Bhagalpur City A Historical Place
The leavening brush of India’s ancient history exerts everywhere in Bihar. Bhagalpur today is a silent town, a low key destination, if at all it finds a mention in the tourist map. Amidst its bluntness one can feel the past resonating here. After all, it ranked among the six best Indian cities at one time.
Legend, buttressed by a little hard evidence, has it that today’s Bhagalpur was the Champavati of fifth century B.C. It was a period when India’s earliest Indian empire was evolving around the Gangetic plains and Anga was one of the sixteen Mahajanapadas (great states) that flourished. Champavati, the capital of Anga was also referred to by other ancient names like Malini, Champapuri, champa Malini, Kala Malini among others.
Athra Veda depicts Anga as an unholy place while Karna Parva condemns Anga as the land where wives and children were sold. However, at other places Mahabharat attests to the people of Anga as Sujati (noble birth) and proclaims the sanctity of Champa as a tirtha (place of pilgrimage).The epic attributes the foundation of this kingdom to a prince named Anga. Ramayana, however relates a romantic origin by way of Madana (Kamadeva or the Love God) cutting off his anga (body) in this region, out of sheer frustration at Siva’s anger.
Champa, at the confluence of Ganges traces its origin to the neolithic age when it was lucrative enough for the early settlers to inhibit the region. Ancient history accounts for no less than 25 kings who ruled Anga before the Mahabharat war. One such king was Lomapada, a contemporary and friend of Raja Dasratha, who was invited to witness the Ashwamedha sacrifice at Ayodhya. He is believed to have averted a severe famine by performing a sacrifice in conjunction with the sage, Rsyasringa. The last among these kings was Karna, the illegitimate son of Kunti who fought the great war as the commander-in-chief of the Kaurava army, supporting the cause of his mentor, Duryodhana. Various legends are still attributed to the might of Karna. The pandavas dubbed Karna as a low born which enraged him and he first encountered Arjuna in a duel over the acquisition of Draupdi during her svayambara.
The past seems to be hazy in the post war phase and accounts for three last kings of independent Anga before it fizzes out of history. It was the age of Buddha when Brahmadatta, the last independent king of Anga was killed by Bimbisara who not only avenged his father’s defeat, regained Magadh but also conquered and annexed this neighbouring kingdom. Bimbisara resided at Champa as Viceroy and later his son Ajtsatru was so enamoured by the beauty of this vanquished city that he shifted his scapital from Rajgir to Champa when he ascended the thron. Later, when Magadhans picked up a quarrel with Vaishali they strengthened Pataliputra and made it their new capital.
Champa was a fertile ground for the spread of both, Jainism and Buddhism. The 12th Jain Tirthankar, Vasupujya was born here and he spent his life preaching the doctrines of Jainissm. Mahavira spent three parjjusanas ( rainy seasons) here and the first female convert to Jainism after his Kevalship (enlightenment) was a princess from Champa named Chandana.Sudharman, one of the select eleven disciples of Mahavira who later succeeded the Jain order, was a native of this city and highly venerated. Ajatsatru went barefoot beyond and city gates to receive him. Buddha too frequented this place and made numerous converts. He offered several sermons here, including one on Dana (charity). It was here that the Buddha was compelled to prescribe the use of slippers by the monks.
Ashoka’s mother, Subhadrangi, belonged to Champa and he stationed his son, Mahendra as the Magadhan governor of this provincial city which continued to prosper despite dynastic changes. The glory was once again revived by the Pala kings of Bengal (8-12th century) who not only strengthened the Buddhist cause but have left behind a distinct stamp on the art form of the period. The Palas are further credited with the creation of Vikramsila university.
The great mound in the heart of Champanagar, surrounded by a moat does not arouse curiosity in absence of lofty structures but excavations in and around the site reveal the traces of fortified complex besides an abundance of North Black Polished wares. Archaeologists have ascertained that the rampart was made of rammed earth was later (2nd century B.C.) rivetted with burnt bricks. The mound referred to as Kamgarh or the palace of Raja Karn was overgrown with Jungles until Augustus Cleveland, the first collector of the region, got it cleared for hill rangers. Today this elevated ground houses a century old Sanskrit school beside a famous Manskamna Nath Mandir in the corner while the vast field continues to be the playground of the freshly recruited policemen.
