Around 800 years after it was razed by foreign invaders, Nalanda University reopened its doors on Monday in an attempt to reclaim its ancient glory of an international knowledge destination.
The new university, set up on a sprawling 443-acre campus built near the ruins of the ancient seat of learning in Bihar, aims to rebuild the intellectual rigour of the old school initially with a school of environmental studies and a school of historical studies.
The government has sanctioned Rs. 2,700 crore to raise the new university, which has begun with seven faculty members and 15 students, and will go on have seven schools for postgraduate and doctorate students by 2020.
"Our ethos will be the same as the Nalanda University of the yore, but in a modern avatar," vice-chancellor Gopa Sabharwal said at the opening at the International Convention Centre at Rajgir, a Buddhist pilgrimage centre about 100 km from Patna and 12 km from the ruins of the earlier Nalanda University.
A university official said more than 1,000 students from 40 countries had sought admission in the new university.
Nalanda, which existed long before Harvard and Cambridge were set up, was a centre of excellence not just for philosophy and Buddhist studies but also for literature and mathematics. At its peak, the university accommodated over 10,000 students and 2,000 teachers.
It also attracted intellectuals from around the world, including Chinese scholar Hieun Tsang who spent nearly 15 years at the university in the fifth century AD.
The idea of resurrecting the ancient centre of learning got off the ground in 2010 when the Parliament passed a bill approving plans to rebuild the campus as a symbol of India's global ambitions.
A group of scholars led by Nobel laureate Amartya Sen have helped to revive Nalanda, which seeks to establish a 21st century university that maintains the heritage of its predecessor.
The ministry of external affairs will support six students from Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam at Nalanda, which has been revived as part of a wider Asian renaissance.
Started during the reign of Gupta king Sakraditya in the fifth century AD, Nalanda was razed to the ground by Turkish invaders in 1193 AD.
An initiative of the Indian government and 18 East Asia Summit (EAS) countries, the university has received foreign support. Sources said China had committed $1 million for the project and Australia, about A$1million, while Japan and Singapore are financing the construction work on the campus.