views updated May 23 2018


BIHAR Bihar (vihar, Sanskrit, meaning "monastery") is one of the most populous states in India, bordered by Nepal on the north, and by the states of West Bengal in the east, Jharkhand in the south, and Uttar Pradesh in the west.

Bihar has an area of 36,357 sq. miles (94,163 sq. km), after losing approximately 45 percent of its territory and the rich mineral resources of its southern part when the new state of Jharkhand was created in November 2000. Bihar is on latitude 24°20′10″ to 27°31′15″ north and longitude 83°19′50″ to 88°17′40″ east. The state is dominated by the middle Ganga Plains, divided into the north and the south plains. The north Bihar Plain is flat alluvial country, less than 250 feet (76 m) above sea level and prone to flood; the south Bihar Plain is more diversified, with many hills rising from the level alluvium. The rivers Kosi and Gandak from the north and Son and Punpun from the south join the Ganga. In Bihar's fertile plains, rice, wheat, oilseeds, maize, gram, barley, and various fruits and vegetables are cultivated. Among the important cash crops are chilies, tobacco, jute, potatoes, and sugarcane.

May is Bihar's hottest month, when temperatures average 81° to 102° Fahrenheit (27° to 39°C). The normal annual rainfall varies from 40 inches (1,016 mm) in the west central part to more than 60 inches (1,524 mm) in the far north and in the northwest.

Bihar enjoyed a prominent position in Indian history, as several kingdoms flourished there. The first Indian state was formed at Vaishali by about 700 b.c. From the sixth century b.c. to the fifth century a.d., this region was the seat of major empires and the cradle of Indian civilization. Magadha, in the sixth century b.c., was the main center of the Buddha's activities, and also of his contemporary Mahavira, the founder of Jainism. The fourth century b.c. saw the rise of the Mauryan dynasty, of which Ashoka was the third monarch. Magadha reemerged to glory during the Guptan dynasty in the fourth and fifth centuries a.d. After the onslaught of the Hunas in the mid- and late fifth century, Bihar lost its former glory, regaining it during the era of the Palas of Bengal (a.d. 775–1200). Under Muslim rule (12th–18th century), Bihar had little independence. It was conquered by the British in 1765 and remained part of the Bengal presidency until 1912, when the province of Bihar and Orissa was formed. The two provinces were separated in 1936.

Bihar played a significant role in different phases of India's struggle for independence. It was an important center of the "mutiny" of 1857–1859, during which Kuer Singh emerged as a hero in Bihar. Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation, launched his first satyagraha (devotion to truth), or passive resistance movement, against European indigo planters in the Champaran district of northern Bihar. Rajendra Prasad, the first president of independent India, came from Bihar.

The population of Bihar in 2001 was almost 83 million. It is one of India's most rural states, with only about 13 percent of its people being urban. Patna, Gaya, Bhagalpur, Muzaffarpur, Darbhanga, and Munger (Monghyr) are the major cities. Hindus constitute about 83 percent and Muslims about 14 percent of Bihar's population. The literacy rate is very low, only about 47 percent for males and 33 percent for females.

Bihar's cultural and linguistic regions are closely integrated. Maithili, in the area of Mithila in north Bihar, and Bhojpuri and Magahi in the central plains, are of the Bihari group of languages. Hindi is spoken by over 90 percent of Biharis and is Bihar's official language, with Urdu being its second language. Madhubani line paintings, done originally by the women of Mithila to decorate the facades of their village homes, are perhaps the most famous works of folk art in Bihar.

Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Muslim, and Sikh shrines abound in this ancient land. Patna (Pataliputra), the capital of Bihar, is one of the most ancient cities of the world. Gaya, about 62 miles (100 km) south of Patna, is a great center of pilgrimage for Hindus. Nine miles (15 km) from there is Bodh Gayā, the world's greatest pilgrimage site for Buddhists, where over 2,500 years ago, Gautam, the prince of Kapilavastu, attained enlightenment and became the Buddha, the "enlightened one." The ruins of the world's earliest university, the celebrated Nalanda Buddhist monastic university (founded in the fifth century a.d., flourished until the twelfth century), lies 56 miles (90 km) south of Patna. Rajgir, a pre-Pataliputra town of Magadha, and a very important center for both Hindus and Jains, lies 9 miles (15 km) west of Nalanda. Pawapuri, 24 miles (38 km) from Rajgir, is the place where the founder of Jainism, Mahavira, died.

Biharis of different sects and faiths celebrate their festivals with much gaiety and devotion throughout the state. Holi, the spring festival of colors, is the most buoyant of all Hindu festivals. At the festival of Dussehra, prayers are offered to the Mother goddess Durga, symbolizing the victory of good over evil. Diwali (Deepawali) is celebrated by illuminating houses to commemorate the return of Lord Rāma after fourteen years of exile. However, the most revered festival in Bihar is Chhat, in which the Sun God is the object of veneration. Muslims observe Eid (Eid-al-Fitr) and Bakrid (Eid-al-Zuha) with great devotion and zest. Jayanti (birthdays) of Buddha and Mahavira are celebrated by Buddhists and Jains, and Guru Gobind Singh's birthday is celebrated by Sikhs on a grand scale.

The governor of Bihar, appointed by the president of India, is the head of the state, who functions on the advice of the chief minister, who heads the council of ministers of the state government. The legislature in Bihar is bicameral. The upper house, or Legislative Council, and the lower house, or Legislative Assembly, are called Vidhan Parishad and Vidhan Sabha, respectively. The state judiciary is headed by a high court at Patna, with a chief justice and several other judges. The state is divided into 9 administrative divisions, 38 districts, 101 subdivisions, and 533 blocks. Its bureaucracy is headed by the chief secretary, below whom are the secretaries of various departments.

Yuvaraj Prasad

See alsoBengal ; Guptan Empire ; Patna


Comprehensive History of Bihar. Vol. 1, parts I and II, edited by B. P. Sinha (1974); vol. 2, parts I and II, edited by H. S. Askari and Q. Ahmad (1983, 1987); vol. 3, parts I and II, edited by K. K. Dutta and J. S. Jha (1976). Patna: K. P. Jayaswal Research Institute.

Diwakar, R. R. Bihar through the Ages. 1959. Reprint, Patna: K. P. Jayaswal Research Institute, 2003.

Dutta, K. K. History of Freedom Movement in Bihar. 3 vols. Patna: Government of Bihar, 1952–1958.


views updated Jun 11 2018

Bihar State in ne India; the capital is Patna. Bihar was a centre of Indian civilization from the 6th century bc to the 7th century ad. It became a province in the Mogul Empire. A rich agricultural region, drained by the River Ganges, it produces more than 40% of India's total mineral output. In 2000 the state of Jharkhand was carved out from part of Bihar. Industries: mica, coal, copper and iron ore. Area: 94,163sq km (36,356sq mi). Pop. (2001) 82,878,796.