It was late morning when we started from our hotel. This is going to be a different journey. For next two days, we will be wandering the lanes and by-lanes of Patna like there is no other purpose in our life but to discover Patna; just for the sake of it. Perhaps at the end of it some of you may feel what the heck we were up to.
As I like to put it, in our case two books immensely helped our stay at Patna.
Some facts to ponder…
- “Patna Through the Ages” by Qeyamuddin Ahmad. But Qeyamuddin Ahmad is only the editor. The book is actually a collection of essays written by various scholars of Patna University from the History departemnet. The essays cover the history of Patna from very ancient times till Independence. If you are to believe me, this book is a must. Excellent work.
- “History of Magadh” by L.S.S. Omalley. This is a old school book but has good information about the Magadh region as a whole.
- As you all by now know that Pataliputra was established by Ajatsatru in 6th century BCE. That’s when the first fortification was undertaken.
- Ashoka, the most legendary king in Indian History ruled from Pataliputra and the epigraphic records left by him are one of the earliest records in India.
- Ashoka left thousands of edicts (only 150 have been discovered so far) all over India. The text for each of his edicts was scripted at Pataliputra before they were sent to the respective locations for engraving.
- Some of the scholars who flourished in Pataliputra include
- Patanjali (2nd century BCE) who gave as the original Yoga Sutra and wrote the famous commentary on Panini’s Ashtadhyayi – Mahabhasya.
- Acharya Umaswati (2nd century BCE), the most famous Jaina teacher and author of Tattvartha Sutra.
- Aryabhatta (5th century CE) is considered to be world’s first mathematician-astronomer.
- The 3rd Buddhist council was held at Pataliputra.
- Pataliputra was the trade capital of India for a long long time. Buddha once said (it’s recorded in Digha Nikaya): as far as Aryans dwell and as far as the merchants travel, Pataliputra will be the foremost city.
- Megasthenes, the Greek emperor in the Mauryan court, describes Pataliputra as having mostly wooden structures. Even today the carpenters from Bihar are much valued for their craftsmanship.
- After 6th century CE, Pataliputra lost all its glory and remained in oblivion for almost a millennium. In 16th century CE, Sher Shah Suri got struck by the strategic location of this place and revived it. As we see the modern day Patna it is the continuation of this revival.
************************************************** Note: Although having such a rich ancient heritage, most of it today is just of academic interest. Many mohallas in the city of modern Patna are sitting on the heritage making it impossible to discover. It is only the finds from early and middle 20th century that make the body of findings. Or adhoc finds that come to light while carrying normal construction activities. The ancient Pataliputra can be found in the museums or else lies buried. Today, the city of Patna dots a large number of mosques and dargahs belonging to medieval period. I am quoting Late Syed Hasan Askari: "Those who travel on foot, on bicycles and rickshaws on the main road called Ashok Raj Path, running roughly from Bans Ghat to Purab Darwaza, could not but be struck, with their experience of the undulating, waving, curving, high and low level of certain spots, area and space. They may surmise that some parts of old city lie buried below the highly raised grounds of modern Patna." Unfortunately I have lost some 50 pictures; deleted them inadvertently while transferring. So there are no pictures for places that we visit in first half of day.
Our first stop was Patna Museum. And let me tell you this that I have not seen any more intriguing place in my whole life. Visiting Patna Museum should be on you must visit list (even if it means skipping couple of pilgrimages or those exotic holiday plans). The 6 feel tall Chauri Bearer, excavated from Kumrahar belonging to Ashoka’s period (3rd century BCE), is most beautiful lady you will ever see. Then there’s Shalbhanjika from 2nd century BCE, equally hypnotizing. And then the whole saga unfolds. The museum has various sections for stone images, bronze images, paintings, terracotta, and couple of more that I am unable to recall. There’s also a chariot wheel made of wood that is believed to be from Mauryan period. This is a marvelous place.