On the other end of Karngarh is Ayurvedic college, a Catholic Church and other intitutions. Down the road is the Royal bridge, remisniscent of the Mughal forces who marched along this old road, Akbar camped here twice in 1575 but later the place was written off as the headquarter of the imperial faujdars (military governors). The Maratha forces on their way to Bengal in 1743 were confused at Bhagalpur and had to pay a hefty amount for seeking guidance and shortcuts to their destination. At the close of 18th century, Bhagalpur was reduced to a mere pargana in the Monghyr sarkar.
A mile from the Karngarh mound we find four elevations which are believed to have served as observation towers of the fort. In the NE is Tilhakothi, the hillock which impressed Collector Cleveland so much that he erected his residence here. SE of the mound is Shah Janghi in Nathangar with a shrine on the top with a long picturesque Idgah facing the tank below. SW of the city was fortified by mud walls stretching from Bhim Kitta to Shah Janghi while NW elevation on the river side houses a seventeenth centrury tomb. Little is known about the person who is buried here in Champanagar but the inscription suggests its construction in 1622/23 by Khawaja Ahmed Samarkhandi. The tomb, often referred to as the dargah of Makhdoom Saheb features a typical Bengali roof.
A Commercial Site:
History accounts for Champa as flourishing port city and its maritime glory continued till the days of the Raj. There are numerous references to merchant boats and missionary monks sailing from Champa to far off places like Suvannadipa (S.E.Asia). Emigrants from Champa to Cochin China are believed to have named their new settlements after this famous port city. Kalidasa refers to the ripples of the Malaini river on the banks of which Sakuntala came with her friends. During medieval days Bhagalpur swords were in great demand as they were noted for their sharpness and durability. European traders in India often turned to Bhagalpur which was famous for trade in cloth that fetched high value in Europe. Even today tussar (coarse silk) is manufactured and traded here. In the last quarter of the 18th centrury, Bhagalpur was popular with the European indigo planters who acquired extensive landed properties ranging from 5 bighas to 281 bighas. Bishop Heber, who visited Bhagalpur in 1829, observed that the city is in a pretty situation and said to be one of the healthiest stations in India.
Fa- Hien on his way back to China via the port city of Champa mentions seeing Stupas, Viharas and Buddhist monks. Huen Tsang refers to this place as Chen-Po and accounts for various Viharas in ruins. He further adds to the fertility of the soil and praises the people for their simplicity, honesty and good manners.
Shri Champapur Digamber Jain Siddha Kshetra:
Shri Champapur Digamber Jain Siddha Kshetra is located at village Nathnagar, District Bhagalpur Bihar. By road it is 3.5 km away from Bhagalpur, 270 Km. Patna and 280 Km. fom sammed Shikarji. Buses are available from Patna, Lakhi Saraya, Munger etc. It is directly connected by train from Kolkata, Delhi, Mumbai, Surat, Patna, Gaya, Ilahabad etc. The nearby airports are at Bhagalpur, Ranch and Patna. Shri Champapur Digamber Jain Siddha Kshetra is an Siddha Kshetra (Place of Salvation). It is quite an ancient and historic Teerth Kshetra.
Mangement Committee: Shri Bengal, Bihar, Orissa Digamber Jain Teerth Kshetra Committee, Kolkata (West Bengal)
Champapur is the only ‘Panch Kalyanaka Kshetra’ in the world which is related to Panch Kalyanaka: - “(i) Garbha, (ii) Janma, (iii) Tapa, (iv) Gyan and (v) Moksha” of 12th Tirthankara Bhagwan Vasupujya (The first ascetic saint).
The ancient Champapur was the capital of ‘Anga Janpada’.The Anga Janpada was one of the 52 Janpadas established by Adi Teerthankar Bhagwan Rishabh Deo. Champapur also existed as Maha Janpada among the six Maha Janpadas during the time of Bhagwan Mahavira Swami. This place is famous because of its relation to the following: “The three Chaturmasa period of Bhagwan Mahaveer Swami during his Dikshakal, Religious propagation centre of Anga-Banga-Magadh-Vaishali, Test of modesty of Sati Subhadra and Anantmati, Aahardan to Bhagwan Mahaveer Swami by Sati Chandan Bala”.
