People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 35

August 29, 2010

 Rebuild Nalanda Not to Settle Past Scores

 But to Build Glorious Future: Yechury


The following is the text of the speech delivered by Sitaram Yechury, CPI(M) leader in the parliament while participating in the debate on the Nalanda University Bill, 2010. This bill seeks to establish a central university in Nalanda district of Bihar, on the lines of the ancient university which was founded there in the 5th century AD and became a renowned centre of learning for students from across South Asia. While inviting Yechury to speak, the deputy chairman of the Rajya Sabha requested that the time constraints be observed. However after the speech, he is on record to say, “The debate was of such a high standard that I forgot to see my watch.”

The subheadings in the text have been added.


I am very excited at the prospects of the establishment of such a university which is an international project, a project of 16 countries jointly to establish this university with a very eminent team of international thinkers, philosophers, Nobel Laureates, etc. I am excited at the prospects of this university being established, not in terms of settling scores of the past in history, but in terms of trying to revive the glory that once was of Nalanda, which is very important -- I would want it to be revived -- and not in terms of saying that so and so did such and such wrongs, and therefore, I am doing this to correct the wrongs of history. I think I am excited at the prospects for the future; I am excited at the prospects of what we have contributed in the past, which needs to be carried forward for the future. Dr Karan Singh  has very correctly said about Bakhtiyar Khilji's troops and the vandalism they did at Nalanda. This is the history. The barbaric nomads and tribes called Huns destroyed the mighty Roman Empire. But these wrongs of history are not the ones to be corrected by establishing a University, or, for that matter, a question that plagues all of us is that after the 7th century AD, why is Buddhism thriving only outside the borders of India.


Why is it that inside the borders of India you find Buddhist culture only in caves, where people were ostracised from the society? Why is all their art and literature underground in caves? These are issues of history. That is not the project of this university. The project of this university, from what I can conceive of it, and I want this to be considered seriously, is what Nehru says in Discovery of India on the eve of independence. How does he describe India? Jawaharlal Nehru invokes the very evocative example of the palimpsest. Now, what is the palimpsest? In ancient times, before the discovery or invention of paper, the palimpsest was either a tablet of stone or a tablet of wood on which every victor would erase the past history and write his own version of history. But then, as Nehru says in the Discovery of India, "India is an ancient palimpsest on which layer upon layer of thought and reverie had been inscribed, and yet, no succeeding layer had completely hidden or erased what had been written previously".




We are the churning crucible of human civilisation, and that is what these lands represented. Various tendencies have come; we have assimilated various tendencies and on that basis, we have advanced. And today, the BBC describes, in its Epic History series, India as the only continuing civilisation in the history of human civilisation anywhere in the world. Dr Karan Singh referred to Raja Raja Cholan's Thanjavur temple built in 1002 BC; in 2010, every morning, at the stroke of dawn, it opens with the same shlokas that have been read out for over 1008 years. You have that continuity and you have the change. Nalanda represented that; it represented for a millennium, for 800 years or more, from the 6th century BC to the 6th century AD,(when Buddhism reigned supreme)  the repository of world's knowledge where the advent of ideas was continuously taking place. If you go by the accounts of Huan Tsang, it was not only a temple of knowledge, but a temple of the highest pinnacle of tolerance, and religious tolerance at that, which is something that we have to imbibe today. So, today, in restarting the Nalanda University, we should look into the future. And, this is where the issue of tolerance is absolutely important. It is not to reclaim that glory -- of course, it is the glory; Angkor Vat is a glorious example. But the question is, those glories came on the basis of a knowledge. We had the discovery of the zero during this period. This millennium was the period of maximum scientific advance. It is a different story, why it stopped after the 7th century AD; why did we not advance and why did the centre of knowledge move to the West? These are issues of intolerance; we will have to make sure that they do not interfere in the work of the university. There is a fascinating book written by a French intellectual,  Charles Seife, The Biography of a Dangerous Idea. And that dangerous idea was the zero, which the Arabs took from us, and the world came to know of them as the Arab numerical but, to be fair, the Arabs always gave us the credit for having discovered it. Now, why was it dangerous? Can you conceive, today, of nothingness? It was impossible in human civilisation at that point of time to say, there can also be a possibility that nothing exists. And what was the counterpart? A zero cannot be conceived even today in mathematics, without having the conception of the infinite. Infinity and zero go together, as dialectics will tell you, the unity of the opposites. And that is the reality! And such discoveries that were made from a base like Nalanda is the basis on which we have to advance to the future civilisation. So, my request would be, let us not reduce this university to settle scores of history. Let us not reduce this university to restore the so-called glory of the past; let us build the glory of the future. It is the building of the glory of the future that Nalanda must actually represent. I think, this is where it becomes very important for us here to talk of that future. It is ironic -- I don't want to mention it -- but Bakhtiar Khilji was the one who destroyed it. The current chief minister of Bihar was born in Bakhtiarpur.


