September 13, 2010
It's looking more and more likely nowadays that the legendary Indian university of Nalanda, which at its peak taught 10,000 students and employed 2,000 faculty, will rise again, according to AFP. The site is more than the heap of bricks that so many other Buddhist historical ruins have become over the centuries. You can still see the general plan, some monks' cells, and you can even get a pretty good idea of what it must have looked like. Maybe that's one of the reasons it's such an attractive candidate for rebuilding.
Nalanda was founded in the 3rd century, in what today is the northeastern Indian state of Bihar, and later became one of the world's most well-known learning centers of its time. Economist and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, who is leading the effort to resurrect the ancient university, says that school offered "a number of subjects in the Buddhist tradition, in a similar way that Oxford offered in the Christian tradition." Oxford was in its infancy around the time that Nalanda was seeing its last days.
Sacked by Turkic armies in 1193, Nalanda's vast library was consumed in a fire, so the project is somewhat symbolic of India's resurgence in the world. It has also raised consciousness about access to university education in India generally. Many Indian students travel to the West to receive their education and many choose not to return home. Acutely aware of the brain drain, India's government is turning its attention to building more universities. For now, 350 universities serve 1.2 billion people, hardly enough to anchor a growing academic infrastructure and a rapidly expanding economy. India's government commission dealing with higher education estimates that an additional 1,500 will be needed.
The project will take $500 million to complete but momentum is building. Funds from groups and individuals in India, as well as government funding and funding from abroad are raising hopes.