Champapur is also related to great stories of ‘origin of Harivansha, Shripal-Mainasundari, Shri Dharma Ghosh Muni, King Karna of Mahabharata, King Mudrak and great architect Vishvakarma’. Champapur has assumed more importance because of arrival of ‘Samavsharan’ of all 24 Tirthankaras. The Reddish Diamond colored Padmasana idol of 1008 Bhagwan Shri Vasupujya seated on the principal altar of main temple is quite attractive and beautiful, provides peace to the mind and soul of the devotees.
The main temple of Champapur Siddha Kshetra is quite ancient (about 2500 years). This temple being symbolic of ‘Panch Kalyanaka’ is adorned with 5 altars, magnificent spire and 2 columns of fame. It is said that there were 4 ‘Columns of Fame (Keerti Stambha)’ which existed in four corners of the campus of the temple. Later on the 2 out of 4 were destroyed in the earthquake of year 1934 & repair (Jirnoddhar) of other 2 columns was done in 1938. The ‘Columns of Fame’ are about 2200 years ancient.
The red colored Padmasana idol of Bhagwan Vasupujya Swami present in centre of main altar is quite attractive and miraculous. Another idol of Bhagwan Vasupujya is made of ‘Ashtadhatu’ (Alloy of eight metals) & the ancient foot images of Bhagwan Vasupujya are also installed in this altar. The principal deity of Bhagwan Vasupujya is also constructed along with other artistic idols which are present around the main altar. There is ‘Ashta -Pratiharya’ created in an artful specimen of glass present in this temple that is marvelous.
The entrance gate of this temple is very attractive & artistic. One ancient ‘northoriented Adinath Jinalaya’ is also present in southern campus near the main temple. One ‘Kushan periodic’ Khadgasana idol of Bhagwan Adinath is also installed here which is 2000 years ancient. These are many more ancient idols present in this temple. In this temple only the images of 24 Tirthankaras are present on one marble collectively and this looks marvelous & unique.
The 61 feet high magnificent ‘Column of Dignity’ stands here and it is one of the huge columns of dignity present in Eastern India. The four Jin idols present in apex part in all four sides of column, the four idols are established respectively in four altars present in middle part of column. Around these four altars all the 16 dreams are carved on marble which respected mother of Tirthankara saw before conceiving a child.
‘ Tonks’ of 24 Teerthankaras are constructed around three sides of this column of dignity. The first among these ‘Tonks’, temple of Bhagwan Bahubali is quite attractive. At the end of these 24 ‘Tonks’, foot images of ‘Ganadhar Mandar’ are present. Shri Mandar was the first Ganadhar of Bhagwan Vasupoojya.
Bhagwan Santinath Mandir with 9.25 feet high magnificent idol and Bhagwan Mahavira Swami Mandir with 7.25 feet high magnificent idol are also present in this campus. The one mirror decorated artistic temple is also present here in which 7.25 feet high ‘Khadagasan’ idol of Bhagwan Parshvanath surmounted by ‘7 Serpent Hoods’ is installed.The one ‘Samavsharan Mandir’ which idol of principal deity Bhagwan Simandhar is installed, is worth being seen.
One magnificent ‘Jal Mandir’ is also constructed here, in which 16 feet high idol of Bhagwan Vasupoojya is installed on big lotus flower. The water is filled in artificial lake around the altar. The huge umbrella of marble is present over the idol and behind this idol the pink colored halo is also present and magnifying the beauty of idol. The local community organizes festival on the ‘Kalyanka’ days of ‘Garbha, Janma, Tapa, Gyan & Moksha’ e.g. ‘Asharh Krishna – 6, Falgun Krishna – 14, Falgun Krishna – 14, Bhadrapada Krishna – 2 & Bhadrapada Shukla – 14.
