Nalanda was a well known settlement during the time of the Buddha who had visited and stayed at Nalanda. According to the Kevatta Sutta, during the time of the Buddha, Nālandā was a thickly populated influential and prosperous town. Nalanda is important historically because it was near the birth places of the Buddha’s two main disciples – Sariyuth and Mugalan Mahatheras. Sariyuth Mahathera was born and died in Nalanda.After the passing away of the Buddha, one of the earliest Buddhist Shrines was built in Nalanda. In early 3rd century BCE, Emperor Asoka improved this shrine by building two stupas in honour of the two disciples of the Buddha. He also built a monastery for Bhikkhus.In the 1st century CE, this monastery built by Emperor Asoka evolved to become a well known Buddhist learning Centre and later, in the 5th century CE, it expanded and improved to become the illustrious Nalanda International Buddhist University, as the first University in the world and also as the first residential university of the world.
Scholar saints were the greatest attraction of Nalanda. Nalanda became world famous on account of its many brilliant professors and high standard of education. In addition, strict discipline was maintained.Among the many outstanding scholars, thinkers and Chancellors of Nalanda were Nagarjuna, Aryadeva, Asanga, Vasubandhu, Dinnaga, Dharmakirthi, Shantharakshita, Dharmapala, Shilabhadra, Santhideva and Padmasabhava. It is important to note that, Aryadeva, the favourite disciple of Nagarjuna, hailed from Sri Lanka.The brothers Asanga and Vasubandhu were successive Abbots of Nalanda. Tibetan sources indicate by name several other great Buddhists associated with Nalanda such as Rahulabhadra, Aka, the Mahasiddha Saraha, Buddhapalita, Bhaviviveka of 5th-6th c. CE., Prasangika Madhyamika of Candrakirti of 7th c.CE, Candrakirti, Candragomin, Santarakshita of the 8th.c.CE a brilliant Abbot from Nalanda who helped Guru Padmasambhava bring Buddhism to Tibet.
According to Tibetan sources, Nagarjuna was the first Principal of Nalanda University. According to Tibetan sources, Mañjuśrīmitra was a respected Yogachara scholar of Nalanda whose works dealing with Vajrayana Buddhism had great impact on Tibetan Buddhism.Associated with Nalanda were several thousands of monks who were men of the highest ability and talent. Some of them were from different countries. The international character of Nalanda was quite prominent even during the time of Hieuen Tsiang’s association with Nalanda in the seventh century.Students from far and near flocked to learn at the feet of the great scholars of Nalanda. According to Hieuen Tsiang, Nalanda University had students from all over the Buddhist world. There were students from Sri Lanka, Tibet, Nepal, China, Mongolia, Turkistan, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Central Asia, Vietnam, Sumatra, Java, Persia, Greece and Turkey.
The library at Nalanda University was an immense complex. Called the Dharmaganja, or Piety Mart, it was separated into three large buildings: the Ratnasagara, the Ratnadadhi, and the Ratnaranjaka. The Ratnadadhi, meaning the Ocean of Gems, was nine stories high and housed the most sacred manuscripts including the Prajnaparamita Sutra and the Samajguhya. The towers were supposedly immense, bejewelled and gilded to reflect the rays of the sun. According to the Bhaskara Samhita, an ancient text on organizational practices, the library was to be built in a “finely built stone building” and each manuscript would have been placed on iron shelves or stack and covered with cloth and tied up. Furthermore, the librarian in charge, according to the text, was not only responsible for maintaining the materials but also for guiding readers in their studies The exact number of volumes of the Nalanda University Library is not known but it is estimated to have been in the hundreds of thousands. The library not only collected religious manuscripts but also had texts on such subjects as grammar, logic, literature, astrology, astronomy, and medicine
Classification It is clear that Nalanda University library had a classification scheme which was possibly based on a text classification scheme developed by the great Sanskrit linguist Panini.Buddhists texts were most likely divided in three classes based on the Tripitaka’s three main divisions: the Vinaya, Sutra, and the Abhidamma.Like most other Indian ancient and medieval period libraries, Nalanda would have used a basic catalogue to help patrons find materials. This bibliography, or Anukamanikas, would have listed the books by hymns, authors, form of sutras, Rishi’s name, and the hymnal metre.
Destruction .In the year 1193, these invaders led by Mohammad Bakhtiar Khilji, attacked and burnt down and demolished this great Centre of Learning that existed for some 700 years. They destroyed its magnificent buildings and massacred its inmates, who at the time were mostly Buddhist monks.
Mirjah-i-Siraj the famous Persian Muslim historian in his chronicle Tabaquat-I-Nasiri has left a detailed horrid account of Khilji’s vandalism and violence. He reports that the gigantic library complex of Nalanda containing a total of over 9 million invaluable treasures of books, mostly manuscripts were set on fire and the burning continued for over six months.
He says that “…smoke from the burning manuscripts hung for days like a dark pall over the low hills”. This invaluable collection of works that were destroyed was the products of centuries of scholastic studies. A few monks managed to escape with a few manuscripts to Tibet, Nepal and other neighboring countries.
There are reports that Jesus Christ spent several years at Nalanda University the only university that existed in the world at that time– checkwww.Utube.com – Where was Jesus for 18 years? By Yogeeshsharam who states that there are historical records to the effect in Tibet.