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World Heritage Convention

Decision 40 COM 8B.20
Examination of nominations of cultural properties to the World Heritage List

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Documents WHC/16/40.COM/8B and WHC/16/40.COM/INF.8B1,
  2. Inscribes the Archaeological Site of Nalanda Mahavihara (Nalanda University) at Nalanda, Bihar, India on the World Heritage List on the basis of criteria (iv) and (vi);
  3. Takes note of the following provisional Statement of Outstanding Universal Value:
    Brief synthesis

    The Archaeological Site of Nalanda Mahavihara (Nalanda University) is located in the North-eastern state of Bihar, India. Spread over an area of 23 hectares the Archaeological site of Nalanda Mahavihara presents remains dating from circa. 3rd Cen BCE with the largest, one of the earliest and longest serving monastic cum scholastic establishment from 5th Cen CE – 13th Cen CE before the sack and abandonment of Nalanda in the 13th Century. It includes stupas, chaityas, viharas, shrines, many votive structures and shrines and important art works in stucco, stone and metal. The layout of the buildings testifies to the change from grouping around the stupa-chaitya to a formal linear alignment flanking an axis from south to north. The historic development of the property testifies to the development of Buddhism into a religion and the flourishing of monastic and educational traditions.

    Criterion (iv): The property is inscribed under criterion iv on account of its exceptional building typologies, be it a vihara or a stupa, and its planning and layout. Considering the length of time that the mahavihara (university) was functional, and was the largest of its time, it firmly established planning and architectural, as well as artistic principles that were adopted later by many similar institutions in the Indian Subcontinent and South and Southeast Asia. Its built ensemble shows processes of assimilation and developments of prototypes of planning, architecture and art that influenced large parts of Asia.

    Defining standards for contemporary mahaviharas, Nalanda distinguished itself as the one of the earliest planned universities of the Indian subcontinent, and indeed the world. Nalanda’s built remains exemplify its extraordinary contribution to institution-building, pedagogy, architecture, art and pan-Asian culture. Nalanda’s remains mark the advent of systematic planning for a pedagogic establishment. Application of the order enabled its seamless expansion and imparted Nalanda with a distinct visual identity.

    Standardisation of architecture of viharas and evolution of temple-like chaitya (sacred structure) into prototypes here are evidences of sustained interchange and patronage towards expansion of physical infrastructure. The quadrangular free-standing vihara of Gandhara period evolved into a complete residential cum-educational infrastructure borrowed by monastic-cities of South Asia such as Paharpur, Vilkramshila, Odantapuri and Jagaddala.

    Nalanda shows emergence and mainstreaming of a chaitya having quincuxial (five-fold) form. As a reflection and representation of changing religious practices, this new form replaced the traditionally dominant stupa and influenced Buddhist temples in East, South and Southeast Asia.

    Stucco, stone and metal art shows thematic and iconographic assimilation of features from major art-centres of India that expanded the Mahayana pantheon and finalized iconography of Vajrayana pantheon. Nalanda stucco influenced those of Thailand and its metal art influenced art and social life of Malayan archipelago, Nepal, Burma and Tibet.

    Criterion (vi):  Nalanda Mahavihara (university), as a centre for higher learning marks the zenith in the evolution of sangharama (monastic establishment) into the earliest university of early medieval India. Its merit-based approach embraced all contemporary sources of knowledge and systems of learning practiced in the Indian subcontinent. The proposed property demonstrates amply the characteristics of a university through attributes such as intake of students through an entrance examination, formal repositories of manuscripts (libraries), imparting of degrees (Acharya, Pandita, etc.) and a formal administrative setup.

    The sustained scholarship in Nalanda’s viharas crystallised the fundamentals of Indian systems of Logic and Philosophy, principles of Yogachara and Madhyamika Schools and debate as a tool for learning. While Logic and Philosophy are integral part of Indian culture, the principles of Yogachara and Madhyamika enabled transition from Mahayana to Vajrayana. Dispersed through its scholars, the principles influenced large parts of South and Southeast Asia which survives till date in the form of several sects and social customs.

    Nalanda remains one of the earliest and longest serving extraordinary institution-builder. Its systems of pedagogy, administration, planning and architecture were the basis on which later Mahaviharas were established. Nalanda Mahavihara (University) manifests itself in developing and proliferating intangible attributes such as modes of imparting education. Spaces such as courtyards flanked by monks’ cells, presence of a central platform in most viharas, social spaces within viharas developed mode of imparting education through debates as well as Guru-Shishya parampara (teacher-disciple tradition). The continuity of its systems are still evident in the monasteries of South and Southeast Asia. Nalanda continues to inspire modern university establishments in the region like Nava Nalanda Mahavihara, Nalanda University and several others across Asia.


    Archaeological remains of Nalanda Mahavihara (University) were systematically unearthed and preserved simultaneously. These are the most significant parts of the property that demonstrate development in planning, architecture and artistic tradition of Nalanda. As evinced by the surviving antiquities, the site is explicit of a scholar’s life recorded in the “University”.