Bhagalpur--As An Important Destination in Medieval History:
Bhagalpur, being an important junction between Delhi and Bengal, continued to be a popular destination throughout the medieval history. However,the fate of the city swayed between the fortunes of the kings of Delhi and the rulers of Bengal. Various grandees passed by this important city and have left their mark. During the Tughlaq period it was a mint town and was greatly partronised by the Mughals. A number of educational institutions were popular in medieval Bhagalpur. Jehangir awarded jagirs for the upkeep of a resident madarsa founded by Maulana Shahbaz, a scholar and a saint who was an authourity on Mohammadan law and tradition.
Khanqah-i-Shahbazia was a highly reputed institution with a rich library and a rallying centre for scholars and men of learning. One of the five jurists invited by Aurangzeb for the compilation of his famous Fatwa-i-Alamgiri was Mir Muhammad Raadhi from Bhagalpur. In 1669 he received a daily allowance of three rupees and was later raised to the rank of an Amir. Sheikh Nizam, another noted theologian of his times was also welcomed to the Mughal court.
Khangah-i-Shahbazia, Mullachak, adjoining the Bhagalpur Railway Station continues to be a flourishing seminary under the care of the 13th generation of the descendants of Maulana Shahbaz. The Sajjadah Nashin (direct descendent) is supposed to spend his life within the boundries of the Khangah. He leads the prayer, takes care of the various charitable projects and indulges in spiritual services. According to tradition they are exempted from appearance in any court of law.
A visit to the Khangah springs a number of surprises like the oldest mosque in Bhagalpur wrapped in black dome. The typical Bengali roof over the medieval tombs houses the Kadam-i-Rasool (foot print of the prophet) and other memorabilia dating back to the medieval days. The library of the Khangah is rich in Arabic and Persian theological works, which includes hand written books dating back to the days of Maulana Shahbaz. One of the prized collection of the library includes the Holy Quran transcribed by Murshid Quli Khan, the Nawab of Murshidabad who was fond of donating his works to various Khangahs and even setting aside an allowance for their daily broadcast.
The Attractions of Diverse Monuments:
Bhagalpur continues to be reasonably rich in monuments. Unlike the black domes of Shahi Mosque at Mullachak, the 15th century Bikanpur mosque is sparkling white and so is the medieval Khaligabagh mosque. At Khanjarpur, one is greeted with the grand tomb of Ibrahim Hussain Khan, rated, rated as the best Muslim monument in North Biha. Kuppa Ghat or Mehi Ashram by the river side is an ideal place to spend the evening. The ashram hides an old subterranean passage leading to various destinations (they are open to visitors but only when accompanied by an attendant).
Within the city one can visit Karngarh and the four hillocks, attractive Jain temples, a Christ Church near the city tower and an old symmetry in a very ruined shape, Bhagalpur museum besides Burh Nath temple on the riverside in Jogsar Mohallah. Bhagalpur is equally famous for Visharhi Asthan, the venue for the Bihula or the Mansa Puja held every July when the snakes are worshipped. A little distance from the Visharhi Asthan temple lies the colourful Durga Asthan. Next door is the Mahashay Deori-a typical Thakur Bari. Mahashay was the honorific hereditary title given by Akbar in 1664 to Sri Ram Ghosh, the collector. The Mahashay deori is worth a visit. It revives the memory of a typical Mughal Zamindar’s residence of deori replete with open court yard, a temple with a strange deity called Batuk Bhairab ( Possibly a Buddhist image) which was discovered by the early Mahashays at Tilhakothi where they used to live during the Mughal days.
Sultanganj (25 km) is a real celebration of natural splendour that thrills our visual sense. Imagine a hill by the bank of the river capped by a mosque while another rocky elevation in the midst of water riddled with temples of Shiva, referred to as Ajagaibinatha. The legend of Ajagaibinatha is associated with Baba Harinath a regular visitor and fervent devotee of Shiva. On his way to Deogarh, he once emptied his pot of water to quench the thirst of a dying man. He was left with no water for Shiva at Deoghar. Consequently, he was returning to Sultanganj when he heard a voice telling him that Shiva was pleased by his devotion and he could now worship him at Sultanganj as well.
