Nalanda: The university that changed the world

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“Yes, it is difficult to assign a definitive reason for the invasion,” said Shankar Sharma, the director of the onsite museum, which displays 350 artifacts of the more-than 13,000 antiquities it houses, which were salvaged during Nalanda excavations, such as stucco sculptures, bronze statuettes of the Buddha, and ivory and bone pieces.

“It was not the first attack on Nalanda, though,” Sharma said, as we strolled through the ruins. “It was attacked by the Huns under Mihirkula in the 5th Century, and again sustained severe damage from an invasion of the Gauda king of Bengal, in the 8th Century.”

While the Huns came to plunder, it is difficult to conclude whether the second attack by the King of Bengal was the result of a growing antagonism between their Shaivite Hindu sect and the Buddhists at the time. On both occasions, the buildings were restored, and the facilities were expanded after the attacks with the help of imperial patronage from the rulers.

“By the time Khilji invaded this sacred temple of learning, Buddhism was on an overall state of decline in India,” Sharma said. “With its internal degeneration, coupled with [the] decline of the Buddhist Pala dynasty that had been patronizing the university since the 8th Century CE, the third invasion was the final death blow.”

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