BIHAR: PATNA AND ANCIENT BUDDHIST SITES

BIHAR

Bihar (to the west of Kolkata) is India's third most populace state with 105 million people, and one of its poorest with a per capita GDP of only about $500. Despite a wealth of natural resources, many people are poor and illiterate and a large number of the children under four are malnourished. For a long time it had India’s lowest women's literacy rates and the highest birth rate. The vast majority of the population are farmers. There is little manufacturing.

Bihar state covers 94,163 square kilometers (36,357 square miles) and has a population density of 1,102 people per square kilometer. About 89 percent of the population lives in urban areas. Patna is the capital and largest city, with about 2 million people. Religions in Bihar: Hinduism (82.69 percent); Islam (16.87 percent); Christianity (0.12 percent); Other religions (0.31 percent). Languages of Bihar: Hindi (25.54 percent); Bhojpuri (24.86 percent); Maithili (12.55 percent); Magahi (10.87 percent); Urdu (8.42 percent); Surjapuri (1.78 percent); Bengali (0.78 percent); Others (15.20 percent)

The people of Bihar and called Biharis. They speak Bihari, an eastern dialect of Hindi, and are regarded by other Indians as lazy and uneducated. A typical peasant farmer in Bihar grows a course grain called maruah in the monsoon season that provides nourishment to feed his family for about two months. He then does odd jobs such as digging for the equivalent of a few dollars a day for the rest of year. Upper castes, which make up 15 percent of the population, have traditionally dominated political and economic institutions and made sure the lower caste stayed in their places.

Landlocked Bihar is located in the middle of the Gangetic Plain and is surrounded by Nepal, Bengal, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and comprises four cultural regions-Bhojpur, Mithila and Magadha and Chotanagpur. Rivers Kosi and Gandak from the north and Sone from the south join the Ganges. Bihar receives substantial amounts of rainfall most years, with most of it falling in the monsoon season from June to September., In the fertile plains, rice, sugarcane, oilseeds, gram, maize, jute, barley and wheat are cultivated.

Bihar is regarded as the birthplace of Buddhism and Jainism. Rice money was still use in Bihar in the 1970s. In recent years the state has been hit by waves of violence, involving radical leftist groups, and caste disputes. Many of the tourist that visited here come to see places associated with Buddha. Bihar's antiquity is evident from its name, which is derived from the ancient word "Vihara" (monastery). It is indeed a land of monasteries. Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Muslim and Sikh shrines abound in this ancient land where India's first major empires rose and fell, where the ruins of the worlds' earliest university are found and where the Ganges flows wide and deep enrich the plains of Bihar before fracturing in the Bengal's deltoid zone.

Poverty and Lawlessness in Bihar

Bihar is regarded as the hell hole of India. India. The most impoverished corrupt and back ward state in India, it has the country's lowest literacy rate (64 percent) and the lowest per capita income ($500 a year). Irrigation projects lie half finished because corrupt bureaucrats have run off with the money to finance them and roads are lined with utility poles whose wires have been stripped and resold. However, things are better than they were in the 1990s when the literacy rate was 38.5 percent and the per capita income was $70 a year.

The Indian government has a hard time reigning in this lawless state because the roads there are in poor conditions and it is difficult to get anywhere. A 270-kilometer drive to Patna, the state’s capital, can take "eight bone-jarring hours" The pot holes fill with water in the monsoon season and provide an ideal breeding ground for mosquitos. Rickshaws, bicycles, bullock carts and pedestrians in loincloths and saris far outnumber cars and trucks.

Bihar is ruled by feudal landlords who, in many cases, pay their slave-like workers with one meal and three pounds of grain — but no money — for a day's work. Up a couple decades ago ago brides from poor families were routinely forced to sleep with local landowner on their wedding night. Justice is meted by "People's Courts" that take accused highway bandits in the forest and cut off their hands with axes or slice off their noses, ears or heads with knives. A police informer was nailed crucifix-style to a tree. The landowners in Bihar hire militias to protect their property and Maoist guerrillas have taken it upon themselves to defend the poor.

