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The third-largest state of India by population, it is contiguous with Uttar Pradesh to its west, Nepal to the north, the northern part of West Bengal to the east, and Jharkhand to the south. The Bihar plain is split by the river Ganges which flows from west to east. Bihar is an amalgamation of three main distinct regions, these are Magadh, Mithila and Bhojpur.
Bihar was once the fountainhead of Indian civilisation, the land that nurtured the Nalanda University and where the Buddha and the Jaina had walked. It was the seat of great empires of Guptas whose rule was the Golden age of India, and Mauryas, best known of them being Ashoka. It is the land of monasteries and the name Bihar is derived from ‘Vihara’ (Monasteries).
On November 15, 2000, southern Bihar was ceded to form the new state of Jharkhand.
Hindi and Urdu (secondary to Hindi in official use) are the official languages of the Bihar. Maithili (25 million speakers) is recognised by the government of India, although such use of it is negligible. Also wide spoken are Bhojpuri (even more than Maithili — 38.5 million speakers), Magahi (20 million), Bajjika (8.7 million), and Angika (0.7 million).
Patna, the capital city is one of the world’s most ancient cities, and during its 2500 year long history it has been named as Kusumpura, Pataliputra, Azimabad and Patna. Close to Sher Shah’s mosque stands Har Mandir, one of the four major Sikh shrines, Golghar (Granary), Sadaquat Ashram, Archaeological Museum, Padri Ki Haveli and Catholic Church are some of the tourist attraction. Patna is also the birthplace of the tenth preceptor of Sikh faith — Guru Gobind Singh.
Among historical sites can be listed Pataliputra, capital of the Gupta and Magadha empires; Nalanda, a university established in the 5C AD and associated with the life and teachings of both Buddha and Mahavira and palaces, forts, and antiquities of Munger, Rohtas, and Sasaram are the most important sights.
Bodh Gaya is the place where Buddha attained enlightenment, and Vaishali where he lived, taught and preached his last sermon; Barabar caves with carvings of the life and times of the Buddha; Kundalpur, birthplace of Mahavira, and Pavapuri where he attained ‘mahaparinirvana’ (salvation); and Rajgir where the Buddha preached and Mahavir spent his early years are archaeological and as well as pilgrim destinations. Bihar Sharif, and Maner are pilgrim centres of Islam. Gaya, Buxar, Jaynagar, Sitamarhi, Kishanganj, and Sonepur are Hindu pilgrim centres.
In 2004 ‘The Economist’ magazine said that "Bihar [had] become a byword for the worst of India, of widespread and inescapable poverty, of corrupt politicians indistinguishable from mafia-dons they patronise, caste-ridden social order that has retained the worst feudal cruelties". Many Indians consider Bihar to be a really dangerous state in the matter of crime and banditry, even compared to, for example, the insecure Uttar Pradesh.