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Rajgir, in district Nalanda, was called Rajgriha or Girivraja in the ancient period before time of Lord Buddha. The word Rajgriha literally means Royal Palace. It is also called the Pancha Pahari or the five hills. This place is considered holy by Hindus, Jains and Buddhists. Siddhartha Gautam Buddha (Sakyamuni), the founder of Buddhist religion and Vardhamana Mahavira, the twenty-fourth Tirthankar, the enlightened teacher of Jain religion, both visited this city many times in their lives. It was an affluent and flourishing city just 15 kilometers or 9 miles south of the famous university of Nalanda in the lifetime of Buddha and Mahavira. Sitting on the Gridhakuta Hill Lord Buddha delivered many important sermons of the Buddhist religion. His teachings were recorded in writing for the first time in this city. A modern Stupa built by the Japanese Buddhists on the hilltop commemorates the site of his seat on this hill. An aerial ropeway has been constructed for the convenience of modern pilgrims to the site. The first Buddhist Sangha (religious council) after the Mahaparinirwana (demise) of Lord Buddha was held in the “Saptaparni Cave” in this city when Raja Ajatshatru was ruling this region.
Raja Ajatshatru is believed to be originally a follower of Jain religion and belonged to the Haryanka Dynasty that ruled the mighty kingdom of Magadha from their capital in Rajgir. Many archaeologists and historians believe that Ajatshatru met Lord Buddha and was very impressed by him. He later converted to Buddhism. Contemporary texts mention that he sought forgiveness from Lord Buddha for imprisoning and subsequently killing his own father, Bimbisar. Lord Buddha passed on to the state of Mahaparinivana in 483 BCE. After his cremation in Kushinagar, his relics were divided into eight parts that various regional rulers claimed. The Licchavi rulers and Ajatshatru of Magadha among other rulers built many Stupas to honor the relics of Lord Buddha. Ajatshatru died in about 462 BCE.
In June 2001 the archaeologists discovered the largest Stupa in the world at Rajgir. This had remained a mystery to archaeologists for a very long time because all structures that archaeologists found were made of stone. This Stupa made of bricks is referred to in Mahaparinirvanasutta, an ancient Buddhist text on the life of Lord Buddha. A famous Chinese traveler and Buddhist pilgrim had also described in detail the Stupa made of brick. In the region located southeast of Rajgir there were dense forests. In this area they found a flat land surrounded by mounds. The Archaeological Survey of India started digging in this area in 1997. They were emboldened to dig further when some structures immerged from underneath the earth. This great archaeological discovery was almost lost when the Indian Railways had acquired this area for expansion of railway track sometime earlier. They started leveling the mounds for laying the tracks. Luckily some archaeologist acted swiftly and asked the railways to leave aside the relevant area. They immediately started excavations and found the structure that is so vividly described in the Jivakamravana, an ancient Buddhist text. This structure matched the description precisely. It is made out of brick and has two terraces that measure 29x25 meters (95x82 feet). Unfortunately some of the relics found were damaged but they were determined to be authentic from the period of Ajatshatru. While digging further in this area the archaeologist also found Palaeolithic stone tools that have proved that this area was inhabited long before the sixth century BCE and is scientifically proven to be one of the ancient cradles of human civilization. This also gives credibility to the theory of some historians that Rajgir was called Vasumati after the fourth son of Brahma whose name was Vasu. The excavated areas of Rajgir are very extensive and display ancient fortifications, signs of ancient habitations, shrines, Stupas and Viharas (monasteries). The Jeevak Amravan site referred in many ancient Buddhist texts as the one that was favorite of Lord Buddha and the one to which he retreated quite often has also been found.
The important Buddhist and other sites in this area are:
Gridhakuta Hill (Vulture Peak) is located about 10 kilometers or 6 miles from the railway station. This was one of first places where Buddha delivered sermons after attaining enlightenment at Bodhgaya. The Lotus Sutra and the Prajnaparamita (Perfection of Wisdom Sutra) were both delivered at this site.
Vishwa Shanti Stupa (International Peace Stupa): The Japanese Buddhist devotees had this 38 meters or 126 feet high Stupa constructed and a fifteen minute round-trip chairlift ride takes one to the top of this hill signifying the site where Lord Buddha preached.
Fort of Ajatashatru was constructed around the sixth century BCE if not earlier and it was in this fort that Ajatshatru imprisoned and killed his father, Bimbisar. The famous Parinirvana sculpture that shows Buddha lying on his right side with right forearm supporting his head is also in this area.
Venuvana Vihar is a Japanese shrine on the site where Bimbisar built a monastery for Lord Buddha and called it the Venuvana or the monastery of the bamboo grove. Near it is a shallow muddy water pool called Karanda where Lord Buddha is believed to have taken bath.