Gunsmiths make unlicensed weapons which they sell to mafia dons, gangs and politicians. One cabinet-rank minister was purportedly involved in 36 killings and one landowner claimed he killed more than 200 people to avenge the beheading of his father by Maoists in 1988. Reports of sorcery and lynched witches are common. Occasionally there are reports of human sacrifices. Buddha came from Bihar. Many thinks his message about suffering is relevant to surviving there today.

Bihar and Buddha

Many of the foreign tourists that visit Bihar come to see places associated with Buddha. Among all Indian states, Bihar is the one most intimately linked to the Buddha’s life, resulting in a trail of pilgrimages which have come to be known as the Buddhist circuit. The Buddhist trail begins at the capital city, Patna, where a noteworthy museum contains a collection of Hindu and Buddhist sculptures as well as a terracotta urn said to contain the ashes of Lord Buddha.

The Buddha spent five years at Rajgir after having attained enlightenment, and many of the remains at Rajgir commemorate various incidents related to life of Buddha, the hill of Gridhrakuta being perhaps the most important, as this is where the Buddha delivered most of his sermons. Bodhgaya is the spot where Lord Buddha attained enlightenment, with the Mahabodhi Temple marking the precise location.

A monastic university flourished in Bihar (Nalanda) from the 5th to the 11th century. It is said to have contained nine million books, with 2,000 teachers to impart knowledge to 10,000 students who came from all over the Buddhist world. It is said Lord Buddha himself taught here and Xuanzang, the famous 7th century Chinese traveler and Buddhist scholar, was a student. Ongoing excavations have uncovered temples, monasteries and lecture halls. Rajgir, ‘the royal palace’ (12 kilometers south) was also the venue for the first Buddhist Council.

Patna

Patna (280 kilometers miles from Varanasi) is one of the oldest living cities in the world and was known as Pataliputra in ancient times. Situated on the banks of River Ganges, it is now the capital of Bihar and a bustling city of 2 million people with old neighbourhoods and important monuments. Patna's heritage spans across two millennia and was the stronghold of several dynasties. One can find Buddhist, Sufi, Jain, Sikh and Hindu sites. Thousands of people have traditionally come to city every year for its annual cattle and elephant auction.

Many legendary musicians and artists hail from this city, including Pandit Ram Chatur Mallik, Bari Zohrabai, Mushtari Bai, etc. The city is also the birthplace of popular styles of music like the dadra, kajli, khayaal and dhammar. Once the capital of the mighty Mauryan emperor Ashoka, Kusumpura (as Patna was then called), transformed into Pushpapura, followed by Pataliputra and Azeemabad to finally become Patna.

During the Indian freedom movement, the city of Patna played a central role. Its Sadaqat Ashram, established by Mahatma Gandhi, was the meeting ground of several freedom fighters. Moreover, a memorial dedicated to patriotic college students, who were shot by the British for hoisting the Indian flag, stands until date to commemorate the sacrifice of the unforgettable heroes. The ashes of Gandhiji were also immersed in the holy Ganges from the Gandhi Ghat located here.

Patna is also the home of Golghar, a massive 90-foot-high domed structure with a spiraling exterior staircase that leads to the top. Built by British engineers in 1786 to store grain for times of famine, the structure was never fully used because the filling hatch at the top was too difficult to open and the doors at the bottom used for retrieving the grain opened inward, making them nearly impossible to open when was filled 137,000 tons of grain — its full capacity. The granary is now a tourist attraction as popular in India as the Washington Monument is in the United States.

Getting There: By Road: Patna can be reached via regular buses operated by BSTDC and other private agencies from cities like Bodhgaya (about 111km), Bhagalpur (about 236km), Allahabad (about 390km), Varanasi (about 282km) and Ranchi (about 323km). By Train: Patna has multiple railway stations like Danapur (DNR), Patna Junction (PNBE), Rajendra Nagar Bihar (RJPB), Patna Saheb (PNC), Pothahi (PFT) that are connected to major Indian cities like Mumbai, New Delhi and Kolkata by regular train services.

Shopping In Patna

For handcrafts and souvenirs visit the Patna Market. Located on Ashok Rajpath. If you are looking for clothes head to the Hathwa Market. You can shop for clothing with traditional embroidery and footwear at Bakerganj’s Hathwa Market. For some unique buys, you can try the Lhasa Market. It is a fun place to visit to sample Tibetan culture and woollen garments. Khaitan Market is a multi-storey, textile wholesaler’s market. One can find a variety of saris, trousseau items and soft furnishings at this market. The bustling narrow lanes of Daldali Bazaar are the place to go for good quality, whole and powdered spices as well as dry fruits.

