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Nobel laureate sets date for Nalanda
Classes from mid-2014

Chennai, Dec. 17: Eight hundred years lost. Nine months left.

Nalanda University, one of the world’s oldest seats of learning, will start classes from August/September 2014 after a gap of over 800 years, the varsity’s chairman, Amartya Sen, said today.

The Nobel laureate, who was in Chennai to attend an event, said the first batch of students would be enrolled for two postgraduate programmes in history and ecology and environmental studies.

He said classes would start from a temporary address till the university’s own campus comes up. The first degrees will be conferred in 2016.

“We have chosen an architect to design our campus to come up at the 500 acres allotted by the Bihar government and we have plans to proceed quickly with the next campus,” he said at the event at Kalakshetra Foundation, a deemed university.

The new university is coming up at a site about 20km from the ruins of the ancient residential university, which was ransacked and destroyed by a Turkish army of Bakhtiyar Khilji, a general of Qutb-uddin Aibak, in 1193. Legend has it that Khilji mistook the vast university to be a fort and burnt it down and massacred the residents.

Sen voiced concern over the delay in clearing amendments to the Nalanda University Act, 2010. The amendments are now before the Rajya Sabha.

“Only these amendments would give the Nalanda University authorities the legal backing to carry out academic and administrative work. It is an international project with the backing of Japan, China, Singapore, Korea and Thailand as well. These countries have also promised financial backing but the seed money for erecting the university has come from the Government of India,” he said.

“We can raise money from the business community of all these countries but, at the moment, we are not getting there. It sure will be a public-private partnership model and Nalanda University will not be just a government centre.”

Singapore and Thailand, he added, were particularly keen on reviving the Buddhist religious trail.

If for any reason Parliament is unable to pass the amendments, Sen hoped the government would come out with an ordinance since Parliament was “in such a mess”.

The ancient university, around 100km from Patna, lasted continually for about 800 years from the 5th century AD till the 12th century AD and was supported by the Hindu Gupta rulers as well as by Buddhist emperors like Harsha and later kings from the Pala Empire.

At its peak, the university attracted scholars and students from as far away as Tibet, China, Turkey, Mongolia, Greece and Persia. Subjects as varied as theology, astronomy, logic, metaphysics and medicine were taught in this fully residential university that had around 10,000 students and 2,000 teachers.

The period from which Nalanda ceased to exist was around the time the great universities of the western world came into being. Only the universities of Al-Azhar in Cairo, Bologna in Italy and Oxford in England had been founded before the destruction of Nalanda.

Earlier, on Sunday, while releasing a book on Carnatic music written by singer T.M. Krishna, Sen said that like higher education, classical music too was not accessible to the masses. “The translation of culture from one part of society to another is often missed. The same is said about higher education too — that it is not for the common public. But I say that it is because they haven’t had a chance to experience it. The same can be said for great music.”

He described Krishna’s book as one of the best he had read, “not just on music but out of the many books” he had read since it offered a “commanding view of the history and discipline of Carnatic music”.


Amartya Sen takes the sapling from gardener Sekar to plant it as Gopalkrishna Gandhi looks on

Amartya Sen on Tuesday accomplished in Chennai what he had not done ever
in his tree-lined hometown of Santiniketan. “I have never planted a tree before in my life,” exclaimed Sen outside the Tagore Hall on the sprawling green campus of Kalakshetra in Chennai. “So this can be a first for you,” quipped Gopalkrishna Gandhi, the chairman of Kalakshetra and the former Bengal governor. Gandhi explained to Sen that the sapling of the Frangipani had come from just outside Shyamoli in Santiniketan, where Rabindranath Tagore had hosted Mahatma Gandhi. Gopalkrishna Gandhi had got the sapling from Bengal so that Sen could plant it outside the Tagore Hall — an auditorium — just behind a bust of Tagore. After keenly listening to the story, Sen, with the assistance of the gardener, Sekar, planted the sapling in a hole, filled it with sand and watered it. “Yes, that is very important,” Sen said with a smile when the gardener handed over a bucket. Santiniketan was the role model for the late Rukmini Devi Arundale when she established Kalakshetra in 1936 to teach south Indian classical dance and music.