Dalai Lama Writes to Modi to Congratulate Inauguration of Nalanda University

By Tsering Choephel

DHARAMSALA, 25 June: The Tibetan spiritual leader, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, congratulated Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the inauguration of a new campus of Nalanda University near Rajgir, Bihar. Expressing his commitment “to creating greater interest and awareness in ancient Indian knowledge,” the Nobel Peace laureate said, “It is wonderful that a new Nalanda University has been established in this historic location—may it prosper and thrive.”

The revival of interest in the value of ancient Indian knowledge among young Indians today, particularly in the “Nalanda Tradition,” is one of the four key commitments of the Dalai Lama. “As a centre of learning,” the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader wrote to the Indian leader, “the original Nalanda University shone like a sun in the East. Education, rooted in rigorous study, discussion, and debate, flourished at Nalanda, attracting students from far and wide across Asia. In addition to philosophy, science, mathematics, and medicine, they learned about the age-old Indian traditions of ahimsa and karuna, which remain not only relevant but also essential in today’s world.” 

Established in the 5th century and considered the world’s first residential university, the educational centre flourished over seven centuries before declining into oblivion in the 12th century, until its rediscovery in the 19th century. The site has since attracted interest from archaeologists, historians, and Buddhist pilgrims.

The late former President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam proposed the revival of the ancient university in 2006, according to a report in The Hindu on Sunday. The re-establishment of Nalanda gained traction with the leaders of 16 member states of the East Asia Summit (EAS) in 2007 in the Philippines and the fourth EAS in 2009 in Thailand. The Nalanda University Act, 2010 was subsequently passed by Indian lawmakers, and the first batch of students was enrolled in 2014.

At the inauguration of the new 455-acre campus of Nalanda University on 19 June, the President of India, along with the Governor of Bihar Shri Rajendra Vishwanath Arlekar, Chief Minister of Bihar Shri Nitish Kumar, and External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar were present, according to a government press release. Ambassadors from 17 contributing countries—Australia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Laos, Mauritius, Myanmar, New Zealand, Portugal, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam—also attended the ceremony.

Since its inception in 2014, the university has not been without controversies, The Hindu reported. Former Singaporean Foreign Minister George Yeo, who was appointed Chancellor of the university, resigned citing concerns about autonomy and political interference in academic matters. The dominant historical narrative attributing the decline of the famed Nalanda to destruction by Turkish invaders is also contested and under review.

Experts note that China’s increasing use of Buddhism as a soft power tool for gaining political leverage in Asia vis-à-vis India has not escaped the attention of the New Delhi government. With the inauguration of the new campus at Nalanda University, which “aims to revive the ancient glory of the historic Nalanda as an international institution for the pursuit of intellectual, philosophical, historical, and spiritual studies”—with a focus on higher education and research offering postgraduate and doctoral programs in Buddhist studies, philosophy & comparative religions, languages and literature, ecology and environmental studies, sustainable development and environment, and international relations and peace studies—as stated in a Ministry of External Affairs press release, the project holds both cultural and political significance.

Currently, students from over 20 countries, including India, are enrolled in various courses at the University.

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