Visit to Nalanda University

February 12, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

On Thursday I visited the ruins of Nalanda University in Bihar. Nalanda was one of the first universities ever to be established worldwide. The location had been an important site of learning since the time of the historical Buddha Siddharta Guatama, when it was famed as a beautiful resort inhabited by saints and ascetics. Siddharta himself gave teachings here.

King Ashoka built a Buddhist monastery at Nalanda in the 3rd Century BC, but it was not until the 4th Century AD that the university as we know it from the surviving ruins became established. Nalanda flourished until the 12th Century when it was completely destroyed during one of the Muslim invasions of India. By this point, Nalanda’s legacy had been firmly established in all of the Buddhist countries around India, but had sadly been driven from India itself.

Classical Nalanda flourished for a period of seven hundred years and it’s ruins lay under the earth for a further seven hundred until they were discovered in the nineteenth century and partially excavated in the twentieth. Most of Nalanda has yet to be excavated and entire villages and towns have been built on top of it.

My AVPhD research is based on the writings of an Indian Philosopher– Shantideva who taught at Nalanda in the 8th Century. My investigations crystalise around a single Shantideva text – The Bodhicharyavatara – which translates as: A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life.

03 Buddha calling Earth, 10-11c, Bihar, Indian Museum, Kolkata The Bodhicharyavatara is a pinnacle of Madhyamaka Prsangika philosophy - an intricately refined Buddhist philosophy of living that gave rise to an explosion of poetic art and learning that spread throughout Asia to Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan, Mongolia, China, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Korea and Japan.

The central purpose of my project is to apply Madhyamaka Prasangika philosophy to contemporary still and moving-image photography in parallel to the ways in which it informed the Fine Arts of 8th Century India and Asia.

This is an artist’s impression of the proposed new university campus at Nalanda. I wonder if they will have a Media Arts department . . .


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