The panorama can best be summed up in words of Abdul Latif, the Mughal Diwan of Bengal who passed by Sultanganj in 1608. He records, "It has two hillocks, one in the midst of the river and other on the bank, facing each other, so that there are few places on earth equalling it in airiness. How can I describe the moonlit nights, which exhilarate the spirit and freshen the life of man."
If it is monsoon, it is time for the Shravani mela when Sultanganj is well flooded by the flow of pilgrims and the extra dash of water calls for the small boats to reach the temples high on hillock. The devotees of Siva gather here to collect the holy water (called Uttarbahini or where the Ganges run towards north, instead of usual south) to be poured on the various Shivlings at Vasukinatha and Baidyanath Dham.
Between the two hills there are smaller granite formations with a number of interesting Gupta period carvings that are exclusive to Bhagalpur. These artistic etchings on the rock depict a variety of Hindu divinites, besides Buddha and Mahavira.
Sultanganj shot to fame in 1861 when a railway engineer, during the construction of railway track between Calcutta and Varanasi, stumbled upon a stupa that yielded a mighty bronze statue of Buddha in Abhaya mudra. The seven feet high bronze dating back to fifth century is now in Birmingham city museum.
Mandar Hills (50 km), steeped in legend and laced with landscape of extraordinary splendour exposes the 800 feet high granite hill. Mandar is associated with amritmanthana which suggests that the hill was used by the gods to churn the ocean to procure amrit. The serpent, Basukinaga offered to serve as the rope and has left behind an impression of the coil on the granite hill. It is believed that panchjanya, the conch shell used in Mahabharat War was discovered here in the Sank kund. The puranas refer to various sacred places on the hill which is also believed to be the abode of Vishnu under the title of Madhusudana or the destroyer of a demon called Madhu who was killed by Vishnu and then covered by the Mandar hill. Kalidasa’s kumarasamahava refers to foot marks of Vishnu on the slopes of Mandar.
The hill is replete with relics of bygone ages. Besides inscriptions and statues there are numerous rock cut sculptures depicting various Brahmanical images. The hill is equally revered by the Jains who believe that their 12th Tirthankara attained nirvana here on the summit of the hill.
Kahalgaon (32 km) is made up of three small islands associated with Jahnu Rishi’s legend associated with the swallowing of the Ganges when his meditation was interrupted by the rush of water. Later he released the Ganges through an incision on his thigh at the intercession of Raja Bhagiratha. Since then the river changed its course and started flowing from south to north. An incomplete and unusual rock cut temple worked out on a single granite boulder is of great interest as such a similar monolithic temple is not to be seen elsewhere in Bihar. Kahalgaon is the place to watch the dolphins at play around these islands.
North East of Kahalgaon is Bateshwar Asthan famous for 7th century rock sculptures referred to as Chaurasi Muni (84 sages). They depict various scenes from Ramayana.
Mahamud Shah, the last independent king of Bengal died here in 1539. Kahalgaon is one of the oldest religious and trade centre in Bhagalpur commanding a picturesque view. Mrs. Warren Hastings cruised to Bhagalpur from Calcutta and her boat almost capsized near the Kahalgaon hills.
The place is situated about 13-kms northeast of Kahalgaon and faces the river Ganges just where the river resumes its easterly course. On the northern side of the hill are some rock sculptures dating prior to the 7th or 8th century A.D. They are known as the Chaurasi Munis (84 sages) but are supposed to represent scenes from the adventures of Lord Krishna and Rama. The hill also contains five caves, the important of which is the Bateshwar cave. There is a temple of lord Mahadeva on the hill. This temple is of recent origin. At the time of Shivaratri a fair is held and large number of visitors come from all over the country to offer prayers.
The village is situated about 13-kms southeast of Sultanganj and has a Majar (mausoleum) of Shah Saheb. On a hillock in the village are found remains of ancient buildings and temples.
The Royal University of Vikramsila:
The royal university of Vikramsila, 38 km from Bhagalpur ranks next to Nalanda and owes its origin to Dharmapala (770-810 A.D.), the devout Pala king who loved to call himself Paramasaugata (chief worshipper of the Buddha)and was a great patron of Mahayana Buddhism.
