Bihar Culture – Exploring the Rich Tradition, Art, Music, Food and Festivals

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Bihar Culture
Image – Pixahive

Bihar and its cultural significance are as old as civilization itself. Bihar was once a hub of the richest and the most diverse ethnicity. The epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, and Buddhism, all have had a crucial role in building the rich culture of Bihar. Some great mythological characters are in deep association with the state.

At present, Bihar’s tradition has influences from its neighbouring states. With Nepal, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal in the North, South, West, and East, respectively, a cultural mix is seen in the state.

Here we will look into Bihar’s rich cultural history, tradition, cuisines, and everything that makes the state stand out uniquely.

History of Bihar

Bihar Culture - History
Image – Wikimedia Commons

Mythology 

Hindu mythology has a dominant role in enriching Bihar with ancient tradition. Both the epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, have a strong connection with the state.

  • Maharishi Valmiki, the writer of the epic Ramayana, lived in Bihar. Sita, the wife of Lord Ram, was born in Mithila, a village in Bihar.
  • From Mahabharata, Karna-the great warrior, also has a connection with the state. King Karna was the ruler of Anga. Anga is located in present-day Bihar.

Bihar has a very vibrant history. Ancient mythology and the rise of Buddhism are important events that have taken place in the land of Bihar. Even the record from our school textbooks has important episodes of dynasties ruling over Bihar.

Mauryan Dynasty

The empire of the Great King Ashoka of the Mauryan Dynasty was spread across South India. The capital of this great empire was Pataliputra, present-day Patna in Bihar.

Under the rule of Chandragupta Maurya and Emperor Ashoka, Bihar housed some of the greatest Buddhist monasteries. The state is an architectural wonder because of the pillars and inscriptions of Ashoka.

Buddhism 

Bihar Culture - Buddism
Image – Pixahive

Bihar takes pride in being the land where Buddhism got one of its significant historical moments. Gautam Buddha attained his enlightenment in Bodh Gaya. The Bodhi Tree under which Buddha found nirvana is now a spiritual shrine for Buddhists. The Mahabodhi Tree stands tall in the middle of the Mahabodhi Temple Complex in Bodh Gaya, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Architecture of Bihar

Architecture-of-Bihar
Sanchi – Abhinav Saxena/Flickr

In the historic period, Bihar’s Neolithic and other prehistoric men passed down their art tradition to their descendants. Many architectural remains still survive to bridge the gap between prehistoric men and their historic successors.

The majority of the early Mauryan buildings and pieces of art were made of wood. The ancient city of Pataliputra’s pillars and walls were all made of wood and displayed excellent craftsmanship.

In Pre-Ashokan Magadha, literacy sources, Sanskrit and Pali, provide undeniable evidence of the presence of a highly developed art other than sculptures. 

Architecture-of-Bihar-Mauryan-Style
Image – Deepgoswami/Flickr

When Megasthenes came to visit the capital, Chandragupta’s palace was in all of its Mauryan glory. A set of hypostyle halls with wood pillars encircled by vines embossed in gold and adorned with gold and silver motifs of birds and greenery. The city of Pataliputra, which was built along the Ganges’ banks, was encircled by a magnificent timber wall with apertures for archers and was ringed on all sides by a wide and deep moat. Bastions with over 500 towers were erected at regular intervals. There were a total of sixty-four gates that allowed people to access. During the Mauryan period, great stone monuments began to develop in Bihar, signalling a shift in architectural patterns.

Suggested Read – The Historical Ruins of Nalanda

The ancient Magadhans were aware of the utilisation of burnt bricks and lime ‘Sudha’. Pillars, windows, and stairwells were all included in the construction of the houses. There are several references to towns, palaces, and pavilions throughout the ‘Jatakas.’ A wall surrounded fortified cities and palaces, with entrances, watchtowers, and ditches on the outside. Different classes of people occupied specific quarters made aside for them in the cities, which had well-planned streets. Human figures, creepers, flowers, animals and birds, mountains and the sea were frequently depicted in paintings on the walls of the structures.

