Rajgir Travel Guide
One of those dexterous superlatives that light up a whole spectrum of
ancient history and stimulates the imagination. Indias earliest
recorded capital was not only the political hub but suffused by
It is exciting and thrilling to travel to a destination where
thousands of years ago other people lived whose spiritual insights
informed the tradition of which we are now a part. We encounter such
people through books, we get to learn about the actual or legendary
details of these lives, but it is not until we find ourselves at
precisely these places where they lived can we really imagine a
physical encounter with them.
¤ The Holy Site of Lord Buddha
One such spot with unwavering curiosity is Rajagriha or modern
Rajgir. Imagine Lord Buddha on his first alms begging mission while
staying in a cave on the Rajagrih hills. Bypass your imagination to
the hill of vultures - Gridhrakuta, the site where Lord Buddha
returned after his enlightement to deliver his sermons and converted
the powerful Magadhan King, Bimbisara into the Buddhist order.
Empathize with Fa Hein, the Chinese scholar who ventured to this site
900 years later and wept bitterly that he had not been fortunate
enough to listen to the sermons of Lord Buddha delivered here. Conjure
an intoxicated elephant let loose by Devadutta to kill Lord Buddha;
the next sequence on these hills of Rajgir may be the big boulder
rolled down from the cliff to crush him. The elephant, no doubt, was
subdued and the boulder broke into splinters. Let your imagination
attend the first Buddhist council held in the Saptaparni cave, the
oldest in Rajgir, wherein the teachings of Buddha hitherto unwritten
were penned down after his death.
¤ Renowned As A Jain Pilgrimage Center
The story of Rajgir is not just Buddhas love for Rajgir and
events of his life but the place is equally revered by the Jains. Out
of the 32 years of his missionary life, Mahavira spent 14 rain
retreats in these surroundings. It was here on the Vipulachala hill
that Mahavira delivered his first sermon. The 72 feet high Samvasran
temple commemorates this sacred event. of the eleven ganadharas or
chief disciples of Mahavira, everyone is said to have died on the top
of one or the other of the Rajgriha hills. Asoka (3rd cen
B.C.) too is believed to have died on one of these hills and his stupa
can be seen here. A still earlier stupa has been identified as that of
Ajatasatru (497-459 B.C).
¤ The Great History
A good deal of history finds shelter in the lush green forests and
hills of Rajgriha - the capital of the mighty Magadhan empire in the
fourth century B.C. (also construed as the first recorded capital in
Indian history). Prior to the advent of Buddhism, Rajagriha was known
as Girivaraja and Kusagarapura which indicates an abundance of tall
scented grass. Ramayana and Mahabharat frequently refer to this place
and depict it as full of wealth and water. It has been depicted as a
beautiful capital with trees standing everywhere on the hill and peaks
which make it impregnable. The cheerful inhabitants are given to
¤ Magadh- The Ancient Town
The Vedic seers are hostile towards Magadh and they often make
derogatory references. Magadh inhabitants are referred to as Vratas or
low class people outside the pale of Vedic Brahmanism. Other than
pilgrimage, entry into Magadha was looked down upon. One had to
perform an expiatory rite after visiting these places. However the
pride, power and prowess of prehistoric kings of Magadha like
Brahadratha, Dirga, Jarasandha, Meghasandhi, etc was an established
fact. In those days issues were settled by the wrestling duels between
kings and warriors. Meghasandhi is believed to have attacked Arjuna
while a duel on the advice of Krishna was fought between Bhim and
Krishna is believed to have left for Dwarka when Mathura was
repeatedly raided by Jarasandha. In words of Harivamsa, "The
highly powerful, effulent and persevering Lord Paramount Jarasandha
came to Mathura encircled by fourfold ocean like forces, consisting of
war chariots, containing beautiful seats and drawn by powerful steeds,
whose course is never obstructed anywhere, cloud like elephants
embellished with bells and golden seats, ridden by car warriors well
read in the science of war and driven by clever charioteers, horses
going by leaps and bounds, driven by horsemen and resembling clouds
and numberless fearful foot soldiers armed with swords and coats of
mail, who could bound up in the sky like serpents."
