On the last day we were in Rajgir we hired a car and went the relatively short distance to Nalanda, the site of the largest university in the early medieval world. At its height it attracted students from all over the world, and had up to 10,000 students and 1,000 teachers, and was a focus for the dissemination of Buddhist culture throughout Asia.
After passing some books to the deputy-general of Nava Nalanda, the recently begun modern university which is still being built, not far from the old one, we made our way to the peaceful grounds of the old site.
Fortunately I had been tipped off by Ven Dhammika about seeing Temple No. 2, which is slightly outside the main grounds, and which I am sure is missed by many people. That is a pity as it has some fine sculptured reliefs facing the lower wall on all four sides, and is the most heavily decorated temple in the site. It is believed to date from the 7th century.
There are more than 200 reliefs and they have images of gods and goddesses, Jataka stories, scenes from everyday life, human figures, animals, birds, kinnaras, geometrical motifs, and so on. In the collection I have published nearly 100 high definition photographs of these reliefs.
Relief on temple No 2
When we had finished in that temple we backtracked and entered the main complex. Although I have seen many photos from Nalanda I didn’t realise how big the grounds were until we got inside, and it appears there is still more unexcavated around the main site.
The most iconic of the buildings is Temple No 3, which, because of its size, dominates the complex now. Fortunately it is also in a fairly good state of preservation, and the two remaining towers on the eastern and western sides have many fine stucco images.
It is not allowed to approach the temple too closely, and there are guards on watch to make sure you don’t. This is odd as in the rest of the ruins it is possible to clamber all over them without hinderance. However, I have a good 20x zoom lens and the days of having to be physically close to something to photograph it are gone. I let the lens do the walking these days.
Temple No 3
There are a number of other temples around the site, including one with a good collection of votive stupas, and another with some well carved niches. The monastic complex itself is raised only to the first level, which is unroofed. In its heyday it would have been two-storied and sometimes higher than that.
The complex is divided mainly into kutis, and what may have been storerooms, or other facilities. There is also an interesting raised platform still intact, where it is believed the teachers would have sat to give their lectures or talks.
Long after my companions have given up and were sitting quietly in the shade of the trees, I was still walking from one end of the complex to the other, raised camera in hand.
When we had finished with the site itself we walked across the road to the Archeological Museum, which houses a very fine collection of artifacts found in and around the site. Unfortunately photography was not allowed in the Museum, although it is, at extra cost, in many of the others. Why a number of Museums these days have these unnecessary restrictions on photography I don’t know, but it is very frustrating.