Late last year, I featured The Cathedral of Learning, on the University of Pittsburgh’s campus, in a couple of posts, including a Thursday Doors post. I mentioned that one of the signature elements of the Cathedral of Learning is a group of Nationality Rooms that have been built on the first and third floors around the Commons. I promised to share some information about these rooms “beginning in January” – it looks like I missed that deadline. Oh well, what’s a couple of days among friends?
Originally, these rooms were dedicated to the various ethnic groups that played an important role in the history of Western Pennsylvania. The rooms were supposed to occupy the first floor, with rooms related to Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania occupying the 2nd and 3rd floors. The plans for the 2nd and 3rd floor rooms fell short, and the Nationality Rooms began to expand to the 3rd floor. They also expanded the scope of the rooms to allow inclusion of: “a body of people associated with a particular territory and possessing a distinctive cultural and social way of life…”
The rooms have been designed to have a common theme and purpose. They do not include political references or symbols and they do not include portraits of living people. All but two of the rooms are functioning classrooms; I had a class in one when I was in graduate school at Pitt. One of the guiding principles dictates the period represented in each room’s design:
“The design of a given historical period must be cultural and aesthetic, not political. The period depicted should be prior to 1787, the year the University was founded.”
The Indian Nationality Room, is the first room that I want to share, for two reasons. One, the room contains a lot of doors. Two, my friend Sharukh Bamboat lives in India, and I thought it would be a nice way of honoring our friendship. Sharukh also helped me with the research on the room’s design.
According to the archives of the Indian Nationality Room Committee:
“The committee was inspired by the ancient Nālandā University, an eminent institution in India from the 5th through 12th centuries CE, which they chose to represent Indian culture and heritage in their nationality room. Nālandā was an international center of learning in Asia, providing free education to those students fortunate enough to pass the rigorous entrance examinations.”
According to Sharukh:
“Nalanda was initially a place where monks would come in to learn more about Vedas and the scriptures. It was an international residential school (with meditation halls, classrooms and dorms). The city still exists and is an administrative district in the state of Bihar (pronounced as Bee-har). The name of the state comes from the word Vihar (Vee-har). It became one of the top places across Asia for Vedic learning during the Gupta Empire.
A little bit about the Gupta dynasty – They were the pioneers in the field of art, dialects, engineering, literature, logic and mathematics. It was during the Gupta dynasty that scholars like Aryabhatta (who studied here) first came up with the concept of zero.”
I have left out much of the information Sharukh shared with me, but I am encouraging him to share the full story with readers of his wonderful India travel blog.
I am going to add one more excerpt from Sharukh’s information, because it explains a prominent artifact in the room (and in my photos), the seal on the wall:
“Regarding the round Nalanda seal that you see on the wall (in your pictures it’s done on the wood). The Sanskrit scripture says – “Sri Nalanda Mahavihariya Arya Bhiksusamghasya” which means “Community of the Monks of the Great Monastery at Nalanda”. The circle in the seal is the Dharmachakra (Wheel of Dharma). It would be hard for me to explain the concept of dharma, but in an outline, it encompasses the “way of living”. You know its like every individual has to be responsible for his role on the planet, his duties, his conducts with his loved ones and the world, his virtues and so on. This is the Wheel of Dharma which sits high on the seal. The deers symbolize the deer park at Sarnath which is close to Nalanda. A place where monks would go to meditate.”
Thanks again to Sharukh, and thanks also to Norm Frampton, without whom, Thursday Doors would be, well that’s the point, it wouldn’t be. Norm lets us share our doors each week on his list. If you have a door to share, or if you just want to see some great doors, slide on up to Norm’s place. Check out Norm’s doors, which are always worth a look, and then find and click on the blue frog.
I hope you enjoy the photos from the Indian Room. I plan to share other photos and stories, but since I don’t have many door photos, I’ll have to find another home for them on the blog.