Patna, or Pataliputra the city that was founded by Magadh king Ajatshatru on the banks of river Ganga, the nucleus of the kingdom of Ashoka. The present-day capital of the state of Bihar is an interesting mix of a city with a magnificent past. The one that is positively looking toward a bright future. Ancient travelers like Fa-Hein called it the city built by superhumans and Megasthenes has written elaborately about its palace. But by the time Huan-Tsang reached Patna, he could only mention its past glory.
Places to visit in Patna, Bihar
As a 21st CE traveler, I could see a heritage city that has its eyes firmly on the future but a city that is still grounded in its roots and does not seem to be following the west rampantly.
Holding the snippets of its past is the city Museum, probably one of the richest museums in terms of archeological heritage in the country. As you enter the museum, the shining statue of Didarganj Yakshi, or the Chawri (whisk) bearer welcomes you. One can be completely awed by it. The life-size idol of a woman wearing heavy Jewelry and just the lower garment, with hair neatly tied at the back with a whisk in one and the other hand broken stands tall in front of you. You can simply admire the artist who would have made this. You instantly mourn the loss of other such precious idols that have been lost over time. I wondered if the whisk bearer is so beautiful, imagine how the one who is being whisked would be.
Just by the side of the Yakshi, you can also see the first Digambar Jain image, a nude male torso found at Lohanipur. There is the earliest image of Shalbhanjika with Mauryan polish. Many more treasures from the 3rd BCE to 11th CE that you can admire. There are images from all three primary religions that flourished in this part of the country viz Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhist. Some of the Buddhist or Jain images showing the trampling of Hindu deities tell us that times were not as peaceful. People were not as tolerant as we think them to be today. We were lucky to have a scholar as our guide and he explained to us all the figures in detail.
The most celebrated part of the museum is the Buddha relics that are kept here and making it a place of pilgrimage for Buddhists. The relics are kept in absolute security and you have to buy an additional ticket to see them. The Bronze gallery has some of the biggest pieces of Bronze that have been found from pre-historic times. The Terracotta gallery has small terracotta images from Harappan times to the Kushan-Shunga period, including the Mauryan period. The images give a lot of insights into the lifestyles of the common people and the revered figures like a mother goddess.
There are items of everyday use, toys, Jewelry, seals, and potteries with simple geometrical designs on them. It is amazing how a complete expression with headgear and dress is expressed in a small statue of 2-4 inches. There is a gallery of Buddhist or Thangka paintings. There is a fossil tree measuring 53 ft considered to be one of the longest of its type. Rajendra gallery displays the personal belongings of Dr. Rajendra Prasad who hailed from the city. We missed having a look at the Kalam gallery and the gallery of medieval paintings. The museum is a fairly well-maintained building, though the displays can be given better lighting and more explanation.
The Agam Kuan is an ancient well that is said to exist since the time of Ashoka. He is supposed to have murdered his 99 brothers and thrown their bodies in this very well. Today, the well has high red-colored walls. You can view the inside only through small windows made on the high wall. There is a Sheetla Devi temple just by the well and it is said that priests or Brahmins used to use this well for rituals. They also said that it is impossible to drain out the water of this well and anyone who tries to do so will be destroyed.
One of the locals told us that the former chief minister of state Lalu Yadav had tried to empty this well to let down the Brahmins. But could not empty it and from that day his downfall started. Now, Is this not how the stories were created and passed on orally?
Kumhrar is the place where the sabha or assembly hall of Chandragupta I and emperor Ashoka was. The 80-pillared hall is the one that experts say has been mentioned in the Sabha Parva of Mahabharata. As of now, you can see only the place it was and you have to use your imagination to imagine the glory that place would have seen. There is an excavated pillar placed there and you can only admire the polish of the half-broken pillar. At some distance, there is an excavation that shows the monastery cum hospital of the famous physician of the Gupta period Dhanvantari, appropriately called Arogyavihar. Apparently, there was an inscription telling this. As of now, you can only see the ruins of the place having some small rooms, it is impossible to visualize anything more than that.
To create the ambiance the monastery is now surrounded by a well-maintained herbal garden. There is a small site museum, which we could not see because there was n power and it was completely dark.
Patna Sahib Gurudwara
Gurudwara Patna Sahib, the birthplace of the 10th Guru of Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh, is a peaceful island in the midst of an otherwise chaotic part of the city. Like most other famous Gurudwara’s, this was also built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh, on the banks of Ganga. Besides Guru Gobind Singh who spent his early years here, Guru Nanak Dev and Guru Tegh Bahadur also visited Patna. Guru Nanak Dev had stayed at this very place on his way to Gaya and so did Guru Tegh Bahadur. This is one of the five Takhts or holy seats of Sikhs.
Built in all white, the typical color of Gurudwaras, the place suddenly makes you snap what is outside and focus on the inside. The light devotional music playing will help you connect with yourself. And of course, the Kadha Prasad that you get from here is something to die for. Just adjacent to the Patna Sahib Gurudwara is an ancient Jain temple that is presently being renovated. In the makeshift temple, we could see some ancient idols of various Jain Tirthankaras.
Khuda Bakhsh Library
One of the gems that we discovered in the city was the Khuda Bakhsh Library. The library has more than 21000 oriental manuscripts and 2.5 million books. It has been open to the public for more than 120 years. It is a forward-looking library as it is digitizing all its assets. We got a very crisp presentation from the management of the library that showcased the lineage of the library, the type of asset it has, and a glimpse of them. The publication division has a lot of publications that give you the history of the region. And thoughts of the famous thinkers of the region.
The library has a reading room that seems to be very popular. It was a sheer pleasure to see some of the age-old handwritten manuscripts. There is liberal use of gold and most scripts we saw were multilingual. It made me think about the evolution of books. First, there were pictures, then pictures and poetry, then pictures and words. And then only words. Now we seem to be going back to the combination of pictures and words. Though the technology is entirely different from our mechanized writing, painting, and printing techniques.
The Gol Ghar is an interesting building, a huge round building meant to be a granary with a staircase winding around it taking you to the top of it. The climb is huge and at peak noontime, we could not dare to climb it. Though I think it would have been a fun thing to do early morning. The sheer size of the building will amaze you. I am curious to know how they filled it with grains and how they took it out.
There is a huge Karuna stupa being built where the relics of Buddha from 6 countries would be kept. It is a huge structure coming up very close to the Patna railway station.
The bazaars were bustling with people like any other big city. Here and there, there were Litti Chokha shops selling the most consumed food in Bihar. Followed by the Khaja shops which seem to be the favorite sweet of the people of Bihar. The shopping complexes are there but the local markets and bazaars seem to be more popular. We did not see any shopping malls. I guess that is what this city is different today from other big cities. Loved the sing-song way of talking and the Shuddh Hindi that is hardly spoken in any other part of the country.
I am sure there are many more places to be seen in the city and I look forward to my next trip there.
Recommend you to read the following Historic Places that are also Tourist Places in Bihar.