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Nalanda, a UNESCO world heritage site, is in the state of Bihar in north-eastern India. It contains archaeological remains of a monastic and scholarly institution dating from the 3rd century BC to the 13th century AD. It includes stupas, stone and metal stupas, temples, viharas (residential and educational buildings) and important artefacts.
Nalanda stands out as the most ancient university of the Indian Subcontinent. It engaged in the organized transmission of knowledge over an uninterrupted period of 800 years. The historical development of the site testifies to the development of Buddhism in a religion and the flourishing of monastic and educational traditions.
- Nalanda was initially a prosperous village, on the major route which connected the present-day Rajgir.
- It is believed that the Jain Tirthankara, Mahavira and Gautam Buddha spent an important part of their lives here in Nalanda.
- Nalanda acts as a memorial of the past, speckled with the legacy of the Mauryan and the Gupta Dynasties.
- Chineses Traveller Xuanzang (also known as Hiuen Tsang), first visited Nalanda in the 7th century, in his writings mentions that the city was named after a serpent. It is said that Sariputra, an ardent follower of Lord Buddha was also born here.
- Faxian and Yijing were the other travellers or pilgrims who visited and spent a few years of their lives in Nalanda.
- The Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions of Tibetan Buddhism stems from the teacher and the traditions of Nalanda.
Nalanda, an emerald land, located 95 kilometres southeast of Patna near the city of Bihar Sarif is a major tourist attraction for domestic and foreign tourists as well. Nalanda district is one of the thirty-eight districts of the state of Bihar in India. Bihar Sharif is the administrative headquarters of Nalanda district.
The nearest Airport to Nalanda is Jay Prakash Narayan International Airport, Patna, which is nearly 80 kilometres away from Nalanda. It is well connected by flights to major Indian cities.
Road facilities are available for smooth travel to Nalanda. Good motorable roads connect Nalanda with other major cities in the state and the country.
It is well connected with rails to major Indian cities. Rajgir which is 12 kilometres away from Nalanda is the nearest Railhead that connects the city to Delhi, Patna and Gaya.
When to visit Nalanda?
Though Nalanda is an evergreen place when it comes to the best time to visit here, the best time to travel to Nalanda is from October to March because it is the span during which the weather is cold and the beauty of Nalanda is at its peak.
The official language of Nalanda is Hindi and English. Other regional languages such as Maithili, Bhojpuri and others are also spoken here by a minority of the group.
- Nalanda, being in the Gangetic plains, suffers from extreme weather conditions.
- The temperature during summer can reach a maximum of 37.8°C and a minimum of 17.8°C.
- The maximum temperature during winter remains at around 27.8°C while the minimum temperature dips down to as low as 10.6°C.
- Monsoon arrives in this region in June and continued till September.
- The average rainfall during the monsoon is 120 cm.
Fairs & Festivals
Also called Surya Shashti, this festival is celebrated by the people of Bihar, it is a form of thanks giving to the Sun God. The best place to experience Chhath Puja is Baragaon near Nalanda, where the famous Sun Temple is located. It is one of the holiest festivals in Nalanda and lasts upto four days. It is celebrated twice a year, during Chaitra and Karthik. This is celebrated by the womenfolk by maintaining sanctity and purity. Women fast for their family and society. The highlight of this festival is the folk songs sung in the honour of ‘Surya Dev’ and ‘Chatti Maiyya’, spreading divinity and holiness throughout. Apart from Hindus, people of other faiths also participate actively in this celebration.
During this festival people take a cleansing dip in the holy waters of the river and then make offerings to the rising as well as setting sun. The whole atmosphere is serene and filled with positive vibrations. Tourists flock to Nalanda during this festival to experience its exuberance and warmth.
Buddha Jayanti is celebrated to mark the three important events in Lord Buddha’s life – his birth, enlightenment and his attainment of Nirvana.It is widely celebrated on a full moon night in Vaisakha, usually in April or May. On this day, prayer meetings and religious discourses are held, and sermons given, processions and exhibitions are held depicting the life of Lord Buddha. Buddhist followers bathe and dress themselves in white clothes, pray, meditate and give alms to the poor and needy. Kheer, made of sugar, rice and milk is prepared and shared with friends, relatives and the poor. Many social and cultural events are organised on this day. This festival emphasizes the need to practise peace, love, kindness and harmony.