Dharmapala was impressed by two things which prompted him to establish Vikramsila university. Firstly, the rocky hillock anchored around the confluence of Kosi and Ganga at Vateshwarasthan was not only a scenic attraction but a popular tantric site as evident from the presence of a Kali temple (instead of Parvati’s) in front of Shiva temple, besides various other caves and rock cut sculptures dating back to the 6th century A.D. Secondly, the place was associated with pilgrimage due to Uttarbahini which drew large crowds during Varsavardhana.
Unlike Nalanda, sources of information on Vikramsila is confined to Tibetan texts and they make us believe that Dharmapala in his earlier birth was an accomplished acharya, Kampilya, who had attained siddhi or perfection in Mahayana mudra mysticism here and was determined to build a monastery one day.
Excavations at Antichak
Excavations at village Antichak have exposed a Chaitya complex with two terraces replete with interesting terracotta panels depicting the numerous tantric symbols. The Chaitya was possibly the central venue of the ancient seat of learning and was surrounded on all sides by a stretch of monastic cells. The university, surrounded by lofty walls was guarded bay six dwarpandiths who regulated the entry of students to six different faculties each having 108 professors. A dwarpandith translates to a gatekeeper but it was a post of high distinction and he was a scholar of repute who subjected the entrants to a severe examination. Adjacent to the university stood a Dharmasala to take care of strangers arriving at odd hours.
Academic Organisation of Vikramsila
The academic organisation of Vikramsila was quite high and the administrative infrastructure was more or less similar to that of Nalanda and so was the curriculum except for greater emphasis on Tantric studies. Buddhism with all its ramification, formed the core of syllabus. Being a royal university the diploma and titles were conferred by the king himself who wrote off lofty sums for the upkeep of the university. There are references to Abbots and professors from Vikramsila who supervised the affairs of Naland and visited the older institution.
Among the scholars of Vikramsila, the name of Atisa Dipankar is most prominent. His portrait not only adorned the university entrance but was widely known in Ceylon, Sumatra and Tibet where he was revered as an incarnation of Buddha. Author of more than 200 books, Atisa twice refused to go to Tibet but he consented at the third invitation from the Tibetan king and left for alien land along with his select Buddhism by promoting Lamaism.
The university took off with 200 monks and it was a splendid start which was soon famous for its disciplined life, high standards of morality, and administrative excellence. Gradually the number of students expanded and efforts were made to accommodate a congregation as large as 8000. He heard of Tibetan monks pouring in heavy numbers which required a separate hostel for their residence that was supported by funds from the Tibetan king.
Buddha’s religion by 10th century had come a long way and had gradually lost its original shape. High ideals of salvation and universal love for manking had yielded to gross superstitions, esoteric and immoral practices by imbibing the tantrism. The cult came to be stigmatised as libidinous phallic necromancy and people thought that these were the easiest means of attaining emancipation. Various forms of mysticism like Tantrayana and Vajrayana sprang up and gave rise to numerous Buddhist deities that went parallel to Brahmanical pantheon. The resulting melee and the struggle belween Buddhists and non Buddhists proved a knell for the university as well as the religious order. Imagine the use of Buddhist deities like Mahakala and Tara as substitutes for bricks in raising the walls of the university at a later period !
Following Atisa’s departure to Tibet, Vikramsila’s downfall gained momentum at the hand of tantrics who indulged in orgies and debauchery. Women could be freely initiated in the tantric rituals and strange practices of the worship of female organs was initiated in the university which was no longer confined to scholars but attracted all fun seeking princes, nobles and businessmen. Tibetan chroniclers account for tantric acharyas in Vikramsila who had over 500 consorts and the produced strange elixirs. Excavations have revealed underground cellas that were used for esoteric practices. Moreover, the university had become a rich vault of gold brought in by the Tibetans which sparked off trouble and next we hear of troops converting the monastery into a mini fortress and finally the fate of Vikramsila was sealed forever by the Turks who introduced the torch of wanton destruction.
Prepared By: Dipankar Kumar