It is the land of enlightenment, the land of higher education, of spirituality. It is the land of immense wealth, great architecture, the birthplace of several faiths, the land where research on astronomy, literature, math, general sciences and philosophy flourished. The land is not Greece. It is not ancient Rome, Egypt, Sumer, Mesopotamia, or even the Central Americas. The land rests today between two states in the Indian Union - between Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal; the Indian state of Bihar.
This is a referenced article. For list of references, please check this link.
This is a referenced article. For list of references, please check this link.
|Nalanda University - What remains of it, that is|
Bihar has since earned a terrible reputation. No amount of whitewashing will remove that stain. It is now known as the dacoits’ paradise, the land of hooligans, bad roads, caste and religious strife, rampant crimes against women and almost all the social evils that one can probably think of.However, Bihar was nothing like this. Or at least it was not supposed to be like this. I will give a very brief introduction to what Bihar should have been famous for.
- The name Bihar itself derives from the Viharas or hostels where monks used to reside while learning about Dharma. But let us go further back. After all, what’s there in a name?
- Bihar has three distinct regions. All three regions are significant - Magadha, Mithila and Bhojpur. Out of these, Magadha is so ancient that it was mentioned as among the 16 Mahajanapadas (great states) of Ancient India. It’s first prominent capital was Rajagriha (now known as Rajgir) and later Pataliputra (now known as Patna). Mithila has been known since ages for it Madhubani art. It’s main city, Darbhanga would later earn notoriety with incessant riots due to poisonous communal tension between the regions’ Muslims and non Muslims that continues to this day. The third part - Bhojpur is of far newer import and encompasses regions of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Nepal.
- It finds mention in all the major Indian spiritual texts and also the Great Epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana.
- Both the Mauryan and Gupta Empires took root in Magadha.
- Google ‘Golden Age of India’. You will find it beginning and ending in Magadha.
- Emperor Ashoka ruled from here, this effectively was the capital of his India-wide reign.
- The Palas (Buddhist kingdom) further ruled the region for years - establishing probably the world’s most famous universities, namely Nalanda and Vikramshila.
This continued till the 12th century following local invasions and counter invasions.
|Aryabhatta - Pioneering Indian Astronomer and mathematician|
Decline of Dharmic rulers, Islamic invasions
From hereon, there has been a slow and steady decline in culture, science etc.
- India was protected by a Confederation of Indian kings that limited Arab invasions to the province of Sindh, which was lost in 712 AD. That dam broke in the 11th century when the Ghaznavids occupied parts of Punjab and raided lands as far as Bihar in the North.
- Buddhism in Bihar was swept away by the Islamic invasions of Bakhtiyar Khilji and thousands of monks were massacred.
- Three centuries before the temples in Ayodhya, Mathura and Varanasi would be razed to the ground and/or converted to mosques, Qutb ud din’s general destroyed the most famous Indian Universities of world renown (after the destruction of Takshashila University by Islamic invaders before in present day Pakistan). The Turkic rulers looted and razed temples, monasteries, massacred teachers, intellectuals, monks and destroyed centers of learning. Hiuen Xang visited Nalanda and stayed there for 4 years. Visitors to Nalanda after it was sacked depicted the total destruction of the University.
- The Delhi Sultanate followed.
- There was a brief respite before the Mughals strengthened themselves - Sher Shah of the Suri dynasty established himself on the throne, established a centralized administration and built the first highway in Medieval India (The Grand Trunk Road). His general, Hemu was however defeated in Delhi by the resurgent Mughals and the power center shifted back to the Turkic Mughals in Delhi.
- Bihar went into permanent decline.
- Marathas made inroads but did not pursue deep into Bengal and Bihar possessions.
- Islamic rule ended with the Battle of Buxar when power passed onto the East India Company.
Company and British Era, Partition
- The primary importance of Bihar was only to provide cheap labor to the capital of British India (Calcutta).
- Ruthless taxation pushed the agricultural class into penury.
- Famines in Bengal and Bihar became a regular occurrence. Even though both states were endowed with fertile soil and a good monsoon.
- Bihar played an important role in the 1857 rebellion, post which it became a part of the Bengal Presidency.
- Independence movement was popular, contributing to both the regular Satyagraha and radical movements.
- Communal divisions became rife, most Muslims of the state supported Jinnah’s call for Two Nation Theory and voted for Pakistan. Since Bihar as a state remained a part of India, millions of Biharis emigrated to East Pakistan. They would eventually earn the title of ‘Razakar’ in what would become Bangladesh a quarter of a century later.
The post 1960 era is a very confusing ball game together. But the trend of one corrupt politician following another remained true. In fact, it continues to this day.
What can we conclude?
At a first glance, you may be tempted to blame the Islamic invasions to be cause for the decline of Bihar. That is largely true, but the correlation of the two events - ‘Islamic invasion’ and ‘Decline of Bihar’ needs a more scholarly review. Are we too look or hunt for past glory to salvage Bihar? How far in the past do we go?
What we can safely conclude is that the Islamic invaders’ focussed destruction of centers of learning including Nalanda and Vikramashila, destruction and loot of temples on an industrial scale etc and massacre of learned scholars was instrumental in making sure Bihar descends into an era of darkness - both intellectual as well as economic. Ever since the two handicaps - (education and economic) were imposed on Bihar, the state has remained in the quagmire. And it is likely to remain so, regardless of the party that rules it in the State Assembly. As literature surveys point out a direct link between poverty and intellectual growth with its investment in quality education, we can safely conclude that unless Bihar comes up with institutes of world class quality, nothing is going to change. Just clamoring to go back to the past is not going to help. Rebuilding institutions like Nalanda and Vikramashila may.
What we can do?
What we can do is we should stop saying that Bihar is doomed and Biharis are worthless. We should stop believing it as well. We should ourselves remember what their forefathers did, we should remember the first major satellite we sent to Space was named after Aryabhatta, the Dharmachakra that exists on our National flag is from the emblem of Ashoka of Magadha, the National Emblem is a direct copy of the Ashokan state emblem on the pillars of Ashoka. If we claim to be the descendants of such great a tradition and state, we should have no right to ridicule their/our people. We need to be sensitive and understand why they are in the state they are in. This certainly does not mean they should not be criticized. They should be, but just not ridiculed.
The importance of belief
Let us be honest. We don’t believe that Biharis can turn themselves around. The first agents of change have to come from Bihar. Otherwise 12th standard passouts will continue to secure the first rank without knowing anything. But for that, we need to understand a curious human psychology. Forget us, even Biharis think they are incapable of excellence, barring the scores IAS, IPS, IIT, IIM aspirants. This is a worrying trend. The Biharis themselves should consider themselves capable of leading not only India but the world. In this pursuit, the past experiences may help. If their forefathers could do it then, what stops them now. This is not a political game, nor should it devolve to one. What Bihar needs is a social reformer tuned to its past and connected to its present and the future - because in the past already lies a model that succeeded beyond all expectations.
Lessons from History
This is the most important lesson we can learn from the downfall of Bihar. Education is necessary. Intellectual pursuit is indeed holy. Critical thinking and the quest for knowledge are all both very respectable qualities. But in addition to sources of great knowledge and wisdom, society also needs institutions that are capable of defending such sources of wisdom, or else the adverse effects of its loss would haunt our or any other civilization again. This is not an isolated event either. From Egypt to Morocco, people speak only one tongue. They have only one single culture. They wear the same dress, speak the same language and follow the same religion and rituals.
We should not take our diversity for granted and understand that to prevent something similar from happening, we should be prepared. To meet with force, any enemy that may threaten our abodes of learning. Civilizations have flourished and been extinguished over it.