Decoding the Beauty

Decoding the Beauty

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The festivals of Bodh Gaya, Rajgir are the special attractions to mingle with the enormous confluence of humanity, experiences Vineet Kumar

‘Non-Violence’, the most enchanting thought in the history of mankind first emanated from this land of Bihar. The Buddha and Mahavira, the pioneering propagators of this idea, pronounced this solemn solution of human suffering about 2600 years ago and resonate even today to brace humanity. Bodh Gaya and Pawapuri have become symbolic places to engage to this uplifting mood.

The numerous stupas and pillars that were built mostly by the Great Emperor Ashoka as a tribute to the Buddha are testimony of not only the magnitude of earnestness and power but also the refined aesthetics that hold the spectator spellbound. The National symbol which adorns Indian currency, the Four-Headed Lion was erected atop an Ashokan Pillar that stood tall once in this land of Bihar.

The oldest functional temple of India Mundeswari still abuzz with the clanging of bells around the fascinating four-headed Shivlinga, a wonderful artistic expression of male-female union has mystical tales around it. The Shrines of the Sufi tombs as the Tomb of Sher Shah Suri and Maner Sharif are among the finest gems of the Mughal architecture that should not be dropped out of the travellers’ itinerary.

The Sikhs’ very revered pilgrimage Harmandir Takht Saheb the birth place of the 10th guru, Guru Gobind Singh, is an enchanting shrine at the heart of the capital city Patna. The landscape of Bihar with the majestically wide spread of the river Ganga along with the tributaries with the fertile wide emerald plain waving at the traveller is sure to steal the hearts.

When it comes to tourism, while Bihar may still be “off the beaten track”, the Bihar government has been putting significant effort into drawing visitors to the state. The main focus has been on promoting Bihar’s many religious sites. They’ve been grouped into “circuits” for each religion. Bihar is still relatively undeveloped, which also makes it an excellent place for rural tourism. Discover the important Bihar tourist attractions here.

Buddhist Circuit

Bihar is where the Buddha began his journey to enlightenment and it’s possible to follow in his sacred footsteps. The most important Buddhist pilgrimage place (both in Bihar and India) is Bodhgaya, where the Buddha became enlightened. The magnificent Maha Bodhi Temple marks the spot.

Other places of significance are West Champaran, where the Buddha left his father’s kingdom; East Champaran, where the Buddha stayed at a hermitage and met his first spiritual teacher; Rajgir, where you can take a cable car up the hill to Vishwashanti Stupa; and Vaishali, also one of Buddha’s favorite places. Other places of relevance to Buddhism in Bihar are Nalanda and Bhagalpur with their Buddhist university ruins and museums containing Buddhist artifacts, and the rock-cut caves built by Buddhist monks at Jehanabad. The Mahaparinirvan Express Buddhist Train includes visits to Bodhgaya, Rajgir and Nalanda.

Hindu Circuit

Bhagalpur is located at the Southern part of Bihar, it is one of the oldest districts of Bihar known for producing very good quality silk fabric and was once famous as ‘Silk City’. The jade coloured majestic river Ganga with the silvery sand banks flows next to the NH- 80 (connecting Bhagalpur with Patna and other cities) for a considerable stretch which renders a marvellous panoramic view to the travellers.

Just 13 kilometers from Buddhist Bodhgaya, Gaya is a major center for Hindu pilgrims. The main attraction there is the Vishnupad Temple, with its huge footprint of Lord Vishnu imprinted on rock. Pilgrims come to Gaya to perform the holy “Pinda Dan” ritual for their deceased elders. It’s believed to liberate their souls, as well as provide salvation and release from rebirth. According to mythology, Lord Ram visited Gaya with his wife Sita to perform the “Pinda Dan”.

The Ramayana, an epic that tells the tale of Ram (the seventh incarnation of Vishnu), originated in the Bihar region and many places there have been linked with events narrated in it. These are all laid out in Bihar Tourism’s Ramayana Circuit.

 Jain Circuit

Bihar is also an especially sacred destination for followers of the Jain religion as the 12th Tirthankara Vasupujya and 24th Tirthankara Mahavira were both born there, in Champapur (Bhagalpur district) and Kundalpur (Vaishali district) respectively. The holiest site for Jain devotees is Pawapuri, where Mahavira is believed to have attained nirvana. Not to be missed there is the magnificent white marble Jal Mandir, which floats out on a lotus lake. A temple atop Mandar Hill in Baunsi village (in Banka district) commemorates the spot where Vasupujya attained nirvana. The view is breathtaking. Rajgir and Nalanda are also both places of significance for Jains, and there are many temples in these districts. Mahavira, in particular, spent fourteen years of his life at Rajgir and Nalanda.

patna-sahib-gurudwara

Sikh Circuit

The 10th Guru of Sikh religion who was the pioneer in formalisation and unification of the followers of Guru Nanak was Guru Gobind Singh. He was the son of the 9th Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur and was born in Patna on 22nd December, 1666. At his birthplace there is a marvellous Gurdwara in Patna famous as Takht Sri Harmandir Ji. There are other gurdwaras which commemorate some events of Guru Gobind’s life. These gurdwaras are not only sacred pilgrimages for the Sikhs but wonderful to be visited by any traveller.