Madhubani painting is a rural art form that was developed by the women of the Mithila region of Bihar. Traditionally done with rice paste and twigs, nibs or fingers, today, artists use paper and cloth for the colorful paintings. The paintings mostly depict mythological stories and earlier used to be done by the women to welcome the gods to their homes. The art form is said to have started at the time of the Ramayana, when King Janak commissioned artists to paint the proceedings of his daughter Sita’s wedding to Lord Rama. You can shop for Madhubani painted wall decor items or saris in Patna. In 2018, the Patna Municipal Corporation (PMC) started a drive to depict the state’s heritage with social messages on the walls of the city.

Sights in Patna

The sacred island of Janhangira features a white temple on top of a pile of boulders. Also worth visiting are Harmandir Sahib, the birthplace of Guru Gobind Sing and one of the holiest Sikh shrines.

Gandhi Ghat is the most popular of several ghats (stepped banks of a river) on River Ganges in Patna. Gandhi’s ashes are believed to have been immersed in Ganga from this ghat. Every weekend, the ghat comes alive as the evening arti (a ritual performed with lamps) of the river is conducted here. Priests dressed in saffron robes, perform the arti, along with prayers and songs. The start of the arti is marked by the blowing of a conch shell. Visitors can also enjoy boat rides at the ghat. The Bihar State Tourism Development Corporation (BSTDC) runs a river cruise ship, the MV Ganga Vihar, from here. Watching the ritual of the arti unfold from the ship or any hired boat is a memorable experience.

Gandhi Maidan is Patna's most popular landmark. A sprawling ground at the center of the city, spread across 62 acre, it is where was here that Mahatma Gandhi held his prayer meetings, when he visited the city. Rows of handsome trees line the periphery of the ground. Today, surrounded by a busy market area, offices and hotels, it hosts several exhibitions and fairs throughout the year, one of the most iconic among them being the annual Patna Book Fair that lasts a fortnight and sees streams of visitors throughout its duration. A statue of Gandhi stands towards the south of Gandhi Maidan. Known as Patna Lawn during the British era, it used to be a golf course from 1824 to 1833. Horse racing was another popular sport that took place here.

Agam Kuan (near Gulzarbagh railway station) is an important archaeological site in Patna. Its name means unfathomable well and it is widely believed to be associated with Mauryan emperor Ashoka. It is said that the Agam Kuan was part of king Ashoka's hell chambers and used for purposes of torture. Apparently, fire used to emanate from the well and offenders were thrown into this fiery well. A legend says that it is the site where emperor Ashoka killed his 99 brothers by throwing them into the well. His aim was to be the master of the throne of the Mauryan empire. Devotees throw flowers and coins into this well as it is considered auspicious. In olden times, it is said that gold and silver coins were thrown into the Agam Kuan by Mughal officials.

Another myth says that the bottom of the well is connected to River Ganges. A saint once found a heavy log inside the well which had been lost in the sea earlier and so it was inferred that that the well is connected to the netherworld or patala (hell). There are eight arched windows that offer a peek at the deep waters. Apparently, during emperor Akbar's rule, a roofed structure was built around the well. There are several other fascinating tales related to this well. The Jain monk, Sudarshana, was thrown into the Agam Kuan by king Chand, but According to legend he floated to the surface, seated on a lotus. The depth was believed to be 105 ft, but during a cleaning project in the 1990s, it was found to be 65 feet. It is said that this well never dries up and the water level fluctuates between 1 and 5 feet.

Gol Ghar

Gol Ghar (near the Gandhi Maidan) is a massive 90-foot-high domed structure with a spiraling exterior staircase that leads to the top. Built by British engineers in 1786 to store grain for times of famine, the structure was never fully used because the filling hatch at the top was too difficult to open and the doors at the bottom used for retrieving the grain opened inward, making them nearly impossible to open when was filled 137,000 tons of grain — its full capacity. The granary is now a tourist attraction as popular in India as the Washington Monument is in the United States.

