Bihar beyond the Buddha!
On a spiritual quest… then Bihar is a place you should try! The birthplace of two major religions Buddhism and Jainism, Bihar has a significant place in the cultural history of India. A place with a rich history, tourists can encounter some of the finest Mughal and Hindu architectural expertise in this place too, a land known for its pilgrimage sites, not just Buddhists but Jain, Sikhs and Hindus pilgrim sites too.
While ruins of ancient capitals and learning centers are dotted over its tourist map, it is the religious sites across the state that remains the major draw for the people who visit Bihar. Read up on those destinations in Bihar that makes your trip here meaningful.
One of the greatest study centers in the contemporary world, in ancient India, Nalanda was a prime seat of knowledge and learning. Built in the 5th century, by the Gupta emperors, today the excavated remains of the Nalanda University Archaeological Complex speak volumes of its glorious past.
The Nalanda Archaeological Museum although small in size has an impressive collection of Buddhist and Hindu bronzes – some dating back to the 1st century, such as numerous undamaged statues of the Lord Buddha that were found in the area, two enormous terra-cotta jars, which stand behind the museum in a shaded enclosure.
Vaishali is a place that finds its mention in literature as old as the Ramayana! Blessed twice by virtue for being the birthplace of the Jain prophet Lord Mahavira and the place where Lord Buddha had preached his last sermon. A travel here offers tourists a scope to explore the architectural remains of the stupas. Other attractions here include the Pillar of Ashoka made of one single red-sandstone. The pillar was erected to commemorate the last sermon preached by Buddha here. The Raja Vishal ka Garh, is a huge mound, with a circumference about 1kms, said to be the ‘parliament house’ of the ancient republic of Vaishali that could accommodate over 700 people to discuss problems and solutions of the then body politic. The Coronation Tank, a sacred tank is another attraction where every elected representative of the republic was anointed before swearing in.
Just about 10 kilometers from Nalanda,is the town of Rajgir a visit here would take you to the ancient capital of the Magadha kings. While Rajgir is a prime Buddhist pilgrimage site, it attracts numerous tourists from across the world that come to pay reverence to Lord Mahavira. It is believed to be town, in which Lord Mahavira spent nearly 14 years of his life. Apart from religious importance, Rajgir is famous for other tourist attractions such as the Pippala Cave, Hot Springs, Venuvana, Vulture’s Peak or Griddhakuta and Jain Temples. The Jain Temples are among the most important appeals here and witness huge tourist traffic during festive seasons.
Coming to Bodhgaya in Central Bihar, this is one of the most important Buddhist pilgrimage centers not only in India but in the world, for it is here that Prince Siddhart attained nirvana or enlightment under a Bodhi Tree and became the Buddha. Therefore Bihar is rightly considered the birthplace of Buddhism.
Significantly, the state’s name of ‘Bihar’ originated from ‘Vihara’ meaning monasteries, which abounded in Bihar.
In the 3rd century, the great Mauryan ruler King Ashoka built a small shrine at the spot where Buddha had got enlightenment which was subsequent changed by rulers, today standing here is the famous Mahabodhi temple. This magnificent temple stands to the east to the Bodhi Tree. The architecture of the temple is symbolic as it is designed to proclaim to the world the pious efforts of the Buddha to solve human misery and to attain transcendental peace through wisdom, good conduct and disciplined life. In the main sanctum inside the temple, there is a colossal image of the Buddha in sitting posture touching the earth by his right hand. Buddha is believed to have attained supreme enlightenment in this posture. It is said even the railing of this temple is of the first century BC. In the courtyard of the temple are numerous elegant stupas of all sizes, built in the past 2500 years. While Bodhgaya is visited by tourists throughout the year, for spiritual upliftment, religious festivals like Buddha Purnima are the most important Buddhist festival
Pawapuri is also a significant pilgrim destination as it was here Lord Mahavira breathed his last and was cremated around 500 B.C. According to legend, it is said that the demand for his ashes was so great that a large amount of soil was removed from around the funeral pyre, creating the water tank. Today here stands a marble temple, the “Jalmandir”, later built in the middle of the tank!
But Bihar is not just about pilgrim sites… Adding history to your visit here, Patna (the gateway of the Buddhist circuits of Bihar) would take you to the ancient capital of Pataliputra from where the Mauryan rulers used to rule their mighty empire. A city that has witnessed the rise and fall of many empires in India, its history and tradition of Patna go back to the earliest dawn of civilization. Patna has also been the fountainhead of knowledge and wisdom since ancient times.
Tourist attractions in Patna include the Gol Ghar, an enormous beehive-shaped structure constructed as a state granary following a terrible famine in 1770. Harmandirji, is a shrine built to consecrate the birthplace of Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh Guru (prophet). Many Sikh scriptures and the personal belongings of the prophet are preserved in this dome-shaped structure. The Jalan Museum constructed at the site of the fort of Sher Shah is known for its great collection of jade, Chinese paintings and silver filigree work of the Mughal period. The Patna Museum displays a prized collection of archaeological finds from different sites in Bihar, metal and stone sculptures of the Maurya and Gupta Periods, terracotta figurines, ashes of the Buddha and a 16 meters long fossilized tree feature among the exhibits.
Also attracting tourists are the excavations unearthing the ruins of Vikramshila University founded by King Dharampala.
With a history of 3000 years, rich culture and heritage, and some of the most important pilgrim sites for Buddhists across the globe, Bihar definitely should be the travel itinerary of anyone looking for peace, quiet & serenity!