Even though Makar Sankranti is celebrated throughout India it has a special significance in Nalanda. The Makar Sankranti or the Harvest festival is celebrated in the month of Magh, in mid-January. It marks the beginning of the summer season and is considered to be very auspicious, as it symbolises the beginning of Uttarayana Punyakalam.
On this day, people have a bath in the holy waters and offer flowers to the deities in the temples. They offer charity to the poor and believe that this would bring them good fortune. During this period the Makar Sankranti Mela is held in Rajgir near Nalanda for seven days. Locals as well as tourists enjoy themselves in the huge fair. The whole city wears a festive and joyous look.
Annual Urs Festival
The headquarters of Nalanda district Bihar Sharif houses a number of tombs and structures and is considered to be an important Muslim pilgrimage centre. The Urs is celebrated with great enthusiasm in the region. There is a hill called Pir Pihari housing the tomb of Saint Malik Ibrahim Bayu. Thousands of Muslims flock here on the 5th day of the Sawan month to pay tributes on his death anniversary.
Rajgir Dance Festival
Rajgir, a beautiful city which is considered to be the ancient capital of the Magadhas and is situated around 12km from Nalanda. It is an important tourist centre in the state of Bihar. Surrounded by lush green hills on all sides, Rajgir has some of the most magnificent temples and monasteries of the world. It is an important pilgrimage centre of the Buddhists, Jains and Hindus as it is associated with Lord Buddha, Lord Mahavira and also is mentioned in some legends of the famous epic Mahabarata.
In this tourist hub, the Bihar Tourism Department organises a rich festival of music and dance called The Rajgir Mahotsav or The Rajgir Dance Festival. This is generally held in the last week of October every year. It serves as a platform for the budding artists from the different states of the country to exhibit their talent. In this festival, artists get to perform devotional music, folk dance, instrumental music, devotional songs, ballet, opera, classical dances etc. Artists from far and wide gather under one roof. There is joy and vibrancy all over the place, the atmosphere being joyous and colourful. This festival attracts tourists from far and wide. This festival reflects India’s rich and varied culture and heritage.
Places to visit in Nalanda
There are several heritage tourist attractions to visit in Nalanda namely, the archaeological Museum, Hieun Tsang Memorial Hall, Kundalpur, Nalanda Ruins Heritage, Nalanda Stupa Heritage, Nava Nalanda Mahavira, Nepura Village, Rajgir and Surajpur Baragaon.
- One of the most visited locations in Bihar, Nalanda’s Archaeological museum houses thousands of antiquities.
- The museum is established in 1917and is one of Rajgir’s earliest University -cum monastery complexes.
- The main attraction of the museum is the well-preserved statues of Lord Buddha and a beautiful collection of Buddhist and Hindu bronze items.
- Tourists can also find displays of copper plates, stone inscriptions, coins, pottery and other antiquarian objects.
- The museum has four galleries that display around 349 antiquities.
Hieun Tsang Memorial Hall
- Among the most attractive tourist stopovers in Nalanda, the Hiuen Tsang Memorial Hall was built in memory of Hiuen Tsang, a popular Chinese traveller who stayed here for 12 years.
- Located on the outskirts of Nalanda, Kundalpur is one of the most important pilgrim centres of Jainism.
- It is considered to be the birthplace of Lord Mahavira, the founder of Jainism and the final Tirthankara (saint).
- A four-and-a-half-foot-tall Lord Mahavira idol has been placed in a temple here.
- In the same complex is Trikal Chaubeesi Jain Mandir that houses 72 idols of Tirthankaras.
Nalanda Ruins Heritage
- Nalanda Ruins Heritage is a well preserved UNESCO World Heritage site that is a major attraction for the tourists travelling to Nalanda.
- As you enter the Nalanda University site, large covers of nicely-kept gardens welcome you.
