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Universities in Ancient India

Universities in Ancient India

Geographical location of Ancient Indian university
Geographical location of Ancient Indian university

Credit :- Universities in Ancient India – D.G. Apte

The term “university” as used here simply means a centre where higher education was imparted to aspiring students. It does not connote all the different features possessed by the universities in the East and the West to-day. There were a number of important features in these universities, which do not find a parallel in our modern institutions going under the name. The following brief account of these universities will enable the reader to have some idea of education imparted in these institutions during the long period of about 2,000 years beginning with the 10th century B.C. and ending with the 12th century A.D. It is hoped that a perusal of this blog will enable the reader to compare our present institutions with those of ancient India and realize that the centres of higher learning in ancient India were unique in their organization and scholarship during those distant times when elsewhere in the world very few had thought of organised, education at the university level.

Takshasila ( 1000 B. C. to 500 A. D.)

Students studying in taxila university
Students studying in taxila university

Takshasila is the oldest among the universities in ancient India. It was well known as a centre of learning as early as during 700 B.C. The educational activities at this place must have started at least a few centuries earlier. The place derived its name from Taksha, a son of Bharata. The Ramayana narrates how Bharata, after defeating the Gandharvas, founded the two famous cities—Takshasila in the Gandharva Desa for Taksha and Pushkalavata for the other son Pushkala in the Gandhara. This is also the place where king Janamejaya performed his famous serpent sacrifice to avenge the death of his father Parikshita. Until very lately it was not possible to locate the place exactly. Pliny has pointed out that the place was situated at a distance of about fifty-five miles to the east of the river Sindhu. With the help of the numerous Stupas, Viharas and temples as found out by Cunningham, the situation of the city has now been exactly located. Archaeological findings show that the city covered an area of six square miles. A copper-plate inscription bearing the name of Takshasila has also been unearthed from the site. The place is situated twenty miles to the west of Rawalpindi, somewhere near Shahdheri at a distance of one mile to the south-east of Kalaksarai.

Nalanda ( 425 A. D. to 1205 A. D.)

There are various explanations showing the significance of the name given to the place. According to one theory Nalanda was the name of a Naga (cobra) who lived in a tank near the mango-tree to the south of a Sangharama. A second account says that the name was the result of the incessant charity given by Bodhisattva who was living at this place. The third explanation is based on an etymological analysis of the word which means that endowments incessantly flowed to the institution, but donors had not had the satisfaction of having given sufficiently. Its prosperity as described later shows that the third explanation is more acceptable than the remaining two.

Long before the Christian era the place was noted as a religious centre. This was the place which was sanctified by the stay of Buddha and his disciples (523 B. C.—477 B, C.) and had witnessed a number of discussions on Buddhist doctrines. This was also the place where Mahavira, the Jain Tirthankara, met Gosala. This was the place of discussion carried on by Nagarjuna and others in the early centuries of the Christian era. Asoka had built a temple and a Vihara at this place, because it was only a little way from thickly populated Rajagrha and therefore convenient for religious practices. The University was founded by Sakraditya and extended by his son, Buddhaguptaraja, and his successor, Tathagataguptaraja. This was followed by the destruction of the place by Mihirakula in the course of his pursuit of Narasinhagupta, in 500 A.D. But after this destruction the place flourished with greater radiance and prosperity. Thus although the place had been a great religious and educational centre in the days of Nagarjuna in the second century A.D. and even earlier in the days of Buddha, it became a university only in the earlier half of the fifth century when a stream of scholastic pilgrimage began to flow towards the place. Almost throughout the whole period of existence of this university, it had the rare privilege of enjoying royal patronage.

Valabhi (600 A.D. to 1200 A.D.)

The University of Valabhi was situated in Saurashtra in Western India. The place is identical with the old Wala State. It.was an important centre of Buddhist learning, and championed the cause of Hinayana Buddhism. For some time it had become a rival of Nalanda in the academic field, Valabhi was the capital of Maitraka kings during the period 480-775 A. D. and was born from the benefactions of these kings. Situated on the seashore, it was then an important port for international trade.

Vikramasila (800 A.D. to 1203 A.D.)

The Vikramasila Vihara (Buddhist monastery) was a famous seat of learning situated on a hillock on the banks of the Ganga in northern Magadha (Bihar). The place was just near Nalanda although the exact location of the Vihara cannot be ascertained. Dr. S. C. Vidyabhushana identified it with Sultanganj in Bhagalpur district and Cunningham, with the village Silao near Badagaon. It was founded by king Dharmapala in the eighth century A.D. (circa 775-800). He gave liberal endowments to the university so as to provide for free boarding and lodging to resident and non-resident monks studying at the place. All throughout the existence of the university, i.e., up to 1203 A. D. when it’s tragic end came, the successors of King Diharmapala continued to give bountiful donations to the institution.

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