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a somewhat subordinate role in the Delhi administration. The term "Turk" was
commonly used to refer to their higher social status. However S.A.A. Rizvi points to
Muhammad bin Tughlaq as not only encouraging locals but promoting artisan groups
such as cooks, barbers and gardeners to high administrative posts. In his reign, it is
likely that conversions to Islam took place as a means of seeking greater social mobility
and improved social standing.
Islam's impact was the most notable in the expansion of trade. The first contact
of Muslims with India was the Arab attack on a nest of pirates near modern-day Mumbai
to safeguard their trade in the Arabian Sea. Around the same time many Arabs settled
at Indian ports, giving rise to small Muslim communities. The growth of these
communities was not only due to conversion but also the fact that many Hindu kings of
south India (such as those from Cholas) hired Muslims as mercenaries.
A significant aspect of the Muslim period in world history was the emergence of
Islamic Sharia courts capable of imposing a common commercial and legal system that
extended from Morocco in the West to Mongolia in the North East and Indonesia in the
South East. While southern India was already in trade with Arabs/Muslims, northern
India found new opportunities. As the Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms of Asia were
subjugated by Islam, and as Islam spread through Africa
it became a highly
centralising force that facilitated in the creation of a common legal system that allowed
letters of credit issued in say Egypt or Tunisia to be honoured in India or Indonesia (The
Sharia has laws on the transaction of business with both Muslims and non-
Muslims). In order to cement their rule, Muslim rulers initially promoted
a system in which there was a revolving door between the clergy, the administrative
nobility and the mercantile classes. The travels of explorer Muhammad Ibn-Abdullah
Ibn-Batuta were eased because of this system. He served as an Imam in Delhi, as a
judicial official in the Maldives, and as an envoy and trader in the Malabar. There was
never a contradiction in any of his positions because each of these roles complemented
the other. Islam created a compact under which political power, law and religion
became fused in a manner so as to safeguard the interests of the mercantile class. This
led world trade to expand to the maximum extent possible in the medieval world. Sher
Shah Suri took initiatives in improvement of trade by abolishing all taxes which hindered
progress of free trade. He built large networks of roads and constructed Grand Trunk
1544), which connects Chittagong to Kabul. Parts of it are still in use today.
The geographic regions add to the diversity of languages and politics.
The divide and rule policies, two-nation theory, and subsequent partition of India
in the wake of Independence from the British Empire has polarised the sub-continental
psyche, making objective assessment hard in comparison to the other settled
agricultural societies of India from the North West. Muslim rule differed from these
others in the level of assimilation and syncretism that occurred. They retained their
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identity and introduced legal and administrative systems that superseded existing
systems of social conduct and ethics. While this was a source of friction it resulted in a
unique experience the legacy of which is a Muslim community strongly Islamic in
character while at the same time distinctive and unique among its peers.
The impact of Islam on Indian culture has been inestimable. It permanently
influenced the development of all areas of human endeavour
cuisine, all the art forms, architecture and urban design, and social customs and values.
Conversely, the languages of the Muslim invaders were modified by contact with local
languages, to Urdu, which uses the Arabic script. This language was also known as
Hindustani, an umbrella term used for the vernacular terminology of Hindi as well as
Urdu, both major languages in South Asia today derived primarily from Sanskrit
grammatical structures and vocabulary.
Muslim rule saw a greater urbanisation of India and the rise of many cities and
their urban cultures. The biggest impact was upon trade resulting from a common
commercial and legal system extending from Morocco to Indonesia. This change of
emphasis on mercantilism and trade from the more strongly centralised governance
systems further clashed with the agricultural based traditional economy and also
provided fuel for social and political tensions.
A related development to the shifting economic conditions was the establishment
of Karkhanas, or small factories and the import and dissemination of technology through
India and the rest of the world. The use of ceramic tiles was adopted from architectural
traditions of Iraq, Iran, and Central Asia. Rajasthan's blue pottery was a local variation
of imported Chinese pottery. There is also the example of Sultan Abidin (1420
sending Kashmiri artisans to Samarqand to learn book-binding and paper making.
Khurja and Siwan became renowned for pottery, Moradabad for brass ware, Mirzapur
for carpets, Firozabad for glass wares, Farrukhabad for printing, Sahranpur and Nagina
for wood-carving, Bidar and Lucknow for bidriware, Srinagar for papier-mache, Benaras
for jewellery and textiles, and so on. On the flip-side encouraging such growth also
resulted in higher taxes on the peasantry.
Numerous Indian scientific and mathematical advances and the Hindu numerals
were spread to the rest of the world and much of the scholarly work and advances in the
sciences of the age under Muslim nations across the globe were imported by the liberal
patronage of Arts and Sciences by the rulers. The languages brought by Islam were
modified by contact with local languages leading to the creation of several new
languages, such as Urdu, which uses the modified Arabic script, but with more Persian
words. The influences of these languages exist in several dialects in India today.
