most famous Pandits calls Atisha was said to be a teacher in the university. The university specialized in teaching Tantra and Mantra and one of the most popular students from this university is said to be Atisa Dipankara who was well known for his Tantra practice.
The dynasty came to an end in the 12th century after it was attacked by Mohammed Bin Bhakthiyar Khilji who destroyed the University completely and killed the scholars and saints in the University. The University library was burnt down by his men and the Hindu and Buddhists temples were destroyed in the attack. The University could not revive itself and was left abandoned. The university was spread around 100 acres and said to have had all facilities for the students and teachers.
2. Somapura University
This was another university which was established by Dharmapala during the 8th century in West Bengal. The Archaeological evidences showed that the main building itself was built over massive 21 acres and the university extended up to 27 acres around. It was a religious learning centre of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism which housed hundreds of monasteries and mahaviharas for teachers and students. It is said to have had great influence by the Buddhist traditions and even today we can find terracotta plaques of Buddhists monks around the University.
It is said to have attracted students from Tibet, Burma and many Eastern countries who practiced Vajrayana of the Mahayana Buddhism. But the city was attacked by Vanga Army which was later taken over by the Muslim emperors. They burnt down the university attacking every house and viharas and killing scholars. Late in the 11 Century, Vipulashrimitra tried to renovate the University, but his efforts did not yield any results as the successive Muslim rulers kept destroying the university.
3. Odantapuri University
The university is located in the Hiranya Prabat in Bihar which is again said to have built by the Pala dynasty in 8th century by King Gopala. It is regarded as the 2nd oldest University after Nalanda which existed till 12 century. The main purpose of the university was Buddhist learning. According to few literature, it is said that the University housed 12,000 students. One of the most noted Acharaya of Vikramashila University Sri Ganga was said to be the student of Odaantapuri University.
It was again Mohammed Khilji who destroyed the University and said to have burnt down the entire place. This was the same time when Nalanda University was also attacked by Khilji.
4. Jagaddala University
The university was a called the Jagaddala Mahavira, a place for Buddhists learning which is located in the north Bengal, now in Bangladesh. It was built during 10 century by Pala dynasty ruler Ramapala.
The University was known for specialization in Vajrayana Buddhism and Sanskrit. Many Sanskrit versus were said to have been composed in the university. The famous Subhasitaratnakosa was compiled by Vidyakara in the university. Sakyasribhadra, a Kashmiri scholar in his writing said that he fled to Tibet after the city was attacked by Muslim rulers and the University was destroyed.
5. Nalanda University
Nalanda is one of the most talked university in the country. The glory of Nalanda spread across the globe and attracted students from all over the world. It was founded during the 5th century by Gupta rulers who made the university as one of the best learning center in the world. The Nalanda university or the “Mahavihara” itself was considered as the architectural marvel of the medieval India. It had a unique complex divided by a central hallway. The east and west side had the Viharas (Monasteries) and the Chaiyas (temples). Within the campus it had 8 separate compounds and 10 different temples with many classrooms and meditation halls. Around the temple and classrooms surrounded the parks and lakes.
The university was not just a centre of Buddhist studies, it offered a wide variety of courses in Vedas, Shabdavidya (grammar), Atharvaveda, Samkhya, yoga Shastra, logic, philosophy, literature, religion, medicine, mathematics, architecture and even astronomy. the gurus were master in Shastras and sutras and were able to teach more than 20-50 Shastras and sutras. Shailabhadra was one abbot who had mastered all the collections of Shastras in Nalanda. It is said that on arriving at Nalanda the students were tested by the DwarPandit or the gate keeper where he decided whether the student qualified to enter the university.
One of the greatest attractions of the university was the library “Dharm Gunj” or the Treasury of Truth. The library had three main buildings Ratnasagara (Sea of Jewels), Ratnodadhi (Ocean of Jewels), and Ratnarañjaka (Delighter of Jewels). Inscriptional evidence by Yasovarmadeva suggests that the building were nine stories with innumerable collection of literatures and original manuscripts related to logic, mathematics, medicine, Ayurveda and astronomy. It also housed the manuscripts of Prajnyaparamita Sutra and the Guhyasamaja.