    While the original mahavihara was a much larger complex, all surviving remains of Nalanda present in the property area of 23 hectares comprising 11 viharas and 14 temples, besides many smaller shrine and votive structures, demonstrate amply its attributes such as axial planning and layout along north - south axis, its architectural manifestation and extant building materials and applied ornamental embellishments. Preserved in-situ are the structural remains of viharas (residential-cum-scholastic structure) and chaityas (temple-like structure) whose layers of construction show evolution of the respective forms. The positioning of these structures over the extent of the site shows the planned layout unique to Nalanda. The property also retains a corpus of moveable and immoveable artefacts and artistic embellishment that shows iconographic development reflecting changes in Buddhist belief system.

    Archaeological remains including the entire protected area of the proposed property are maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India. Buffer zone of the proposed property is sparsely populated with agricultural land and seasonal water bodies and thus poses no threat to property. The Property and the Buffer Zone are protected by a national-level law - Ancient Monument and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act (AMASR), 1958 and (Amendment and Validation, 2010) and is monitored by the National Monument Authority (National level) and office of the District Commissioner, State Government of Bihar (local level).


    In subsurface condition for over seven centuries the archaeological remains of Nalanda Mahavihara (University) were systematically excavated in the early 20th Cen. CE and conserved in-situ by the Archaeological Survey of India. Methodology adopted by the Archaeological Survey of India for the conservation and consolidation of its viharas and temples ensure the preservation of its historic fabric through adequate capping by the reversible and sacrificial layers and providing supports wherever necessary. Later interventions within the brick fabric are discernible by way of inscription of dates on select bricks at inconspicuous locations. All conservation works and interventions are documented through photographs and drawings and published in the annual reports of ASI.

    Nalanda’s layers of construction, iconography and records testify these remains to be its oldest surviving parts. The spatial organization evident in these excavated remains demonstrate its systematic planning. Temple-like form of chaityas and quadrangular-form of viharas replete with infrastructure authenticate Nalanda’s contribution in developing sacred architecture of the Buddhists and residential-cum-scholastic facilities. Its stucco, stone and metal art retain iconographic features that enabled changes in Buddhist belief system and transition of Mahayana to Vajrayana. The conserved remains also retain the original systems, non-perishable and fragments of perishable materials of construction.

    Nalanda’s contributions to pedagogy survive as socio-cultural practices. Zen and Pure land Buddhism in Japan, Chan and its sub-sects, Wei-shi-siang-kiau, Fa-siangtsung and Avatamsaka in China and Bkah-gdams-pa and its sub-sects Karma-pa and Hbrug-pa, Sa-skya-pa, tradition of spiritual succession in Tibet trace its roots to Madhyamika and Yogachara developed at Nalanda.

    Ceasing functionally as a university (13th century CE), Nalanda’s role as an institution-builder is testified by the borrowing of its system of administration by later Mahaviharas of the 8th century CE. Nalanda’s system of pedagogy is best preserved in Tibetan monasteries where discourses are conducted through debate and dialectics. Furthermore, universities across Asia consider Nalanda the landmark of academic excellence.

    Protection and management requirements

    The Property is owned, protected, maintained and managed by Archaeological Survey of India vide national level laws - the Ancient Monuments and Sites Remains Act of 1958 (Amendment and Validation, 2010) Decisions pertaining to its conservation and management are governed by National Conservation Policy for Monuments, Archaeological Sites and Remains promulgated by the Archaeological Survey of India.

    Conservation and management of property is ordained by a perspective plan and an annual conservation programme. An in-house Committee of the Archaeological Survey of India monitors its state of conservation and conducts need-analysis. This apart, a plan for visitor management and risk preparedness is under preparation.

    The Buffer Zone is also managed by the National Monument Authority vide Ancient Monument and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act (AMASR), 1958, (Amendment and Validation, 2010) in consultation with National Monument Authority (NMA), New Delhi and the State Government of Bihar. Development proposals in this area are vetted by the Competent Authority, Archaeological Survey of India, State Government of Bihar and Nalanda’s District Collectorate’s Office. Buffer Zone also has facilities to augment visitor’s experience.

  4. Recommends that the State Party give consideration to the following:
    1. continue to carry out historical research, supported by appropriate documentation, to establish the authenticity of the property with particular attention to the identification of all excavation works carried out before the Archaeological Survey of India, as well as excavations by any other parties of the property, and the identification of all repair works carried out throughout the site, with particular attention to the repairs of brickwork and the documentation of the differentiation of authentic archaeological fabric and added repairs and added capping and sacrificial layers,
    2. ensure that the Integrated Master Plan of Nalanda, keeping in mind national and regional laws, is prepared and implemented by the State Government of Bihar that takes care of the concerns of any development in the vicinity of the property that may impact its Outstanding Universal Value,
    3. conduct a Heritage Impact Assessment (HIA) in accordance with the ICOMOS Guidance on Heritage Impact Assessment for World Cultural Heritage properties for any development plans within the vicinity of the property,
    4. continue to develop methodology and implementation plan for the documentation and conservation of the property in order to guarantee the protection of its authenticity and integrity;
  5. Requests the State Party to:
    1. work out the conservation plan for the excavated remains of the property safeguarding its Outstanding Universal Value and authenticity,
    2. strengthen approaches to visitor management and interpretation through a well-established visitor management plan,
  6. Also requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre by 1 December 2017 a report on the implementation of the above-mentioned recommendations for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 42nd session in 2018.

Decision Code
40 COM 8B.20
Inscriptions on the World Heritage List
Report of the Decisions adopted during the 40th session of the World Heritage Committee (Istanbul/UNESCO, 2016)
Context of Decision