Buddhist Monks and Monasteries of India: Their History and Their Contribution to Indian Culture

By Sukumar Dutt | Go to book overview

2
Mahāvihāras that functioned as Universities

THE UNIVERSITY OF NĀLANDĀ

(i) The Antiquity of Nālandā

A TRADE-ROUTE from north-west to south-east, between Upper India and the kingdom of Magadha, seems to have existed in the far past--in the age ( fifth-fourth century BC) when the ancient canonical legends of Buddhism and Jainism took shape.

Among the many localities mentioned in them, Nālandā is one. Though the location of Nālandā on the trade-route is not expressly mentioned, it may be inferred. It seems to have been a distributing centre; within a few miles of the Magadhan capital, Rājagaha, and within easy reach of Gangetic riverine traffic. From its importance as a trade-centre, it grew from a village to a township, described in a legend as 'influential, prosperous and full of folk?'.1

This well-populated township naturally attracted the great religious leaders of the time when they came here on and off on their preaching missions--the Buddha himself, Nigaṇṭha Nāṭaputta and Mokkhali Gosāla. Here was held, according to Jaina tradition, the historic controversy between Gosāla and Mahāvírā which resulted in a schism and the foundation of Jainism as a separate form of faith. Nālandā is on this account a sacred place (tírtha) to the Jainas.2 The town was not without its beauty-spots: the legends give us glimpses of two--a park called Hastiyāma3 and a mango-grove owned by a wealthy citizen Pāvārika which was the Buddha's favourite resort on his visits to Nālandā.

In later times Nālandā must have been regarded by Buddhists as a holy place on account of its association with the Buddha in the legends. But this seems to have been about its only title to distinction. It never rose to fame either as a great city or as a prominent centre of Buddhism. Some monasteries may have sprung up here in the after-centuries, but its coming into limelight was long after-- not earlier than the fifth century AD when a Gupta king, wishing to build a monastery, 'selected by augury' Nālandā as a 'lucky spot'. A Jaina soothsayer is said to have confirmed the choice with a prophecy

____________________
1
Kevaddha Sutta in the Dígha Nikāya (see Dialogues of the Buddha, pt. i, p. 276).
2
The legend occurs in the Bhagavatí Sutta in the Uvāsagadasāo--see Jaina Sūtras, SBE, Pt. II, Appendix, for Hoernle's translation.
3
See Jaina Sūtras, SBE, II, pp. 419 ff.

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