Islamic and Mughal architecture and art is widely noticeable in India, examples
being the Taj Mahal and Jama Masjid. At the same time, Muslim rulers destroyed most
of the ancient Indian architectural marvels and converted them into Islamic structures,
most notably at Varanasi, Mathura, Ayodhya and the Kutub Complex in New Delhi.
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A number of theories exist about the etymology of the name, Nālandā. According
to the Tang Dynasty Chinese pilgrim, Xuanzang
, it comes from Na alam dā meaning no
end in gifts or charity without intermission. Yijing, another Chinese traveller, however,
derives it from Nāga Nanda referring to the name (Nanda) of a snake (naga) in the local
tank. Hiranand Sastri, an archaeologist who headed the excavation of the ruins,
attributes the name to the abundance of nālas (lotus
-stalks) in the area and believes
that Nalanda would then represent the giver of lotus-stalks.
Nalanda was initially a prosperous village by a major trade route that ran through
the nearby city of Rajagriha (modern Rajgir) which was then the capital of Magadha.
It is said that the Jain thirthankara, Mahavira, spent 14 rainy seasons at Nalanda.
Gautama Buddha too is said to have delivered lectures in a nearby mango grove named
Pavarika and one of his two chief disciples, Shariputra, was born in the area and later
attained nirvana there.:148:328 This traditional association with Mahavira and
Buddha tenuously dates the existence of the village to at least the 5th
6th century BCE.
Not much is known of Nalanda in the centuries hence. Taranatha, the 17th-
century Tibetan Lama, states that the 3rd-century BCE Mauryan and Buddhist emperor,
Ashoka, built a great temple at Nalanda at the site of Shariputra's chaitya. He also
places 3rd-century CE luminaries such as the Mahayana philosopher, Nagarjuna, and
his disciple, Aryadeva, at Nalanda with the former also heading the institution.
Taranatha also mentions a contemporary of Nagarjuna named Suvishnu building 108
temples at the location. While this could imply that there was a flourishing centre for
Buddhism at Nalanda before the 3rd century, no archaeological evidence has been
unearthed to support the assertion. When Faxian, an early Chinese Buddhist pilgrim to
India, visited Nalo, the site of Shariputra's parinirvana, at the turn of the 5th century CE,
all he found worth mentioning was a stupa.
Nalanda's datable history begins under the Gupta Empire and a seal identifies a
monarch named Shakraditya (Śakrāditya) as its founder. Both
Xuanzang and a Korean
pilgrim named Prajnyavarman (Prajñāvarman) attribute
the foundation of a sangharama
(monastery) at the site to him. Shakraditya is identified with the 5th-century CE Gupta
emperor, Kumaragupta I
(r. c. 415
c. 455 CE), whose coin has been discovered at
Nalanda.:166:329 His successors, Buddhagupta, Tathagatagupta, Baladitya, and
Vajra, later extended and expanded the institution by building additional monasteries
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The Guptas were traditionally a Vaishya dynasty. Narasimhagupta (Baladitya)
however, was brought up under the influence of the Mahayanist philosopher,
Vasubandhu. He built a sangharama at Nalanda and also a 300 ft (91 m) high vihara
with a Buddha statue within which, according to Xuanzang, resembled the "great Vihara
built under the Bodhi tree". The Chinese monk also noted that Baladitya's son, Vajra,
who commissioned a sangharama as well, "possessed a heart firm in faith".
The post-Gupta period saw a long succession of kings who continued building at
Nalanda "using all the skill of the sculptor". At some point, a "king of central India" built a
high wall along with a gate around the now numerous edifices in the complex. Another
monarch (possibly of the Maukhari dynasty) named Purnavarman who is described as
"the last of the race of Ashoka-raja", erected an 80 ft (24 m) high copper image of
Buddha to cover which he also constructed a pavilion of six stages.
However, after the decline of the Guptas, the most notable patron of the
Mahavihara was Harsha, the 7th-century emperor of Kannauj. Harsha was a converted
Buddhist and considered himself a servant of the monks of Nalanda. He built a
monastery of brass within the Mahavihara and remitted to it the revenues of 100
villages. He also directed 200 households in these villages to supply the institution's
monks with requisite amounts of rice, butter, and milk on a daily basis. Around a
thousand monks from Nalanda were present at Harsha's royal congregation at Kannauj.
Much of what is known of Nalanda prior to the 8th century is based on the
travelogues of the Chinese monks, Xuanzang (Si-Yu-Ki) and Yijing (A Record of the
Buddhist Religion As Practised in India and the Malay Archipelago).
