Bihar is a state of the Indian union situated in the eastern part of the country. Its capital is Patna. Etymologically, the name Bihar derives from the Sanskrit Vihara which means abode. The Buddhist Vihara, which were the abode of the Buddhist monks, dotted the area in the ancient and medieval periods.
To Bihar’s north is the Kingdom of Nepal. On its other three sides Bihar is surrounded by the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh to the west, Jharkhand to the south and West Bengal to the east. Bihar lies in the very fertile Gangetic plains. Culturally, it is a part of the Hindi heartland of India.
The northern state of Bihar is one of the most backward and depressed in India. Its tightly packed population scratches a bare living from rice growing. For travellors, Bihar is usually little more than a place to be crossed, with perhaps a pause in Patna if they are heading for Nepal by land.
25 centuries ago this was the capital of the greatest empire in India for Ashoka ruled his kingdom from Pataliputra, where Patna is today. Furthermore Bihar was a great religious centre for Jains, Hindus and, most important, Buddhists.
It was at Bodhgaya that the Buddha sat under the Bo tree and attained enlightenment and a descendant of that original tree still flourishes there today. Nearby Nalanda was a world famous university for the study of Buddhism in the 5th century AD while Rajgir was associated with both the Buddha and with the Jain apostle Mahavira.