¤ Rajgriha In Highest Prosperity
The reigns of Bimbisara and his son Ajatasatru saw Rajgriha in its
highest prosperity. The main interest of this period lies in the close
association of both kings with the lives of Gautam Buddha and
Vardhamana Mahavira. Within the ruins of the cyclopean walls of
Rajgriha there are visible landmarks of tumultuous times, when empires
flourished and disappeared. Until the discovery of Mohenjodaro and
Harappa, this wall was deemed to be the oldest architectural remains
of India. The 12 feet high and 18 feet thick walls consists of
undressed stones and are so well piled up that they still hold
together at various places.
¤ Rajagriha (Royal City)
The name Rajagriha stems from the town where the king Bimbisara
banished himself as punished, for the outbreak of fire in the palace.
In order to prevent the occurrences of fire in the city the king had
passed a law to punish the guilty person. Unfortunately the king
himself was the first victim so he left the kingdom under the care of
his son. Finding the king alone, the neighbouring enemies thought of
vanquishing him. However people surrounded the king and gradually the
city of Rajgriha sprang up which was possibly a burial ground earlier,
for the people of the old town. The new city sprang up with all houses
resembling the royal palace and it prospered until the last days of
Buddha when the capital was shifted to Patiliputra.
Travel to Rajgir, first encounters the long stretch of dry stone
walls that criss-crosses the road at various points. Originally the 40
km stretch of cyclopean wall encircling Rajgir had 32 large gates and
64 posterns. However, only one such gateway in the North has survived
the ravages of time. At regular intervals, the defensive wall was
strengthened with bastions and watch towers while rivers and canals
took care of the entire surroundings. Once the city gates were closed
in the evening, no one, not even the king could gain entry into the
city. High stone walled area and the west was possibly the kings
palace while the dwelling of common people centered in the eastern
fringe, as is evident from the mud walls.
¤ The Description of City in Religious Scripts
Jain and Buddhist literature describe Rajgir as a populous and
prosperous city abounding with unending beauty. Ananda, a disciple of
Buddha considers this place good enough for his master to attain
mahaparinirvana here. These literatures are replete with references to
numerous sites associated with the lives of Mahavir and Buddha but
most of them cannot be identified to satisfaction. The concept of
monastic institutions was laid at Rajgir which later developed into
magnificent academic and religious centres, producing learned and well
disciplined monks. It was at Rajgir that Buddha had commanded his
monks neither to sing nor hear any song; they were further forbidden
to rub their bodies while taking bath, to grow long hair, to put on
any thread either round the neck or waist; the monks were also to
refrain from exhibiting miracles.
¤ The Most Holy Sites At Rajagriha
Amongst the various spots around Rajagriha, travel to Venuvana and
Gridhrakuta, the most sacred site in Rajgir. Devout Buddhists can be
seen prostrating at these places in particular. Venuvana or the forest
of Bamboos was the royal park gifted to Buddha in order to make it
easier for his devotees to visit him. It started with king Bimbisara,
who was first attracted by the dignified and high born demeanor of
Buddha, much before his enlightenment when he was wandering through
Rajgir in search of an ideal teacher. The king lured the wandering
prince with wealth and territory but when the future Buddha refused,
he was requested to visit the king after his enlightenment. Bimbisara
was impressed by the Buddhist doctrine and accepted the Buddhist
faith. He was equally enlightened by the Jain school and it is not
surprising to hear about Mahaviras claim about the conversion of
Bimbisara to Jainism. Mahavira is further believed to have brought 23
sons and 13 queens of Bimbisara into the Jaina fold.Today the new
Venuvana Vihar is identified by the site of a stupa built by Ajatsatru
to enshirine the relics of Buddha.
A little further up the Vaibhara hill is the Pipali cave, well known
in the Pali literature. It is named because of the sacred pipal tree
at the entrance of the cave that was occasionally used by Buddha for
meditation after his midday meal. If one manages to climb the hill,
one is rewarded with a view of multicolour crops and variegated
patches of cornfield. Buddha never missed passing through such scenic
beauties without comments, and is believed to have called his
companion Ananda to enjoy this particular panorama from the Vaibhara
hill top, an area now crowded with Jain temples.
