Thursday, November 1, 2012

Nālandā Memento- Celebrating 150 Years of Discovery of Sri Nālandā

Nālandāwas a suburb of Rājgriha and in the 6th century BCE, it was frequented by the Buddha and the Mahavira. The Buddha spent his 11th rainy season retreat here while Mahavira spent as many 14 rainy season retreats at Nālandā. Buddha’s link to this place can be gauged from the fact that the name Nālandā is derived from Buddha’s association with the place in one of his previous lives. As per the legend mentioned by Venerable Xuanzang, when the Buddha was king in one of his previous lives, he practiced as a Bodhisattva and out of compassion for the hardships of the people, he felt that the people and the place needed to be relieved continually. Hence the place name Nālandā means “Insatiable in offering”. At the request of an eminent monk Rājā Bhâja, the 5th century King Sakraditya chose this blessed land of Nālandā to establish the Nālandā Saṅghārāma.

Hon'ble Chief Minister Shri Nitish kumar Ji presenting the Nalanda Memento to President of India Shri Pranab Mukherjee
For more than 800 years in all of Buddhist land, the Nālandā Saṅghārāma was the most coveted destination to collect the true teachings of the Buddha. As late as the 13th century when the vast Buddha-Vihārawas falling apart under the attacks of Turks, Venerable Dharmaswāmin a Tibetan monk-scholar risked his life to come to Nālandā to collect the true teachings of the Buddha.
Among monks and scholars across the Buddhist lands, a degree from the Nālandā Saṅghārāma held a prestige above all other universities at the time. Venerable Xuanzang, a 7th century monk-scholar, was one of the many celebrated students of the NālandāSaṅghārāma. He was given a grand reception by the monk community led by the chief monk, Venerable Śilabhadra, and therefore it is no wonder that Venerable Xuanzang’s description of the Nālandā Saṅghārāma occupies maximum pages in his biography. His description of beautifully decorated, four-story Viharas, 80 ft tall bronze Buddha images in many chaityas, and above all the Mūlgandhakuṭī,captured the fancy of many early explorers when they received the English translation of the Chinese original text in the 1850’s. The quest to discover Nālandā is filled with compelling stories of luck and misadventure by many explorers. With fate on his side, it was Sir Alexander Cunningham who had the privilege of announcing to the world the discovery of the Nālandā Saṅghārāma. Now began a new journey of the legacy of Nālandā and the Nālandā Saṅghārāma.

Nalanda Memento
Excavation of Nālandā was equally challenging as the curious world wanted to see the Nālandā Saṅghārāma exposed. The Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland generously contributed to initiate the work. Another major challenge was acquisition of the Nālandā Mound itself. This Mound of Nālandā extends for more than 300 acres and includes more than 10 large and small villages living over it.  But with a great challenge, an equally humbling solution was found among the community of Nālandā, who generously participated in the land acquisition which made this seemingly impossible task possible. Another chapter in the legacy of Nālandā involves the conception of Nālandā International University in the 3rd millennia. Yet another milestone, this marks the beginning of a new phase of revelation to the contributions of ancient Nālandā University to the world culture.

In the years 1861-62, Sir Alexander Cunningham, on the basis of a Nālandā seal which read Śrī-Nālandā-mahāvihāriy-ārya-bhikshu-Saṅghasya, announced the discovery of Nālandā. Later in the course of excavations numerous such seals from Gupta and Pala period were discovered a few pieces are currently put on display at Nalanda Museum. In 2012, on this occasion of 150 years since the discovery of Nālandā, RABPB has conceived a commemorative Nālandā Plaque depicting a replica of the Nālandā seal, identity and symbol of the Nālandā Saṅghārāma as a tribute to this historic discovery and the legacy of Nālandā.
Dr. Ravindra Panth, Director of RABPB Project, The person behind the concept.

Dr Lama Holding the "Journey through Bihar to Vihara" Book part of the Memento box and Dr panth holding the detachable Nalanda Seal Coin.
 Dr D Lama, Dr R Panth and Dr Dhammajyoti The RABPB Project Team

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