Amartya Sen: restoring Nalanda University difficult

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Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, head of Nalanda Mentor Group, responsible for setting up Nalanda International University has said restoring Nalanda University – the world’s oldest – was a difficult task.

Addressing the 98th Indian Science Congress at SRM University, Sen said, “The university is being re-started right now, and since I happen to have the difficult task of chairing its interim governing body, I am finding out how hard it is to re-establish a university after a 800 year hiatus. But we are getting there. This meeting here gives me an opportunity to recollect the pursuit of science in old Nalanda which will inspire and guide our long-run efforts in new Nalanda.”

Five countries – Japan, China, Singapore, Thailand and India – are undertaking the mission of building the new Nalanda.

Tracing the history of the ancient Indian centre of learning which was destroyed by Afghan conqueror Bakhtiyar Khilji in 1193 Sen said Nalanda was an internationally renowned centre of higher education in India established in the early fifth century, and ended its continuous existence of more than 700 years during the time Oxford and Cambridge universities were being founded.

He also compared Nalanda with the oldest European university at Bologna.

“Nalanda was more than 600 years old when Bologna was born. Had it not been destroyed and had it managed to survive to our time, Nalanda would be, by a long margin, the oldest university in the world,” he added.

The Al-Azhar University in Cairo, another distinguished university with which Nalanda is often compared, was set up in 970 A.D. — more than 500 years after Nalanda was founded, he remarked.

Referring to Khilji’s indiscriminate burning down of books and documents of Nalanda university, Sen said the act robbed the academic world of its educational standards and scholastic achievements.

He said accounts of Nalanda students such as Xuangzang and Yi Jigh showed the variety of subjects taught there – medicine, public health, architecture, sculpture, religion, history, law and linguistics.

Sen said it was time to recollect the scientific tradition of old Nalanda because disciplined thought was important for the entire concept of new Nalanda “including the teaching of and research in humanities such as history, languages and linguistics and comparative religion, as well as the social sciences and the world of practice such as international relations, management and development and information technology”.