Sufi Circuit

In ancient times, Bihar used to be the center of power before Mughal rulers shifted it to Delhi. Many Sufi saints came to the region, and attracted pilgrims with their liberal mindsets and humanistic preaching. You’ll find numerous sacred tombs of Muslim rulers in Bihar. Amongst the most elaborately constructed ones are Emperor Sher Shah Suri’s mausoleum, built in the center of a large artificial lake at Sasaram (around 160 kilometers south west of Patna), and the tomb of Shah Daulat (known as the Choti Dargah) on the banks of the River Ganges in Maner (around 29 kilometers east of Patna).

Other sacred places include Syed Muhammad of Amjhar Sarif’s tomb in Aurangabad, and the tomb of the first woman Sufi saint of India Hazrat Bibi Kamal in Jehanabad (it’s famous for healing acute diseases and the mentally challenged).

Eco Circuit

Bihar enjoys an unperturbed landscape that is not yet vandalised by erratic urbanisation. The tourists can enjoy the bliss of nature not only in the Eco circuit points but also at the other heritage spots a great source of delight.

Festivals and Fairs

Festivals are almost synonymous with revellers; however, the traditional festivals which are observed since ages have deeper meanings of bonding with nature which are indeed thought provoking. The promotion of the festivals is given much initiative by the Bihar Government as an important tool to develop the socio-economic scenario by creating financial opportunities and rendering harmony in this multi communal society.

The major religious festivals of Bihar most of the time revolve around Nature as the deity to be worshipped. In the Chatt Puja the ‘Setting Sun’ is worshipped by all the Bihari devotees living in any part of the world. Although Sun had been worshipped as a god by most of the civilizations the worship of the Setting Sun by the Biharis gives it a special unique feature. Celebrated twice a year in Chaitra and Kartik months of the Hindu calendar, the rituals to be performed near any water bodies make the rivers, lakes and the ponds of Bihar a colourful panorama. The Deo Sun temple is most revered amongst numerous Sun temples around rivers and tanks believed to be sacred and visited by scores of devotees. Through the passage of time, people from other religious beliefs also have started to participate in the festival giving it a true secular flavour.

Another popular festival of Bihar, Sama-Chakeva also connects with nature as it offers prayers to the migrating birds visiting here from the Himalayan region. This festival is especially popular in Mithila region of the state. Girls make various decorative clay images of these birds and perform rituals and at the end the ceremony of ‘vidai’ (farewell) is celebrated wishing the return of the birds for the next year.

The day that is believed to be the beginning of the summer season is celebrated as Makar Sankranti as all Hindu devotees observe this day as a sacred day. In Bihar it is also known as Tila Sankranti which falls around mid January and sweets and food are distributed.hindus-bathing

Madhushravani is another seasonal festival that celebrates the monsoon. This month long festival is observed by Hindus in other states of India as well. Celebrated around August, the believers of Sthe god Shiva travel carrying water from sacred water bodies to offer to the Shivlings for fulfilment of their wishes. Most of the Hindus from Bihar are believers of Ram the legendary hero from the epic Ramayana. His birthday Ramnavami is celebrated with great fervour and the lights of this auspicious day brightens all the dark corners.

The worshipping of the serpent Goddess Mansa is celebrated as Bihula in Bihar. The mythical tale of Bihula and Lakhindar is read out at this occasion and snakes are worshipped and fed by the devotees. This ritual indirectly teaches to respect and love the animal which is one of the most dangerous threats to human lives.

The Urs is celebrated in the muslim populated areas where usually there are holy mosques and pilgrimages like in Munger’s Rahmani Khanka, Bihar Sharif’s Ibrahim Baya Mukbara. Other festivals like Basant Panchami, Shivratri, Raksha Bandhan, Holi, Durga Puja, Deepawali, Id, Bakrid, Christmas and many more are celebrated in big or small ways with zest and devoutness.

Bihar Government initiated Festivals and Fairs

The Bihar Tourism Department takes active part in promoting about 22 festivals in the State. Amongst those the few very popular ones are:

Buddha Festival: Organised at Bodhgaya, the World Heritage site to commemorate the occasion of the Buddha’s enlightenment. This festival is the true international festival of Bihar and tourists, scholars, delegates from all over the world congregate to salute the pioneering message of peace to bring equilibrium in human life.

Sonepur Festival: This cattle festival evolved around the transactions of the animals starts on the full moon day of Kartik month of Hindu calendar and is a month long affair. It is acclaimed as the biggest cattle fairs of the world and a massive crowd gatherer. Click to Know More

Rajgir Festival: This is organised to celebrate the cultural and historical importance of the ancient valley city Rajgir. The beautiful city with the panoramic landscape becomes a hotspot as multicultural tourist destination during this festival.

Vaishali Festival: The auspicious birthday of the 24th Tirthankara of Jains observed in Vaishali at the occasion of Mahavir Jayanti. Bihar Divas Day: 22nd March is celebrated with a great pomp to commemorate the formation day of the State.

Kako Festival: The State promoted Sufi festival at Kako in the district of Jehanabad is becoming popular amongst tourists. It is celebrated on the occasion of Urs at Hazrat Kamal Saheb Bibi’s mausoleum.

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Somanjana Chatterjee

Somanjan Chatterjee is San Francisco based consulting editor