Ancient history of Bihar

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The ancient history of Bihar extends back to the beginning of human civilization. It is also associated with myths and legends related to the advent of Sanatana Dharma. It was the center of the mighty empire. It was a cultural center of education for thousands of years under the patronage of able empires. The word ‘Bihar’ is derived from ‘Vihara’ which means resting place for Buddhist monks but 12th century Muslim rulers started calling this place ‘Bihar’.

Different sources to know the history of Bihar

Archaeological evidence

1. Palaeolithic period (Munger and Nalanda).

2. Midolithic period (Hazaribagh, Ranchi, Singhbhum and Santhal Parganas).

3. Neolithic period (Chirand in Saran and Checher in Vaishali).

4. The ruins of the eight-pillared hall of Kumhrar (Patna).

5. Maurya pillar inscriptions of Lauria Nandangarh, Rampurwa (West Champaran) and Lauria Areraj (East Champaran).

6. Secret carpet seal and coins received from Vaishali.

Literary source

1. According to Shatapatha Brahmin, the Aryan civilization was spread on both sides of the Ganges.

2. According to the Atharvaveda and Panchavish Brahmana, wanderers in ancient Bihar as ascetics were called “Vartyas”.

3. According to the Rig Veda, the untouchables of this region were called “Kikait”.

4. Puranas, Ramayana and Mahabharata.

5. Buddhist literature such as Abhidhammapitaka, Vinayapitaka and Sutpitaka.

6. Mentioned about Mahajanapada in Angutara body.

7. Long bodies, Deepavansh and Mahavans

8. The early history of Chandragupta Maurya is described in mass literature such as Bhadrabahu’s Kalpasutra, Appendix Description and Vasudevacharit.

9. Megasthenes came to the court of Chandragupta Maurya.

10. Fahian visited India in the 5th century AD and has described Magadha.

11. Hieun Tsang came to the court of King Harsha in 637 AD and he mentions the monasteries of Nalanda.

12. Etshing, a Chinese traveler, has described Nalanda and the area around it.

Arrival of Aryans in Bihar

1. The Aryans started moving towards the eastern India in the post-Vedic period (1000-600 BC).

2. Shatapatha Brahmin mentions the arrival and expansion of the Aryans.

3. In the Varaha Purana , Kikat is described as inauspicious and Gaya, Punpun and Rajgir are auspicious places .


It is mentioned in Buddhist and Jain literature that in the 6th century there were many small states in India which were dominated by Magadha. 500 BC Sixteen states and republics arose in. They are known as Mahajanapada.

1. Anga: Modern divisions of Bhagalpur and Munger in Bihar and parts of Sahibganj and Godda districts of Jharkhand. 

2. Magadha: A state with divisions of Patna and Gaya whose initial capital was Rajagriha or Girivraj.  

3. Vajji: A union of eight tribal republics, located north of the Ganges River in Bihar. The capital was Vaishali.     

4. Malla: It was also a republic union that included the districts of Deoria, Basti, Gorakhpur and Siddharthnagar in modern eastern Uttar Pradesh. It had two capital – Kusinara and Pava.

5. Kashi:   Presently, the capital city of Varanasi was Varanasi.

6. Kosala: The present Faizabad, Gonda, Bahraich etc. used to come. The capital was Shravasti.

7. Vats: The districts of present day Allahabad and Mirzapur etc. came under it. The capital was Kaushambi.  

8. Chedi: Modern Bundelkhand, the capital Shuktimati. 

9. Kuru: Haryana and Delhi areas west of Yamuna River. Capital Indraprastha (Delhi).

10. Panchal: areas east of the Yamuna River from western Uttar Pradesh. Ahichhatra, the capital.

11. Surasena: Covers the Braj-Mandal, the capital was in Mathura.

12. Matsya: It covers the Alwar, Bharatpur and Jaipur areas of Rajasthan.  

13. Avanti: Capital in modern Malwa, Ujjaini and Mahishmati.   

14. Ashmaka: The capital was Potna , between the Narmada and Godavari rivers.   

15. Gandhara: It covered the western areas of Pakistan and areas of eastern Afghanistan. The capital was at Taxila and Pushkalvati.

