India's ancient splendour lay in its enormous wealth of knowledge, so far ahead of the rest of the ancient world. The Nalanda University had achieved world fame, drawing scholars from afar. It is sad that such a unique institution was allowed to languish, and lapse.
Time has now come a full circle, taking shape as a brainchild of former president Dr. Abdul Kalam, during his official tenure as head of state. The educationist in him wanted the revival of Nalanda University. The idea took shape, and a wing in Singapore at the ISEAS was established as the ISEAS Nalanda Sriwijaya Centre.
The Nalanda Initiative had Nobel laureate Dr Amartya Sen and Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo, and the Singapore Buddhist Lodge as strong believers, with a million-dollar (Singapore) donation from the Lodge helping it to become an evolving reality. Beyond detailed research in Buddhism, the Centre aims to study intra-Asian interactions in many fields, and the many historical links within Asia. Trade and religion tied much of Asia together, its riches and philosophy attracting foreigners from far and wide, bringing wider influences to the vast region, over the ages.
Asia provides endless study opportunities for the scholar, and the Sriwijaya Centre will be making full use of this fact. Two major research projects are imminent - one to mark the hundredth anniversary of the Chinese Revolution and Dr. Sun Yat Sen's role in it, and the other to mark the 150th anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore.
The first publication from the Centre is now out, on the voyages of the Chola Expeditions to South-East Asia in the 11th century, and Chola interaction in South-East Asia. Ambassador K. Kesavapany, Director ISEAS, elaborates his plans to have this work translated into Tamil, and have it released at the Thanjavur Big Temple, now, in the 1000th year of the temple. In Amartya Sen's words ‘it is fitting that it is happening in Singapore, for this nation has become the prime mover of pan-Asian intellectual and social collaboration in the world today. Sen quotes Xuanzang, an ancient Chinese Nalanda scholar: ‘Who would want to share enlightenment alone?'
Dr. Sen believes that the centres of learning at Nalanda, Bihar, and Sriwijaya Centre will empower and enrich the vision of ancient Nalanda tradition. The curriculum has been drafted, and the Bill for Approval is now with the Indian Parliament. S.M. Krishna, Minister for External Affairs, India, visited the Singapore Centre in March 2010, and was hopeful that there would be steady progress once the formal approval was obtained. The land for the university at Nalanda has been acquired, close to the original site, and hi-powered international faculty too, paid by international standards. The fees however, are subsidised, to encourage learning.