Nalanda has a very ancient history going back to the days of Mahavira and Buddha in the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. According to Jain text it was a suburb( bahiriya), situated to the north-west of the famous city of Rajagriha. Indeed, so important was the place that Mahavira spent as many as fourteen rainy season here. The Pali Buddhist literature as well contains many references to Nalanda. It is said that in course of his sojourns Buddha often visited the place, which is mentioned as prosperous, swelling, teeming with population and containing a mango-grove called Pavarika.
According to Taranatha – Ashoka, the Great Mauryan-emperor of the 3 B.C., gave offering to the Chaitya of Sariputra that existed at Nalanda and erected a temple here : Ashoka must therefore be regarded as the founder of the Nalanda-Vihara. The same authority adds that Nagarjuna, the famous Mahayana philosopher and alchemist of about 2 B.C. began his studies at Nalanda and later on became the high-priest here. It is also added that Suvishnu, a Brahamana contemporary of Nagarjuna, built one hundred and eight temples at Nalanda to prevent the decline of Hinayana and Mahayana School of Buddhism.