In Bihar, 60 miles from its capital, Nalanda is town which is related to the history of India. The history of Nalanda, the ancient university town, goes back to the days of Buddha and Mahavira in 6th century B.C. There are many versions of what the term Nalanda means. One is that, Nalam means Lotus, and Da means to give. Both combined together, Nalanda means Giver of Lotus. Since the lotus is supposed to represent knowledge, Nalanda means Giver of Knowledge.
Nalanda came into being around 5th century B.C. and was a flourishing town with over 10,000 scholars and an extensive library. Nalanda is sacred to the Jains, Buddhists, and Hindus, but it has been more famous as one of the places frequented by Lord Buddha preaching his Dharma. He often retired to Nalanda and Rajgir during the rainy season. It was there that Mahavira, the last Jain Tirthankara, met Goshala.
Emperor Ashoka had built a Vihara at Nalanda. Huen Tsang, the Chinese pilgrim who visited Nalanda in the first half of the seventh century, has recorded a detailed description of the richly sculptured towns, fairy-like turrets, and beautiful ponds at Nalanda.
The International Scholastic Center at Nalanda, described by later Scholars as an International University, was founded much earlier than 5th century A.D. There were scholars from China, Japan, Korea, Mongolia, Tibet, Nepal, and Ceylon. At one time, there were thousands of scholars at Nalanda, and they were lodged in smaller cells, which can still be seen in ruins.
Nalanda was the largest residential center of learning that the world had ever known. The library was located in a nine-storied building. The subjects taught at Nalanda University covered every field of learning. The courses offered there included the study of scriptures of Mahayana and Hinayana Schools of Buddhism, Brahminical vedic texts, philosophy, logic theology, grammar, astronomy, mathematics, and medicine.
Over two thousand teachers and ten thousand students crowded its portals. Kings and emperors built monasteries there. There was a college of fine arts which was endowed by the Gupta Emperor Kumaragupta.
The remains carefully excavated at Nalanda reveals Stupas, a large stairway, decorated panels, lecture halls, dormitories for the monks and students, and metal idols of the Buddha. The main monuments found at Nalanda are the Viharas or Monasteries, chaityas, Stupas, Votive or Commemorative. There are remains of temples with a high standard of sculpture, depicting household scenes, dancers, and foliage designs.
Recently, there are many new memorials built at Nalanda, which display its truly rich history.