Excavation of Nalanda
Nalanda got its decline in the 11th century, with the hands of the Muslim invasion in Bihar by Bhakiyar Khilji. After its decline, Nalanda was largely forgotten. Francis Buchanan-Hamilton surveyed the site in 1811–1812. He, however, did not associate the mounds of earth and debris with famed Nalanda. It was established by Major Markham Kittoe in 1847. Alexander Cunningham and the newly formed Archaeological Survey of India conducted an official survey in 1861-1862.
Routine Excavation in Nalanda
In the first phase by the British archaeologists, the systematic excavation of the ruins by the Archaeological Survey of India did not begin until 1915 and ended in 1937. A second round of excavation and restoration took place between 1974 and 1982.
Archaeological Extension of Nalanda
The remains of Nalanda extend some 1,600 feet north to south and around 800 feet east to west. The excavations have revealed eleven monasteries and six major brick temples arranged in an ordered layout. A 100 ft wide passage runs from north to south with the temples to its west and the monasteries to its east. Most structures show evidence of multiple periods of construction with new buildings being raised atop the ruins of old ones. Many of the buildings also display signs of damage by fire on at least one occasion.
Layout of Monasteries of Nalanda
All the monasteries at Nalanda are very similar in layout and general appearance. Their plan involves a rectangular form with a central quadrangular court which is surrounded by a veranda which, in turn, is bounded by an outer row of cells for the monks. The central cell facing the entrance leading into the court is a shrine chamber. Its strategic position means that it would have been the first thing that drew the eye when entering the edifice. With the exception of those designated 1A and 1B, the monasteries all face west with drains emptying out in the east and staircases positioned in the south-west corner of the buildings.
Monastery Site 1 of Nalanda
The monastery 1, 1 A and 1 B are considered the oldest and the most important of the monastery group and shows as many as nine levels of construction. Its lower monastery is believed to be the one sponsored by Balaputradeva, the Srivijayan king, during the reign of Devapala in the 9th century. The building was originally at least two storeys high and contained a colossal statue of a seated Gautama Buddha.
Temples in Nalanda
The temple of Nalanda denoted as No. 3 with its multiple flights of stairs that lead all the way to the top. The temple was originally a small structure which was built upon and enlarged by later constructions. Archaeological evidence shows that the final structure was a result of at least seven successive such accumulations of construction. The fifth of these layered temples is the most interesting and the best preserved with four corner towers of which three have been exposed.
Tower of Nalanda
The towers of Nalanda as well as the sides of the stairs are decorated with exquisite panels of Gupta-era art depicting a variety of stucco figures including Buddha and the Bodhisattvas, scenes from the Jataka tales, Brahmanical deities such as Shiva, Parvati, Kartikeya and Gajalakshmi, Kinnaras playing musical instruments, various representations of Makaras, as well as human couples in amorous postures. The temple is surrounded by numerous votive stupas some of which have been built with bricks inscribed with passages from sacred Buddhist texts. The apex of Temple no. 3 features a shrine chamber which now only contains the pedestal upon which an immense statue of Buddha must have once rested.
Temple 2 of Nalanda
The Temple no. 2 of Nalanda notably features a dado of 211 sculptured panels depicting a variety of religious motifs as well as scenes of art and of everyday life. The site of Temple no. 13 features a brick-made smelting furnace with four chambers. The discovery of burnt metal and slag suggests that it was used to cast metallic objects. To the north of this temple lie the remains of Temple no. 14. An enormous image of Gautama Buddha was discovered here. The image's pedestal features fragments of the only surviving exhibit of mural painting at Nalanda.
Sculptures Found from Nalanda Excavation
There are abundant sculptures, murals, copper plates, inscriptions, seals, coins, plaques, potteries and works in stone, bronze, stucco and terracotta works of 5th Century BC have been unearthed within the ruins of Nalanda. The Buddhist sculptures discovered notably include those of the Buddha in different postures, Avalokiteshvara, Jambhala, Manjushri, Marichi, and Tara. The Brahmanical idols of Lord Vishnu, Lord Shiva-Parvati, Lord Ganesha, Goddess Durga in the form of Mahishasura Mardini, and Lord Surya have also been found in the ruins.