Bihar Travel Guide | Best Of Bihar Tourism |
Bihar is sacred, for the Buddha, Mahavira and Gobind Singh walked the earth here. And there sprang up the ancient world’s most prominent universities and the first republic. Veer away from heritage, and the earthy flavours of litti-chokha and the Sonepur fair are no less enchanting.
Culture and commerce, history and heritage are intricately woven into the tapestry of Bihar, the cradle of Buddhism and Jainism. Hinduism too thrived apace and Guru Gobind Singh’s birth in Patna assured Bihar’s importance for the global Sikh community. It is home to the world’s first university, Nalanda, and the world’s earliest republic—the sacred town of Vaishali. It was from here that Mahatma Gandhi first launched his Satyagraha movement against British rule. Today, shrugging off its post-Partition profile, dogged by negative nuances, Bihar has become an investment hub, reaping rich dividends as a pilgrimage destination for the global Buddhist community, and has put in motion infrastructural changes to attract 100,000 tourists annually by 2022.
Patna, The First City
One of the world’s oldest capitals, Patna thrives upon the legacy of its unbroken history of many centuries as an imperial metropolis. Politics and commerce continue to be its mainstay in its mighty sprawl along the banks of the legendary Ganga. The remains of Patliputra, the legendary capital of the kingdom of Magadha, remarkable for its history and culture, lie below present-day Patna, bustling with noise and traffic. Yet there is no forgetting the role of the mighty Mauryas who played a pivotal role in the theatre of the ancient world.
It was Gautam Buddha himself who predicted that a great city would emerge near the confluence of the Ganga with the Son and it is from this great city, Patliputra, that Emperor Ashoka, grandson of Chandragupta Maurya, started his ambitious journey to make it the power centre of ancient India under his avatar as ‘ChandAshok,’ before he became the greatest proponent of the peaceable ways of Buddhism. Today, Patna is a major gateway to the Buddhist and Jain pilgrim centres of Vaishali, Rajgir, Nalanda, Bodhgaya and Pawapuri. Top things to do in Patna are following as:
1# Ganga Aarti at Gandhi Ghat
Every evening, when the sun slips into the waters of the sacred river, a vivid aarti ceremony takes centre stage at Gandhi Ghat. By day, you can sign up for a cruise on the MV Ganga Vihar and savour the shoreline views.
2# Bihar Museum
Recently inaugurated, the museum is a treasure trove. Housed here are massive collections of bronze and stone sculptures, documents, thangkas, miniatures and costumes. The Bihar Museum is the official repository of pre-1800 archaeological finds within the state. All future notable archaeological finds will also be stored here. The star attraction of the Patna Museum is soon to find a home here —the world-renowned Didarganj Yakshi, dating back to the Mauryas. The exquisite Yakshi stands at 5’4” and is carved from a single slab of highly polished Chunar sandstone. Also look for the Mahavira idol on display on the second floor, along with other Jain Tirthankaras.
3# Khuda Baksh Oriental Library
Patna’s rich legacy of cultural delights can be enjoyed in this library—a repository of Arabic and Persian manuscripts, and Rajput and Mughal paintings. It even features books salvaged from the plunder of the University of Cordoba in Spain.
4# Patna Literature Festival
The annual three-day Patna Literature Festival, launched in 2013, harks back to a similar event in 1936, said to have been attended by the likes of Nirad C. Chaudhuri and Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay.
Air Patna’s Lok Nayak Jayaprakash Airport is well-connected to all major cities.
Rail Patna Jn falls on the New Delhi-Howrah mainline and is served by major trains to the metros and other cities.
Road Patna has a good road network connecting it to major cities. Both private and BSTDC bus facilities are available from the Gandhi Maidan Bus Stand.
STAY The city has accommodation for all budgets.
WHEN TO GO All year round, best from October to March.
