Rajgir or Rajgriha as it was known in its hay days was the first capital of Magadh Mahajanapada before they moved to Patliputra on the banks of Ganga. Today, it is a small town 60 kms SE of Patna. Surrounded by seven hills, it is located in the valley encompassed by these hills. The name literally means the abode of the royals.
Historically Rajgir is important for Jains, Budhhists, Hindus & students of history. Buddha is said to have visited Rajgir several times and stayed here to propagate Buddhism. He gave some of his important sermons here including the one that converted the then king Bimbisara to a Buddhist along with many others. Lord Mahavir is also supposed to have spent 14 rainy seasons or chaumasas in Rajgir and he delivered hid first sermon here, though his sermon is not as celebrated as that of Budhha. Jains have an Shwetambar and a Digambar temple each in Rajgir. This city is also associated with Mahabharata as the city of Jarasandh. Though we could not see it, it is said a Jarasandh Akhara still exists in the city where the wrestlers are trained. Rajgir was also a place that Ashoka chose to put one of his famous pillars with an elephant capital, indicating that this city was important even in his reign i.e. more than 2400 years back. According to some texts Ashoka died in Rajgir on top of one of the hills. Bimbisara, the last Magadh king to have ruled from here was imprisoned here in a jail by his son Ajatshatru, who shifted the capital to Patliputra. His jail can still be seen along with the walls of his fort.
Today the most visited place in Rajgir is Vishwa Shanti Stupa, which is on top of a hill and can only be approached by a ropeway. It is a very basic ropeway, which single chair seating and a basic rod to bind you to the chair. On top of it, you have to hop on and hop off the chair while it is moving. The ride is about 12 minutes and in the middle it can get scary. In case the electricity decides to take a break, you will be struck in the tiny chair, on top of a valley, but the ride is lot of fun nonetheless. Vishwa Shanti stupa is a huge stupa in pristine white with golden Buddha images in various mudras on its side. The Japanese built the stupa and a Japanese monk popularly called Fuji Baba lives here and is in charge of this stupa and the temple. We had the good fortune of being invited by the Baba for Japanese tea at his place and the room was as enchanting as the stupa. The room had been built around the natural rocks on the hills and they formed the part of the room like everything else. You can get a top of the hill view of the city and its surroundings from here. The place is very well maintained and gives the calm and serenity that we all need. Colorful flags floating with the light wind do not let the place become dull and add the color and vitality to the place.
Son Bhandar caves at Rajgir give you the legends of the place. It is said that the hill behind this cave is studded with Gold. There is a door marked inside one of the caves and alongside the door is written a mantra in Shakhlipi or shell script, which is yet to be deciphered. It is said that when that mantra is deciphered and chanted, the door will open giving access to all the gold. We were also told that the British who discovered all these caves tried their best to open the door but could not. There are other carvings on the cave walls, which show the initial stages of stone carving in India. On the outer walls of one of the caves, images of Jain Teerthankaras can be seen. As per the inscriptions these caves were excavated during 3-4th CE for the Jain monks. The caves were double storeyed, but as of now the upper storeys are not reachable as the structure suffered a lot during a massive earthquake in early 20th CE.
Maniyar math is another excavated site in Rajgir, which shows an octagonal temple within round cylindrical walls. The round wall has niches at regular intervals and there were images and idols of various Hindu Gods and Goddesses, done in stucco. Most images have been lost but from whatever information is available about them it seems to be an important place for worship of snake Gods. You can see some imprints at the corners and ends of the niches. The compound of this complex has imprints of various dynasties like the Dhanusha of Gupta dynasty. It is located in the centre of the Old Rajgir and is supposed to be the shrine of Mani-naga who is mentioned in Mahabharata.
Hot water springs that are supposed to have curative powers are also found in Rajgir. Board outside the complex says that this place has 22 ponds and 52 streams, and names each of them. Source of the spring is behind the Saptarni caves behind the hills. Hottest spring is Bramhkund. There is a Laxmi Narayan temple accompanying the kund. You would see lot of people taking bath and then visiting this temple.
While in Rajgir, it is impossible to miss the bright, colorful & high Tongas moving around. There is a Tonga stand called ‘Tam Tam Padao’, where you can hire the tongas to go around the city. Each and every Tonga was beautifully decorated and named. Ghungroos or small bells were a part of the decoration and produced a kind of music when the Tonga moved. While all Togas were same, their Shringar made each of them unique and you would be tempted to choose the one that catches your eye the most. These tongas are also meant to keep the no of vehicles to the minimum in the town.
Between Rajgir and Nalanda lies a small place called Silao, which is famous for Khaja – a patty like sweet or salted dish. People of Bihar love to eat Khaja of Silao. All you can see is the neatly arranged piles of Kahja when you cross the town. Do taste the savory when you cross the place.
There were many things in Rajgir that we could not see and the place needs about 2 days to see it properly. Hope to get another opportunity to explore it once again.