During the 11th century when the university was at the zenith of success, Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khilji left no opportunity to destroy the great institution of Nalanda. In the year 1193, invaders led by Khilji demolished and burnt down the 700 year old university. He mercilessly murdered thousands of innocent monks and gurus. Many of the gurus were burnt alive and beheaded in the verge to uproot Hinduism and Buddhist cultures and forcibly implant Islam. The most horrific episode was the destruction of the gigantic library of Nalanda which housed more than 9 million invaluable collections of scripts, literary works of great scholars collected for over seven centuries.
The collection of books was so immense that the library continued to burn for over six months and the black smoke covered the beautiful hills of Nalanda making it look like a graveyard.
Nalanda, Vikramashila, Somapura, Odantapuri and Jagaddala were called the five network of learning which reached the zenith of glory and success before it was burnt down to ashed by the Islamic rulers..
6. Takshashila University
Taxila or Takshashila was another greatest universities of India. Once the capital city of Gandhara which today is a part of Pakistan Territory. The existence of the University dates back to 5 century BCE and was the place of religious sanctity for Hindus and Buddhists. This is the same place where the great scholar Chanakya finished his education and his student Chandragupta Maurya, the founder of Gupta dynasty is said to have studied.
The greatest book of Arthashashtra (Sanskrit for the Knowledge of Economics) was composed by Chanakya in the same university. The great Ayurvedic scholar Charaka is said to have been in the same university. The university not just taught Sanskrit and economics, but also had masters in Archery, horse riding, elephant lore, hunting and 18 different arts. The Vedas, Upanishads, medicine, architecture, Mathematics, astrology, astronomy were very part of learning in the University. Apart from these, the university also had school of Law, medicine and military science.
It was regarded as the most advanced universities which was centuries ahead of its times.But the invasion of Persian rulers destroyed the city of Takshashila which ultimately lost glory and the University was invaded by Muslim rulers who never tolerated the glory of Hinduism and Buddhism and destroyed the university over the years.
7. Pushpagiri University
Pushpagiri University was another famous place of learning, which was built during the 11 century. It lies 90 Km from Mahanadi delta in the districts of Jajpur and Cuttack in Odisha. The University had many stupas, Monasteries and viharas which was spread over the hills of Langudi and depicted the architecture of the Gupta period. Many literature say that the University was built by Ashoka himself to encourage education. But some evidence suggests that the university started somewhere during the Sunga period in 2nd century BCE and was developed by successive emperors.
The university was spread across three hills that is, Lalitgiri, Ratnagiri and Udaygiri giving it a perfect scenic beauty. The Archeological survey unearthed huge amount of books in Brahmi script. Gold and silver artifacts, pots, literature from Kushana dynasty. The architecture resembles the Mathura and Gandhara arts. It took 7 years to unearth a portion of the University and still most of the parts remains underneath. Huge idols of Hindu Gods and Buddhists monks including Buddha were excavated from the site. It is said that this university may have been destroyed by the Islamic rulers during 13-14 century.
8. Valabhi University
The university is said to have established in 6 CE and an important Buddhist centre. It is located in Saurashtra, present day it is called Vallabhipur located in Bhavnagar district of Gujarat. It was once considered the rival University of Nalanda and gave a tough competition to Nalanda. The university had subjects like political science, economics, law, theology, administration, accountancy and business.
Two very famous scholars Gunamati and Sthiramati is said to have lived here. It is said that people used to compete to join Valabhi to study Economics and political science over Nalanda. The university was attacked for the first time in 7 century, but however, the generous contribution of great scholars and the keen interest of Maitraka dynasty brought back the glory of the University. It grew to great heights during the 11 century before it was invaded by the Islamic rulers which was ultimately destructed.
9. Bikrampur University
The Bikrampur University is located in the present day Bangladesh and was a centre of learning. This is also said to be built by Emperor Dharmapala of the Pala Dynasty. It is one of the 30 Viharas that is said to have built by Dharmapala alone.
Very less information is available about the university and archaeological evidence suggests that it had many temples and Buddhists viharas and housed 8000 students and attracted people from China, Tibet, Nepal and Thailand.
10. Telhara University
This was recently discovered and is believed to be older than Nalanda and Vikramashila. The Bihar’s Arts, Culture and Youth Affairs Secretary Anand Kishor said “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.” According to the available evidence, the University is said to have built during the 3-4 century.
guilded copper). In the middle vihara is a statue of Tara Bodhisatva and to the right (is) one of Avlokiteshwar” [Credit: IE/Ravi S Sahani].