TOURIST OFFICE Bihar State Tourism Development Corporation (BSTDC), Bir Chand Patel Path, Patna, Bihar Phone 91-0612-2225411
Website bstdc.bih.nic.in; bihartourism.gov.in
Tourist Circuit In Bihar
1# Buddhist Circuit
Buddhists and tourists from around the world flock to Bihar’s iconic Buddhist sites. After 49 days of deep meditation under a peepal tree by the flowing Niranjana, the former Prince Siddhartha attained supreme enlightenment or nirvana and was transformed into the ‘Buddha’—the ‘Perfectly Wise,’ the ‘Bhagwat,’ the ‘Tathagat.’ In his last days on Earth, the Buddha, speaking to his favourite disciple, Ananda, urged him to prevail upon his devotees to visit the four places that were the cornerstones of his hardship-filled journey to nirvana—Lumbini, where he was born, Bodhgaya, where he attained enlightenment, Sarnath, where he preached his first sermon, and Kushinagar, where he spent his last days.
Central to this pilgrimage is Bodhgaya and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Mahabodhi Temple (located on the site of the original shrine set up by Emperor Ashoka), just 125 km from Patna. Devotees make a parikrama of the sacred stations of the complex: the Bodhi Tree, the Vajrasthal, Animeshlochana Chaitya, the Ratnachankramana, the Ratnaghara, the Ajapala Nigrodha Tree, the Muchalinda Lake and the Rajayatna Tree.
Rajgir Rajgir’s hilly environs were for many years used as a retreat by the Buddha and his disciples in the rainy season. His famous Lotus Sutra and the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra were revealed to his disciples on the holy Griddhakuta Hill here. The Saptaparni Caves in Vaibhar Hill were the site of the First Buddhist Council. An eco-tourism site today, Rajgir is marked by trekking trails and is popular for a cycling tour to the Ghodakatora lake at the foot of Ratnagiri hill.
Vaishali Vaishali, renowned as one of the world’s earliest republics, dating to the sixth century BC, is held in deep veneration by Buddhists as the Buddha preached his last sermon here. Still present are ruins of a once grand complex marked by the soaring Ashoka pillar here. About 110 years after the death of the Buddha, Vaishali became the venue of the Second Buddhist Council. Read also Your Ultimate Guide To The Buddhist Trail Of Bihar
2# The Jain Circuit
The founder of the Jain faith, Lord Mahavira, was born in Vaishali, 55 km from Patna. And, like the Buddha, he spent many years in meditative retreat at Rajgir. About 40 km from this hilly retreat is Pawapuri, also known as Agapuri, a hallowed place for the Jain community, for this is where Lord Mahavira passed away. Jain devotees travel here from all over India to complete a pilgrimage at these sacred townships.
3# Ramayana Circuit
Many sites in Bihar find mention in Hindu mythology and scriptures. Chief among them is Sitamarhi, believed to be the birthplace of Sita, the consort of Lord Rama. Sita was the daughter of Raja Janak who ruled these parts close to the Indo-Nepal border. The circuit also features Tar (Bhojpur), Ahirauli and Ram Rekha Ghat (Buxur), Pretshila Hills (Gaya), Giddheshwar (Jamui), Kako (Jehanabad), Singheshwar Asthan (Madhepura), Phullahar (Madhubani), Sita Kund (Munger), Ramchura (Vaishali), Ahilya Asthan (Darbhanga), Janki Temple (Sitamarhi), Chanki Garh and Valmiki Nagar (West Champaran).
4# Patna Sahib
The 10th Sikh Guru, Gobind Singh, was born in Patna and the Harmandir Sahib Gurdwara, built by the Punjab ruler, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, is a devotional hub for Sikh pilgrims.
Archaeological Sites In Bihar
1# Kumrahar Archaeological Park
The ancient capital of the Magadha kingdom, Patliputra, guards its secrets well under present-day Patna. Discoveries have been made of this legendary First City, just six km from Patna railway station, at what is now known as Kumrahar Archaeological Park. This ruined city has defied many attempts to unearth its splendid expanse. But some progress has been made over time since the excavations were first conducted by the Archaeological Survey of India in 1912-15 under D.B. Spooner with funds donated by Sir Ratan Tata.
