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Pataliputra


Pataliputra the ancient name of modern Patna of West Bengal. During the reign of Emperor ashoka in the 3rd century BC (269-232 BC), Pataliputra was said to have been the world's one of the largest cities, with a huge population. The city has been known by various names during its course of long existence-such as, Pataligram, Pataliputra, Kusumpur, Pushpapura, Azimabad, and the present day Patna, which is the revived version of old Pataliputra. The city was originally built by Ajatashatru in 490 BC as a small fort (Pataligrama) near the River Ganges and later the capital of the ancient Mahajanapadas kingdom of Magadha.

It key central location in north-central India led rulers of various dynasties to base their administrative capital here, from the Nandas, Mauryans, Sungas and the Guptas down to the Palas. During the time of Buddah, it was a village known as Pataligrama. Buddha passed through this place in the last year of his life. Two important Buddhist councils were held here- the first at the death of the Buddah and the second in the reign of Ashoka.

Pataliputra reached the pinnacle of its prosperity when it was the capital of the great Mauryan Emperors. It remained the capital of the Gupta Dynasty (3rd-4th centuries AD) and the Pala Dynasty, 8th-10th centuries AD). The city was largely in ruins when visited by Hsuan-tsan. Sher Shah made Pataliputra his capital and changed the name to today's Patna. Tradition goes that the Haryanka dynasty founded in 684 BC had their capital in Rajagriha, later Pataliputra. This dynasty lasted until 424 BC, when it was overthrown by the Nanda dynasty. This period saw the development of two of India's major religions that started from the region of Pataliputra, capital of Magadha.

With the rise of the Mauryan empire (321 BC-185 BC), Pataliputra became the seat of power and nerve center of the Indian subcontinent. From Pataliputra, the Gupta emperor Chandragupta (322-301 BC) ruled his vast empire, stretching from the Bay of Bengal to Afghanistan. Chandragupta established a strong centralised state with a complex administration under the guidance of Kautilya and he ruled his kingdom from Pataliputra. Chandragupta-I married a woman of the Licchavis who were then in control of Pataliputra. The place was brought as her dowry and he established his capital at Pataliputra and used this foothold to expand his power into the neighboring regions. His son, Somudragupta, reigned for 50 years and expanded the Gupta influence over twenty more kingdoms.'

The Guptas founded the nalanda University in the fifth century. Patliputra city was mostly built with wooden structures under the early Mauryan. The wooden buildings and palaces rose to several stories and were surrounded by parks and ponds. Another distinctive feature of the city was the drainage system. Watercourse from every street drained into a moat which functioned both as defense as well as sewage disposal. Megasthenes, the Greek ambassador also described Pataliputra as the greatest city in India. He said that the city was laid out in the shape of a parallelogram with eighty stades (length) on its long sides, and fifteen stades on the shorter sides. A wooden wall surrounded the city. According to travelers, this wall had 570 towers and 64 gates. Beyond the wall was a deep trench, which was used for defense and as a sewage system. Emperor Ashoka transformed the wooden capital into a stone construction around 273 BC. Chinese scholar Fa-Hein, who visited India sometime around AD 399-414, has given vivid description of the stone structures in his travelogue.

Muhammad bakhtiYar khalji, one of the generals of Qutb-ud-din Aybak, conquered Patna and the city became a part of the Delhi Sultanate. He is said to have destroyed many ancient seats of learning. The most prominent being the Nalanda University near Rajgrih, about 120 km from Patna. Foreign invaders often used abandoned viharas as military cantonments. They setup their headquarter in Nalanda region and called it Bihar, Bihar Sharif (Nalanda District). Later on the headquarter was shifted from Bihar to Patna by Sher Shah Suri and the whole Magadha region was named as Bihar.

Mughal emperor akbar invaded Patna in 1574 to crush the Afghan chief Daud Khan. Akbar's Secretary of State and author of Ain-i-Akbari refer to Patna as a flourishing centre for paper, stone and glass industries. He also refers to the high quality of numerous strains of rice grown in Patna that is famous as 'Patna rice' in Europe. With the decline of Mughal empire, Patna passed into the control of the nawabs of Bengal under whom Patna turned into a flourishing commercial centre. During the 17th century, Patna became a centre of international trade.

Notable archaeological remains in Pataliputra of the Mauryan period (322-185 BC) are the ruins of a hypostyle '80-pillared hall'. The excavation finds here date back to 600 BC, and marks the ancient capital of Ajatshatru, Chandragupta and ashoka, and collectively the relics range from four continuous periods from 600 BC to 600 AD.

Assembly Hall of 80-pillars During the excavation work, carried out in 1912 -1915 by DB Spooner, one pillar of polished stone, and a very large number of fragments were found. The excavators were able to trace 72 pits of ash and rubble on the site, which marked the position in which other pillars must once have stood. During the subsequent excavation, done by KP Jaiswal, 1951-1955, eight more such pits were found, giving the hall its present name 'Assembly hall of 80 pillars'. All the ruins are attributed to the Mauryan period, though historians vary regarding the use of the 80-pillar hall. Some suggest that it was in this hall that Third Buddhist Council was held, in 250 BC, at Asokarama in Patiliputta (Patliputra), under the reign of Mauryan Empereor, Ashoka.

Anand Bihar The foundations of the brick Buddhist monastery were excavated, apart from wooden beams and clay figures, which are now kept for public display in the surrounding park.

Arogya Vihar also found during the excavations, are the presence of an Arogya Vihar headed by Dhanvantari, an early Indian medical practitioner, considered the source of Ayurveda.

Durakhi Devi Temple Excavations in 1890s, by Wadell, revealed a detached piece of a carved stone railing of a stupa, with female figures on both the sides, giving it the name, 'Durukhi' or 'Durukhiya' (double faced) Devi, a specimen of Shunga art 2-1 century BC. The figures are shown grabbing and breaking branches of trees, are Shalabhanjikas (the breaker of branches), the young women under a fertility ritual. These images were later brought to their present location, at Naya Tola (Kankarbagh), a kilometer west to the site, where they are presently worshipped in a temple-like structure; a replica of these figures has also been kept in Patna Museum. Though parts of the city have been excavated, much of it still lies buried beneath modern Patna. [Nasrin Akhter]

Bibliography Romila Thapar, A History of India, Volume 1, (New Delhi and London: Penguin Books, 1990);' Ancient city of Pataliputra, Patna Official website.