It was during the time of King Harsha that the great University of Nalanda reached the pinnacle of its glory. Founded in 5th century A.D. by a later Gupta emperor, it came to be the most prestigious centre of learning in the whole of Asia during the age of Harsha. The Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang left vivid accounts of this University. Other historical sources also refer to its eminence. The stupendous ruins of Nalanda are objects of wonder even for men of today.
Nalanda Mahavihara or University was a centre of advanced post-graduate studies in various subjects. Foreign scholars from distant countries like China, Korea, Japan, Bukhara, Mongolia, Tibet and Ceylon came to Nalanda for their higher learning. Hiuen Tsang himself studied Yoga in Nalanda for long five years, from 635 A.D. to 640 A.D., under the guidance of the Chancellor of the University, Silabhadra.
Nalanda University possessed imposing and massive buildings with spacious halls, class rooms and apartments. Some of the buildings were many storied high ‘touching the clouds with their towers’. One of the libraries was of 9 storied.
When Hiuen Tsang studied there, Nalanda had 8,500 scholars on roll. They were taught by 1,510 professors. To get admission to the University was most difficult. Students had to seek admission through an entrance examination in which 80% candidates became unsuccessful and only 20% passed.
For those who got admission on their merit, the studies were of a high standard. There was little rest or leisure for students who had to attend to their studies without fails.
Harsha patronized the University by remitting huge amount to Nalanda. Gifts and endowments were plentiful for the maintenance of that celebrated University which not only admitted students from outside countries but also sent learned scholars to other lands for spread of learning. The names of several such Nalanda scholars who went to China and Tibet have survived till today. They not only taught, but also translated many Indian works from Sanskrit to Chinese and Tibetan languages.
Harsha honoured the Nalanda scholars as best as he could. To his Kanauj Assembly, he invited one thousand learned men from Nalanda University to take part in the discussions. He requested the Nalanda scholars to come to Orissa for arguments with the Buddhist philosophers of that land.
The excellence of Nalanda University continued to thrive for many centuries after Harsha as a light of learning for India and outside.