Gautama Buddha underwent extreme ascetic practices before realizing it was not necessary and achieving enlightenment on the bank of the river Falgu in Bodh Gaya, Bihar. The greatest Indian empire, the Mauryan Empire, originated from Magadha in 325 BC. It was started by Chandragupta Maurya, who was born in Magadha, and had its capital at Patliputra (modern Patna). The Mauryan Emperor, Ashoka, who was also born in Patliputra (Patna), is believed to be one of the greatest rulers in the history of India and the world. According to indologist A. L. Basham, the author of the book The Wonder That Was India:
“The age in which true history appeared in India was one of great intellectual and spiritual ferment. Mystics and sophists of all kinds roamed through the Ganges Valley, all advocating some form of mental discipline and asceticism as a means to salvation. But the age of the Buddha, when many of the best minds were abandoning their homes and professions for a life of asceticism, was also a time of advance in commerce and politics. It produced not only philosophers and ascetics but also merchant princes and men of action.”
Bihar remained an important place of power, culture, and education during the next one thousand years. The Gupta Empire, which again originated from Magadha in 240 CE, is referred to as the Golden Age of India in science, mathematics, astronomy, religion, and Indian philosophy. The peace and prosperity created under the leadership of Guptas enabled the pursuit of scientific and artistic endeavors. Historians place the Gupta dynasty alongside the Han Dynasty, Tang Dynasty, and Roman Empire as a model of a classical civilization. The capital of the Gupta Empire was Pataliputra, present-day Patna.
The Vikramshila and Nalanda universities were among the oldest and best centers of education in ancient India. Some writers believe the period between 400 CE and 1000 CE saw gains by Hinduism at the expense of Buddhism. The Hindu kings gave many grants to the Buddhist monks for building Brahmaviharas. A National Geographic edition reads, “The essential tenets of Buddhism and Hinduism arose from similar ideas best described in the Upanishads, a set of Hindu treatises set down in India largely between the eighth and fourth centuries B.C.” Kalidasa’s Sanskrit play Abhijnanasakuntala is one of the legacies of the Gupta Empire. The Buddhism of Magadha was swept away by the Muslim invasion under Muhammad Bin Bakhtiar Khilji, during which many of the viharas and the famed universities of Nalanda and Vikramshila were destroyed, and thousands of Buddhist monks were massacred in the 12th century CE.
In the years 1553–56, the Pashtun dynasty ruler ‘Adil Shah’ took the reins of North India and made ‘Chunar’ his capital.
He deputed “Hemu,” the Hindu General, also known as “Hemu Vikramaditya,” as his Prime Minister and Chief of Army. Hemu fought and won 22 battles continuously against Afghan rebels and Akbar’s forces at Agra and Delhi and established “Hindu Raj” in Delhi, after foreign rule of 300 years. Hemu, who was bestowed the title of “Samrat” at Purana Quila, Delhi, was then known as “Samrat Hem Chandra Vikramaditya.” Hemu lost his life while fighting in the “Second Battle of Panipat” against Akbar’s forces on 7 Nov. 1556.
During 1557-1576, Akbar, the Mughal emperor, annexed Bihar and Bengal to his empire. Thus, the medieval period was mostly one of anonymous provincial existence. The tenth and the last Guru of Sikhism, Guru Gobind Singh, was born in Patna. After the Battle of Buxar (1764), the British East India Company obtained the diwani rights (rights to administer, and collect revenue or tax) for Bihar, Bengal, and Orissa. The rich resources of fertile land, water, and skilled labor had attracted foreign entrepreneurs, especially the Dutch and Britishers in the eighteenth century.
A number of agro-based industries had been started in Bihar by the foreign entrepreneurs. From this point, Bihar remained a part of the Bengal Presidency of the British Raj until 1912, when the province of Bihar and Orissa was carved out as a separate province. Bihar now celebrates its birthday as Bihar Diwas on 22 March from 2010. In 1935, certain portions of Bihar were reorganized into the separate province of Orissa. Babu Kunwar Singh of Jagdishpur and his army, as well as countless other persons from Bihar, contributed to India’s First War of Independence (1857), also called the Sepoy Mutiny by some historians. Resurgence in the history of Bihar came during the struggle for India’s independence.
Rajendra Prasad (sitting left) and Anugrah Narayan Sinha (sitting right) during 1917 Satyagraha movement. It was from Bihar that Mahatma Gandhi launched his pioneering civil-disobedience movement, Champaran Satyagraha. Brahmins in Champaran had earlier revolted against indigo cultivation in 1914 (at Pipra) and 1916 (Turkaulia), and Pandit Raj Kumar Shukla took Mahatma Gandhi to Champaran, and the Champaran Satyagraha began. Raj Kumar Shukla drew the attention of Mahatma Gandhi to the exploitation of the peasants by European indigo planters. Champaran Satyagraha received spontaneous support from many Bihari nationalists like Rajendra Prasad, who became the first President of India, and Anugrah Narayan Sinha, who ultimately became the first Deputy Chief Minister cum Finance Minister of Bihar. In the northern and central regions of Bihar, the peasant movement was an important consequence of the Freedom Movement.
The Kisan Sabha movement started in Bihar under the leadership of Swami Sahajanand Saraswati, who had formed the Bihar Provincial Kisan Sabha (BPKS) in 1929 to mobilize peasant grievances against the zamindari attacks on their occupancy rights. Gradually, the peasant movement intensified and spread across the rest of India. All these radical developments on the peasant front culminated in the formation of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) at the Lucknow session of the Indian National Congress in April 1936, with Swami Sahajanand Saraswati elected as its first President. This movement aimed to overthrow the feudal (zamindari) system instituted by the British and was led by Swami Sahajanand Saraswati and his followers, including Pandit Yamuna Karjee, Rahul Sankrityayan, Pandit Karyanand Sharma, Baba Nagarjun, and others.
Pandit Yamuna Karjee, along with Rahul Sankritayan and a few others, started publishing a Hindi weekly, Hunkar, from Bihar in 1940. Hunkar later became the mouthpiece of the peasant movement and the agrarian movement in Bihar and was instrumental in spreading it. Bihar made an immense contribution to the Freedom Struggle, with outstanding leaders like Swami Sahajanand Saraswati, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Sri Krishna Sinha, Dr. Anugrah Narayan Sinha, K. B. Sahay, Brajkishore Prasad, Mulana Mazharul Haque, Jayaprakash Narayan, Thakur Jugal Kishore Sinha, Satyendra Narayan Sinha, Ram Dulari Sinha, Basawon Singh, Rameshwar Prasad Sinha, Yogendra Shukla, Baikuntha Shukla, Sheel Bhadra Yajee, Pandit Yamuna Karjee, and many others who worked for India’s freedom relentlessly and helped in the upliftment of the underprivileged masses. Khudiram Bose, Upendra Narayan Jha “Azad”, Prafulla Chaki, and Baikuntha Shukla were active in the revolutionary movement in Bihar.
On 15 January 1934, Bihar was devastated by an earthquake of magnitude 8.4. Some 30,000 people were said to have died in the quake. The state of Jharkhand was carved out of Bihar in the year 2000. The 2005 Bihar assembly elections ended 15 years of continuous RJD rule in the state, giving way to the NDA led by Nitish Kumar. Bihari migrant workers have faced violence and prejudice in many parts of India, such as Maharashtra, Punjab, and Assam, creating an impression that India still carries a tribal localized mindset despite more than 50 years of independence as a republic.