Gol Ghar (Golghar) resembles a beehive with a staircase. Literally translated, 'gol ghar' means round house. Amazingly, this impressive, heavy-looking structure has no pillars to support it from within. It stands 29 meters tall and has 3.6-meter-wide walls at its base. The structure was built by British army's captain, John Garstin, as a huge granary for his soldiers, when a famine struck this region in 1770. Thousands of people were fed from this giant granary capable of holding over 13,000 tons of grain.

A staircase, built on the outer part of its wall, was used by porters to carry sacks of grains to the top of the building to fill it. There is a hole on the top into which the grain sacks used to be emptied. Like a Midwest grain silo, if someone fell in , they could be swallowed up by the quicksand-like grain and drown from lungs full of millet. Today, the stairway is climbed by tourists to reach the top of Gol Ghar and enjoy a panoramic view of the city and the Ganges river. Gol Ghar has never been filled to its maximum capacity because of the inward-opening doors. It is surrounded by a lush green garden. The structure is currently under renovation to improve its appearance.

Museums of Patna

Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Library has an extraordinary collection of rare Persian and Arabic manuscripts, Rajput and Mughal paintings, and the only books rescued from the plunder of the University of Cordoba in Spain. Gandhi Smarak Sangrahalaya, which is also known as the National Gandhi Museum, is located to the north of Gandhi Maidan on the Ashok Raj Path in Patna. The museum showcases a picture gallery depicting the life of Gandhiji, a library hall, a conference hall as well as a Gandhi Sahitya Kendra.

Jalan Museum (in Sher Shah's Fort) has an extraordinary private collection of jade, Chinese paintings and Mughal silver filigree. Also called Qila House, the museum is built on the foundations of the fort of Sher Shah Suri. It houses the private collection of the Jalan family and some of its famed exhibits include a dinner service set that belonged to George III, Napoleon’s four-poster bed, and Marie Antoinette’s Sevres porcelain. Prior permission is required to visit the museum.

Bihar Museum is a modern steel and granite building that has been created by a Japanese design firm in collaboration with an Indian company. Located on a 13.5-acre-plot, it has a gallery area of 9,500 square meters, with different sections like the Orientation gallery, the Children’s gallery, History galleries and one on the Bihari diaspora. There is an intriguing Visible Storage gallery that showcases terracotta and coin artefacts.

Patna Museum sits in a green garden in a grand British-era building. It contains a splendid collection of Mauryan and Gupta stone sculptures, some beautiful bronze Buddhist statues and early 19th century landscape paintings by Thomas and William Daniells.

Near Patna

Maner (30 kilometers from Patna) is a small town that was an ancient seat of learning. Among other monuments at Maner stand two important Mohammedan tombs. The first one is that of Makhdoom Yahia or Sheikh Yahia Maneri, known as the Bari Dargah and the other is that of Shah Daulat or Makhdum Daulat, and is called Chhoti Dargah. Ibrahim Khan, the then governor of Bihar, was a disciple of Makhdum Daulat and so, he constructed the monument in 1616 after the death of his spiritual leader in 1608.

A gorgeous dome, a ceiling covered with inscriptions from the Quran, an ancient mosque built by Ibrahim Khan back in 1619, and other characteristically Jehangir-era architectural styles can be seen at this mausoleum. The carvings on the walls are exceptionally intricate and beautifully finished. In fact, it is considered to be the finest Mughal monument in Eastern India. It is said that the red and yellow stones used in the construction were brought all the way from Chunar district in Uttar Pradesh. The tomb of Yahiya Maneri lies in a mosque and is connected to the old bed of River Sone through a 400-ft-long tunnel. These tombs are well-known pilgrimage destinations where devotees come to offer a 'chadar' as a mark of their devotion. It is said that the waters of the river are as sweet as sugar and are used to make delicious ghee ladoos. One will also find a Buddhist temple and a Jain temple in Maner.

