Public Lecture on ‘Five Degrees of Variation at Nalanda’ at NIAS, Bangalore

National Institute of Advanced Studies

Indian Institute of Science Campus, Bengaluru 560 012

 Invites you to a



 ‘Five Degrees of Variation at Nalanda’



Assistant Professor, School of Humanities, NIAS


Viraj Kumar

Visiting Professor, Divecha Centre for Climate Change, IISc

Chairperson: Dr. Srikumar Menon, NIAS

Monday, 13th August, 2018

4:00 PM

Lecture Hall, NIAS

Abstract:   Historical records suggest that Nalanda was a Buddhist monastery of considerable repute, which remained in existence from the 4th/5th century CE until at least the end of the 12th century CE. Phased excavations conducted by Archaeological Survey of India (between 1863 and 1983) have exposed sixteen large structures: six temples (or chaityas) and ten monasteries.

This talk will focus on the curious variation in the orientations of these six temples. The east-west orientations of Nalanda’s temples are tilted a few degrees south of east and they vary in a narrow band about five degrees wide. Unfortunately, the historical record does not suggest any explanation for this mysterious five-degree variation. By measuring the temple orientations using satellite imagery, we identify an interesting pattern that could serve as an important clue: older constructions are generally aligned closer to the cardinal directions than newer constructions. Based on this pattern, we present a novel hypothesis: these temples were oriented to the rise of a particular star. If true, not only does this hypothesis explain the five-degree variation as a consequence of axial precession (a well-understood astronomical phenomenon), but it allows us to estimate an approximate date of construction for each temple based only on its orientation.

About the Speakers: M.B. Rajani is a faculty member at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bangalore. Her research interests are in Landscape Archaeology and geo-spatial analysis for cultural heritage. Her recent publications include ‘Archaeological remains at Nalanda: a spatial comparison of 19th century observations and the protected World Heritage Site’ ISEAS, 2018;  three articles in Current Science Special Section on Geo-spatial Techniques in Archaeology, 2017. She is an elected member of Indian National Young Academy of Science (INYAS) from 2018-2022.

Viraj Kumar is a Visiting Professor at the Divecha Centre for Climate Change, IISc. He contributes to the Centre’s educational outreach and policy initiatives, and his research interests lie in the use of technology to improve teaching-learning processes. He was a consultant to the Committee to draft the National Education Policy (2017-18), and contributed to two education-related task groups of the Karnataka Knowledge Commission (2014-16). He is the present Vice-Chair of ACM India’s Special Interest Group in Computer Science Education (iSIGCSE) and co-chair of the IEEE International Conference on Technology for Education (T4E 2016 and T4E 2018).

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All are cordially invited

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