16. Kamboj: It has been identified as Hazara district of modern-day Pakistan. 

Buddhism  and Bihar

Bihar is the birthplace of Buddhism because it is the place where the divine light of knowledge fell on Gautama Buddha. This was the place where Buddha attained enlightenment, this is what he gave his first sermon, that sermon is called “Dharma Chakra Pravartan”, and it is here that he also announced his “Parinirvana” .

Buddhist literature
1. Vinaya Pitaka: It contains rules and practices for monks and monastic people.2. Sutta Pitaka: This is a collection of short sermons of the Buddha divided into 5 bodies.3. Abhidhamma Pitaka: It gives the metaphysics of the principles of Buddha i.e. religious discourse.4. Jataka: This is a collection of short stories related to the previous births of Buddha. 5. Milindapanho: It gives a conversation between King Menander of Greece and Buddhist saint Nagasena. Note: The Tripitakas were finally compiled during the Fourth Buddhist Council and were written in Pali language. 
Ancient history of Bihar

Four truths

1. Sarvam Dukkham: Life is full of sorrows. 

2. Dukh Samudra: Desire is the cause of rebirth and sorrow.

3. Grief prevention: By conquering desire, freedom from sorrow and rebirth can be attained.    

4. Gamini Pratipada: Nirvana or Moksha can be attained i.e. a person can walk on Ashta Marg, Ashtangika Marg and get rid of the cycle of birth and death.  

Octagonal route

1. Right-view – Full or accurate vision

2. Right Resolution – Pledge of mental and moral development

3.  Right speech – harmless words and no lying

4. Righteous Karma  – Do not do harmful acts

5. Right to livelihood – Do not trade explicitly or implicitly harmful

6. Right Effort  – Trying to improve yourself

7. Samyak Smriti – Trying to get mental ability to see with clear knowledge

8. Samyak Samadhi – Achieve Nirvana

Note: The word Samyak means ‘proper’, ‘complete’, ‘fully’, ‘integral’, ‘complete’, and ‘perfect’.

Jainism and Bihar

Jainism came into existence with the emergence of Vardhaman Mahavira. According to Jain literature, he was the 24th Tirthankara. At the age of 30, he had abandoned the house in search of salvation and followed the practices of an ascetic group called ‘Nirgranth’. The original literature of the Jains is called ‘Poorvas’ and they are 14 in number. The list of Jain Tirthankaras is given below:

Tirthankaras of Jainism
TirthankarasymbolNirvana site
Lord RishabhBullAshtapad (Kailash)
AjithnathelephantPeak including
SambhavnathHorsePeak including
AbhinandanathmonkeyPeak including
SumatinathRed swanPeak including
PadmaprabhaLotusPeak including
SuparshwanathSwastikaPeak including
ChandraprabhaMoonPeak including
PushpadantacrocodilePeak including
Sheetal Nathtree of heavenPeak including
ShreyansnathRhinocerosPeak including
ChirpyFemale mansChampapuri
VimalnathPigsPeak including
AnantnathPorcupinePeak including
DharmanathThunderboltPeak including
Shantinaththe deerPeak including
KunthunathgoatPeak including
ArnathfishPeak including
MallinathKalashPeak including
MunisuvrattortoisePeak including
Nami NathBlue-water lilyPeak including
NeminathShell Girnar Mountains
SidesnakePeak including
MahavirLionPava puri
Ancient history of Bihar

Principles of Jainism

1. Theory revolves around five concepts : truth; Ahimsa, Aparigraha, Astha, Brahmacharya.

2. Salvation can be attained by the purification of the soul through the practice of severe penance and triratnas. 

3. According to the Jainism  , reality can be reached from different perspectives so they are related and knowledge cannot be complete.  

Brihadratha Dynasty

Brihadaratha and his name are also found in the Rigveda among the earliest known kings of Magadha . According to the Mahabharata and Puranas, Brihadratha was the youngest son of Vasu, the Kuru king of Chedi. The famous king of this dynasty was Jarasangha and he was the son of Brihadratha. 

Haryanka Dynasty

The founder of this dynasty was Bimbisara. He expanded his empire through matrimonial alliances. His first wife Koshaldevi was the princess of Kaushal and sister of Prasenjit. The second wife Chellana was the princess of Lichchavi and the third wife Keshma was the princess of the Madra clan of Punjab.

