|Vol. III, No. 49 16 Sharavan 2007, July 31, 1950, Annas Four – Air Mail-/4/6|
From times immemorial Bharat had developed an elaborate system of higher education. Both the state as well as the common people deemed at their duty to encourage education and give free scope to individuals to develop their latent talents. Nalanda and Vikramsila are the beet specimens of our cultural and educational centres in the past. The glorious Bharatiya tradition represented by them stands unrivalled even up to the present day.
The ancient site of Vikramsila university is difficult to be identified. Ravages of time and absolute destruction at the hands of blood-thirsty, ferocious and uncultured Muslim vandals gave a rude shook to flourishing universities of the age and Vikramsila was no exception to it. Cunningham, the great archaeologist, suggested the village of Silao near Borgaon while S.C. Vidyabhuean tried to identify it with Sultangunj in Bhagalpur. But the hill here on which the university was said to have once existed is a very small one— too small to have a big monastery with six gates and a quadrangle or open space which could accommodate an assemblage of 8,000 people and a large number of temples and colleges. According to Tibetan Chronicles, which form the best available source of knowledge, the monastery was situated on a bluff hill on the right bank of the Ganges and so the hill Patharghata, Bhagalpur District. Lying 24 miles to the east of Bhagalpur justifies to have been the real spot where once stood this Vihara, a massive temple of learning, a meeting place of scholars both foreign and native. Creation of royal patronage, the University at Vikramsila was termed “Royal”. Unlike Nalanda, it was the duty of kings to confer titles and degrees on scholars of this university.
Dharma Pal the Buddhist emperor is credited to have been the builder of Vikramsila in the 9th century A.D. It had a staff of 108 professors during the reign of Dharma Pal. Besides this certain acharyas deputed for offering wood and fire, and three superintendents comprised the strength of the staff in the beginning. A board of 6 members presided over by a priest of high order managed the affairs right up to 13th century A.D. “Pandit” like modern Ph. D., or D Litt, was the degree awarded for scholarship and the function of awarding was performed by the king. A Kashmiri Pandit Ratna-Vajra was a qualified “Snataka” (degree-holder) of the university and was appointed as the gate-keeper—a post of high distinction and responsibility. Indeed they were gate-keepers, utterly responsible for the entry of any undesirable element in the university. Some famous scholars here were Jetari, Ratna-kirti, Gyanshri Mitra, Atisa or Deepankar. Ratnakar Shanti, a pandit of the Sarvastivada school of Oddandpur, had the privilege of studying at Vikramsila.
The declining state of Magadha in those times was the reason why Vikramsila university could not win so high a place of eminence as Nalanda. Vikramsila owes much to the mighty efforts of king Dharma Pal who took excessive pains in furnishing the university with four establishments, each comprising of 27 monks. Rich grants and endowments for priests were made and students too were provided with all sorts of amenities of board and lodging. The Central Hall (also called House of Science) could accommodate 108 professors while in the largo open place could sit 8000 persons together. There were “Satras” (i.e. free board hostels) for scholars. Like Nalanda, a wall surrounded the Vikramsila University. On its front wall, on the right of the principal enterance was painted the likeness of Nagarjuna and on the left the portrait of Atisa. The Dharamsala at the gate outside the wall afforded shelter to strangers visiting the place.
COURSES OF STUDY
Courses of study were less comprehensive than those at Nalanda. “Tantras” was the most important branch of learning in those days and Vikramsila was a famous centre for its study. Also the study of Grammar, Metaphysics and Logic was greatly encouraged. Logic was really a very important and popular subject and the dwarpalas were well versed in it. The most noteworthy feature of the university was that scholars received the highest respect and honour. Everybody including the king himself stood up to pay homage to the learned “Acharyas”. Atisa was largely responsible for Vikramsila’s blossoming into a famous institution.
The devastating attitude of the Muslim invaders was solely responsible for the disappearance of such mgnanimous temples of learning and abodes of high culture. Great libraries of Nalanda and Vikramsila were set on fire just to heat water for bathing purposes of Muslim soldiers. This gave a rude shock to the progressing tendencies of the country and led them to complete oblivion and utter destruction. -Ratna Chandra Agrawala