We enquire for Buddha’s ashes and are informed that we have to take a special (additional) 100 rupee ticket (per head) to visit that chamber. But as we get down there’s chaos. I am surprised to see our Ex Chief Election Commissioner – N. Gopalaswami (I think he had handed over the charge to Navin Chawla on 20th April and we were at the museum on 29th April). He was happily clicking images of the museum artifacts with his Nokia cell phone. When the public is not allowed to take pictures, this is really setting a bad example. However due to chaotic security, we decided to give a miss to Buddha’s ashes. I am missing the pictures of exquisitely carved wooden doorway that is placed just opposite to the museum entrance. If you believe me, you will never see something so beautiful anywhere else.
We continue our journey and reach Patna Sahib Gurudwara. The Patna Sahib Gurudwara is built where Gobind Rai was born to 9th Sikh Guru, Teg Bahadur and his wife Mata Gujri in the year 1666. He later went on to become 10th Sikh Guru, Gobind Singh and established Khalsa.
This Gurudwara, owing to its location will be central to our excursions, today and tomorrow.
The map above outlines the places that we have decided to visit. And the red square marks the area that would have been the ancient city of Pataliputra. We are spending both our days in what locals call Patna City. The road running parallel to the river Ganges is Ashok Raj Path and is central to the city. In this journey, our main guide was the essay written by illustrious historian Late Syed Hasan Askari.
After the darshan at Gurudwara, we started scouting for a tricycle. And we found our guy in Mohammed Sami. He is a great guy and was an absolute delight, today and tomorrow.
We first visited Mirza Masum mosque. It was constructed in 1616 CE. Here we met with an elderly gentlemen, who is the maulvi and the caretaker of this mosque. We spoke to him at length about the places we want to visit. He was extremely courteous. He also informs us that Syed Hasan Askari was a regular visitor to this mosque and his team of students will spend whole day scratching their head over the History of Patna. His grand daughter has just cleared her engineering entrance and is joining the college in this session. She offered us water and refreshments. No pictures yet.
The mosque is in front of the Pachim Darwaza that marks the west entrance of the ancient city. The entrance of the mosque has a black stone doorway, beautifully carved, taken from some Hindu temple.
Then we visit Badi Pattan Devi temple. It’s a small but beautiful temple. The bronze lions are life size and vivacious. However as it stands today, it is not the original location of the historic Pattan Devi temple.
My library has pictures from while we were just leaving the Badi Pattan Devi temple.
Look at the beautifully carved wooden door
After a quick darshan we then reached Pathar ki Masjid. This is first mosque built during the Mughal period. It was built in 1626 by a Pathan commander (Muhammad Nazar Khan Khweshgi) of Parvez Shah, son of Mughal emperor Jehangir.
This is how it exists today on Ashok Raj Path…
We then move to Shah Arzan’s dargah and mosque. Shah Arzan belonged to North West Frontier and his dargah is much revered by local populace. He died in 1618 CE.
As you can see the dargah is on a high mound. Historians believe that the dargah has been built over site of Buddhist stupa and/or monastery. To quote Syed Hasan Askari – "the Muslim Darweshes chose hilly or high ground which really Buddhist stupas so as to be free for their ecstatic and spiritual exercises."
There was a small commotion at the dargah as they didn’t knew what to do with unexpected tourists. But better sense prevailed and we were even offered Tabaruk.
We then reach Agam Kuan. This is the unfathomable well that Ashoka built to torture/punish mischief makers and other criminals.
Today, Shitala Mata temple stands adjacent to Agam Kuan.
We were then on our way to Choti Pattan Devi temple. The crowded streets of Patna City are a delight to experience in a tricycle. You will find a samosa/jalebi vendor at almost every nook and corner.
We come across a Kali Mata temple that had a beautifully carved wooden door. I am not sure if you can make out the minute carvings on centuries old wooden door. I don’t have any pictures of Choti Pattan Devi temple.
Finally we reached back to Gurudwara at 7:45pm. Our driver was almost dead waiting for us. He still doesn’t understand what we are up to. He is just waiting for the tour to get over so that he can get rid of us – the mad duo.
We reached our hotel at around 9:00pm. I lost my cell phone today. Anyways, we retire for a good night’s sleep. To be continued...