Bihar is predominantly an agriculture-based state in India, but it is historically and archaeologically important. The capital city is Patna and the main language spoken here is Hindi. Though presently, it is not an industrially well developed city in India, twenty five centuries ago, this was the capital of the greatest empire in India, when emperor Ashoka ruled his kingdom from Pataliputra, which is Patna today.
Two centuries before Alexander made his long march east-ward, an Indian kingdom had started to develop in the northern part. It gradually expanded into the vacuum created by the departure of Alexander when Chandra Gupta Maurya's empire carne into power in 321 Be. From its capital city at the present-day Patna, which was known then as Pataliputra, the Mauryan empire eventually spread across northern India. The empire reached its pinnacle of glory during Emperor Ashoka's period, who later embraced Buddhism. Ashokan edicts and pillars can be seen in Delhi, Gujarat, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh (Samath) and Madhya Pradesh (Sanchi), even to this day. However, following Ashoka's death in 232 Be, the empire rapidly disintegrated and finally collapsed in 184 BC.
Thus, Bihar was a great religious centre for Jains, Hindus and more importantly, the Buddhists. It was at Bodhgaya in Bihar that Bhagawan Buddha sat under Bo tree and realized enlightenment. Nalanda was a world-famous university for the study of Buddhism in the fifth century AD. Bihar was known as Magadha in ancient days. During the British rule, Bihar was part of the Bengal Presidency. In 1936, Bihar and Orissa, were separated from Bengal and made different states.
The main crops of Bihar are: paddy, wheat, maize, ragi and potato. Bihar is one of the richest states in its mineral wealth. Copper, coal, graphite, lead and silver are mined here. Some of the big industries here are: The Tata Iron and Steel Co. Ltd., Tata Engineering & Locomotives, Ranchi Aluminium, etc. These industries, along with the public sector, Bokaro Steel Plant, provide jobs to lakhs of people of Bihar.
Places to visit:
Patna : Patna is the capital city of Bihar. The ancient name of this city was Pataliputra. It was the capital city of Ashoka's mighty empire. The city is on the southern bank of the Ganges. Gandhi maidan is in the centre of busy Patna city. Nearby, is Golghar, which is a huge beehive-shaped structure constructed in 1786 to store surplus grains as a pre- caution against possible famine. It is about 25 metres in height and offers a fine view over the town and the Ganges. It was built at the initiative of the then British administrator, Warren Hastings, in the year 1786, following a famine in 1770.
River Ganges is widest at Patna since three major tributaries join her between Varanasi and Patna.
The city extends for about 15 km along the southern bank of the Ganges. The hub of the present day Patna is at Gandhi Maidan.
The Patna city museum contains metal and stone sculptures dating back to the Maurya and Gupta periods right from the third century BC Terracotta figures and archaeological finds from Nalanda are displayed here. There are also some original Chinese and Tibetan scrolls and paintings here.
Kumrahar is the site where Ashoka's capital, Pataliputra, of the third century BC, has been excavated. It is to the south of Patna. Excavations reveal an assembly hall with its large pillars dating back to the Mauryan period, and remnants of the bricks of Buddhist monastery - Anand Bihar. Kumrahar was earlier, the capital city of Chandra Gupta Maurya between 321-297 BC and of Bindusara between 297- 274 BC before the .reign of Ashoka.
North-west of Kumrahar, is Bhikna Pahari, where Ashoka built a retreat for his brother Mahinda. Kumrahar is just six kms. away from Patna and interests those keen on studying India's archaeology and ancient history.
In the Chowk area of old Patna, is the Har Mandir, which is one of the holiest Sikh shrines. It was built by Ranjit Singh, to mark the place where Guru Gobind Singh, the last of the Sikh gurus, was born in 1660. Sikh scriptures, photographs about Sikh religion and personal belongings of the Guru, including his shoes and cradle, are exhibited here.
The Khudabaksh Oriental Library, founded in 1900, has a collection of rare Arabic and Parsian manuscripts. It is famous for the Holy Koran which is inscribed in a book only an inch in width. Moghul and Rajput paintings are also displayed here. The library also contains books rescued from the closure of the Moorish University of Cordoba in Spain.
Gulzarbagh, to the east of Patna, was the site of the East India Company's opium warehouse.
The tourist office of the state government operates a day trip which covers Patna, Rajgir, Nalanda and Pawapuri
How to get there:
Air: Patna is connected with Delhi, Calcutta, Ranchi, Lucknow & Bombay.
Bus: Buses ply to Siliguri, Gaya, Ranchi, Sasaram, Raxaul, Muzaffarpur etc.
Train: Patna is connected with Delhi, Calcutta, Varanasi, Ranchi, Bombay, Madras, Darjeeling, Gaya etc.
Forty four kms. to the north of Patna is Vaisali, the birth place of Lord Mahavira, one of the Jain Tirthankaras. An Ashoka pillar, topped by his lion symbol, has been unearthed here, and is one of a series of Ashoka's pillars erected along the route between Patna and Nepal.
Sasaram, which is on the way from Patna to Varanasi, has some fine Muslim tombs, particularly that of the Afghan ruler, Sher Shah, who died in 1545. The dome of the tomb, rises 46 metres above the water level of the surrounding tank. The tomb of his father and his son are also here.
