Eulogized in history books as the seat of many famous Indian dynasties, the Indian state of Bihar has also been the cradle of myriad religious faiths. It was in this state that Jainism, which today boasts of millions of adherents was first propagated. The chief proponent of Jain religion, Mahavira was born near Patna, capital of Bihar, in 599 BC. At very young age he became an ascetic and meditated for a long time before he became enlightened and thereafter he preached for thirty years until he attained nirvana or salvation. Today Bihar is awash with Jain relics and temples. Sadly however, many of these temples and relics have faded into the mists of time, but those that remain are testimony to the strong Jain tradition of Bihar.
The most venerable Jain pilgrim spot in Bihar is the Jalmandir temple complex at Pawapuri, 60 km in the southwest of Patna. It is here that Lord Mahavira breathed his last around 500 BC and was cremated. It is said that a huge crowd had gathered to witness the funeral of the Lord, and the demand for his ashes among the mourners was so great that a colossal amount of soil was removed from around the funeral pyre resulting in the creation of a water tank. The Jalmandir, a white marble temple, in the middle of a lotus pond marks the exact spot where Lord Mahavira was cremated. There is a constant crush of devotees at this temple. It is commonly believed that by praying here a devotee loses his sins. The area around the temple is a center for curio shops and religious artifacts. Another Jain temple called Samosharan is located little away from Jalmandir.
Rajgir, or Rajgriha, meaning ‘royal abode’ was the capital of Magadha Empire in 6th century BC. Situated close to Pawapuri and Nalanda, myriad historical reasons make it a holy place of prime importance for Jains. Lord Mahavira is believed to have taught here for 14 rainy seasons, many of his earliest disciples died here; also, Muni Suvarata, the 20th Jain Tirthankara, was born here. Contemporary Rajgir is a well known center for Jainism, it lies just north of the ancient site that spreads over seven barren hills- Vaibhara, Ratna, Saila, Sona, Udaya, Chhatha, and Vipula- surrounding a valley: an area that is a virtual treasure trove of earliest Jain holy places. It is littered with ruins of ancient temples and caves that offer an amazing insight into the past glories of Jainism. On Ratna hill, there are foot-idols of Neminath, Parshvanath Abhinandan Swami, Chandraprabha and Shantinath. At the foot of Vaibhara Hill are Jain temples built around 22 hot springs (kunds), which function as public baths. Here devotees or tourists can unwind in the hot emerald-green waters, that constantly bubble and sizzle from the bowels of earth. Shwetambar and Digambar temples located in Rajgir town, are adorned with ancient and artistic idols, which are worth seeing.
Arra, situated 61 km from Patna, is another stronghold of Jainism in Bihar. Many ancient Jain relics, artifacts and images excavated around Arra show that Jainism flourished here as far back as 6th century AD. During the past few decades Jains of Arra have been lavishly religious and because of their efforts this area now boasts of more than 40 Jain temples, which act as magnet for tens of thousands of pilgrims every year. Some of these modern Jain temples are replicas of ancient Jain temples elsewhere and no expense seems to have been spared in constructing them. The imposing ten foot high idol of Bhagwan Bahubali, in Shri Bahubali mandir at outskirts of Arra is a copy of Bahubali swami’s statue in Mysore. The statue is installed on an artificial hillock and the area around it is tastefully decorated with engravings of flowers, fruits and creepers. The famous Jalmandir of Pawapuri aptly replicated in an exquisite poetry in marble at heart of Ara exudes grace and elegance. Sculptors and architects have displayed remarkable finesse in building a wonderful marble temple inside a tank, chockfull with captivating mass of lotus flowers. Within the tank is a forty feet long and four feet wide bridge, which is a gateway to the main temple premises. Enshrined within temple’s sanctum sanctorum is an intricate image of Lord Mahavira. At Nandeshwar Dwip Mandir there are 52 small Chaityalayas of superb workmanship. In Bounsi, a town near Arra, there is the Mandar Giri siddha kshetra, the place of salvation of 12th tirthankara Vasupoojya Swami. The temple has an attractive coral colored statue of Vasupoojya swami, sitting cross-legged.
Excavations in Nalanda- 90 km form Patna- has thrown up many archeological gems, which aptly chronicle this town’s historic links with Jainism. Once there had been a monastic university at Nalanda where Lord Mahavira used to teach, however all that today remains is ruins, which have many stories to tell. In Patna there is an Shwetambar temple and five Digambar temples. Patna museum is a good place to find ancient Jain artifacts, relics and images unearthed in various archeological diggings across Bihar.