- Walking through what once used to be one of the world’s first residential universities, is a fascinating experience as only stacks of bricks stand here today.
- It is an explorable site in Nalanda.
Nalanda Stupa Heritage
- The Nalanda Stupa, also known as the Sariputra Stupa, is the most iconic of all monuments in Nalanda.
- A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is the most important monument in Nalanda and stands as a testament to its rich cultural heritage.
Nava Nalanda Mahavihara
- Nava Nalanda Mahavira is a relatively new institute dedicated to the study and research of Pali literature and Buddhism.
- It invites students from foreign countries as well. The institute was founded with an aim to develop it as a centre of higher studies in Pali and Buddhism along the lines of ancient Nalanda Mahavihara.
- Nepura Village is the 16th biggest village by area in Bihar.
- It is situated between Nalanda and Rajgir and this small village is famous for its weaving work.
- The village is home to around 250 families of which 50 are involved in weaving.
- The village is believed to be the site where one out of the three Mango grooves of the Nalanda University is present.
- It is also believed that Lord Mahavira and Gautam Buddha had stayed in Nepura village.
- Rajgir is a beautiful site located in the modern-day Nalanda district of Bihar and is full of valleys, five hills and Hot Springs which has medicinal properties.
- It is a hill town with a complex of temples and monasteries.
- Towards the north of Nalanda lies Surajpur Baragaon, which is known for a lake and a temple dedicated to the sun god, Lord Surya.
- It is one of the most ancient and popular attractions of Nalanda.
- The temple houses a number of statues of Hindu and Buddhist deities.
- The main attraction among these statues is the one dedicated to Goddess Parvati, which stands at a height of 5 ft.
Cuisines to taste in Nalanda
- Thekua is a popular snack in Nalanda made from wheat flour and jaggery mixed together, moulded and deep-fried.
- Tilkut is made from sesame seeds mixed with jaggery or sugar. Pedukiya is Bihar’s version of the popular Gujia.
- Pedukiyas are eaten mostly during the Teej festival in Bihar.
- Laai is a humble sweet dish made by dipping puffed rice balls in jaggery syrup and is mostly made at homes.
- Anarsa is made using rice flour and jaggery, which are moulded and coated in sesame seeds and then fried.
- Khaja is a popular sweet of Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh, which is usually relished during religious festivals.
- The delicious sweet is one of the most important food items of the Chhatt Puja Festival in Bihar.
- It is available at every local sweet shop in Nalanda and is quite cheap a swell.
- Sattu pani or Sattu sharbat is a savoury drink from Bihar, which is loved in almost all parts of the country.
- Sattu is flour made from ground pulses and cereals like black chana.
- Sattu pani can be both sweet and salty, depending on your choice.
- It also acts as a great cooler during the summer season and is mostly preferred in this season only.
- The Silao khaja is a traditional delicacy of Nalanda that has also received the Geographical Indications tag.
- Silao khaja is known for its taste, crispness and multi-layered texture, which is due to the climatic conditions and water of Silao.
- The delicious sweet has twelve to sixteen very thin dough sheets placed over each other.
- It is made from wheat flour, maida, sugar, ghee, cardamom and aniseeds.
- There are several other local foods which are very famous in the Nalanda region.
- Litti chokha is one of the dishes which is very famous in all over Bihar and is called the regional food of Bihar.Anyone who comes to Bihar should never miss out the litti chokha.
- Dal Puri is the other local food of Nalanda , famous in all over Bihar.
Souvenirs to buy in Nalanda
- Sikki work, which involves making beautiful decorative objects and toys with a particular kind of grass known as sikki is a must-buy item when in Nalanda. Various items are made by stitching the grass to make different shapes like elephants, birds, snakes and tortoise.
- Lord Buddha souvenir is a stone-based artwork that many tourists love to buy when they visit Nalanda. It is Bihar’s traditional craft practice and most of the stone craft deals with Lord Buddha and his preachings.
- The wooden artefacts found here are popular artwork to be bought here and are known for their artistic beauty and durability. Carving is done on items like wall plaques, tabletops and pens where articles made of wood and then are sold in local shops of Nalanda.