Magadh: Ancient and Modern
| Kalpna Singh-Chitnis, Actor, Writer, Poet, California, US - 21 Nov 2020

Can we hope for Bihar to see better days with a new two-engine Govt in 2020 and onward? 

Once known for the golden era in history, the center of power, peace, and learning, Magadh is now known for its poverty, failing economic infrastructure, corruption, and lawlessness. Bihar, one of India's wealthiest states in natural resources and manpower, is one of the poorest states in India. It ranks lowest in industrial growth and overall development. Thousands of people from Bihar every year migrate to other states in search of employment and higher education. The state not only lacks the will to tackle challenges at the grass-root level, but it also lacks a strong political leadership to negotiate the best for Bihar in New Delhi. Can we hope for Bihar to see better days with a new two-engine government in 2020 and onward? 

BY KALPNA SINGH-CHITNIS

Silk Road, a series of trade routes in Asia once connected the eastern and western parts of the world, stretching some 4000 miles like a multilayered necklace had India like a pendant, and Magadh, set as a precious stone in it.

What made Magadh one of the most important destinations for the silk route wasn't just the trade of silk, spices, incense, and textiles, but also the center of peace, prosperity, science, and knowledge.

Chandragupta Maurya, the founder of the Mauryan dynasty brought all small kingdoms of India together under one rule for the first time and made Patliputra (modern Patna) its capital, allowing political stability in the region. Ashoka the Great further expanded the Mauryan empire and united India as one large a nation that included modern-day Afghanistan, Pakistan, and parts of Nepal.

Under the rule of the Mauryan dynasty, from 322 BC -185 BC, international trade was allowed through Khyber Pass. This helped Jainism and Buddhism to spread in Asia and the The Mediterranean. During Ashoka's time, Buddhist ambassadors were sent out to the countries in the far east and Ceylon (modern Sri Lanka) to establish Buddhism. Ashoka built many Buddhist temples, stupas, and pillars. They show his faith in Buddhist philosophy and support for Buddhism. The Lion Capital of Ashoka in Sarnath later became the national emblem of India.

Being the center of power, peace, and education, Magadh remained the greatest attraction for travelers and scholars like Faxian (Fa-Hien) and Xuanzang (Hieun Tsang). They received education at Nalanda University, the oldest university in India, and visited Patliputra, Rajgrih (Rajgir), Vaishali, Gaya, and Bodhgaya mentioned in their travel accounts. Besides the University of Nalanda, Magadh also had Odantapura and Vikramashila Universities, which were destroyed by Bakhtiyar Khilji around 1200 AD.

Magadh saw the epitome of glory during the Gupta period. It was known as the Golden Age of India because of the advancement of art, literature, mathematics, astronomy, scientific inventions, and discoveries.

As a student of Politics and History, I was fascinated by the fact that I was born in Magadh. I studied the history of Magadh, not only from the books but also from the evidence in the layers of its ancient foundations still standing there.

I was born in Gaya, a part of Magadh, mentioned as early as in Rigveda and Puranas. Gaya is both a town and district only 62 miles away from Patna (Patliputra), the capital of ancient India, during Mauryan and Gupta empires. Indian mythology states that Gaya was named after giant Gayasur, who earned the blessings of Lord Vishnu by his penance. When Gayasur died, the remains of his body became the landscape of the city, existing in modern time. Gaya stands on the pillars of four major religions, Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Islam.

Gaya is a holy place for Hindus. Thousands of Hindu pilgrims from all parts of the world come to Gaya every year to offer Pinddaan (final offerings to their ancestors) for their salvation. It is mentioned in Ramayana that Ram, Sita, and Laxman performed the last rites of their father, King Dashrath, on the bank of the Phalgu River, known as Niranjna at the time. Queen Ahilyabai Holkar of Indore built the famous Vishnupad temple on the bank of the river Phalgu. I remember going to Vishnupad Temple as a child with my family members. While they will worship inside, I would sit on the high stairs built of stone slabs overlooking the Phalgu river and watch from afar the cremation of the deads and people offering Pinddaan to their ancestors on the bank.

Gaya is a sacred place in Jainism also. Parasnath (once a part of the Gaya district) is an important destination for Jain followers. According to Jain scriptures, twenty-two Jain Tirthankars attained Nirvana in the hills of Parasnath.

Gaya continued to attract spiritual energies in the coming centuries and became the birthplace of Buddhism. Prince Siddhartha, as a monk, attained enlightenment under a Pipal tree in Gaya. That area is known as Bodhgaya now. The Buddha also gave his famous Fire Sermon to a thousand Bhikkus on Brahmyoni Hill, known as Gyashish in his time.

Islam came to Gaya with Hazrat Ata Hussain Fani, a Sufi saint of the Chisti order. It is believed that he traveled to Mecca at a very young age and was spiritually guided by Prophet Muhammad to come to Gaya to spread the message of Islam. He was also a poet and an orator. He was later recognized as Hazrat Ata Hussain "Gayavi".

My modern-day hometown carries an ancient feel. It is an essential destination for tourists and pilgrims worldwide. It attracts people not only to see historical monuments but also in search of knowledge. It carries its influence on the natives.

