Ancient Nalanda University - Atlas Obscura

Ancient Nalanda University

Bargaon, India

The ruins of what is considered the world's oldest university. 


Considered to be the first residential university in history, the mahavihara of Nalanda was once one of the greatest centers of learning in antiquity.

Located in the heart of ancient Magadha, India the monastic university was founded in the early 5th century, traditionally attributed to King Kumaragupta I of the Gupta Empire. Here, various subjects were taught over the course of eight centuries, including Buddhist philosophy, Vedas, mathematics, medicine, astronomy, and even alchemy.

The university complex flourished under the reign of the Pala dynasty, its fame spreading throughout Asia. Sometime around 1200 CE, however, the Muslim conqueror Muhammad Bakhtiyar Khalji led his troops to raid the site, leaving it to ruin; the surviving monks fled to Tibet.

The ruins sat abandoned and forgotten until 1811-1812, when Scottish surveyor Francis Buchanan-Hamilton caught wind of a large archaeological site in the area and later identified it as the famed monastery-university complex of Nalanda.

In 2010, a modern Nalanda University was established in Rajgir in the government’s endeavor to revive the ancient school. Perhaps long overdue, the archaeological site was also designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2016.

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September 15, 2023

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