Bihar today is a far cry from what it was like during the reign of the Mauryans and the Guptas though echoes of the past grandeur do resound in the shape of relics, especially the Buddhist stupas and temples to be found in abundance throughout this State. It is not surprising that the Lord Buddha should have made Bihar his “vihara” given its close proximity to Nepal, his birthplace. The name “Bihar” itself may be a corruption of the word “vihara” which means abode. He attained enlightenment in this State. He meditated here and he preached here. Among his converts were King Bimbisara and Emperor Asoka besides millions of others from all walks of life.
Bihar, as one can see, occupies pride of place on the Buddhist circuit tour of India and rightly so. It has a splendid collection of Buddhist temples of which the Mahabodhi temple is the most significant as well as stupas and places of interest. For a devout Buddhist, each place the Buddha stayed at becomes a temple and a place of worship. As such, even the stupas that carry the relics as well as the gardens and wildernesses and caves where he meditated or preached are venerated by devotees.
About 100 km from Patna, Bodhgaya is one of the most important Buddhist pilgrimage destinations with the Mahabodhi temple its prime attraction. The temple is close to the descendant of the original tree under which the Lord attained enlightenment. The temple houses an elegant statue of the Lord in addition to an ancient Shiv Ling. Devotees also make it a point to visit the Tibetan Monastery that houses the Dharma Chakra and then go on to the Parasnath Hills and then Gaya to visit the Vishnupad temple.
The Lord used to meditate here and preached on the Griddhkuta Hills and converted King Bimbisara to Buddhism. Today Buddhist visitors make a beeline for the Peace Pagoda built by the Japanese right on top of the hill to commemorate the memory. King Bimbisara too built a monastery, the Venuvana Vihar, which is now in ruins. While here you can take a walk to the Ajatshatru’s Fort built by King Ajatshatru in the 6th Century BC. The Hot springs at the foot of Vaibhav hills, the Jain temples and the Cyclopean Wall are places of interest.
Though strictly speaking not a site for any Buddhist temple the fact that it was of immense importance in its time itself makes it a venerable site. The ancient Nalanda University site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the excavacations reveal the magnificence of this educational complex once visited by scholars from all over the world. Built by the Gupta emperors, the University counted Hieun Tsang as one of its students. King Harshvardhana built a 26 metre tall statue of Lord Buddha that one can see and pay respects for inspiring Kings to further the cause of education.
Located in Bhagalpur district, Champanagar is visited for the Gaggara Lotus Lake and the collection of Champaka trees that were said to be the Lord Buddha’s favorite. The statues recovered from the Lake are worth a look.
Tetravan near Ghosrawan has a temple with a collection of the Buddha and Bodhisatva statues.
Hajipur is where the remains of Ananda, the staunchest disciple and attendant of Lord Buddha are enshrined and as such the place deserves a visit.
The Buddha preached for quite some time at this place and a Stupa marks the spot. It is said he had a vision of his passing and while on his way to Kushinagar he stopped here and gave the residents his begging bowl and Emperor Asoka built a stupa in his memory.
A temple need not necessarily have the shape and structure of the place of worship. Wherever the Buddha meditated or stayed is considered holy and sacred for Buddhist and Bihar has the maximum number of such important spots.