Ajatashatru succeeded Bimbisara. It was during his reign that Mahatma Buddha attained ‘Mahaparinirvana’ and Lord Mahavira died in Pavapuri. The first Buddhist Council was organized under his patronage. Udayan wrested the throne from Ajatshatru. He founded the city of Pataliputra and made it the capital .

Shishunaga Dynasty

Shishunaga was the founder of this dynasty. During his reign, Magadha had two capital – Rajgir and Vaishali. The second Buddhist Council was organized under the patronage of Kalashoka.

Nanda Dynasty

Mahapadmanand founded this dynasty by killing Nandivardhan, the last ruler of the Shishunaga dynasty. In the Puranas, they are written as Mahapadma or Mahapadmapati. They are also called Ugrasen in Mahabodhivamsa. Dhanananda was the last ruler of the Nanda dynasty and a contemporary of Magadha.

Maurya Empire

The Mauryan period witnessed the development of mankind in every sphere of existence such as social, political, cultural, religious or economic. It was a geographically extensive, powerful and political military empire of ancient India. The capital of this kingdom was Pataliputra. Chandragupta Maurya, Bindusara and Ashoka were great rulers of this empire.  

Maurya Society
1. Megasthenes has divided the Maurya society into seven castes – philosopher, farmer, soldier, shepherd, artisan, magistrate and councilor. He has said that the entity did not exist in the Maurya dynasty but other Indian sources do not seem to agree.2. Kautilya recommended the recruitment of Vaishyas and Shudras into the army but their actual nomination is highly doubtful. He speaks of the existence of four castes.3. The condition of the Shudras was improved. They were much like the peasants and domestic servants of today. They could buy land.

Answer – Maurya Dynasty

Sunga Dynasty

Pushyamitra Sunga was the founder of this dynasty. Two Ashwamedha Yagyas were performed, which is confirmed by the inscription of Ayodhya, Ghanadeva. The great Sanskrit Acharya Patanjali was the chief priest. Pushyamitra was succeeded by Agnimitra. He was the protagonist of Kalidasa’s play ‘Malvikagnimitram’. According to the Puranas, Devabhuti was the 10th and last ruler of the Sunga dynasty.

 Kanva Dynasty

Vasudeva was the founder of the dynasty. The last ruler of the dynasty was Susharman. This dynasty came to an end with the rulers of Satavahana dynasty coming to power.

Kushan Dynasty

The remains of the Kushan era have been found from the areas of Magadha. He started his campaign in this area around the first century AD. There is evidence of the Kushan ruler Kanishka invading Pataliputra and taking the eminent Buddhist monk Ashwaghosh with him.   

Gupta Empire

This dynasty marks the founding of another empire in ancient India. The rulers of Gupta dynasty occupied most of India under unified administration. The difference between the Gupta dynasty and the administration of the Maurya dynasty was that the administration and power was centralized under the Mauryan rule but the administration and power were decentralized under the Gupta rule. The inscription shows that Sri Gupta was the first king.

Bihar during the Pala Empire

The Pala Empire was the supreme power of the Buddhists in ancient India. The word ‘Pal’ means patron and was used at the end of the names of all the Pala emperors. Palas were followers of Mahayana and Tantrayana of Buddhism. The first ruler of this dynasty was Gopal.  

According to the inscription inscribed on a copper plate of Pala, Devpal drove the Utkalas out of power, conquered Pragyotisha (Assam), ending the pride of the Huns and insulting the lord of Pratiharas, Gurjars and Dravidas. The Palas built many temples, did many artistic works as well as worked in the interest of Nalanda and Vikramshila Universities.


What was the old name of Bihar?

Licchavi was an ancient—before the birth of Mahavira— republic in what is now the Bihar state of India. Vaishali was the capital of Licchavi and the Vajjian Confederacy.

Who gave the name Bihar?

The word ‘Bihar’ has originated from the ‘Viharas’ which means resting house of Buddhist monk but it was the Muslim rulers of 12th Century who started calling the state as ‘Bihar’.

How Patna got its name?

Legend ascribes the origin of Patna to the mythological King Putraka who created Patna by magic for his queen Patali, literally “trumpet flower”, which gives it its ancient name Pataligrama. It is said that in honour of the queen’s first-born, the city was named Pataliputra.

Who changed patliputra name to Patna?

Afterwards, Sher Shah Suri made Pataliputra his capital and changed the name to modern Patna.