Layered Antiquity

Layered Antiquity
Monks paying respect to the place of enlightenment of the Buddha in Bodh Gaya , Photo Credit: Shutterstock
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From its cities to its small towns and villages, Bihar is a treasure trove for travellers, who find themselves hit with a wave of euphoria here

OT Staff
October 10 , 2020
04 Min Read

Located to the east of the country, Bihar is one of the most exciting and alluring destinations with a tranquil aura to it. The culture and ancient sites here tell tales of the state, which come alive on its busy streets. Renowned for its fascinating festivals of colours and deep-rooted customs and values, this state is a treat that has been hiding in plain sight. Bihar’s long and rich history dates back centuries—the former kingdom of Magadha and home to multiple dynasties, like the Mauryas and the Guptas. To ensure the safety of travellers, the state government has also issued stringent precautionary measures. Step foot into blissful Bihar and wonder why it is often overlooked. 

The Heritage Arch 
Toss the two-headed coin and heritage is bound to follow history. Bihar is believed to be the only state with a history of over 3,000 years and rightly so. The presence of numerous ancient architectural relics represents the rich heritage of the state. Forts, caves, and tombs are regular topographical features here with occasional heaps of forgotten ruins. History rings loud in each sight in Bihar and travellers must follow its sound. 

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The pristine Jalmandir

Bihar’s delightful and longstanding relationship with history and heritage can be found at Kumhrar, where the remains of the ancient Patliputra were excavated. Ancient ruins here, along with relics also include an 80-pillared assembly hall. The site is a testimony to the state’s cultural abundance. Patliputra boasts of a glorious path and the ruins at Kumhrar today bear testimony to the fact. Excavations over the years have been a delight for the lovers of archaeology. 

Sher Shah Suri’s tomb at Sasaram

Further in Sasaram is an awe-worthy example of Indo-Islamic architecture at the tomb of Sher Shah Suri. The exquisite tomb is regarded as one of the noblest specimens of Afghan architecture in the country. The octagonal tomb, topped by a dome standing at the centre of a lake on a square stone plinth with domed kiosks, chhatris at each of its corners,withfurther stone banks, connected to the mainland through a wide stone bridge, is truly a work of wonder. The tomb of Hassan Shah and his son Salim Shah are some other architectural monuments of interest here. 

As serenely surprising as Bihar is, the oldest surviving rock-cut caves in the country, located in the twin hills of Barabar and Nagarjuni hills, are an overwhelming sight. Created during the Maurya reign, they were dedicated to the Ajivaka Cult, later extensively used by monks belonging to this sect. Much like the state’s various trails, the caves tell the history of their time along with the multiple cults and clans involved in their centuries of existence. 

The Barabar Caves in Bihar

Situated in the town of Rajnagar near Madhubani, is the Navlakha Palace. Built in the 17th century AD by Maharaja Rameshwar Singh of Darbhangha, the palace neighbours the Kamala River that hosts a marble temple of goddess Kali. Another temple of goddess Durga forms an integral part of the palace and is still operational. 

Moving on to Nalanda, the Jal Mandir—meaning water temple—also known as Apapuri, in Pawapuri—meaning a town without sins—makes a highly revered feature. The temple, dedicated to Lord Mahavira—the 24th Thirthankara (religious preacher of Jainism)—is nothing short of astonishing. It boasts of marvellous architecture and the integration of the various cultures of the state. Move on to the religious town of Buxar, also known as Vishwamitra Nagari, along the banks of river Ganga. The most noteworthy sight is clearly the high standing Buxar Fort, one of the ancient testaments erected by King Rudra Deo in 1054 AD. 

Art and Culture 
Bihar is as rich in culture, as it is in history and spirituality. Present in the region is the history of music including classical Hindustani and folk, along with dance forms such as Kathak and Khajri. Culture in Bihar is a celebration of a history dating back to the Vedic times. Delving into the world of art are Madhubani paintings, the most precious gift presented by the Mithila culture to the world. The Mithila culture of the Maithili speakers gives the true essence of cultural richness. Noted to wear a 'paag' as a symbol of honour and respect and a significant part of the culture, these people love their art. 

A Madhubani painting

With initial references in the Hindu epic of Ramayana, the cultural significance of Madhubani paintings is beyond doubt one of the most pristine ones in the country. The paintings illustrated the thoughts, hopes, and dreams of the women who later began making them. Traditionally made on the base of plastered mud walls, they were later replaced by handmade paper, cloth, and canvas. Often characterised by complex geometrical patterns, these paintings are exemplary sights of Bihar’s cultural history that one must explore.

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