Word Bihar is derived from the ancient word “VIHARA” (monastery). It is indeed a land of monasteries. Bihar is the place where the ruins of the worlds’ earliest university slumber in the void of time. Ashoka Maurya was one of the most famous of the rulers of India. He was born on 304 BC in patliputra now known as Patna. He conquered the kingdom named Kalinga, which none of his ancestors had conquered starting from Chandragupta Maurya. His reign was headquartered in Magadha (present-day Bihar).
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.
Vaishali: Vaishali was one of the earliest republics in the world (6th century BC).It was here that Buddha preached his last sermon. Vaishali, birthplace of Lord Mahavira is also Sacred to Jains.
Patna: Patna once called Patliputra the capital of Bihar is among the world’s oldest capital cities with unbroken history of many centuries as imperial metropolis of the Mauryas and Guptas imperial dynasties.
Rajgir: Rajgir,19 kms from Nalanda, was the ancient capital of Magadha Empire. Lord Buddha often visited the monastery here to meditate and to preach.
Pawapuri: In Pawapuri, 38 kilometres from Rajgir and 90 kilometres from Patna, all sins end for a devout Jain. Lord Mahavira, the final tirthankar and founder of Jainism, breathed his last at this place.
Bodhgaya: Near the holy city of Gaya, the Buddha attained enlightenment. The tree that had sheltered him came to be known as the Bodhi tree and the place Bodhgaya. Today Bodhgaya, an important place of pilgrimage, has a number of monasteries, some of them established by Buddhists of Japan, Thailand, Myanmar, Sri Lanka etc.
The Mahabodhi Mahåvihåra or more popularly known as the Bodhgaya Temple or the Great Stupa, is one of the shrines out of the 84000 shrines erected by King Asoka the Great in the 3rd century B.C. The Mahabodhi Mahavihara is the sole surviving example of what was once an architectural genre. How long it took to create this magnificent structure or whose creation it is still remains a mystery and for the lack of a comprehensive historical data this subject remains a controversy till date. However, throughout the centuries, this blessed site has retained its deep spiritual vibration and inspired countless beings towards a saintly life and the vihâra itself stands out as an eye catching artistic landmark as if standing testimony towards the presence of the greatest Teacher of all time mankind has ever witnessed.
A graphic and comprehensive description of the Mahabodhi complex is left by Huen Tsang, a Chinese pilgrim who visited Buddhagaya in 637 A.D. About the Mahabodhi Temple he says :
“To the east of the Bodhi tree, there is a vihara about 160 or 170 feet high. Its lower foundation-wall is 20 or more paces in its face. The building is of blue bricks covered with chunam (burnt stone lime) all the niches in the different stones hold golden figures. The four sides of the building are covered with wonderful ornamental work : in one place figures of stringed pearls (garlands), in another, figures of heavenly rishis. The whole is surrounded by gilded copper amalaka fruit. The eastern face adjoins a storeyed pavilion, the projecting caves of which rise one over the other to the height of three distinct chambers; its projecting caves, its pillars, beams, doors, and windows are decorated with gold and silver ornamental work with pearls and gems let in to fill up interstices”.
The original fabric of the present Mahabodhi temple, which notwithstanding the simplicity of design and decoration, is of unique importance, being the sole survivor of a style of architecture which was in vogue in this region and of which vestiges are still in existence in the ruined temples at Nalanda and a few other places. Curiously enough it retains the dimensions and broad features which characterized it in the time of Huen Tsang.The Temple underwent several restorations, renovations and repairs in subsequent periods by a number of devout Kings, donors and philanthropists of home and abroad.
Nalanda: A great centre of Buddhist learning, Nalanda came into prominence around the 5th century BC and was a flourishing university town with over ten thousand scholars and an extensive library.
Kesaria: This Stupa is in fact one of the many memorable stupa remarkable event in the life of Buddha. Kesaria has a lofty brick mound capped by a solid brick tower of considerable size, which it self is the remain of a Buddhist Stupa. The mound is a ruin with a diameter of 68 feet at its base and a total height of 5½ ft. originally it was crowned by a pinnacle which must have stood 80 or 90 ft above the ground. General Cunningham dated this monument to AD 200 to 700, and held that it was built upon the ruins of a much older and larger Stupa.It is the highest Stupa found in the country with a height of about 104” from the base.