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Bihar - History

Bihar has a very old and rich history. The name of this state has been mentioned even the old epics, Vedas, Purans. It was the main scene of activities of Buddha and 24 Tirthankars of Jains. Bihar's capital Patna, in that period known as Patliputra was the capital of famous rulers of ancient India like Maurya emperors, Imperial Guptas. Great rulers of the State before the Christian era were Bimbisar, Udayin, Chandragupta Maurya, Emperor Ashoka, Kanishka, Chandragupta, Samudragupta, Vikramaditya etc. The famous poet Kalidas lived in the reign of Gupta emperors. During the medieval period Muslim conquer this state. First Muslim ruler was Mohammed-bin-Bakhtiar Khalji.

The History of Bihar as a region is very rich and eventful. This is due to the fact that Bihar was a center of power, learning and culture. It has been a cradle of Indian civilization and the birth place of two of the major religions that have emanated from India: Buddhism and Jainism. Much of the ancient Indian text written outside of the religious epics have been written in this ancient land: Arthashashtra and Kamasutra being the most prominent. The first known republic, a state without a sovereign king, existed in this region more than two thousand years back.

The central region of what is now known as Bihar was called Magadha in ancient days. Its capital Patna, then called Pataliputra, was the capital of the Mauryan empire which ruled over much of the Indian - Subcontinent and extended as far as Iran and Afghanistan to the West. Emperor Ashoka, one of the greatest monarchs in the history of the world, who ruled between 273 BC and 232 BC was the most famous ruler of the Mauryan dynasty.

Just north of Magadha across the river Ganges is the Vaishali region. It is here that the first republic of the lichchvis was established even before the Magadha empire reached its peak of glory. To the north east of Vaishali is Mithila, the kingdom of the legendary king Janak. Sitamarhi in Mithila is said to be the birth place of King Ram's queen Sita.

The ancient kingdoms of Magadh and of Licchavis, around about 7-8th century BC, produced rulers who devised a system of administration that truly is progenitor of the modern art of statecraft, and of the linkage of statecraft with economics. Kautilya, the author of Arthashastra, the first treatise of the modern science of Economics, lived here. Also known as Chanakya, he was the wily and canny adviser to the Magadh king, Chandragupta Maurya. As an emissary of Chandragupta Maurya, Chanakya traveled far and wide in pursuit of promoting the interests of the State and dealing with the Greek invaders settled in the northwest of India, along the Indus valley. He succeeded in preventing the further onslaught of the Greeks. Indeed, he brought about amicable co-existence between the Greeks and the Mauryan Empire. Megasthenes, an emissary of Alexander's General, Seleucus Necator, lived in Pataliputra (ancient name of Patna, the Mauryan capital) around 302 BC. He left behind a chronicle of life in and around Patliputra. This is the first recorded account by a foreign traveler in India. It describes in vivid terms the grandeur of life in Patliputra, a city established by King Ajatshatru, around 5th Century BC, at the confluence of the rivers Sone and Ganga.

Another Mauryan king, Ashok, (also known as Priyadarshi or Priyadassi), around 270 BC, was the first to formulate firm tenets for the governance of a people. He had these tenets, the so called Edicts of Ashok, inscribed on stone pillars which were planted across his kingdom. The pillar were crowned with the statue of one or more lions sitting on top of a pedestal which was inscribed with symbols of wheels. As the lion denoted strength, the wheel denoted the eternal (endless) nature of truth (dharma), hence the name Dharma (or Dhamma) Chakra. This figure of lions, atop a pedestal, with inscription of a wheel, was adopted as the Official Seal of the independent Republic of India (1947). Also, Ashok's dharma chakra was incorporated into the national flag of India, the Indian tricolor. Remains of a few of these pillars are still extant, for example at Lauriya-Nandan Garh in the district of West Champaran and at vaishali, in the present district of the same name. Ashok, a contemporary of Ptolemy and Euclid, was a great conqueror. His empire extended from what is now the North West Frontier Province (in Pakistan) in the west, to the eastern boundaries of present India in the north, and certainly, up to the Vindhyan Range in the south. Ashok was responsible also for the widespread proselytization of people into Buddhism. He sent his son, Prince Mahendra, and daughter, Sanghamitra, for this purpose to as far south as the present country of Sri Lanka (Sinhal Dweep in ancient times, and Ceylon during the British Empire. Some historians, particularly Sinhalese, consider Mahindra and Sanghmitra as brother and sister.

Bihar remained an important place of power for about a thousand years. Its importance as the centre of Indian culture and education outlived its importance as the center of Power by another five hundred years or so. Out of the three ancient universities of India, two Nalanda and Vikramshila Universities were located in Bihar, with third being Taxila in present day Pakistan. These ancient centers of learning were destroyed by the maruading early Islamic raiders around 1200 AD.

