Turkish Raiders Destroy Buddhist University at Nalanda Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Nalanda, the greatest Buddhist monastic institution and seat of secular learning in ancient India, was destroyed by Turkish raiders, leading to the demise of Buddhism in India.

Summary of Event

Conflict between the Muslim Turkish kingdom of Ghazna (now in modern Afghanistan) and the northwest Indian states, which adhered to Buddhism, Buddhism;Islam and Islam;Buddhism and began in the ninth century. At the end of that century, the Turks conquered Jaguda, but the Indians were able to hold off the Turks until the middle of the tenth century, when a new Turkish dynasty launched a more determined effort to dominate the country. A long war ensued. [kw]Turkish Raiders Destroy Buddhist University at Nalanda (1193) [kw]Buddhist University at Nalanda, Turkish Raiders Destroy (1193) [kw]University at Nalanda, Turkish Raiders Destroy Buddhist (1193) [kw]Nalanda, Turkish Raiders Destroy Buddhist University at (1193) Nalanda India;Turkish raids on India;1193: Turkish Raiders Destroy Buddhist University at Nalanda[2120] Religion;1193: Turkish Raiders Destroy Buddhist University at Nalanda[2120] Education;1193: Turkish Raiders Destroy Buddhist University at Nalanda[2120] Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;1193: Turkish Raiders Destroy Buddhist University at Nalanda[2120] Ikhtar-ud-Dīn Muḥammad-ibn-Bakhtiar Khaljī

In the early eleventh century, the Turkish leader, Sultan Maḥmūd of Ghazna Maḥmūd of Ghazna , amassed great riches from a series of raids on Indian states and cities. Mathura was pillaged, and the capital, Kanyakubja, was sacked. Ten thousand temples were destroyed. Although Maḥmūd’s progress was eventually halted, he had established a large Turkish empire in India. Over the next 150 years, there were sporadic wars between the Turks and the Indian states, but little change in the overall position.

A new phase in the conflict began toward the end of the twelfth century. In 1173, a Turkish ruler, Sultan Ikhtar-ud-Dīn Muḥammad-ibn-Bakhtiar Khaljī Ikhtar-ud-Dīn Muḥammad-ibn-Bakhtiar Khaljī , overthrew the Yamini Dynasty Yamini Dynasty , which had been in power since the tenth century. Five years later, in 1178, Bakhtiar Khaljī suffered a heavy defeat after attacking the small kingdom of Gujarat in western India. However, by 1192, Bakhtiar Khaljī had recovered from this defeat and built up a new army. Some quick victories left most of northern India open to attack by the Turks. In 1193, Varanasi was looted, and a thousand temples were destroyed. They were replaced by mosques. The Turks pushed eastward and annexed Bihar and Bengal, destroying the Buddhist universities there. Uddandapura became a Turkish base, and from there, raids were launched on nearby Nalanda.

The monastery at Nalanda had been founded in the fifth century by one of the Gupta emperors. Nalanda is located in northeast India on the Ganges plain a few miles south of Patna. The Buddha visited the city of Nalanda several times on his travels through India in the sixth century b.c.e. It was then reported to be a prosperous, well-populated place. According to tradition, Nalanda was the birthplace of Sariputra, one of Buddha’s chief disciples.

The monastery received royal patronage of the emperors Aśoka and Harṣa of Kanauj, and it quickly grew into the greatest center of learning in India. By the seventh century, Nalanda was more like a university than a monastery. It was no longer an institution that focused solely on spiritual enlightenment; a wide range of secular disciplines were studied. Education;India Ten thousand students were enrolled there, including many from other Asian countries, and there was a regular system of admission and registration. There were two thousand teachers, and hundreds of lectures were given every day. Courses of study included Buddhist scriptures of both Mahāyāna and Hīnayāna schools; the ancient texts known as the Vedas; and hetu vidya (logic), shabda vidya (grammar) and chikitsa vidya (medicine). The university was grouped with several neighboring monasteries to form a single organization. A Chinese visitor, Xuanzang Xuanzang (Hsüan-tsang; c. 602-664), stayed at Nalanda in the seventh century and gave high praise to the educational system there, as well as the purity of the lives of the monks. Xuangzang also admired the architecture of the university, in which rows of cells were arranged around a courtyard.