Amaravana or Mango Garden of Jivaka is the site mentioned in ancient Buddhist texts as the place where Jivaka, the royal physician of Bimbisar and Ajatshatru, treated the wounds on the feet of Lord Buddha. Jivaka was one of most famous medical practitioners of this period and was trained in the world famous Takshila university, now in the northern Pakistan. One of the chambers is believed to have been the guard room; the rear wall has two straight vertical lines and one horizontal line cut into the rock. This is supposed to signify that it is a doorway to the treasury of Raja Bimbisar. There are some inscriptions written in a yet to be deciphered script, called Shankhalipi or shell script that are etched into the wall surface. The local people believe that the script gives clue to open the doorway to treasury. The second chamber has faint remains of one seated and one standing guard that are etched on its outer wall.
The Cyclopean Wall was originally 40 kilometers or 25 miles long and encircled the entire ancient city of Rajgir. It is built out of huge stone pieces that are carefully fitted together. This is one of the very few pre-Mauryan stone structures that have been found in the archaeological excavations in Rajgir. The wall remains are quite distinct near the road to Gaya.
Saptadhara are seven hot springs gushing out of the foot of Vaibhava Hill. It is believed that Lord Buddha asked the sick and ill people to take a bath in these hot springs. Brahmakund is the hottest of these seven springs where water temperature is a steaming 450 degrees centigrade.
Pippala Cave is located above the hot springs in the Vaibhava Hill. It is a naturally formed rectangular stone that may have been used as a watch tower. Its name is derived to signify that it was a resort that was frequented by pious hermits and saints. Its popular name is Jarasandh ki Baithak or the living room of Raja Jarasandh who was a contemporary ruler of Lord Krishna, the incarnation of the Hindu God Vishnu, mentioned in the Hindu ancient epic Mahabharat.
Lakshmi Narayan Mandir is a pink-hued temple that is located beside the Saptadhara hot springs and is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and his consort, Goddess Lakshmi.
Jain Temples can be seen on the horizon on hill crests all around Rajgir. They are 26 altogether. There are no proper roads or paths to reach them other than by a vigorous trek from Rajgir.
Other less frequented archaeological sites are:
The Maniyar Math dating from the 1st century AD.
The Maraka Kukshi where the still unborn Ajatashatru was cursed that he would kill his own father.
The Rannbhumi where Bhima and Jarasandh fought one of the Mahabharat battles.
The Chariot Route is a strange natural phenomenon; two parallel furrows cut deep into the rock for about thirty feet are believed to be burnt into the rock by the speed and power of chariot of Lord Krishna when he entered the Rajgir area during the Mahabharat war.
Virayatan Jain temple and museum.
Nalanda university was, like the Takshila in northwest of the Indian subcontinent (now north of Pakistan capital of Islamabad), one of the most popular and greatest of ancient Indian universities where apart from religious studies subjects like language, logic, mathematics and astronomy were taught. Both Sakyamuni Siddhartha Gautam Buddha and Vardhman Mahavir had taught at this university. The three Chinese pilgrims/religious students, Fa Hien, Hieun Tsang and I-Tsing had visited this university between the fifth and seventh centuries CE. Apart from these prominent Chinese pilgrims students from regions that now are in Tibet, Nepal, Korea, Japan, Malaysia and Indonesia also came to study at this university. This university had a vast collection of ancient books in its library and was one of the most important centers of learning in the world until the Islamic invader Bakhtiar Khilji destroyed the entire complex.
The Archaeological Survey of India maintains the Nalanda Museum across the road from the site of excavations of Nalanda. It houses some exquisite bronzes of the 9th and 10th centuries, Pala dynasty, and other remains excavated at the site. The beautiful Thai Temple and the Nava Nalanda Mahavihara, a center for research in Pali language and Buddhist studies, are 2 kilometers or 1.2 miles from the main site. Nalanda archaeological site is about 99 kilometers or 62 miles from Patna, 15 kilometers or 9 miles from Rajgir and 80 kilometers or 50 miles from Bodhgaya, the site where Buddha attained enlightenment.
Pawapuri is held in great reverence by the Jains as Lord Vardhaman Mahavira, the 24th teacher of Jainism, was cremated here in 500BC. Jal Mandir here is the white marble temple in the middle of a lake that has beautiful blooming lotus flowers.
Indo Hokke Hotel – 26 rooms
Rajgir Residency Hotel – 28 rooms
Distance from Rajgir in Kilometers and Miles:
Bodhgaya: 70 Kilometers or 43 Miles
Gaya: 32 Kilometers or 20 Miles
Nalanda: 11 Kilometers or 7 Miles
Pavapuri: 30 Kilometers or 19 Miles
Patna: 102 Kilometers or 63 Miles