Architecture-of-Bihar-Sanchi-Stupa
Image – Patrik M. Loeff/Flickr

The Stupa was an essential element of Mauryan Bihar’s architectural achievement. The word stupa simply means ‘something raised,’ and it is a Buddhist architectural term for a mount carrying Buddha’s relics. Ashoka was the architect of towns, hard rock Stupas and Viharas, rock-art Chaitya-halls, palaces, and stone pillars. The pillars are considered the pinnacle of Mauryan art. Magadha’s masons carved natural forms of animals and plants into stone, as well as reducing and shaping bigger quantities of granite into pillars.

Tradition & Culture of Bihar

Bihar Culture - Tradition
Image – Wikimedia Commons

Bihar’s history is very vast and will require an entire article to give every detail. Taking a cue from the brief history above, let us now look into Bihar’s tradition.

Hinduism and Buddhism seem to have a stronghold in the state. But Bihar also hones influence of Jainism, Sikhism, Islam, and Christian traditions.

In present-day Bihar, people of diverse traditions have found home on this land. Each practice with its distinctive attributes adds vibrancy to the place.

Language of Bihar 

Bihar Culture - Language
Image – Wikimedia Commons

Hindi is the dominant and official language of Bihar. Urdu is also in wide use in 15 districts, making it the second official language. Maithili and its dialect Bajjika, Bhojpuri, Angika, and Magadhi are other languages in everyday use.

Here is the main topic of our article. So far, given the history and traditions, Bihar holds we can conclude that the culture must be equally rich. Let us now look at the diverse culture that Bihar takes pride in.

Art & Craft of Bihar

Bihar Culture - Art, culture
Image – Wikimedia Commons

The myths and legends in association with the state have been a great source of influence for the artists of Bihar since the old days. Mithila being the birthplace of Sita, episodes of the Ramayana are a common theme.

Madhubani art form was born in Mithila. The Madhubani art form is a pride of Bihar that has become popular worldwide. Originally the Madhubani paintings were done by women with vegetable dyes for decoration on the walls. Once a visiting artist inspired the ladies to start painting this art form on paper. The Madhubani art form came out of its regional borders and spread across the nation and later the world.

Other art forms like stone pottery, bamboo crafts, white metal statues, leather goods, and wooden toys are also famous in Bihar. These art forms, along with Madhubani, have made Bihar gain a lot of popularity on a global scale.

Dance and Music of Bihar

Bihar Culture - Jata-jatin dance
Image – Wikimedia Commons

Bihar has a stronghold in the field of performing arts also. Folk songs, folk dance, and classical music are part of the rich culture of Bihar.

Folk songs of Bihar are a beautiful recital of daily rural life. Daily and common themes are central to folk songs. These folk songs are a must during special occasions like weddings, festivals, and other important ceremonies. Bihar is a land of agriculture. Some folk songs are primarily a part of the harvesting periods. The names of some of the folk songs of Bihar are-

  • Sumangali – for weddings
  • Sohar – for the birth of a child
  • Ropnigeet – during the sowing paddy season
  • Katnigeet – during the season of paddy harvesting

Folk dance is also equally vital in the culture of Bihar. Like the folk songs and their usage, folk dance also takes an important place during special occasions. Some of the folk dances of Bihar are-

  • Chhau Dance– a tribal war dance
  • Jat-Jatin Dance– the Dance is foreplay and narrative of the life of husband and wife while wearing masks.
  • Bidesia– a dance drama popular in the Bhojpuri-speaking area of Bihar.

Other season or harvest theme folk dances are-

  • Jhijian Dance– in praise of Lord Indra during the season of drought.
  • Kajari Dance– to welcome the rainy season
  • Harvesting Dance– men and women, while working on the fields during the harvesting season, perform this Dance.
  • Holi Dance– during the national festival of Holi, Bihar also celebrates the festival in its unique style.

Indian Classical music has a considerable contribution from Bihar. Bharat Ratna Ustad Bismillah Khan hails from Bihar. Poets like Vidyapati Thakur and dhrupad singers like the Malliks and the Mishras have many gifts to Maithili music.

Festivals of Bihar

Bihar Culture - Chatt Puja
Chatth Puja – Wikimedia Commons

Bihar has a range of celebrations for which the people keep anticipating and preparing annually.