Vaishali (50 kilometers north of Patna) is site of what is reputed to be the first democratically elected republic in the world. Vaishali is an archaeological site spanning a thousand years over four periods beginning from 500 B.C., as found from a wide collection of terracotta objects, coins, seals, shrines and stupas. The most important monument is, in Kolhua, a huge iron pillar, believed to have been constructed by emperor Ashoka of the Mauryan dynasty. Located right next to a brick stupa, the pillar was raised to commemorate Lord Buddha's last sermon here. You can also check out the ruins of a monastery, where, it is said, Lord Buddha used to reside. The Vaishali Museum, displays a wide range of artefacts that were discovered at various archaeological sites in Vaishali. Right next to the museum, a circular tin shed covers the remains of the stupa, which is believed to have once housed the ashes of Lord Buddha. A major highlight near the museum is the coronation tank of the Licchavi rulers known as Abhishek Pushkarani.

Vaishali was the capital of Licchavi dynasty (A.D. 400 to 750) and despite Patliputra (Patna) being a Mauryan and Gupta stronghold, commerce and industry flourished more here. Another popular attraction is the Bawan Pokhar Temple, which belongs to the Pala period (8th to 12th centuries). Located on the northern banks of the Bawan Pokhar tank, the temple is adorned with imposing images of various Hindu deities. Complete your trip with a visit to the Vishwa Shanti Stupa or pillar of peace, one of the highest of its kind in the world. It was added much later by the Indian government with the support of the Japanese government.

Bodhgaya

Bodh Gaya (115 kilometers south of Patna) is where tradition says Buddha attainted spiritual enlightenment. Commemorating the spot where this important event took place is the vast Mahabodhi temple complex which has been called the "Jerusalem of the Buddhist world." Here Siddhartha Gautama meditated beneath the sacred Bodhi Tree while being tempted by the demon Mara in an episode similar to Jesus's encounter with the devil on the Mount of Temptation. After casting off the demon the prince achieved enlightenment (nirvana) was transformed into Buddha — the enlightened one.

According to UNESCO: Bodh Gaya “has direct associations with the life of the Lord Buddha (566-486 BC) as the place where in 531 BC he attained the supreme and perfect insight while seated under the Bodhi Tree. It provides exceptional records for the events associated with his life and for subsequent worship, particularly since Emperor Asoka made a pilgrimage to this spot around 260 BC and built the first temple at the site of the Bodhi Tree. The Mahabodhi Temple Complex is located in the very heart of the city of Bodh Gaya. The site consists of the main temple and six sacred places within an enclosed area, and a seventh one, the Lotus Pond, just outside the enclosure to the south." [Source: UNESCO World Heritage Site website]

When Buddhism grew and prospered after Buddha's death, great temples and monasteries were built on Bodh Gaya. These were destroyed or fell into ruins when Buddhism died out in India in the Middle Ages and the region was racked by invaders. In the 19th century the holy Buddhist sites were rediscovered by pilgrims from Sri Lanka and Burma and temples and monasteries were rebuilt and pilgrims began returning in large numbers.

Today, Bodh Gaya ebbs and flows with devotees throughout the year, yet it remains suspended in time, as monks in saffron and maroon robes walk around the monuments and temples, their chants and prayers enveloping the surroundings in a cocoon of peace. Monks with shaved heads and tourists with nunlike gowns and white mats can often be seen lighting red candles with gilded foil that amplify the light at the base of the main temple and the enclosure. Bodhgaya also holds a special significance in Hinduism; Gaya is mentioned in the great epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. It is also said to be the place where Lord Rama, with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana, came to offer pind dan (an offering to ancestors during Hindu funeral rites) for their father Dashratha. The influx of pilgrims and tourists has brought some affluence to an otherwise very poor area. The roads in and around the town are in fairly good condition. The schools are well-maintained.

See Separate Article BODH GAYA, WHERE THE BUDDHA ATTAINED ENLIGHTENMENT

Gaya

Gaya (near Boyd Gaya, 100 kilometers from Patna) is located on the banks of the sacred Falgu river and is a prominent Hindu pilgrim city, where tourists can trace the footsteps of Lord Rama. Gaya is the home of the famous Vishnupad Temple and a number of other spiritual sites. Most of these spiritual sites are rooted deep in legends and in stories of the epic Ramayana. It is popularly believed that Lord Rama offered 'pinda-daan' (offerings made to ancestors for ensuring they have peace) at the famous Ramshila Hill and thus many pilgrims come from far to do the same.

