Discovering India's Diverse Cultural Heritage: A Journey of Bihar

Discovering India's Diverse Cultural Heritage: A Journey of Bihar

Bihar is a state of eastern India that has a rich and diverse history. It is bounded by Nepal to the north and by the Indian states of West Bengal to the northeast and Uttar Pradesh to the west. The capital of Bihar is Patna, which is also one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.
The name Bihar comes from the Sanskrit word vihara, which means Buddhist monastery. This reflects the prominence of such communities in the region in ancient times, when Bihar was a centre of learning and culture for Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism. Some of the most famous Buddhist sites in Bihar are Bodh Gaya, where Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment; Nalanda, where one of the oldest universities in the world was established; and Rajgir, where Buddha delivered many of his sermons.

Bihar in Ancient and Medieval Times

  • Bihar occupied an important position in the early history of India. For centuries, it was the principal seat of imperial powers and the main focus of Indian culture and civilization. Some of the dynasties that ruled over Bihar were:
  • The Magadha Empire (6th-4th century BCE), which was one of the 16 Mahajanapadas (great kingdoms) of ancient India and gave rise to the Mauryan Empire under Chandragupta Maurya and Ashoka.
  • The Mauryan Empire (4th-2nd century BCE), which was one of the largest and most powerful empires in world history, spanning from Afghanistan to Bengal and from Central Asia to South India. Ashoka, who ruled from 268 to 232 BCE, is considered one of the greatest rulers of all time for his policies of non-violence, religious tolerance, and welfare.
  • The Gupta Empire (4th-6th century CE), which is regarded as the golden age of Indian history for its achievements in art, literature, science, mathematics, astronomy, medicine, and philosophy. The Gupta period also saw the revival of Hinduism and the emergence of classical Sanskrit literature.
  • The Pala Empire (8th-12th century CE), which was founded by Gopala, the first elected ruler in Indian history. The Pala dynasty was known for its patronage of Buddhism and its contributions to art, architecture, education, and culture. The Pala rulers established many monasteries and temples across Bihar and Bengal, such as Vikramashila, Somapura, Odantapuri, and Jagaddala.
  • The Delhi Sultanate (13th-16th century CE), which was a series of Muslim dynasties that ruled over most of northern India from Delhi. The Delhi Sultanate brought many changes to Bihar’s society, economy, religion, and culture. Some of these changes were the introduction of Persian as the official language, the spread of Islam, the development of trade and commerce, and the construction of mosques and tombs.

Bihar in Modern Times

Bihar formed a part of the Bengal Presidency under the British until 1912, when the province of Bihar and Orissa was formed; in 1936 the two became separate provinces of British-ruled India. Bihar played a significant role in India’s struggle for independence from British rule. Some of the prominent freedom fighters from Bihar were Rajendra Prasad, who became India’s first president; Jayaprakash Narayan, who led the Quit India Movement; Ram Manohar Lohia, who advocated for social justice; and Babu Kunwar Singh, who fought against the British in 1857.
After India’s independence in 1947, Bihar became a state within the Indian Union. In November 2000, a new state of Jharkhand was created from Bihar’s southern provinces. Since then, Bihar has faced many challenges such as poverty, illiteracy, corruption, casteism, communalism, crime, and underdevelopment. However, Bihar has also shown signs of progress and potential in recent years. 

Culture and Festivals of Bihar

Bihar is not only a land of history and heritage, but also a land of culture and festivals. Bihar has a rich and diverse culture that reflects its ancient roots, religious diversity, and regional variations. Bihar’s culture is influenced by its neighbouring states as well as by its historical interactions with various empires and invaders. Bihar’s culture is expressed through its language, literature, music, dance, art, cuisine, costume, and festivals.

Language and Literature of Bihar

Bihar has several languages that belong to the Indo-Aryan family of languages. The most widely spoken language is Hindi, which is also the official language of the state. Other languages include Bhojpuri, Maithili, Magahi, Angika, Bajjika, and Urdu. Each language has its own dialects and variations that reflect the local culture and identity.