The most famous festivals of Bihar are-

  • Chatth PujaChatth Puja is the most famous festival in the state which celebrates the Sun God. The 4-day long festival usually takes place in November. Bihar comes to life during this festival. People observe a pious and spiritual life during this time. Traditional songs and music are a constant accompaniment for the celebration.
  • Ram NavamiRam Navami is a major Hindu festival celebrated in Bihar with much grandeur. This celebration recalls the auspicious birth of Rama, the protagonist of the Ramayana. Fasts are observed, temples are decorated, and prayers are offered in his honour. People pray for the community’s health and prosperity.

Other festivities of the Bihar culture are-

  • Makar Sankranti– marks the beginning of the Summer season.
  • Sama- Chakeva – this festival is authentic to the Mithila region during the winter season.
  • Bihula– a speciality of the Bhagalpur district, the festival is in honour of Goddess Mansa to pray for the welfare of one’s family.
  • Shravani Mela– takes place every year in the month of Shravan (July-August). It is a month-long rite that takes place along a 108-kilometre stretch between the cities of Deogarh and Sultanganj.

Sonepur Cattle Fair– takes place in the Bihar town of Sonepur and is Asia’s largest cattle fair. It occurs on Kartik Purnima, the first full moon after the Diwali celebration.

Traditional Dress of Bihar

Traditional dress of Bihar
Image – Leocadio Sebastian/Flickr

Traditionally Indian clothes are saree for women and dhoti-kurta for men. Clothes indigenous to Bihar are often in bright colours.

Women drape themselves in bright colour sarees and beautiful ornaments during special occasions. Tussar Silk sarees are most prevalent in Bihar.

Bihar Cuisine

Bihar-food-Litti-Chokha
Litti Chokha – Wikimedia

A wholesome experience of culture is incomplete without cuisines particular to that culture or place. Bihar does not fall short in its authentic lip-smacking cuisines.

Some of the must-try delicacies of Bihar are- 

  • Litti- Chokha – This authentic cuisine of Bihar does not require a separate introduction. The famous Litti-Chokha is famous across the nation. The Litti is made with wheat and sattu with spices in a round shape. The Chokha is a concoction of mashed boiled vegetables with spices and freshly cut onions and garlic. The Litti has a crunchy crust with an aromatic smell of ghee. The taste stays along with you for long and beckons one to keep gorging on this delicious plate of food.
  • Khajuria, or Thekua– Thekua, is a ubiquitous and delicious snack of Bihar. It comprises wheat and jaggery and is deep-fried. The snack is significant for its fulfilling taste.
  • Dal Peetha– Dal Peetha is a form of dumpling authentic to Bihar. The food is made with rice flour and stuffing of lentil paste with spices and pickles. Dal Peetha is an easy and delicious food to enjoy for breakfast or a light snack.

These were some of the many authentic delicacies of Bihar. On a sweet note, there are some special preparations original in Bihar. Some of the typical sweet dishes of Bihar are-

  • Balushahi
  • Khurma and Lathko
  • Naivedyam
  • Kesar Peda, and many more.

Occupation in Bihar

Occupation-in-Bihar
Image – USAID U.S. Agency/Flickr

For a long time, agriculture has been the backbone of Bihar’s economy. Despite the fact that Bihar has a harsh topography that makes agriculture difficult at times, it has been the only means of survival. In Bihar, there are two distinct agricultural seasons: Kharif and Rabi. Rice, paddy, wheat, jute, and maize are some of the most important crops. North Bihar is known for its agricultural production. As a result, it has a primarily agricultural-related business and infrastructure.

The state boasts a significant pool of low-cost industrial labour too, making it a suitable location for a variety of businesses and industries.

Learning about the rich Bihar culture only makes people want to visit the place and explore it by themselves. Enjoying the beautiful historic architecture, trying out the tasty delicacies, and appreciating the art is all part of the wholesome Bihar experience. Bihar culture is indeed very diverse and exciting for all. For those who like to explore the history and different traditions of a place, Bihar is a place you cannot miss. I hope you get to enjoy a delicious plate of Litti-Chokha while enjoying the culture of Bihar soon.

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