Nalanda was famous center of higher learning during ancient times. Now in ruins, Nalanda is believed to be the first international university. The site is located at a distance of ninety kilometers from Patna. The Nalanda ruins are spread in an area of 14 hectares which show that the campus of the university was widespread.
The famous Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang writes that the university was spread over a large area and had more than ten thousand students and nearly one thousand faculty members of great intellect. According to his writings, students and teachers from Sri Lanka, Tibet, Java, Sumatra, and Surinam would come to study and teach at the center. Hieun Tsang further says that researchers were out performing each other in intelligence and knowledge and were highly knowledgeable.
Why the place was called Nalanda has history in it. According to one fable Nalam means Lotus, and Da means ‘to give’ and if both are combined these words give the meaning ‘giver of lotus,’ and, since lotus is a symbol of knowledge, Nalanda was an ultimate giver of knowledge. The university was a residential campus and students were expected to leave their parental houses to learn higher knowledge of life and the world.
Other than the study of Buddhism, the university was known to be a great center for learning the Vedas, Philosophy, life sciences, medicine, and natural law. Students were exposed to effective learning processes and stress was given more on learning and practice. The monks therefore took to learning so that they might practice it and realize Dhamma perfectly and thereby enrich the masses with their higher understanding of teachings of Lord Buddha.