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THE history of Nalanda, the ancient university town of Bihar, goes back to the days of Buddha and Mahavira in the Sixth Century B.C. The town was home to Nalanda Mahavihara, a monastic university of international repute.

There are many versions of what the term nalanda means. One is that nalam (lotus) and da (to give) combine to mean "giver of the lotus". Since the lotus is supposed to represent knowledge, Nalanda means "giver of knowledge". The university of Nalanda, a suburb of Rajgir in ancient times, is just off the main road from Rajgir to Patna.

Both Buddha and Mahavira often stayed at Nalanda during the rainy season. Buddhist scriptures reveal that they once stayed at Nalanda at the same time, but there is no record of them meeting one another.

Ancient Buddhist sources say that Asoka, the Mauryan emperor (Third Century B.C) built a temple at Nalanda. It was a flourishing hub where the philosopher and alchemist, Nagarjuna, studied and taught in the Second Century A.D. However, excavations have not revealed anything to suggest that the site was occupied before the Gupta period (Fifth Century A.D.), the earliest finds being a copper plate of Samudragupta and a coin of Kumaragupta (414-455 A.D.). Fa-Hien who visited in the Fifth Century A.D. makes no mention of the massive monastic establishments at Nalanda. But Hiuen Tsang who came in A.D 637 during Harsha's reign (606-647 A.D.) refers to the great monastery that Harsha endowed with liberal grants.

Modern District of Nalanda with HQ Biiharsharif was established on Nov 9, 1972. Earlier it was Biharsharif sub-division of Patna district.


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