The term ‘Bihar’ derives from the Sanskrit word ‘Vihara’, which means abode and it itself explains the relation of Bihar with the viharas, used as the Buddhist abode. The land of Bihar is considered to be the richest one in context of Buddhism as it showered the divine light of enlightenment on a young ascetic, Siddhartha Gautama, who had denounced all the luxuries of life in search of the truth.
The Tathagata preached many of His sermons in different places of Bihar like Vaishali and Rajgir or Rajgriha to name a few. Even after His Mahaprinirvana, His disciples carried on the doctrine of Buddhism in the regions of Magadha or Bihar by setting up several monasteries and universities of Nalanda and much later, at Vikramshila. However, the contribution of the Indian emperor Ashoka(whose capital was at Patliputra, modern Patna) in the history of Buddhism cannot be ignored as it was he, who after becoming a Buddhist, patronised Buddhism as his state religion and spread its doctrine, Dhamma in different parts of India and abroad as far as Sri Lanka, Greece and Egypt.
Major Buddhist Places in Bihar
- Bodhgaya : Bodh Gaya is one of the most sacred Buddhist sites in Bihar. It was at Bodh Gaya, where a young ascetic, Siddhartha Gautama in His search of the reality of life, meditated under a Peepal tree, attained enlightenment and became the Buddha or the Tathagata. Today, Bodh Gaya, a home to Maha Bodhi temple, Maha Bodhi tree and numerous monasteries, is a venerated place among the Buddhists from all the corners of the world, who visit the place to mark the enlightenment of the Buddha.
- Nalanda : ‘Nalanda’, which means the place that confers the lotus, emerged as an important Buddhist university and religious centres in the 4th-5th century CE. The scholars of the Nalanda monastic university such as Bodhidharma and others took Buddhism to other parts of the world, China, Korea and Japan to name a few. Though in ruins today, Nalanda is an inseparable part of the state and its history.
- Vaishali : Located in Bihar near Patna, Vaishali was the first place visited by Siddhartha Gautama in India, when he left home as an ascetic. Once again, it was at Vaishali, where the Tathagata had announced His soon to arrive death or Mahaparinirvana. Vaishali, a place jeweled with stupas(One contain Buddha’s relics), monasteries and temples, is frequently visited by the Buddhists, Jains(for birthplace of Mahavira) and other tourists.
- Rajgir : Siddhartha Gautama had once visited Rajgir(Rajgriha) during His search for an enduring truth and again returned back at this place as the Buddha, this time to spend some years over here. It is believed that two rock cut caves at Rajgir were the favourite retreats of the Tathagata and He preached two of His sermons here. The small city of Rajgir with its numerous attractions such as Vaibhav hill, Ajatshatru’s fort and Swarna Bhandar among many others, is a holy place for the Hindus and Jains as well.