Bihar has a rich tradition of literature that dates back to ancient times. Some of the eminent writers and poets from Bihar are:
  • Maharishi Valmiki, who composed the epic Ramayana in Sanskrit.
  • Vidyapati, who wrote lyrical poems in Maithili and Sanskrit on love and devotion.
  • Chanakya, who authored the treatise Arthashastra on statecraft and politics in Sanskrit.
  • Kalidasa, who is regarded as one of the greatest Sanskrit poets and dramatists.
  • Rabindranath Tagore, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature for his works in Bengali and English.
  • Ramdhari Singh Dinkar, who is known as the national poet of India for his patriotic poems in Hindi.
  • Phanishwar Nath Renu, who is considered one of the pioneers of modern Hindi literature.
  • Ram Vilas Sharma, who is a prominent critic and scholar of Hindi literature.

Music and Dance of Bihar

Bihar has a rich and varied musical heritage that reflects its folk and classical traditions. Some of the popular forms of music in Bihar are:
  • Bhojpuri music, which is a folk genre that originated in the Bhojpuri-speaking regions of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. It is known for its lively rhythms, catchy tunes, and humorous lyrics.
  • Maithili music, which is a folk genre that originated in the Mithila region of Bihar and Nepal. It is known for its devotional songs, especially those dedicated to Goddess Sita.
  • Magahi music, which is a folk genre that originated in the Magadh region of Bihar. It is known for its songs on social issues, such as caste discrimination, gender inequality, and environmental degradation.
  • Thumri, which is a semi-classical genre that originated in the 19th century in Varanasi. It is known for its romantic and erotic themes, based on the love stories of Radha and Krishna.
  • Chaiti, which is a semi-classical genre that originated in the 16th century in eastern Uttar Pradesh. It is known for its songs on the arrival of spring and the celebration of Holi.
  • Dadra, which is a semi-classical genre that originated in the 19th century in Awadh. It is known for its songs on love and separation.
Bihar also has a rich and varied dance heritage that reflects its folk and classical traditions.

Art and Cuisine of Bihar

Bihar is also a land of art and cuisine that reflects its folk and classical traditions. Bihar has a rich and diverse art heritage that dates back to ancient times. Some of the popular forms of art in Bihar are:

  • Madhubani painting, which is a folk art form that originated in the Mithila region of Bihar. It is known for its colourful and intricate motifs depicting gods, goddesses, animals, plants, and scenes from mythology and daily life. Madhubani painting is done on walls, floors, paper, cloth, and other surfaces using natural colours and brushes made of bamboo sticks and cotton.

  • Manjusha art, which is a folk art form that originated in the Anga region of Bihar. It is known for its geometric patterns and stylized figures of snakes, fish, lotus, and other symbols. Manjusha art is done on paper or cloth using three colours: red, black, and yellow.

  • Sikki craft, which is a folk art form that originated in the Mithila region of Bihar. It is known for its products made of sikki grass, such as baskets, boxes, dolls, toys, and ornaments. Sikki craft is done by coiling and weaving sikki grass using needles and threads.

  • Tikuli art, which is a folk art form that originated in Patna. It is known for its paintings made of glass sheets with gold foil and bright colours. Tikuli art is done by applying multiple layers of paint on glass sheets and embellishing them with gold foil and jewels.

Bihar also has a rich and varied cuisine that reflects its folk and classical traditions. Bihar’s cuisine is influenced by its neighbouring states as well as by its historical interactions with various empires and invaders. Bihar’s cuisine is highly seasonal and regional, with different dishes prepared according to the availability of ingredients and local preferences. Some of the popular dishes in Bihar are:

  • Litti chokha, which is a baked salted wheat-flour cake filled with sattu (roasted gram flour) and spices, served with roasted eggplant and tomato mash. It is considered the signature dish of Bihar and is eaten as a snack or a meal.

  • Khichdi, which is a dish made of rice and lentils cooked together with spices and ghee. It is eaten as a comfort food or a fasting food with various accompaniments such as pickle, papad, curd, or ghee.

  • Sattu paratha, which is a flatbread stuffed with sattu and spices, cooked on a griddle with oil or ghee. It is eaten as a breakfast or a snack with pickle, chutney, or curd.

  • Dalpuri, which is a flatbread stuffed with boiled, crushed, and fried gram pulses with spices. It is eaten as a snack or a meal with curd or chutney.
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