Akshay Vat is believed to be the oldest standing tree in the world. It is a banyan tree that has been mentioned in several ancient religious texts. According to legend Goddess Sita once blessed the Akshay Vat (tree) to be immortal and never ever shed a leaf in any season. Another story says that Lord Narayan once flooded the earth to display his powers to sage Markandeya, and the only thing that was not submerged was this tree. In the epic Ramayana, this tree has been said to be the resting place of Lord Rama. Jain scriptures also declare that a tirthankara, Rishabha, once meditated extensively under this tree. Thus, it is considered sacred by the Jains. Akshay Vat is near to the Vishnupad Temple.

Gaya is surrounded by hills named Mangala-Gauri, Shringa-sthan, Ram-shila and Brahmayoni. Once a part of the Magadh empire (684-320 B.C.) , the city’s nomenclature is after a myth of demon Gayasur, who was killed by Lord Vishnu. Gaya is also important for the followers of Jainism due to the presence of a large number of Jain temples here.

Getting There: By Air: The nearest airport is Bodh Gaya Airport, 12 kilometers southwest of Gaya. Patna Airport is around 135 kilometers from Gaya. By Road: Gaya is well-connected with most towns and cities in Bihar through good roads. By Train: The nearest railhead is Gaya Junction, 13 kilometers away.

Kesaria

Kesaria (110 kilometers north of Patna) is an important center for Buddhist heritage, located on the Buddhist Circuit. It is revered because it was the place where Lord Buddha spent one night before he attained Nirvana (enlightenment). It is believed that the Lichhivis, who were asked to return to Vaishali after his death, built this stupa to commemorate the end-life of Lord Buddha. It is estimated to have been built between 200 AD and 750.

Kesariya Stupa is a very large Buddhist stupa located in the Champaran (east) district of Bihar. The first construction of the Stupa is dated to the 3rd century B.C., during the reign of Emperor Ashoka. It is 32 meters (104 feet) tall and has a circumference of almost 120 meters (400 feet). In the past it was larger. Excavated in 1998 by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), it is estimated to have originally been 50 meters but has eroded over the years. Built over six floors, the stupa is home to several statues of Lord Buddha in various postures, including the Bhoomi Sparsha Mudra. These are built using soil and pebbles. Several coins, arrow heads, items of terracotta and copper, earthen lamps, decorative bricks have been unearthed here.

The original Kesariya stupa probably dates to the time of Ashoka (around 250 B.C.) as the remains of a capital of a Pillar of Ashoka were discovered here. The stupa mound may even have been inaugurated during the Buddha's time, as it corresponds in many respects to the description of the stupa erected by the Licchavis of Vaishali to house the alms bowl the Buddha has given them. The current stupa dates to the Gupta Dynasty between A.D. 200 to 750, and may have been associated with the 4th century ruler Raja Chakravarti. The local people call this stupa "Devala", meaning "house of god". Before excavation of this, they believed that inside it there is a temple of Shiva built by King Bhema. Despite being a popular tourist attraction, Kesariya is yet to be developed and a large part of the stupa still remained under vegetation.[citation needed]

Rajgir

Rajgir (near Nalanda, 75 kilometers north east of Bodh Gaya, 80 south of Patna) is where the Buddha came to mediate during the monsoons and the place of the second turning of the Wheel of Dharma, where The Buddha subdued Nalagiri, the angry elephant. Rajgir was also a major city in ancient India and was the site of the first Buddhist Council. Rajgir was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site as one of the Silk Road Sites in India in 2010 .

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The Buddha spent five years at Rajgir after having attained enlightenment, and many of the remains at Rajgir commemorate various incidents related to life of Buddha, the hill of Gridhrakuta being perhaps the most important, as this is where the Buddha delivered most of his sermons. Bodhgaya is the spot where Lord Buddha attained enlightenment, with the Mahabodhi Temple marking the precise location. Ongoing excavations have uncovered temples, monasteries and lecture halls. Rajgir, ‘the royal palace’, 12 kilometers south, was the venue for the first Buddhist Council. [Source: Archaeological Survey of India]

Nestled in a verdant valley guarded by five hills, and hot springs with medicinal properties, Rajgir is a scenic town located in the modern Nalanda district of Bihar. A complex of temples and monasteries, this hill town was once the capital of the Magadh Mahajanpad (state) when Patliputra was not formed. It was called Rajgrih then, meaning home of royalty. This naturally fortified destination is one of the most ancient sites of learning in India and finds a mention in Mahabharata too. Legends say that it was here Lord Buddha set in motion his second wheel of law and spent several seasons meditating and preaching.

