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The world's first university was established at Takshashila (northwest region of India) in approximately 700 B.C. The Universities in ancient India were entirely residential. It was considered that a University should contain at least 21 Professors well versed in Philosophy, Theology and Law; pupils were given free tuition, free boarding, and students who went to an educational institution - be the king or a peasant - lived and boarded together. Ashramas, Viharas and Parishads were great centers of culture and attracted large numbers.

When Alexander reached Punjab in 327 BC, Takshashila, the world's oldest university was already established as a place of learning. John Keay in his book India: a History" writes:

"Students went there to learn the purest Sanskrit. Kautilya, whose Arthashashtra is the classic Indian treatise on statecraft, is said to have been born there in the third century BC. It was also in Taxila that, in the previous century, Panini compiled a grammar more comprehensive and scientific than any dreamed of by Greek grammarians. The glory for the western world is the library of Alexandria, which was sanctioned by Ptolemy I Soter, the successor of Alexander of Macedonia in around 300 BC. While the Maurya empire was in power in India..."

Dr. Ernest Binfield Havell (1861-1934) principal to the Madras College of Art in the 1890s and left as principal of the Calcutta College of Art some 20 years later. He wrote several books, including his book, Indian Architecture - Its Psychology, Structure and History from the First Mohammedan Invasion to the Present Day has remarked:

"From the Guru the student would pass, about the age of sixteen, to one of the great universities that were the glory of ancient and medieval India. Benares, Taxila, Vidarbha, Ajanta, Ujjain or Nalanda. Benares was the stronghold of learning in Buddha's days. Taxila was known at the time of Alexander's invasion, was known to all of Asia as the leading seat of Hindu scholarship, renowned above all for its medical school; Ujjain was held in high repute for astronomy, Ajanta for the teaching of art. The facade of one of the ruined buildings at Ajanta suggests the magnificence of these old universities."

(source: Story of Civilization: Our Oriental Heritage - By Will Durant MJF Books.1935 p. 556-557).

When Cyrus the Great (558-530 B.C.), came to the throne, the city of Takshasila, was already a center of learning and trade. Young men from Magadha were sent there to finish their education. The Jataka tales show that young men from all over the civilized part of India sought education in this city, as well as from Persia and Mesopotamia.

The campus accommodated 10,500 students and offered over sixty different courses in various fields, such as science, mathematics, medicine, politics, warfare, astrology, astronomy, music, religion, and philosophy. The minimum age for admission was 16 years and students from as far as Babylonia, Greece, Syria, Arabia, and China came to study at the university. Taxila, stood on the banks of the river Vitasa in the northwest of the Indian subcontinent.

Panini, the great Sanskrit grammarian, Charaka, the author of famous treatise on medicine, and Chanakya, writer of Artha Shastra -- these august names are associated with Taxila. Promising minds from far flung regions converged there to study the Vedas and all branches of secular knowledge. Takshasila or Taxila, as the Greeks called it over 2,000 years ago, was at one of the entrances to the splendor that was India. Its antiquity is rooted both in epic texts like the Ramayana, Mahabharata and the other Puranas. The Jakatas are full of references to Taxila - over 100 in fact. We gleam a good many details about it from them. Mention is made of world-renowned professors who taught the Vedas, the Kalas, Shilpa, Archery and so on. King Kosala and Jivaka, the famous physician were students of the University, the latter learning medicine under Rishi Atreya. Great stress was laid on the study of Sanskrit and Pali literature.

The University of Vikramasila accommodated 8,000 people. It was situated on a hill in Magadha on the banks of the Ganga and flourished for four centuries. It was destroyed along with Nalanda by the Mohammedan invasion. They speak of Kulapatis in those times; the technical meaning of the word is 'one who feeds' and teaches 10,000 students'. Kanva was one such Kulapati. Kalidasa speaks of the various kinds of knowledge taught and learnt under the guidance of Kanva.

The University of Nalanda built in the 4th century BCE was one of the greatest achievements of ancient India in the field of education. Buddha visited Nalanda several times during his lifetime. The Chinese scholar and traveler Hiuen Tsang stayed here in the 7th century, and has left an elaborate description of the excellence, and purity of monastic life practiced here. About 2,000 teachers and 10,000 students from all over the Buddhist world, lived and studied in this international university. In this first residential international university of the world, 2,000 teachers and 10,000 students from all over the Buddhist world lived and studied here.

It had ten thousand students, one hundred lecture-rroms, great libraries, and six immense blocks of dormitories four stories high; its observatories, said Yuan Chwang, "were lost in the vapors of the morning, and the upper rooms towered above the clouds." The old Chinese pilgrim loved the learned monks and shady groves of Nalanda so well he stayed there for five years.

(source: Story of Civilization: Our Oriental Heritage - By Will Durant MJF Books.1935 p. 556-557 and Facets of Indian Culture - By R. Srinivasan Publisher: Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan p. 237-239).

The Gupta kings patronized these monasteries, built in old Kushan architectural style, in a row of cells around a courtyard. Ashoka and Harshavardhana were some of its most celebrated patrons who built temples and monasteries here. Recent excavations have unearthed elaborate structures here. Hiuen Tsang had left ecstatic accounts of both the ambiance and architecture of this unique university of ancient times. The Nalanda university counted on its staff such great thinkers as Nagarjuna, Aryadeva, Vasubhandu, Asanga, Sthiramati, Dharmapala, Silaphadra, Santideva and Padmasambhava. The ancient universities were the sanctuaries of the inner life of the nation. Another large university was established at Nalanda around 500 B.C. Approximately one mile long and half-mile wide, this campus housed a large library, called Dharam gunj (Treasure of Knowledge), that spread over three buildings, known as Ratna Sagar, Ratnadevi, and Ratnayanjak. Among other facilities, the university included 300 lecture halls, several laboratories, and an astronomical research observatory called Ambudharavlehi. The university used handwritten manuscripts for teaching and attracted students and staff from many countries, including China, Korea and Japan. According to the Chinese traveler Hieun Tsang, the campus housed 10,000 students, 2,000 professors, and a large administrative staff.

(source: The Hindu Mind - Fundamentals of Hindu Religion and Philosophy for All Ages - By Bansi Pandit B & V Enterprises, Inc ISBN: 0963479849 p. 302).

These universities were sacked, plundered, looted by the Islamic onslaught.

According to historian Will Durant:

"The Mohemmedans destroyed nearly all the monasteries, Buddhist or Hindu, in northern India. Nalanda was burned to the ground in 1197 and all its monks were slaughtered; we can never estimate the abundant life of ancient India from what these fanatics spared."

(source: Story of Civilization: Our Oriental Heritage - By Will Durant MJF Books.1935 p. 558).

The Moghuls neglected practical and secular learning, especially the sciences. Throughout their long rule, no institutions was established comparable to modern university, although early India had world-famous centers of learning such as Taxila, Nalanda and Kanchi. Neither the nobles nor the mullas were stirred into learning...

For more on education, refer to chapter on Education in Ancient India).











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