Xuanzang (also known as Hiuen Tsang) travelled around India between the
years of 630 and 643 CE, and visited Nalanda first in 637 and then again in 642,
spending a total of around two years at the monastery. He was warmly welcomed in
Nalanda where he received the Indian name of Mokshadeva and studied under the
guidance of Shilabhadra, the venerable head of the institution at the time. He believed
that the aim of his arduous overland journey to India had been achieved as in
Shilabhadra he had at last found an incomparable teacher to instruct him in Yogachara,
a school of thought that had then only partially been transmitted to China. Besides
Buddhist studies, the monk also attended courses in grammar, logic, and Sanskrit, and
later also lectured at the Mahavihara.
In the detailed account of his stay at Nalanda, the pilgrim describes the view out
of the window of his quarters thus,
Moreover, the whole establishment is surrounded by a brick wall, which encloses
the entire convent from without. One gate opens into the great college, from which are
separated eight other halls standing in the middle (of the Sangharama). The richly
adorned towers, and the fairy-like turrets, like pointed hill-tops are congregated
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together. The observatories seem to be lost in the vapours (of the morning), and the
upper rooms tower above the clouds.
Xuanzang was a contemporary and an esteemed guest of Harsha and
catalogued the emperor's munificence in some detail. According to Xuanzang's
biographer, Hwui-Li, Nalanda was held in contempt by some Sthaviras for its emphasis
on Mahayana philosophy. They reportedly chided King Harsha for patronising Nalanda
during one of his visits to Odisha, mocking the "sky-flower"[clarification needed]
philosophy taught there and suggesting that he might as well patronise a Kapalika
temple. When this occurred, Harsha notified the chancellor of Nalanda, who sent the
monks Sagaramati, Prajnyarashmi, Simharashmi, and Xuanzang to refute the views of
the monks from Odisha.
Xuanzang returned to China with 657 Buddhist texts (many of them Mahayanist)
and 150 relics carried by 20 horses in 520 cases, and translated 74 of the texts himself.
In the thirty years following his return, no fewer than eleven travellers from China and
Korea are known to have visited famed Nalanda.
Yijing in Nalanda
Inspired by the journeys of Faxian and Xuanzang, the pilgrim, Yijing (also known
as I-tsing), after studying Sanskrit in Srivijaya, arrived in India in 673 CE. He stayed
there for fourteen years, ten of which he spent at the Nalanda Mahavihara. When he
returned to China in 695, he had with him 400 Sanskrit texts which were subsequently
Unlike his predecessor, Xuanzang, who also describes the geography and
culture of 7th-century India, Yijing's account primarily concentrates on the practice of
Buddhism in the land of its origin and detailed descriptions of the customs, rules, and
regulations of the monks at the monastery. In his chronicle, Yijing notes that revenues
from 200 villages (as opposed to 100 in Xuanzang's time) had been assigned toward
the maintenance of Nalanda. He described there being eight halls with as many as 300
apartments. According to him, daily life at Nalanda included a series of rites that were
followed by all. Each morning, a bell was rung signalling the bathing hour which led to
hundreds or thousands of monks proceeding from their viharas towards a number of
great pools of water in and around the campus where all of them took their bath. This
was followed by another gong which signalled the ritual ablution of the image of the
Buddha. The chaityavandana was conducted in the evenings which included a "three-
part service", the chanting of a prescribed set of hymns, shlokas, and selections from
scriptures. While it was usually performed at a central location, Yijing states that the
sheer number of residents at Nalanda made large daily assemblies difficult. This
resulted in an adapted ritual which involved a priest, accompanied by lay servants and
children carrying incense and flowers, travelling from one hall to the next chanting the
service. The ritual was completed by twilight.
Nalanda in the Pala era
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The Palas established themselves in North-eastern India in the 8th century and
reigned until the 12th century. Although they were a Buddhist dynasty, Buddhism in
their time was a mixture of the Mahayana practised in Nalanda and Vajrayana, a
Tantra-influenced version of Mahayanist philosophy. Nalanda was a cultural legacy from
the great age of the Guptas and it was prized and cherished. The Palas were prolific
builders and their rule oversaw the establishment of four other Mahaviharas modelled
on the Nalanda Mahavihara at Jagaddala, Odantapura, Somapura, and Vikramashila
respectively. Remarkably, Odantapura was founded by Gopala, the progenitor of the
royal line, only 6 miles (9.7 km) away from Nalanda.
Inscriptions at Nalanda suggest that Gopala's son, Dharmapala, who founded the
Mahavihara at Vikramshila, also appears to have been a benefactor of the ancient
monastery in some form. It is however, Dharmapala's son, the 9th century emperor and
founder of the Mahavihara at Somapura, Devapala, who appears to have been
Nalanda's most distinguished patron in this age. A number of metallic figures containing
references to Devapala have been found in its ruins as well as two notable inscriptions.
