Nalanda's rebirth

Eight hundred years after it was razed to the ground by invading armies, Nalanda University has risen from the ashes. On Monday, the University threw open its doors to its first batch of students. The largest university of the ancient world, Nalanda University was a renowned centre of learning which provided understanding of Buddhist teachings, astronomy, architecture, the arts, metallurgy, etc.

Monks and scholars flocked here from distant lands to broaden their minds and engage in debates and discussions. With this university’s destruction in the final years of the 12th century, a glorious era in which India was acknowledged as the world’s centre of learning, came to an abrupt end. Nalanda University’s rebirth will spark hope of a renaissance in academic excellence and learning not just in this university but elsewhere in the country. Conceived as a global university, Nalanda will have an international teaching faculty and students’ body. Since the idea of its revival was mooted first in 2006, it captured the imagination of the international community. Its re-opening is as much a triumph of the efforts of the Indian government and academia as it is of a grand collaborative effort involving countries such as China, Japan, Singapore and Thailand, which have provided ideas, funding and expertise. Other countries like the US, Russia and New Zealand are reportedly queuing up to be a part of this historic project.

The Nalanda project bestows on India a huge resource for soft power diplomacy. The new university, like its fore-runner, could play a key role in the spread of Indian ideas and influence beyond its borders. India must use its leadership in the project wisely and not allow collaboration among various partners to turn conflictual or even excessively competitive as that would ruin the spirit of Nalanda as a centre of international understanding.
So far, India’s leadership of the Nalanda project has been somewhat disappointing. Besides allegations of favouritism and financial irregularities, the project has been plagued by inordinate delays. Land for the university was allocated several years ago but construction of the buildings is yet to begin and classes will run from buildings rented from the Bihar state government. While building of great institutions cannot happen overnight or even over a short span of time, Nalanda cannot hope to emerge a university of international standing or a centre of academic excellence if shoddiness and lethargy define its style of functioning.

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