I recognize the impact of the religions, culture, and the history of my birthplace on me. Everyone in my hometown seems to have a philosophy. Gaya is a city that moves at its own pace. It lags and progresses at the same time.

Magadh, known for its "Viharas" (abode for ascetics), earned the name to the state of Bihar. It is still the land of monasteries, belonging to several Buddhist traditions. They are meditation centers for lay practitioners also.

My favorite part of growing up in Gaya was to visit Bodhgaya with my family and bowing to the Buddha's statues in the temples. I continued that practice for years until I graduated from Magadh University. Buddha's statues were gold and silver, but the Buddha's spirit was always in the simplicity and practicing Buddha dharma. I was fascinated by the marron and saffron robes of the Buddhist monks and nuns and the sounds of the great bell heard miles away from the temple.

The memories of shopping at the Tibetan market for shawls, sweaters, jewelry, stone and marble statues, and eating Asian food served in small restaurants in Bodhgaya cannot be replaced by any other memory. Indian style Chinese, Tibetan, and South Indian foods were served in tents during big ceremonies like Kalachakra Abhishek and Jamboree. Local vendors selling mouth-watering street foods are spotted in every nook and corner.

Bodhgaya is a mosaic of many cultures. There are a number of Tibetan people living in exile there. Other nationalities in Bodhgaya come from Buddhist countries like China, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Burma, and others. We also traveled to Patna, Nalanda, Pavapuri, Barbar Hill Caves, and Rajgir often.

The ruins of the ancient Nalanda University, attended by India's greatest scholars, the lake of Pavapuri, where Mahavira attained enlightenment, and the Vulture Peak of Rajgir, where Buddha meditated and gave profound teaching to his disciple's leave one mesmerized. We drove to these destinations, which allowed me to see the beautiful landscapes of Magadh.

However, the legacies of the state I grew up in are equally humbling. Once known for the golden era in history, Bihar is now one of the poorest states in India. Magadh, the center of power, peace, and learning, is now known for its poverty, failing economic infrastructure, corruption, and lawlessness.

Bihar is one of India's wealthiest states in natural resources and manpower, but it ranks lowest in industrial growth and overall development. Its economy is based on agriculture and services. Therefore, thousands of people from Bihar every year migrate to other states in search of employment and higher education.

The migration has given rise to anti-Bihari sentiments in other states. It is not easy to be a Bihari in other parts of India. Moreover, it is not easy for Biharis to be in their own state without opportunities. The government must fight back poverty and corruption to sustain and provide education and employment to its people to prevent brain drain.

Some improvements made in recent years aren't enough. Poverty and unemployment continue to drive the natives of Bihar to other states. The permanent settlement of the East India Company in 1793 and the Freight Equalization Policy of the central government have been blamed for the poor conditions in Bihar. It is time to bring changes in old policies.

There has been an absence of strong political leadership to negotiate the best for Bihar in New Delhi. We can't deny that the leadership also lacks the will to tackle challenges at the grass-root level. Can we hope for Bihar to see better days with a new two engine government in 2020 and onward? Only time can tell. © Kalpna Singh-Chitnis
Note"Magadh Ancient and Modern" first appeared in "Silk Routes" (IWP) at the University of Iowa, USA, in 2015. This is the revised version of the essay.

Image -1 Brahamyoni Hill where Budhha gave the fire sermon  Image -2 Bodhgaya Bihar - Images by Kalpna Singh-Chitnis (Silent River).

Kalpna Singh-Chitnis, Indian American Poet, Writer, Actor, California, US

Kalpna Singh-Chitnis (Kalpna Singh) is an Indian-American poet, writer, film director, and actor born in Gaya, Bihar, India, living in the United States. She received a Masters Degree in "Political Science" from Magadh University, Bodhgaya, and studied "Film Directing" at the New York Film Academy in Hollywood. She studied "Creative Writing" at College of Dupage, Illinois, and "Buddhism through its Scriptures" at HarvardX (Harvard University). She taught International Relations to post postgraduate students in India before coming to the United States.  She is the author of Bare Soul (winner of 2017 Naji Naaman Literary Prize) and three collections of poems in Hindi. Kalpna received the prestigious Bihar Rajbhasha Award for her first poetry collection Chand Ka Paivand (Patch of Moon), in 1987, and the title of Bihar Shri (Jewel of Bihar) in 1988. She is also the recipient of the 2014 Rajiv Gandhi Global Excellence Award for her contributions to literature and cinema. Her notable books in Hindi are - Tafteesh Jari Hai and Nishant (Poetry). As a film director, she is known for her full-length feature film "Goodbye My Friend" (2011), award-winning "Girl With An Accent" (short), and other films. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of "Life and Legends" a literary journal published from the USA. Her upcoming poetry collections are - Trespassing My Ancestral Lands (English) and Aadhi Sadi Ka Ansh (Hindi.) Website: www.kalpnasinghchitnis.comEmail - info(at)kalpnasinghchitnis.com

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Video - Triratna: The Triple Gem, Chant at Barabar Hill Caves, in Bihar, India. Voice by Kalpna Singh-Chitnis at the Brabar Hill Caves.


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