The Kumrahar archaeological complex has revealed an 80-pillared assembly hall believed to be the site of the Third Buddhist Council held in 250 BC by Emperor Ashoka. Other finds here include the Arogya Vihar (a hospital-cum monastery structure), copper coins, ornaments, antimony rods, beads of terracotta and stone, dices of terracotta and ivory, terracotta seals, toy carts, terracotta figurines and some earthen utensils. The small ASI museum here has exhibits on display from the excavations including antiquities, photographs, dioramas and other illustrative material.
2# Nalanda University Archaeological Complex
The ruins of the ancient world’s most important international centre of learning, Nalanda, are a major archaeological find (dating from the third century BC to the 13th century) for the country and are believed to be the world’s largest university archaeological site. Nalanda University was reputed to be patronised by the likes of the legendary Gupta kings, Emperor Ashoka, King Harshavardhan and the Palas. It was engaged in the organised transmission of knowledge over an uninterrupted period of 800 years.
Amongst the luminaries who visited Nalanda were Gautama Buddha, Mahavira and Chinese scholar-monk Hieun Tsang, who left behind a vivid account of its academic environs and architecture. This acclaimed UNESCO World Heritage Site was built along the lines of traditional Kushan architecture. Excavations around 1915-37 and 1974-82 by the ASI brought to light the remains of six major brick temples and 11 monasteries. The monastic and scholastic hub features verdant expanses punctuated by a central walkway flanked by red-bricked viharas (residential and educational buildings) and chaityas (shrines) on either side. The chief attractions include Temple No. 3 and Vihara No. 1. Excavations have yielded many sculptures and images in stone, bronze and stucco.
Located on the bank of the Ganga at Patthar Ghatta in Bhagalpur district, the sprawling remains of this university complex (identified as Rajagriha Mahavihara from metal certificates discovered here) cover about four sq km across the villages of Bateshwar Sthan, Patthar Ghatta and Antichak. In 1193, the university was reduced to rubble, as was Nalanda, at the hands of Bakhtiyar Khilji. Excavations were initiated in 1960-61. The astonishing revelations included remnants of dorms, a meditation house, a large vihara, a Buddhist temple surrounded by 108 smaller ones, a 60-foot stupa built on a 300-foot-wide platform along with other structures in an advanced state of decay. Restoration work is in progress. Dharmapala of the Pala dynasty, who ruled the provinces of Bengal and Bihar, commissioned Vikramshila to conserve and propagate Buddhism. Like Nalanda, it specialised in all branches of study. Vikramshila was also closely involved in the spread of Buddhist education, Hindu philosophy and Tantric sadhana.
4# Kesaria Stupa
A splendid find dating to around 200 CE and 750 CE, the five-storied, 104-foot Kesaria Stupa is believed to be the largest known stupa in the world. Discovered in East Champaran district, it was constructed by the Lichhavi rulers to commemorate the Buddha.
Festivals & Melas Of Bihar
Chhath Festival The Kartik Chhath celebrations mark the harvesting of paddy and propitiation of Lord Surya. Accompanied by prayers and fasting and ritual dips in the river by day, the four-day festivities spill into nightlong affairs. Chaiti Chhath is celebrated in summer.
Buddha Purnima Prayers and chanting at Bodhgaya’s Bodhi Temple and surrounding monasteries, prayer halls and other shrines mark the day of Lord Buddha’s birth on the full moon day of the Hindu month of Vaishakh (April-May).
Bodh Mahotsav This annual festival, celebrated under the aegis of Bihar Tourism and the Government of Bihar, has become a magnet for Buddhist pilgrims and tourists from around the world. The ritual festivities revolve around the auspicious event of Buddha’s Enlightenment.
Rajgir Mahotsav An annual feature in October, the festival is organised by the state tourism department and is a reminder of the significance of Rajgir as a spiritual hub for Buddhist and Jain devotees.
Kalachakra—Festival for World Peace Spread over 10 days, the festivities, held at Bodhgaya in January, are headed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. It brings together Buddhist devotees from around the world to create inner peace. The festivities are rounded off when the monks release the positive energy of the mandala through a ritual wishing for peace on Earth.