One of the great glories of Nalanda was its library. It was the biggest and the most frequently used of all the ancient Buddhist libraries. It consisted of three buildings, one of which was nine stories high. This was the Ratnodahdhi, which specialized in rare and sacred works. It was the library that enabled Nalanda University to become the embodiment of the highest ideals of education.

When the Turkish raids came in 1193, Nalanda was still a highly influential center of learning. It had been under the patronage of the Pāla emperors, who ruled northeastern India from the eighth to the twelfth centuries. However, the Turks did not spare it. Thousands of monks were killed, and the library and other buildings were burned to the ground. The majestic ruins have been excavated and can still be seen today. Other Buddhist universities, such as Vikramasila, suffered the same fate as Nalanda.

Turkish raids continued into the thirteenth century. In 1235, according to an eyewitness report from Dharmasvamin, a Tibetan pilgrim, three hundred Turkish soldiers sacked what little remained of Nalanda. Seventy scholars were forced to flee. Buddhism;persecution of


With the loss of Nalanda, a large part of India’s cultural and spiritual heritage was destroyed. The destruction of the university was followed by the demise of Buddhism in India. Buddhist monks who survived the Muslim destruction of Nalanda had to flee India and take up residence in Nepal, Tibet, China, or Burma.

Some scholars argue that the Muslim invasions were the principal cause of the end of Buddhism as an institutional religion in India. However, Hinduism and Jainism were subject to the same assaults by the Muslims, but they survived as religions in India. It has been argued that Buddhism lacked the militaristic values that can be found in Hinduism and therefore lacked the ability to organize itself against the Muslim raiders. Another reason proposed for why Buddhism disappeared from India is that it was centered around a few large monasteries and seats of learning, such as Nalanda, and did not have much organization at a local level. When such centers of knowledge, because of their riches, became the target of Muslim plunderers, there were few local centers of Buddhism to carry on the tradition. This contrasts with Hinduism, which had plenty of lay support.

There is widespread agreement among scholars that in addition to the Muslim invasions, the rise of Tantric practices within Buddhism was a contributory factor in Buddhism’s decline in India. Tantra developed as a cult within the Mahāyāna school of Buddhism, a school that was strongly established at Nalanda from the sixth to the ninth century. Tantric text began to appear in the middle of the eighth century. The later form of Tantra was known as Vajrayana. It involved the use of mantras and sacred chants believed to have a magical effect and various other rituals that could, in the minds of believers, speed the path to enlightenment. The result was the erosion of the gap between Buddhist teachings and the magical practices of the Indian peasants, leading to the end of firm distinctions between Buddhism and Hinduism. Tantric Buddhism

Other causes that have been advanced for the decline of Buddhism in India, in addition to the Muslim invasions, include sectarian divisions within Buddhism, the ending of royal patronage, the migration of leading Buddhist monks and scholars to other lands such as China to spread their faith, and the hostility of Hinduism toward Buddhism.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ahir, D. C., ed. A Panorama of Indian Buddhism: Selections from the Maha Bodhi Journal (1892-1992). Delhi, India: Sri Satguru Publications, 1995. Contains fifty essays on many aspects of Indian Buddhism, including Rahul Sankrityayan’s “The Rise and Decline of Buddhism in India,” which argues that the decline of Buddhism in India was caused by Tantric Buddhism, which destroyed moral strength and weakened the foundation of Buddhism. Another informative essay is “Buddhist Libraries in Ancient India,” by Dipak Kumar Barua.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Basham, A. L. The Wonder That Was India. 3d ed. 1954. Reprint. London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 2000. This is a classic study of early Indian civilization, up to the Muslim conquest. Includes information about the university at Nalanda.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">De Bary, Theodore, ed. The Buddhist Tradition in India, China, and Japan. 1969. Reprint. New York: Vintage Books, 1972. Includes a survey of the history of Indian Buddhism from earliest times to its decline and the Muslim invasions.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Goyal, S. R. A History of Indian Buddhism. Meerut, India: Kusumanjali Prakashan, 1987. This is particularly informative on the many reasons for the decline and disappearance of Buddhism from India.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Warder, A. K. Indian Buddhism. Delhi, India: Motilal Banarsidass, 1970. A historical survey of Buddhism whose main purpose is to elucidate doctrine, but which also includes historical background. Particularly useful on the structure of the universities and the Muslim invasions.

Categories: History