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Lions Roar : January 2019
First, Hinduism experienced a revival, eclipsing Buddhism. Then, around 1200 CE, the Turkic chieftain Bakhtiyar Khalji attacked Nalanda. An account by one Persian historian suggests that Bakhtiyar believed he was capturing a fortress peopled by Brahmans with shaved heads, and it was only after these “Brah- mans” were all slain that he realized it was a monastic univer- sity. In any case, the invaders destroyed Nalanda’s vast library, though a number of scholars did manage to escape with a few precious manuscripts. It’s claimed that the fires of Nalanda’s destruction burned for months. Near the end of my Nalanda visit, I stand in front of its most arresting structure, Shariputra’s stupa, with its flights of stairs and stucco Buddhist figures, and I contemplate him as an actual human being. I think of all who taught and studied at Nalanda. They fostered a flowering of the dharma, which we continue to enjoy the benefits of. This is a place where Buddhists can pay homage to our ancestors, and feel our gratitude to them. Someone points out to me that even today, many bricks at Nalanda are marked black from long-ago flames. Still, I think the brick has endured surprisingly well over the years, like the dharma that was taught and practiced here many centuries ago. I decide to let go of my prejudice against the material. ♦ The ruins of Nalanda today. In the seventh century, a Chinese pilgrim named Xuanzang described its “richly adorned towers and fairylike turrets.” PHOTOBYDINODIAPHOTOS/ALAMYSTOCKPHOTOS