Sonepur Mela Bihar’s annual Sonepur Cattle Fair, a massive commercial extravaganza, has morphed into one of Asia’s unrivalled cultural attractions for the global tourist. Scheduled around the holy period of Kartik Purnima, it’s also an important occasion for devotees to take a ritual dip at the auspicious confluence of the Ganga and the Gandak. Visiting the Harihar Nath Temple close by is part of this pilgrimage. The present venue of the mela was mandated by the 17th-century Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb. Legend has it that even Magadh’s emperor, Chandragupta Maurya, sourced his horses and elephants for his court and army from here. Read also Famous Buddhist Festivals of India
Patna airport and railway station are just 25 km from the Mela venue. Hire a taxi. Keep it for the day if you plan to stay in Patna.
WHEN TO GO
Post-Diwali in October/November.
Patna has options for all budgets. One can also stay in Sonepur and Hajipur. Book with Bihar Tourism for a stay in a Swiss tent at the Mela grounds. There are several dharamshalas and ashrams at the Mela grounds where you can stay for a nominal fee or donation.
Arts and Crafts
It was the earthquake of 1934 in Bihar which took the exquisite art of Madhubani painting from the Mithila region to the world. Surveying the destruction of the villages, British officer William Archer was overwhelmed by the paintings found among the wreckage of the village homes. Archer eventually became the South Asia curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London but did a great service to Madhubani art by taking back black and white pictures of the treasures of Mithila to share with the outside world. A further fillip was given to this native skill during the drought of 1960 with the All India Handicrafts Board giving the art form a commercial footing. Painted with twigs and natural vegetable dyes, Madhubani paintings feature deities and motifs from the animal and the avifaunal world for special occasions and are remarkable for their intricate detailing and freshness. They have travelled a long way from the interior of a village home and are now available on canvas and paper, and sought the world over.
Another art form which flourished in the 19th century Bihar was Patna Kalam, inspired by Mughal paintings. The works featured courtly scenes, festivals and vignettes from bazaar and street life, in natural dyes and pastel hues on handmade paper and even sheets of mica. Another interesting Bihari art tradition is sujini embroidery, used as a medium for storytelling. Originally, the embroidery revolved around commentary on religious subjects and the natural world, but with NGOs helping the women reach out to a commercial market they have started including narratives on social issues. A distinctive form of applique work that is Bihari in origin is khatwa, featured on canopies and tents and, in more delicate form, on clothing. From Bhagalpur come the popular tussar silk saris while sikki, a weed-like grass, is used for weaving baskets, boxes and decorative items.
Bihari cuisine is basic home cooking but is a hot favourite with visitors. The multi-purpose mineral and fibre-rich sattu (black gram) are unique to the state’s kitchens as is the use of mustard, panchphoran, chura (flattened rice) and rice flour. Served as a cooling drink garnished with onions and lemon juice with a dash of salt and cumin powder to beat the punishing heat of a Bihari summer, sattu is also used as a stuffing for the iconic litti or roasted wheat-dough balls which are served with chokha, a dish of roasted eggplant mashed to a pulp and then mixed with tomatoes, potatoes, coriander, cumin powder, turmeric and chilli powder, and pure ghee or mustard oil.
The earthy flavours of this mouthwatering, non-fried delicacy, a favourite in the kingdom of Magadh and even during the Mughal period (when littis were served with payas and sorbas), found favour with Bihar’s rural community as a litti-chokha combo. Khaja is a layered confection created with flour, milk and sugar and fried to a golden hue, while thekua, the biscuit-like dessert made with wheat flour and jiggery, is eaten during Chhath Puja. The best khaja comes from Silao near Rajgir. Makhana or fox nut is used as a snack or a dessert and tilkut, a jaggery and sesame nut caramelised candy is enjoyed in winter.
Let’s wrap up Bihar Travel Guide | Best Of Bihar Tourism | article. Read also 24 Things To Enrich Your Journey
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— Sunil Nain