Thursday, October 11, 2007

A brief history of Bihar

A Brief history

Adopted from Bihar tourism site!

Founded on a deep historical background, the first experiments both in the imperial and democratic forms of governance were initiated in the land of Bihar in the 6th century B.C. The empire formed by the Nandas extended from the river Beas in the Punjab to the mouth of Ganga. The Mauryas gradually extended the Nanda Empire till it covered the whole of India except a small strip in the south Indian peninsula, but included the northwestern hilly regions as far as the Hindukush Mountains. Similarly, the first great treatise on political statecraft, which was regarded as the most authoritative text on the subject throughout the ancient period, is that of Kautilya, also associated with Magadh. While Pataliputra was the first imperial city of India, Vaishali has the rare distinction of being the seat of first democratic government of the world as early as in the C. 6th B.C. One of the most important contributions of Bihar is the introduction of the art of writing in form of royal edicts during the tenure of the great emperor Ashok. The seals discovered in Harappan sites are no doubt engraved with inscriptions, but unfortunately no connecting link between these seals and the Brahmi alphabet used in Ashoka’s edicts has yet been discovered. The Ashokan edicts enunciate the tenets of welfare state, communal harmony and religious pluralism in a very lucid manner. Bihar made a contribution to the development of the Upnishadas as revealed by the traditions associated with Janaka, king of Videha. The Brhadaranyaka Upnishad narrates how great philosophers from distant regions, even from Kuru and Panchal came to the court of Janaka and took part in abstruse philosophical discussions about Brahman, soul etc. According to a tradition recorded in the Skanda Purana, Gautam the founder of the Nyaya School of philosophy was born in Mithila. It is significant that the reputation of Mithila for this branch of philosophical knowledge persisted down to the medieval age when it enjoyed the reputation of being the only center for learning Navayanyaya. Mithila has been the homeland of eminent scholars such as Yajnavalkya, the author of a famous Smriti Work, and Mandan Mishra, the famous theoretician in Mimamsa, who carried on public debate with Shankaracharya. But the greatest contribution of Bihar to Indian Culture is in the domain of the development of heterodox religions. The founder of Buddhism, though not born in Bihar, spent the best part of his active life in this province. He began his meditation and attained enlightenment in Bodh Gaya. His missionary activity is associated with many localities in Bihar and the first three general assemblies of the Buddhist monks, which gave the final shape to Buddhism, were all held within the geographical limits of Bihar. Two important off shoots of Buddhism in the shape of the two great universities at Nalanda and Vikramshila, both in Bihar, may be reckoned as the two greatest universities in India. Their contribution to the intellectual development of India and to the expansion of Indian culture to Central Asia, China Tibet, Korea, Japan and South East Asia cannot be under estimated. The scholars assembled in these two universities shed luster on the whole of India. Mahavir, the historical founder of Jainism was born in Bihar and the early history of Jainism indissolubly bound up with this region. According to Jain tradition, no less than twenty out of twenty-four Tirthankars attained salvation in Parsvanatha hills and two other, including Mahavir, attained nirvana at Champapur and Pava, both in Bihar. Among the notable contribution of Bihar to Indian Culture, prominence must be given to splendid buildings of architecture and sculpture, both in stone and metal made during the ancient times. The wonderful palace at Pataliputra has perished, but we may form an idea of its splendour and excellence from Greek and Chinese accounts. The fine metallic polish of Ashokan Pillars and the wonderful lion capital found at Sarnath, now accepted as the emblem of the republic of India, stands out as undying monuments of Bihar’s contributions to the Indian art. The contribution of caves hewn out of solid rock, which developed into one of the finest arts in India, had its beginnings in Bihar; in the oldest saptaparni cave at Rajgir and somewhat later, the cave at Barabar hills in the district of Gaya. Reference should also be made to the contribution of Bihar to the development of regional languages of eastern India. The Aryan languages of eastern India such as Bengali, Assamese and Oriya, all originated from the Magadhi Prakrita i.e. the form of Prakrita, which was current in Bihar. The medieval period is particularly important in the history of Bihar. For one thing, the province obtained its present nomenclature and more or less geographical boundaries during this period. The Turkish invaders first conquered the area at the turn of the 13th century called it Vihar as it contained a number of Buddhist Vihars. Northern Bihar, then a part of the Karnata kingdom was conquered and annexed by Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq in 1329 and with this northern Bihar (Tirhut) and Southern Bihar were politically and administratively unified. Bihar also served as the springboard for the rise of the great Afghan ruler Sher Shah and the laboratory for his momentous administrative reforms especially in the sphere of land revenue. Bihar also developed as a significant center of the activities of the early Sufis in India. Long before the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate, Imam Taj Faqih settled at Maner, near Patna. Another eminent saint Shihabuddin Pir Jagjot settled on the eastern outskirts of Patna around the middle of the 13th century. They preached the gospel of universal love, tolerance and brotherhood, initiating the rapprochement between Islam and Hinduism which, in may ways, has been instrumental in bequeathing the syncretic Indo-Islamic heritage to the succeeding generations and ages. Bihar’s role in India’s struggle for independence has been quite significant. Bihar was one of the important centers of the 1857 movements, which was a national challenge to the growing supremacy of the East India Company. The hero of 1857 struggle in Bihar was the octogenarian leader, Kunwar Singh of Jagadishpur, who was ably assisted by his brother Amar Singh. Kunwar Singh died a warrior’s death, and his example greatly influenced the leaders in Chotanagpur, the Santhal Parganas and other parts of Bihar to carry on an intensive movement against the British. The Wahabi movement, though essentially a religious movement, had an important role to play in Bihar’s struggle for freedom during the 19th century. The political objective of the movement was to free the country from foreign domination, as Syed Ahmed, the founder of the movement in India repeatedly explained in his numerous letters. As the Indian Independence Movement centered on the Indian National Congress, Bihar became an important place for the congress activities. Bihar played a significant role in all the three stages of national struggle- Moderate, Militant and Gandhian phase. It was in Champaran that Mahatma Gandhi after his return from Africa launched for the first time on Indian soil a bold and successful resistance against the British exploitation. After the Champaran Satyagrah, Gandhijee grew very fond of Bihar and Biharis and considered it to be “his second home”. On their side, the people of Bihar not only participated enthusiastically in all the movements launched by Gandhijee but also maintained communal amity and harmony, a cause very dear to his heart.

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