Buddhism was born in India, grew in India, and then branched out to teach people the way of life. It is a widely practiced religion, not just in India but also world over, which is brimming with devotees who meditate to develop traits of wisdom, awareness and kindness. Bihar is an important landmark in the journey of Buddha and devotees must surely visit the Buddhist circuit in the state to know and learn more.
A tourist, a follower, a believer or a mere traveller – Bihar is a destination of significant importance if Buddhism is a part of your life. While the destination is promoting many ‘circuits’ in its various cities, the Buddhist Circuit of Bihar is perhaps the most popular one world over. Here’s a look at the destinations that form part of the Buddhist Circuit in Bihar –
Gaya, the name is derived from the Gayasur – a holy demon. The demon was killed by Lord Vishnu by using the pressure of his foot over him, which led to series of rocky hills that make up the landscape of the city. The city is home to many holy sites with natural beauty that adds a natural charm to the temples and ghats. For Buddhists, Gaya is a significant pilgrimage place because it was here at the Brahmayoni hill that Buddha preached the Fire Sermon (Adittapariyaya Sutta) to 1000 former fire-worshipping ascetics, who all became enlightened while listening to this discourse. At that time, the hill was called Gayasisa. About 15 km from the town of Gaya is Bodh Gaya, the place where Gautam Buddha gains enlightenment under the banyan tree, the Bodhi Tree. The Mahabodhi Temple is the oldest remains there and was declared as the World Heritage by UNESCO in 2002.
A very prominent Buddhist site, Nalanda, is one of the oldest living cities in the world. Here, Buddha stayed for some time and it is known for the ruins of the world famous ancient learning centre. The Buddhist University of Nalanda, once the most prestigious centre of learning in Asia, was built here. The evocative ruins of its monasteries and temples still convey a vivid impression of the serene and ordered life of contemplation and learning that prevailed here. Nalanda resonates as an inspiration to anybody who heard about this place as the nurturing ground of the first residential international university of the world for great learning during the era when most of the other countries of the world were at the very nascent stage of development. Today, the ruins of that glorious past continues to mesmerise the present.
The historical evidences suggest that the modern city of Bhagalpur was Champavati, the capital of Anga, one of 16 Mahajanapadas. Lord Buddha also visited Champa, where a large number of people became his followers. The Buddha offered several sermons here, including one charity. It was here that the Buddha was compelled to prescribe the use of slippers by the monks. The Chinese traveller on his way home also visited Champa (He referred Chen-Po) and mentions it in his accounts about various Stupas, Viharas and Buddhist monks.
Patna, the capital city of Bihar is counted amongst those few old capital cities in the world that have an uninterrupted history. An amazing Buddhist tourist destination, Patna makes for a good base to start a trip. Moreover, the city was also visited by the Buddha who knew it as Patiligama then. On a number of occasions, he is also believed to have passed through this city, including for his last sojourn to Kusinara where he gave a talk ‘that went far into the night’. Later, Ashoka, who had a great contribution in spreading Buddhism, made Patna the venue for the third Buddhist Council. The city has quite a few attractions today that would interest Buddhist tourists immensely.
Located at the border of Nepal, the northern region of Bihar, Champaran, is presently divided into separate districts as East and West. Kesaria Stupa in East Champaran is a massive stupa that is claimed to be the world’s tallest excavated stupa. Presumed to be built between 200 – 750 CE, the six terraced enormous stupa is a magnificent example of Buddhist architecture. The grandeur of the images of the Buddha and other decorated artefacts found here are fascinating attractions that make the place an indispensable tourist point. The vastness along with aesthetics strikes the visitor as soon as the ancient stupa comes into the sight. The legend says that this is the place where the Buddha spent time while on his last journey to Mahaparinivarna. He is said to have made historical revelations of wisdom here.
It was here that the Buddha announced the approaching of his Mahaparinirvana. During one of his visits here, the Buddha was offered a bowl of honey by a monkey. This city is believed to have hosted Lord Buddha five years after he had attained enlightenment. This place holds a special importance for the Buddhist devotees. Lord Buddha had delivered his last sermons here. Vaishali is also a sacred place for the Jains as Lord Mahavira was born in Vaishali. Vaishali is then twice blessed and remains an important pilgrim centre for both Buddhists and Jains, attracting also historians foraging for the past.
In Rampurva in West Champaran, two gigantic Ashokan pillars were built close to the river Harbora, known as Anoma River during Buddha’s time. One of the pillars has six edicts engraved on it, which even today is protected by a concrete canopy. The other pillar had the famous Bull Capital, which adorns the Rashtrapati Bhawan in New Delhi. The Buddhist legend for this place goes as the Buddha reached the bank of the Anoma River after leaving behind his family and this is the place he exchanged his royal robes for an ascetic’s garb and chopped off his elegant hair locks. It is believed that Ashoka erected these pillars to commemorate this important event of Buddha’s life.
Jehanabad is mentioned in the ‘Ain-i-Akbari’, where it says that in the 17th century the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb established a relief centre for the famine affected people at this place and named it as ‘Jahanara’. Jahanara Aurangzeb’s sister supervised the Mandi herself and spent a lot of time at this place. Later, the area became known as Jehanabad.