Jarasandha Ki Baithak
Following the foot track on this hill one reaches the Jarasandha ki
Baithak. Historians consider it to be a military outpost with cells
that served as living quarters for the picket. Another interesting
spot associated with Jarasandha is the Ranbhumi or Jarasandha ka
akhada. It marks the legendary wrestling arena that witnessed the
month long duel between Jarasandh and Bhima, who had entered Rajgir
alongwith the Krishna and Arjun in disguise. The soil of the Ranbhumi
was once soft and white. It has now exhausted on account of wrestling
enthusiasts who carry away a good quantity of it. Two parallel cuts on
the rock stretching for about 30 feet are believed to be the prints
left behind by the chariot of Krishna.
¤ Other Attractions
Other points of travel attractiions include the Maniyar Math, a
cylindrical brick shrine dedicated to the worship of the presiding
deity of Rajagriha - Mani Nag. Naga (snake) worship was a distincitive
feature of non-Vedic religion and Rajgir was a great centre of
pilgrimage. People of Magadha regarded Nagas as generous deities who,
they believed, could bring rains if properly appeased by worship.
Excavations have brought to light large groups of multi spouted jars,
the spouts of which having the form of serpent hood. Possibly these
were used for offering milk to the snakes. Huge pits full of skeletal
remains of animals have been exposed, that makes history believe that
the place was associated with human sacrifice as well. In fact,
Buddhist tales picture Rajagriha as a notorious place for the
supremacy of these presiding deities which reasoned them to offer
protection-charm when visiting Rajagriha.
Amravana or Jivaka - Mango
Amravana or Jivakas mango garden marks the site of the
dispensary of the royal physician, Jivaka who happended to dress the
woulds of Buddha here when he was injured by his unfriendly cousin,
Devdutta. Jivaka converted this site into a Vihara and gifted it to
the Buddhist order. It was amidst this thicket of Amravana that Buddha
dwelt for some time and King Ajatsatru came to him seeking spiritual
guidance. Swarna Bhandar is an interesting cave where the guide will
convince you that it still contains the wealth hidden by Bimbisara. He
points to the marks left behind by the British canons when they tried
to explode the cave to retrieve the gold. The surrounding shell script
cant be deciphered and hence the treasure remains inside. Only
the recitation of the mantra can open the cave leading to the fabulous
Magadhan treasury !
Topada - hot water springs of Rajagriha
in the epic Mahabharata refers to the hot water springs of Rajagriha.
Legend ascribes it to the tapah (austerites) of Brahma. In Buddhist
literature the main rivers of Rajagriha is called Tapoda, the waters
of which were diverted to form a lake for the king. The authors of the
shastras accorded great sanctity to Sarasvati river in Rajgir. Vayu
Puran suggests that bathing in this river is equivalent to bathing for
one year in the Ganges. Today Rajgir is noted for its numerous hot
water springs at the base of Vibhara Hill, attracting not only the
pilgrims and tourists but the sick and the infirm as well. There are
separate bathing cells for men and women. The hottest of the springs
is the Brahmakundi where the water gushes at 45 degrees centigrade.
Guru Nanak is believed to have bathed in one of these springs during
his sojourn to this place.
Buddha spent much of his life in the caves of his favourite
Gridhrakuta hill. Here he gave audience to one and all. It was from
this site that he delivered his message of peace to the world and
expounded the famous Saddharma Pundarika Sutra, which refers to the
ever presence of Budha on the hills of Gridhrakuta. Buddhist pilgrims
spend their days and nights in religious vigils burning lamps in these
caves. The original road leading to the cave was built by King
Bimbisara to facilitate the pilgrims visit. Two small stupas
once stood on the roadside which marked the spots where from the king
began to walk on foot and the other stupa demarcates the point where
the king dismissed his retinue in order to be alone with the Lord.
King Bimbisara was unfortunate to be imprisoned by his impatient son
Ajatsatru but his request for a cell offering a view of Buddha on the
Gridhakuta hill was granted. Much later Mahendra (Ashokas son)
built his hermitage on this hill. The remnants of this prison can be
identified by the iron rings on the floor that were discovered during
the initial excavation.
