Buddhism in Bihar

Bihar as a state
Bihar is a state of the Indian union situated in the eastern part of the country. With its capital at Patna (ancient Patliputra, the capital of ancient India), Bihar was once the most developed region of the ancient India. Ruled by the great Mauryans and the Guptas, Bihar is also the land of the famous diplomat Chanakya, the author of ‘The Arthashatra’ (literally ‘the Science of Material Gain’ in Sanskrit). But, today this land of Karna (of Mahabharata) Buddha, Mahavira, Guru Gobind Singh and Ashoka, is unfortunately one of the most under-developed states of India.

Irrigated by the holy Ganges, Bihar is pre-dominantly an agricultural land, which is a sufferer in the hands of political anarchy prevailing in the state, but it still has a lot to offer to its tourists.

Significance of Buddhism in Bihar
The term ‘Bihar’ derives from the Sanskrit word ‘Vihara’, which means abode and it itself explains the relation of Bihar with the viharas, used as the Buddhist abode. The land of Bihar is considered to be the richest one in context of Buddhism as it showered the divine light of enlightenment on a young ascetic, Siddhartha Gautama, who had denounced all the luxuries of life in search of the truth. The Tathagata preached many of His sermons in different places of Bihar like Vaishali and Rajgir or Rajgriha to name a few. Even after His Mahaprinirvana, His disciples carried on the doctrine of Buddhism in the regions of Magadha or Bihar by setting up several monasteries and universities of Nalanda and much later, at Vikramshila. However, the contribution of the Indian emperor Ashoka(whose capital was at Patliputra, modern Patna) in the history of Buddhism cannot be ignored as it was he, who after becoming a Buddhist, patronised Buddhism as his state religion and spread its doctrine, Dhamma in different parts of India and abroad as far as Sri Lanka, Greece and Egypt.

Major Buddhist Places in Bihar

    *  Bodhgaya  : Bodh Gaya is one of the most sacred Buddhist sites in Bihar. It was at Bodh Gaya, where a young ascetic, Siddhartha Gautama in His search of the reality of life, meditated under a Peepal tree, attained enlightenment and became the Buddha or the Tathagata. Today, Bodh Gaya, a home to Maha Bodhi temple, Maha Bodhi tree and numerous monasteries, is a venerated place among the Buddhists from all the corners of the world, who visit the place to mark the enlightenment of the Buddha.

    * Nalanda : ‘Nalanda’, which means the place that confers the lotus, emerged as an important Buddhist university and religious centres in the 4th-5th century CE. The scholars of the Nalanda monastic university such as Bodhidharma and others took Buddhism to other parts of the world, China, Korea and Japan to name a few. Though in ruins today, Nalanda is an inseparable part of the state and its history.

    * Vaishali : Located in Bihar near Patna, Vaishali was the first place visited by Siddhartha Gautama in India, when he left home as an ascetic. Once again, it was at Vaishali, where the Tathagata had announced His soon to arrive death or Mahaparinirvana. Vaishali, a place jeweled with stupas(One contain Buddha’s relics), monasteries and temples, is frequently visited by the Buddhists, Jains(for birthplace of Mahavira) and other tourists.

    * Rajgir : Siddhartha Gautama had once visited Rajgir(Rajgriha) during His search for an enduring truth and again returned back at this place as the Buddha, this time to spend some years over here. It is believed that two rock cut caves at Rajgir were the favourite retreats of the Tathagata and He preached two of His sermons here. The small city of Rajgir with its numerous attractions such as Vaibhav hill, Ajatshatru’s fort and Swarna Bhandar among many others, is a holy place for the Hindus and Jains as well.

Major Buddhist Monuments in Bihar

    * Maha Bodhi Temple : A world heritage centre declared by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation(UNESCO), the Maha Bodhi complex in Bodh Gaya homes an ancient temple of the Buddha, built by Ashoka in the 3rd century BCE. Pampered with a superb and magnificent architecture, the temple houses a 150 feet high tower, which further contains a gilded colossal image of the Buddha in the ‘bhumisparsha mudra’ or touching the ground pose.

    * Maha Bodhi Tree : The Maha Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya is the most revered place for all the Buddhists as it was under one of the predecessors of this ficus(peepal) tree where a young man, to fulfill His thirst of the truth, meditated and achieved the divine light of enlightenment. The 160 years old Maha Bodhi tree, fifth generation plant of the original one, stands as high as 80 feet, and a major centre of pilgrim for the Buddhists from all over the world.

    * Nalanda Monasic University : The Nalanda monastic university in Nalanda, though in ruins today, was once one of the most famous learning centres of the world. Established during 4th-5th century CE, the Nalanda university was destroyed by the Islamic invaders in the 12th-13th century CE, and is now under the supervision of the Archaeological Survey of India.

    * Vikramshila University : The remains of the Vikramshila university near Bhagalpur(50 kilometers) is a major Buddhist attraction of Bihar. Built during 8th century CE by Dharampala, the Vikramshila learning centre flourished as a centre for Tantric Buddhism or Tantrayana.

Other Major Attractions

  • Patna : The state capital of Bihar, Patna is situated on the banks of the holy river Ganges or the Ganga. Earlier known as Patliputra, Patna is not only a major gateway to all the Buddhist destinations in Bihar, but at the same time, the city in itself has always been a major historical, cultural and political centre of the state. A home to several monuments like GolGhar, Sadakat Ashram and Harmandirji, and several museums such as that of Kumhrar, Patna was also visited by the Buddha while crossing the river Ganga.
  • Bhagalpur : Famous as the ‘silk City’, Bhagalpur is one of the major cities of Bihar. The historic place of Bhagalpur was once a part of the 16 Mahajanpadas or the republics, but then was known as Anga. Situated on the banks of the holy river Ganga, Bhagalpur today is the district administrative centre as well as an agricultural market. The city is also famous for the remains of the ancient Buddhist monasteries along with its silk, fabric weaving and sugar milling.
  • Gaya : A home to Bodh Gaya(8 kilometers), the place of the Buddha’s enlightenment, Gaya in Bihar is sacred for the Hindus as well, who visit the famous ‘Vishnupad temple’, where the God Vishnu is bekieved to have preached the reality of death. The city is also famous for industries of cotton, jute, sugar and stones along with the trade of tobacco and betel leaves.
  • Madhubani : The heart of art and culture in Bihar, Madhubani is worldwide famous for its paintings, the finest folk art carried by the women of the region. Besides, Madhubani is also famous for the tantric practices in the temples of the Hindu goddess Kali and the ruins of the palaces of the earlier heads of the princely state of Darbhanga.

The months of December and January are the cold ones, while April, May and June are the hot ones. The temperature during winters go as low as 5 degree Celsius, while in summers, it is as high as 46-47 degree Celsius. The months of July, August and September witness a good rainfall. October, February and March are the ideal months to visit the place owing to the pleasant whether.

 How to Reach

By Air – The Indian state of Bihar is easily accessible by air as besides other small airports, there are two major ones – Lok Nayak Jayaprakash airport at Patna, and Gaya airport. Patna airport is basically an domestic airport, and is directly connected to Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Lucknow and Ranchi, while the Gaya airport is a small International airport connected to Colombo(Sri Lanka) and Thailand(Bangkok).

By Rail – A vast rail network connects Bihar with other parts of the country(India). Almost all the major cities of the state such as Patna, Bhagalpur, Barauni, Muzzaffarpur, Gaya and Samastipur have a direct rail access to Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai.

By Road – Bihar has a vast network of National and state highways, and are connected to different parts of India as well as neighbouring country Nepal.