Of all India’s states, Bihar is the one most
intimately linked to the Buddha’s life, resulting
in a trail of pilgrimages which have come to be
known as the Buddhist circuit. The very name Bihar
is derived from the world ’vihara’,
which means Buddhist monastery. The Buddhist trail
begins at the capital city, Patna, where a noteworthy
museum contains a collection of Hindu and Buddhist
sculptures. The Khuda Baksh Oriental Library has
rare Muslim manuscripts including some from the
University of Cordoba in Spain.
40 km away, Vaishali was the site for the second
Buddhist Council as the presence of ruins testify.
90 km south of Patna is Nalanda which translates
as ’the place that confers the lotus’
(of spiritual knowledge). A monastic university
flourished here from the 5th to the 11th century.
It is said to have contained nine million books,
with 2,000 teachers to impart knowledge to 10,000
students who came from all over the Buddhist world.
Lord Buddha himself taught here and Hieun Tsang,
the 7th century Chinese traveller, was a student.
Ongoing excavations have uncovered temples, monasteries
and lecture halls.
Rajgir, ‘the royal palace’, 12 km
south, was the venue for the first Buddhist Council.
The Buddha spent five years at Rajgir after having
attained enlightenment, and many of the remains
at Rajgir commemorate various incidents, the hill
of Gridhrakuta being perhaps the most important,
as this is where the Buddha delivered most of
Bodhgaya is the spot where Lord Buddha attained
enlightenment, with the Mahabodhi Temple marking
the precise location. Bihar’s Buddhist circuit
has modest back-up facilities by way of accommodation,
international dining and surface transport. (For
those interested in the Buddhist circuit, it may
be worthwhile to note that Sarnath, in Uttar Pradesh,
close to Varanasi, is an important part of the
circuit, and has been beautifully developed. Besides
the excavated sites, a museum here houses several
Buddhist icons, among them the Ashoka Lion, India’s