How to get there:
Bus: Buses operate to Patna from Sasaram
Train: Trains connect Sasaram with Varanasi and Gaya
On the way, from Patna to Gaya, is Nalanda, which was a great Buddhist centre over a thousand years ago, until the Muslim invaders burnt the school, monastery and the library. During the early seventh century AD, when Hieun Tsang, the Chinese scholar stayed here for five years, there were 10,000 monks and students housed here. There is an archaeological museum here which houses sculpture and other remains found on the site, and an international centre for the study of Buddhism. There are Burmese, Japanese and Jain rest houses at Nalanda.
Nineteen kms. to the south of Nalanda, is Rajgir. During the Buddha's life-time, Rajgir was the capital of this part of India and Buddha spent 12 years here. On a nearby hill is a Japanese stupa and numerous hot sulphur springs.
How to get there:
Bus: Buses ply from Rajgir to Patna, Gaya & Pawapuri.
Mahavira, the Jain Tirthankar, attained nirvana at Pawapuri which is 25 kms. away from Nalanda. It is an important Jain pilgrimage spot. Patna is also very popular as an entry point, whether one travels by bus, rail or air. Just across the river from Patna is Sonepur which is famous for cattle fairs. It is said that at one time, even elephants were being bought and sold at this fair.
Gaya: Gaya is about 100 kms. south of Patna and is a centre for Hindu pilgrims, second only to Varanasi as pilgrims believe that offering 'pindas' (funeral cakes) here will free their ancestors from bondage to the earth. In the central part of the old town, is the Vishnupad temple constructed in 1787 by Queen Ahalya Bai of Indore. Non-Hindus are not allowed into the temple's interior. It is situated on the banks of the Falgu river. Cremations are performed on the banks of this river. Inside the temple, is a 40- cm long 'foot-print' of Lord Vishnu which is imprinted on solid rock and surrounded by a silver-plated basin. To the north of the Vishnupad temple, stands another temple to the Sun God. Brahmajuni Hill, a little farther away, offers a good view over Gaya from the top. At the base of this hill is the Akshayavat or immortal banyan tree. Twenty kms. to the north of Gaya, are the Barabar caves dating back to 200 BC. Two of these caves have inscriptions from Ashoka himself.
How to get there:
Bus: Patna, Rajgir are connected with Gaya
Train: There are direct trains to Delhi, Calcutta, Patna, Varanasi, Puri.
Bodhgaya: Thirteen kms. away from Gaya is Bodhgaya. It is one of the four holy places associated with the Buddha. They are: Lumbini in Nepal, where he was born; Sarnath near Varanasi where he preached his message, Kushinagar near Gorakhpur where he died, and Bodhgaya where he attained enlightenment.
A Bo tree growing at Bodhgaya, is said to be a direct descendant of the original tree under which Buddha sat, meditated and attained enlightenment. Although the Bo tree has died, a sapling from the original tree was carried to Sri Lanka by Mahinda Emperor Ashoka's son, who brought Buddhism to the island. The tree now flourishes at Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka, and in turn, a sapling from that tree was carried back to Bodhgaya, where it grows today. A red sand stone slab under the tree is said to be the Vajrasan or diamond throne, on which the Buddha sat. Buddhists from all over the world throng here in large numbers. There are also several monasteries here.
The Mahabodhi temple, with its 50 metre-high pyramidal spire, houses the large gilded image of Buddha. The temple is said to stand on the site of a temple originally erected by Ashoka in the third century Be. Although the present temple was restored in 1882, and earlier in the 11th century, it is said to be basically the same as the one that stood here in the 7th century or even earlier. The Chinese pilgrim, Hieun Tsang describes visiting this earlier temple in 635 AD.
The stone railing around the temple; parts of which are till intact, are from the Sunga period around 184-172 Be. Parts of this railing are in a museum in Calcutta and in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The Buddha is said to have bathed in the nearby lotus pond.
The monasteries here are: Tibetan, Japanese, Burmese and Thai.
Parasnath, which is near the border of West Bengal, is a major Jain pilgrimage centre in eastern India. It is on top of a steep hill. There are 24 temples here representing the Jain Tir- thankaras. Parasnath, the 23rd Tirthankar, attained nirvana at this spot, 100 years after his birth at Varanasi.
Hazaribagh, to the south of Gaya, is a hill resort in the Damodar valley. There is a wildlife sanctuary here.
Ninety three kms. away from Damodar; valley, is Ranchi which is another hill resort. At the foot of the hill, is an artificial lake, flanked by two temples. The Hundru Falls are 43 kms. north-east of Ranchi. Ranchi is particularly noted for its mental hospital, probably the best-known of its kind in India.
The beautiful resort of Neterahat, is 150 kms. away, close to the border with Madhya Pradesh. The Jagannathpur village has the Jagannath temple, which is a smaller version of the famous Jagannath Temple at Puri, in Orissa.
Ranchi is well connected by buses to Raxaul (very close to Nepal border), Patna and Gaya. Ranchi is also well connected by rail.