Like Nalanda, Vikramshila may rise from ruins

Antichak (Bihar): It was among the most important centres of Buddhist learning in ancient India, but the remains of Vikramshila University in Bihar have been sadly neglected for years. Now, it appears, the ruins of the university would be conserved on the line of its older counterpart Nalanda.

The conservation plan comes in the wake of the Bihar government`s move to develop Vikramshila`s ruins as a tourist destination like Nalanda, situated around 90 km from the state capital. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has roped in the National Culture Fund (NCF) and National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) to conserve its excavated ruins with an initial investment of Rs.2 crore.

Vikramshila University was set up by the Pala dynasty (750-1174 A.D) king Dharmapala in the late 8th or early 9th century. The site is located near Antichak village in Kahalgaon sub-division of Bhagalpur district, about 150 km from Patna.

"The conservation work would begin from February in a phase-wise manner," ASI Patna circle`s Superintending Archaeologist Sanjay K. Manjul told IANS in Patna.

He said the initial investment will be Rs.2 crore, though the total cost of the mega conservation and development plan is yet to be worked out. "NTPC has agreed to fund the conservation work through NCF. A memorandum of understanding has been finalised for it," he said.

NTPC, under its corporate social responsibility scheme, decided to fund the conservation work. Officials of the three agencies visited the site last December. Last year, the ASI decided to launch a mega plan for conservation of the university ruins. Manjul said the conservation, which has been neglected for decades, will help preserve the legacy for future generations.

According to ASI officials here, conservation of 52 shells or reading room-like structures adjoining the main stupa and a major portion of the excavated structure will be taken up. The ancient Vikramshila University was intended to complement the existing world-class universities at Nalanda and Takshila. It lasted four centuries before being destroyed during an attack on local kingdoms by Bakhtiyar Khilji of the Delhi Sultanate. As per the ASI, the remains at Antichak were excavated by B.P. Sinha of Patna University during 1960-69. The antiquities found at Vikramashila comprise terracotta objects, including a large number of plaques representing Buddhist and Brahmanical deities, animal and bird figurines and some symbolic representations, as also a large number of stone images of gods and goddesses.

A few small bronze statues of Buddhist deities like the Buddha, Maitreya, Vajrapani, Avalokitesvara and Manjusri too have been found. The bulk of antiquities comprise stone, iron, copper, silver and bronze objects, including a few silver and copper coins. Members of the Vikramshila Nagarik Samiti said after more than three and a half decades of excavation by the ASI, no work has been done at the site on the pattern of Nalanda. The Samiti has been demanding that Vikramshila be included in the state`s Buddhist tourist circuit for its development.

The ancient university at Nalanda was a seat of higher learning in the fifth century. The university was home to over 10,000 students, including from abroad, and nearly 2,000 teachers.