The first, a copper plate inscription unearthed at Nalanda, details an endowment by the
Shailendra King, Balaputradeva of Suvarnadvipa (Sumatra in modern-day Indonesia).
This Srivijayan king, "attracted by the manifold excellences of Nalanda" had built a
monastery there and had requested Devapala to grant the revenue of five villages for its
upkeep, a request which was granted. The Ghosrawan inscription is the other
inscription from Devapala's time and it mentions that he received and patronised a
learned Vedic scholar named Viradeva who was later elected the head of Nalanda.
The now five different seats of Buddhist learning in eastern India formed a state-
supervised network and it was common for great scholars to move easily from position
to position among them. Each establishment had its own official seal with a
dharmachakra flanked by a deer on either side, a motif referring to Buddha's deer park
sermon at Sarnath. Below this device was the name of the institution which in Nalanda's
ghasya" which translates to "of
the Community of Venerable Monks of the Great Monastery at Nalanda".
While there is ample epigraphic and literary evidence to show that the Palas
continued to patronise Nalanda liberally, the Mahavihara was less singularly
outstanding during this period as the other Pala establishments must have drawn away
a number of learned monks from Nalanda. The Vajrayana influence on Buddhism grew
strong under the Palas and this appears to have also had an effect on Nalanda. What
had once been a centre of liberal scholarship with a Mahayanist focus grew more
fixated with Tantric doctrines and magic rites. Taranatha's 17th-century history claims
that Nalanda might have even been under the control of the head of the Vikramshila
Mahavihara at some point.
While its excavated ruins today only occupy an area of around 1,600 feet (488 m)
by 800 feet (244 m) or roughly 12 hectares, Nalanda Mahavihara occupied a far greater
area in medieval times. It was considered an architectural masterpiece, and was
marked by a lofty wall and one gate. Nalanda had eight separate compounds and ten
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temples, along with many other meditation halls and classrooms. On the grounds were
lakes and parks. Nalanda was a residential school, i.e., it had
dormitories for students. In its heyday, it is claimed to have accommodated over 10,000
students and 2,000 teachers. Chinese pilgrims estimated the number of students to
have been between 3,000 and 5,000.
The subjects taught at Nalanda covered every field of learning, and it attracted
pupils and scholars from Korea, Japan, China, Tibet, Indonesia, Persia and Turkey.
Xuanzang left detailed accounts of the school in the 7th century. He described
how the regularly laid-out towers, forest of pavilions, harmikas and temples seemed to
"soar above the mists in the sky" so that from their cells the monks "might witness the
birth of the winds and clouds". The pilgrim states: "An azure pool winds around the
monasteries, adorned with the full-blown cups of the blue lotus; the dazzling red flowers
of the lovely kanaka hang here and there, and outside groves of mango trees offer the
inhabitants their dense and protective shade."
It is evident from the large numbers of texts that Yijing carried back with him after
his 10-year residence at Nalanda, that the Mahavihara must have featured a well-
equipped library. Traditional Tibetan sources mention the existence of a great library at
Nalanda named Dharmaganja (Piety Mart) which comprised three large multi-storeyed
buildings, the Ratnasagara (Ocean of Jewels), the Ratnodadhi (Sea of Jewels), and the
Ratnaranjaka (Jewel-adorned). Ratnodadhi was nine storeys high and housed the most
sacred manuscripts including the Prajnyaparamita Sutra and the Guhyasamaja.
The exact number of volumes in the Nalanda library is not known. But it is
estimated to have been in the hundreds of thousands. The library not only collected
religious manuscripts but also had texts on such subjects as grammar, logic, literature,
astrology, astronomy, and medicine. The Nalanda library must have had a classification
scheme which was possibly based on a text classification scheme developed by the
Sanskrit linguist, Panini. Buddhist texts were most likely divided into three classes
based on the Tripitaka's three main divisions: the Vinaya, Sutra, and the Abhidhamma.
In his biography of Xuanzang, Hwui-Li states that all the students of Nalanda
studied the Great Vehicle (Mahayana) as well as the works of the eighteen (Hinayana)
sects of Buddhism. In addition to these, they studied other subjects such as the Vedas,
Hetuvidyā (Logic), Shabdavidya (Grammar and Philology), Chikitsavidya (Medicine), the
works on magic (the Atharvaveda), and Samkhya.
Xuanzang himself studied a number of these subjects at Nalanda under
Shilabhadra and others. Besides Theology and Philosophy, frequent debates and
discussions necessitated competence in Logic. A student at the Mahavihara had to be
well-versed in the systems of Logic associated with all the different schools of thought of
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