1917 - 1927

Nalanda: From Mound to Monument

Archaeological Survey of India

Nalanda was one of the greatest centres of education in early medieval India , and as an educational institution, its history goes back to The Buddha's lifetime.

It was situated in the ancient state of Magadha, which is a part of modern day Bihar, in India. 

The Archaeological Survey of India carried out systematic excavations for about 20 years, starting in 1915-1916.

The activities of the Archaeological Survey of India in excavation, preservation of the remains from further ruin, and in collection of antiquities have made Nalanda a place which no archaeological pilgrim should leave unseen. 

Nalanda’s transformation from mere mounds to the monument is traced in this series of photographs. It is a remnant of one of the greatest learning centres of ancient India. These photographs present the Archaeological Survey of India's efforts towards preserving the legacy for future generations.

A virtual walkthrough of the Nalanda excavated site

The decline of Nalanda had come with the end of Pala dynasty. Turkish invasions came as a final blow for its destruction in 12th century. Despite of few attempts at resuscitation, this great centre of Buddhist learning fell into complete disrepair, and was inhabited by locals.

In the 19th century, a British officer, Dr. Francis Buchanon-Hamilton, identified the site.

Sir Alexander Cunningham, the founder of the Archaeological Survey of India, surveyed and provided a complete description of the site in 1860s.

 Excavation began in 1917...

and went on...

...for 20 years.

Discovered in 1915-16, this sculpture

...of Khasarpana Avalokiteswara

...is now housed at the site museum.

Like so many more...

...incomparable treasures.

Historical sources mention offerings given by Emperor Ashoka to Sariputta’s chaitya (also known as Stupa No. 3) and the creation of a temple at the site. This photo is from excavations during 1925-27.

The temple at the site, before conservation...

and after...

The Serai mound, before...

...and after conservation.

By the time of the Gupta dynasty, Nalanda was already a famous centre for Buddhism.

Fa-Hien and Hsuan Tsang, the Chinese travelers, provide detailed descriptions of Nalanda Mahavihara.

Under the patronage of the Later Gupta and Pala rulers, Nalanda received scholars and students from across and beyond the Indian subcontinent.

Nalanda contributed to the iconographic development of Buddhist imagery, and the emergence of a number of Mahayana and Vajrayana images is attributed to it.

These stucco panels, depicting scenes from The Buddha's life, are amongst the few remaining works from the late Gupta period (7th-8th Century.)

Explore this part of the Nalanda excavated site, with a virtual walkthrough.

The Archaeological Survey of India's efforts at excavation and conservation have transformed the site into a monument where remnants of the glory of Nalanda, early medieval India's greatest centre of education, can be experienced. As of 2016, the Nalanda ruins have been recognized as a World Heritage site by UNESCO.

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