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Vikramashila (Skt. Vikramaśīla; T. rnam gnon tshul རྣམ་གནོན་ཚུལ་) was one of the three most important Buddhist monasteries in India during the Pala Empire, along with Nalanda and Odantapuri. Its location is now the site of Antichak village, Bhagalpur district in Bihar.[1]

Vikramashila was established by the Pala emperor Dharmapal (783 to 820 AD) in response to a supposed decline in the quality of scholarship at Nalanda. Atiśa, the renowned pandita and philosopher, is listed as a notable abbot. It was destroyed by the forces of Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khalji around 1193.[2][3]


Ruins of Vikramashila Mahavihara

A number of monasteries grew up during the Pāla period in ancient Bengal and Magadha. According to Tibetan sources, five great Mahaviharas stood out: Vikramashila, the premier university of the era; Nalanda, past its prime but still illustrious, Somapura, Odantapura, and Jagaddala.[4] The five monasteries formed a network; "all of them were under state supervision" and there existed "a system of co-ordination among them. It seems from the evidence that the different seats of Buddhist learning that functioned in eastern India under the Pāla were regarded together as forming a network, an interlinked group of institutions," and it was common for great scholars to move easily from position to position among them.[5]

Vikramashila was founded by Pāla king Dharmapala in the late 8th or early 9th century. It prospered for about four centuries before it was destroyed by Bakhtiyar Khilji along with the other major centres of Buddhism in India around 1193.[6][7]

Vikramashila is known to us mainly through Tibetan sources, especially the writings of Tāranātha, the Tibetan monk historian of the 16th–17th centuries.[8]

Vikramashila was one of the largest Buddhist universities, with more than one hundred teachers and about one thousand students. It produced eminent scholars who were often invited by foreign countries to spread Buddhist learning, culture and religion. The most distinguished and eminent among all was Atisha Dipankara, a founder of the Sarma traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. Subjects like philosophy, grammar, metaphysics, Indian logic etc. were taught here, but the most important branch of learning was Buddhist tantra.[9]

Further reading


  1. Anupam, Hitendra (2001). "Significance of Tibetan Sources in the Study of Odantapuri and Vikaramsila Mahavihars". Proceedings of the Indian History Congress. 61: 424–428. JSTOR 44148119. 
  2. Alexis Sanderson (2009). "The Śaiva Age: The Rise and Dominance of Śaivism during the Early Medieval Period". In Einoo, Shingo. Genesis and Development of Tantrism. Tokyo: Institute of Oriental Culture, University of Tokyo. p. 89. 
  3. Eaton, Richard (December 22, 2000). "Temple desecration in pre-modern India". Frontline. 17 (25): 62–70. 
  4. Vajrayogini: Her Visualization, Rituals, and Forms by Elizabeth English. Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86171-329-X pg 15
  5. Buddhist Monks And Monasteries Of India: Their History And Contribution To Indian Culture. by Dutt, Sukumar. George Allen and Unwin Ltd, London 1962. pg 352-3
  6. "Organiser - Content". 
  7. Scott, David (May 1995). "Buddhism and Islam: Past to Present Encounters and Interfaith Lessons". Numen. 42 (2): 141–155. doi:10.1163/1568527952598657. JSTOR 3270172. 
  8. "Excavated Remains at Nalanda". UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Retrieved 13 July 2012. 
  9. O. C. Handa, Omacanda Hāṇḍā, Buddhist Western Himalaya: A politico-religious history, Indus Publishing, 2001, p. 337.