He is the one who is moving the legislation for the resurrection of this university. So, history has its own ways. So, let us not try to settle historical scores; but, when it comes down to research, I think, that is where some fine tuning needs to be done with this bill because we are talking in terms of establishing by law of the Indian parliament what is stated as a university that is ‘a non-State, non-profit, secular and self-governing international institution’.




With the sovereign law of India establishing such a university, it also goes on to say, ‘we have to have further agreements with all these countries on how this university is run’. These are all the fine prints which we can go into. But, the conception and the perception of the university is what actually concerns today. I think, we have come to a stage in India where this churning crucible which is called the Indian civilisation has a variety and divergence that is unknown and unconceivable anywhere in the world from the Kashmiriyat to the Dravidian  civilisation, from the pari mahal, which was once in Dr Karan Singh’s kingdom where Dara Shikoh wrote that famous treaty called majma-ul-Bahrain, where he was talking of the synthesis of Sufism and Upanishads, mingling of the two oceans. The brink at which we are today—we were, and we still are—at advancing human thought, human civilisation to higher levels. Such is the levels to which, I think, this university will have to aim. As Marx said once, before the evolution of capitalism, all ideological differences were settled in this sphere of religion. Religion was the theatre. And that is why when zero was invented, the complimentarity of the infinite came up. What is the symbolism that emerged from this civilisation? If you have the cosmic dance of Shiva in the Tandav, which the Tao of Physics ( Fritjof Capra)  inscribes it at the CERN Laboratory in Switzerland today where the Hadron Collider is actually trying to find out what has happened at the first collision in the cosmic space, when matter as we know today was created. At that laboratory, you have the Tao of Physics quoting the cosmic dance of Shiva’s Tandav. India has donated a statue of Nataraja that stands at the laboratory’s entrance today. How do you portray Shiva’s Tandav today? You always portray Shiva’s Tandav only in a circle which represents the zero--the infinite of the Tandav and the zero of the material world cannot be separated. It is this unity of opposites that dialectical materialism tells us, which generates the adventure of ideas. It is towards this adventure of ideas that we will have to move.


Therefore, I think, in the final analysis, we must remember, that we are moving into a higher plane of human intellect and civilisation. Remember the final paragraph of Swami Vivekananda’s declaration at Chicago. He says, ‘I take pity from the bottom of my heart on those who believe in the destruction of someone else’s religion for the purpose of his own religion. In the final analysis it shall be inscribed on the banner of every religion: assimilation not destruction.’ I am quoting from my memory; there may be small mistakes of comma or full stop. That is the philosophy with which we have advanced and come to this stage. Therefore, what is required in the final analysis is that you have to get back to the creation of this university—I again go back to Nehru; in the first few days after independence when he was delivering  the convocation address of the Allahabad University. This is what he says about a university: “A university stands for humanism, for tolerance, for reason, for the adventure of ideas and for the search of truth. It stands for the onward march of human race towards even higher objectives. If the university discharges its duties adequately, then it is well with the people and the nation.”


This Nalanda University will have to fulfill these objectives. I would want this august House, through the adoption of this bill, to set up the mechanism internationally where these objectives can be achieved and, I think, under the leadership of Dr Amartya Sen, there is a very eminent group that has been working out on the dynamics of this. While I fully agree with Dr Karan Singh, this is the final point, about the architecture of the building. I would like the entire House to join us in trying to build the intellectual architecture for this university. The intellectual architecture, in the final analysis, is the most important thing. With that objective, I rise to support this endeavor, and, I think, this is a very exciting endeavor that will take India into higher planes of civilisation.