Adjacent to Gridhakuta hill is the Ratnagiri hill humming with
tourists plying on the aerial ropeway leading to the 160 feet high
Vishva Shanti Stupa built by the Budha Sangha of Japan. A 2200
feet aerial ropeway carries the tourists to the hill top where the
stupa is all alive with the chantings of na-mu-myo-h-nga-kyo amidst
the beating of big drums.
¤ Around Rajgir
Nalanda, 15 km, should be the first choice for the visitor to see
the ancient monastery.
Gaya 68 km, is the famous pilgrim centre for the Hindus where they
offer oblations for the salvation of their dead ancestors. 12 km
further south is Bodh Gaya, the rallying point for the Buddhists from
all over the world.
Pawapuri, 38 km is a sinless town, sacred to the Jains. Lord
Mahavira attained nirvana here. The site is commemorated with a
beautiful marble temple, Jalmandir, set amidst a lotus pond which was
the outcome of the sacred ash and later the mud being carried away in
great quantity by the pilgrims.
Bihar Sherif, 25 km is venerated by the Muslims on account of the
tombs of sufi saints. Prominent among them is Makhdum Shah Sharfuddin
dating back to the 14th century. It was once the capital of the Muslim
governors of Bihar between 13-16 centuries when the city was an active
cultural centre and seat of Muslim thought and learning. The earliest
among the graves is that of Malik Ibrahim Bayu perched on the hill top
of Pir Pahar. He was the first local governor of the Delhi sultanate
who died in 1353. The dome is curiously elongated and stands as one of
the earliest examples of Muslim domes in this part of the country.
¤ Tourist Tips
1. The nearest airport is Patna from where taxis and luxury buses are
2. Local trains are available from Patna or Bakhtiarpur.
3. Local information can be obtained from the tourist office of the
Bihar State Tourism Development Corporation.
4. Hotel Gautam Vihar, Hotel Ajatshatru Vihar and Hotel Tathagat
Vihar are three of the hotels managed by the B.S.T.D.C. Cenatur Hokke
is a Japanese undertaking with 24 rooms.
5. The best time to visit is between October and March.
Jalmandir, set amidst a lotus pond is a picturesque sight at Pawapuri
(the sinless town) that reminds us of the Jain faith in Sallekhana
(facing death voluntarily). It was precisely at this spot that
Mahavira after his prolonged discourse took to Jal Samadhi and ended
his life. Mahavira believed that the virtuous and the learned who have
controlled themselves and subdued their senses achieve, on their death
either "freedom from all misery or god hood of great power."
A Jain monk is supposed to reach the end of his life after having
patiently chosen one of the three ways of attainment of Nirvana.
Jainism believes in rebirth and so the consequences of our karmas
(deeds) are dependent upon our own good and bad thoughts, words and
actions. One cannot escape from ones karmas except by
experiencing their consequences, good or bad. Depending on the nature
of individuals karma, the next life may be human or otherwise.
Every individual soul, by its nature, is pure and perfect, with
infinite perception, knowledge, power and bliss. All are potentially
capable of attaining perfection. No divine favour is required for
this. But for eternity, it is associated with Karmic matter and has
therefore become subject to birth and rebirth in numerous forms and
existence. Jainism recognises fourteen stages in the evolution of the
soul from impurity to purity or complete liberation. The entire
ethical code is directed towards the attainment of complete liberation
by cultivating Ratna traya (three jewels), namely right faith, right
knowledge and right conduct, which constitutes the path to it.
The best time to visit Pawapuri is during Dipawali or the festival of
lights, when the Jains assemble and chariots appear on the streets.
The Jains claim that this festival originated when the 18 kings who
were present at the Nirvana of Mahavira, lighted torches, symbolising
the perpetuation of soul-illuminating "light of knowledge".
Pawapuri is 12 km from Bihar Sherif, 38 km from Rajgir, 80 km from
Patna. There are reasonably clean dharamshalas at Pawapuri.
Alternatively one can consider Bihar Sherif for better accommodation.