Nalanda was a Buddhist ancient center of higher learning from the fifth or sixth century CE to 1197 CE. It has been called “one of the first great universities in recorded history”. Nalanda is located in the state of Bihar about 80 km from the state capital Patna and 210 km from Varanasi. The Nalanda museum established in 1917 houses the antiquities mainly those excavated from Nalanda, the earliest university cum monastery complex and from Rajgir. Out of 13463 antiquities, 349 are on display in the four galleries of the museum.
The antiquities from Nalanda are datable from 5th to 12th century AD but some of those from Rajgir are a little earlier in date. The sculptures kept in this museum are made of stone, bronzes, stucco and terracotta but majority of those have been carved on Basalt stone. Most of the images belong to Buddhist faith but those belonging to Jaina or Hindu religion are also quite good in number.
The key gallery displays sixteen sculptures among which Trailokya Vijay (a Vajrayana diety), Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, Maitreya, Buddha in Varad, Dharmachakra and Bhumisparsh posture, Samantbhadra, Parshvanath and Nagaraj are worth mentioning. A scale model of excavated remains of Nalanda University occupies the central place of the hall. There are fifty-seven images and sculptures displayed in the first gallery. Those of Khasarpana, Heruka, Marichi,Vagesvari, Vaishali-mircle, Buddha in varad mudra, miracle of Sravasti, Surya, Lakshmi, Ganesh, Shiva-Parvati, Kuber and Rishabhanath are significant ones.
The second gallery exhibits one hundred and forty seven miscellaneous objects including terracotta, stuccos, iron implements and inscriptions. The terracotta seal with legend “Sri Nalanda Mahavihariya arya bhikshu sanghasya”, the stone inscriptions of Yashovarmana, Purnavarman of Vipula Srimitra, fragmentary tablet of Nidanasutta, terracotta tiles showing swastika and kirtimukha, Dharmachakra,Votive Stupas in pipal leaf motiff and sample of charred rice are some note worthy objects in this gallery. The central showcase exhibits a multi spouted pot related to serpent worship found from Rajgir.
In the third gallery altogether ninety-three specimens of bronzes have been displayed. Two images of Buddha in boon giving posture, Tara, Prajnaparmita, Loknath, Bodhisattava padmapani, Buddha in earth touching posture, depiction of a Buddhist temple, etc. are some important images related to Buddhist faith whereas images of Ganesh, Surya, Kamadeva, Indrani and Vishnu, etc. are examples of Brahmanical religion.
Out of thirty-six stone sculptures and images kept in the fourth gallery. Kinnaras worshipping kalpadrum (2 pannels), Vishnu, crowned Buddha in preaching pose with important events of his life, Buddha in Bhumisparsh-mudhra with eight events, Marichi, Vajrapni and Padmapani Bodhisattvas are worth mentioning.
Two huge jars found from the monastic complex at Nalanda have displayed in a separate shed. A rich wealth of stone sculptures and images, terracotta, bronzes and other antiquarian objects are preserved in its reserve collection.