During the time of Lord Buddha, Rajgir was renowned as place for congregation of spiritual leaders and scholars. So when prince Siddhartha renounced his royal life to become an ascetic, he too came to Rajgir. It is said that here he met king Bimbisara, who was so impressed by the young man that he offered him half his kingdom. But Siddhartha left the city, promising the king to return after he had found the answers to his questions.

“The Jivekarmavan Monastery is considered the favorite residence of Lord Buddha. One of the most visited locations in Bihar,Nalanda's Archaeological Museum houses thousands of antiquities. The museum was established in 1917 and prides itself as being one of Rajgir's earliest university-cum monastery complexes. The main attraction of the museum are the well-preserved statues of Lord Buddha, along with a beautiful collection of Buddhist and Hindu bronze items. The museum also has two enormous terracotta jars that date back to the first century. Tourists can also find displays of copper plates, stone inscriptions, coins, pottery and other antiquarian objects. The museum has four galleries that display around 349 antiquities dating back to 5th-12th century. The first gallery showcases 57 sculptures and images while the second gallery presents miscellaneous objects like stuccos, terracotta products and iron implements. The third gallery is entirely dedicated to bronze items and the last gallery displays stone images and sculptures.”

Vikramshila Ancient University

Remains of Vikramshila Ancient University (in Bhagalpur, 150 kilometers east of Patna) was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site as one of the Silk Road Sites in India in 2010 . Vikramshila University was an ancient Indian university. It is located in Bhagalpur, which also is famous for its silk.

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Vikramshila was a famous seat of learning. It flourished from the last quarter of the A.D. 8th Century to the beginning of the 13th Century A.D. In the beginning it was a prime center of science, philosophical and religious discussion and after sometimes. Vikramshila was developed into a university. The celebrated university was founded by Pala King Dharmapala in late 8th or early 9th Century A.D. It prospered for about four centuries before it collapsed in the beginning of 13th Century A.D. Vikramshila was one of the largest Buddhist University having more than one hundred teachers and about one thousand students. It produced eminent scholars who were of often invited by foreign countries to spread Buddhist learning, culture and religion and the most distinguished and eminent was Atisa Dipankara, the founder of Lamaism in Tibet in 11th Century A.D. [Source: Archaeological Survey of India]

“Meticulous excavation has revealed a huge square monastery with a cruciform stupa in its center, a library building and cluster of votive stupas. To the north of monastery a number of scattered structures including a Tibetan and a Hindu temple have been found. The monastery or residence for the Buddhist monks is a huge square structure, each side measuring 330 meters having a series of 208 cells, 52 on each of the four side. The entire spread is over an area of more than hundred acres. On the walls are decorated with mouldings and terracotta plaques which testify the high excellence of terracotta art of flouring in the region during Pala period (8th-12th Century A.D.). Over the plaques are depicted many Buddhist, Brahminical deities and human figures and animal and birds are also depicted. A rectangular structure identified as library building was air conditioned by cooled water of the adjoining reservoir through a range of vents in the back wall.

“Subjects like theology, philosophy, literature, medicine, yoga, astronomy, grammar, metaphysics, logic etc. were taught here but the most important branch of learning was tantras because Vikramshila flourished in the days of tantricism when accult science and magic became favorite subject of study both in Buddhism as well as Hinduism.The teaching was manned by eminent scholars and the administration was looked after by a Board. The board of Vikramshila also administered the University of Nalanda. The management of Nalanda and Vikramshila universities came into common hands because king Dharmapala was the King over the entire region and he was very favorably disposed towards Vikramshila. Academic administration was under the control of six dvara panditas. The students who wanted to take administration had to face a test, which was conducted by the dvara panditas. In 1203 A.D. the monastery was destroyed by the Muhammadans under the leadership of Bakhtiyar Khilji. He killed the monks who were present in the monastery. It was a tragic end of a great center of education and learning.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: India tourism website ( incredibleindia.org), India’s Ministry of Tourism and other government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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