Bihar is also the birthplace of many religions, including Buddhism and Jainism. The word "Bihar" has its origin in the Sanskrit word "Vihara", meaning Buddhist Monasteries. Buddha attained Enlightenment at Bodh Gaya, a town located in the modern day district of Gaya. Buddha started spreading his teaching after attaining the Enlightenment at Bodh Gaya. Mahavira, the the 24th Tirthankara of Jainism, was born in Vaishali, When we speak of Bihar we are remembered of ancient India when Buddhism was evolving into what now is an universal religion. The Word "Bihar" has been coined from "Vihara" meaning Buddhist monasteries. At one time in the epoch of history these "viharas" were strewn all over the landscape of Bihar, around villages and cities alike.

A little-known, but historically and archaeologically documented, event is worth mentioning in this context. After his visit with Amrapali, Lord Buddha continued with his journey towards Kushinagar (also called Kusinara in Buddhist texts.) He travelled along the eastern banks of the river Gandak (also called Narayani, which marks the western border of Champaran, a district now administratively split into two- West and East Champaran.) A band of his devoted Licchavis accompanied Lord Buddha in this journey. At a spot known as Kesariya, in the present Purbi (meaning, East) Champaran district, Lord Buddha took rest for the night. It was here that he chose to announce to his disciples the news of his impending niravana (meaning, death); and implored them to return to Vaishali. The wildly lamenting Licchavis would have none of that. They steadfastly refused to leave. Whereupon, Lord Buddha, by creating a 3,000 feet wide stream between them and himself compelled them to leave. As a souvenir he gave them his alms-bowl. The Licchavis, most reluctantly and expressing their sorrow wildly, took leave and built a stupa there to commemorate the event. Lord Buddha had chosen that spot to announce his impending nirvana because, as he told his disciple Anand, he knew that in a previous life he had ruled from that place, namely, Kesariya, as a Chakravarti Raja, Raja Ben. (Again, this is not just a mere legend, myth or folk-lore. Rather, it is a historiclly documented fact supported by archaeological findings. However, neither this part of Buddha's life, nor the little town of Kesariya, is well-known even in India or Bihar.

With the advent of the foreign aggression and eventual foreign subjugation of India, Bihar passed through very uncertain times during the medieval period. Muhammad Bin Bakhtiar Khilji, a General of Muhammad Ghori captured Bihar in 12th century and destroyed the ancient seats of learning of this region. During the medieval period, Bihar saw a brief period of glory for about six years during the rule of Sher Shah Suri, who hailed from Sasaram. He built the longest road of the Indian subcontinent, the Grand Trunk Road, which starts from Calcutta and ends at Peshawar, Pakistan. During 1557-1576, Akbar, the Mughal emperor, annexed Bihar and Bengal to his empire and the region passed through uneventful provincial rule during much of this period.

With the decline of Mughals, Bihar passed under the control of Nawabs of Bengal. This period saw exploitation at the hands of the rulers in the form of high taxes, but the Nawabs of Bengal also allowed trade to flourish in this region. Some of the greatest melas of the Indian sub-continent, viz., Soenpur Mela which is the biggest cattle fair in India, were allowed to continue and even flourish inviting traders from far and near.

After the Battle of Buxar (1765), the British East India Company got the diwani rights (rights to administer and collect revenue, or tax administration / collection) for Bihar, Bengal and Orissa. From this point onwards, Bihar remained a part of the Bengal Presidency of the British Raj. Bihar was formed part of the Bengal Presidency till 1911. In 12th December 1911 a separate province of Bihar and Orissa was created. In 1912, Bihar was carved out as a separate province. In 1935, certain portions of Bihar were reorganised into the separate province of Orissa. Bihar was made as a separate province in 1936.

Babu Kunwar Singh of Jagdishpur and his army, as well as countless other persons from Bihar, contributed to the India's First War of Independence (1857), also called Sepoy Mutiny by some historians. In 1917 there was a struggle for freedom between indigo farmers and British government in north Bihar. In 1942 many of the young students of this state took part in Quit India Movement.

After his return from the South Africa, Mahatma Gandhi started the freedom movement in India by his satyagraha in the Champaran district of Bihar against the British , who were forcing the local farmers to plant indigo which was very harmful to the local soil. This movement by Mahatma Gandhi received the spontaneous support from a cross section of people, including Dr. Rajendra Prasad, who rose to become the first President of India.

In the post independence period, 18 administrative districts of Bihar were separated to form the state of Jharkhand in 2000.

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Page last modified: 24-10-2021 15:29:42 ZULU