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History of Patna

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History of Patna

Patna (पटना), the capital of Bihar state, India, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in the world and the History of Patna spans at least three millennia. Patna has the distinction of being associated with the two most ancient religions of the world, namely, Buddhism and Jainism, and has seen the rise and fall of empires of the Mauryas and the Guptas. It has been a part of the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire, and has seen the rule of the Nawabs of Bengal, the East India Company and the British Raj. Patna has been one of the nerve centers of First War of Independence, participated actively in India's Independence movement, and emerged in the post-independent India as the most populous city of East India after Kolkata.


  • Prelude 1
  • The name 2
  • The Haryankas 3
  • The Nandas 4
  • The Mauryas 5
  • The Guptas 6
    • Before the Guptas 6.1
    • The Gupta Dynasty (320-550) 6.2
  • The Sultanate 7
  • The Mughals 8
  • The Nawabs 9
  • The Company rule 10
  • The British Raj 11
  • Gallery : Patna as Capital 12
  • See also 13
  • References 14


Patna(emudhra), by its current name or any other name, finds no mention in the ancient Indian texts like the Vedas and the Puranas, or the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The first references to the place is observed about 2500 years ago in Jain and Buddhist scriptures.

Recorded history of the city begins in the year 490 BCE when Ajatashatru, the king of Magadh, wanted to shift his capital from the hilly Rajgriha to a more strategically located place to combat the Lichivis of Vaishali. He chose a site on the bank of the Ganges and fortified the area which developed into Patna.

From that time, the city has had a continuous history, a record claimed by few cities in the world. During its history and existence of more than two millennia, Patna has been known by different names : Pataligram, Pataliputra, Palibothra, Kusumpur, Pushpapura, Azimabad, and the present day Patna.

Gautam Buddha passed through this place in the last year of his life, and he had prophesized a great future for this place, but at the same time, he predicted its ruin from flood, fire, and feud.

The name

Etymologically, Patna derives its name from the word Pattan, which means port in Sanskrit. It may be indicative of the location of this place on the confluence of four rivers, which functioned as a port. It is also believed that the city derived its name from Patan Devi, the presiding deity of the city, and her temple is one of the shakti peethas.

One legend ascribes the origin of Patna to a mythological king, Putraka, who created Patna by a magic stroke for his queen Patali, literally Trumpet flower, which gives it its ancient name Pataligram. It is said that in honour of the first born to the queen, the city was named Pataliputra. Gram is the Sanskrit for a village and Putra means a son.

The Haryankas

According to tradition, the Haryanka dynasty founded in 684 BCE, whose capital was Rajagriha, later Pataliputra, the present day Patna. This dynasty lasted until 424 BCE, when it was overthrown by the Nanda dynasty. This period saw the development of two of India's major religions that started from Magadha. it is not true Bimbisara was responsible for expanding the boundaries of his kingdom through matrimonial alliances and conquest. The land of Kosala fell to Magadha in this way. Bimbisara (543-493 BCE ) was imprisoned and killed by his son Ajatashatru (491-461 BCE) who then became his successor, and under whose rule the dynasty reached its largest extent. Ajatashatru went to war with the Licchavi several times. Ajatashatru, is thought to have ruled from 491-461 BCE and moved his capital of the Magadha kingdom from Rajagriha to Pataliputra. Udayabhadra eventually succeeded his father, Ajatashatru, under him Pataliputra became the largest city in the world.

The Nandas

The Nanda Empire at its greatest extent

The Nanda dynasty was established by an illegitimate son of the king Mahanandin of the previous Shishunaga dynasty. Mahapadma Nanda died at the age of 88, ruling the bulk of this 100-year dynasty. The Nandas were followed by the Maurya dynasty.

The Mauryas

With the rise of the Mauryan empire (321 BC-185 BCE), Patna, then called Pataliputra became the seat of power and nerve center of the Indian subcontinent. From Pataliputra, the famed emperor Chandragupta ruled a vast empire, stretching from the Bay of Bengal to Afghanistan. Chandragupta established a strong centralized state with a complex administration under the tutelage of Kautilya.

Early Mauryan Pataliputra was mostly built with wooden structures. The wooden buildings and palaces rose to several stories and were surrounded by parks and ponds. Another distinctive feature of the city was the drainage system. Water course from every street drained into a moat which functioned both as defence as well as sewage disposal. According to Megasthenes, Pataliputra of the period of Chandragupta, was "surrounded by a wooden wall pierced by 64 gates and 570 towers— (and) rivaled the splendors of contemporaneous Persian sites such as Susa and Ecbatana".

Chandragupta's son Bindusara deepened the empire towards central and southern India. Patna under the rule of Ashoka, the grandson of Chandragupta, emerged as an effective capital of the Indian subcontinent.

Emperor Ashoka transformed the wooden capital into a stone construction around 273 BCE. Chinese scholar Fa Hein, who visited India sometime around 399-414 CE, has given vivid description of the stone structures in his travelogue.

According to Pliny the Elder in his "Natural History":

"But the Prasii surpass in power and glory every other people, not only in this quarter, but one may say in all India, their capital Palibothra, a very large and wealthy city, after which some call the people itself the Palibothri,--nay even the whole tract along the Ganges. Their king has in his pay a standing army of 600,000 foot-soldiers, 30,000 cavalry, and 9,000 elephants: whence may be formed some conjecture as to the vastness of his resources." Plin. Hist. Nat. VI. 21. 8-23. 11.

Learning and scholarship received great state patronage. Pataliputra produced several eminent world class scholars.


  • Aryabhata, the famous astronomer and mathematician who gave the approximation of Pi correct to four decimal places.
  • Ashvaghosha, poet and influential Buddhist writer.
  • Chanakya, or Kautilya, the master of statecraft, described by Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru as Indian Machiavelli—he was the guru of Chandragupta Maurya and author of the ancient text on statecraft, Arthashashtra.
  • Pāṇini, the ancient Hindu grammarian who formulated the 3959 rules of Sanskrit morphology. The Backus–Naur Form syntax used to describe modern programming languages have significant similarities to Pāṇini's grammar rules.
  • Vatsyayana, the author of Kama Sutra.

It is believed that Pataliputra was the largest city in the world between 300 and 195 BCE, taking that position from Alexandria, Egypt and being succeeded by the Chinese capital Chang'an (modern Xi'an).[1]

The Guptas

Before the Guptas

When the last of the Mauryan kings was assassinated in 184 BCE, India once again became a collection of unfederated kingdoms. During this period, the most powerful kingdoms were not in the north, but in the Deccan to the south, particularly in the west. The north, however, remained culturally the most active, where Buddhism was spreading and where Hinduism was being gradually remade by the Upanishadic movements, which are discussed in more detail in the section on religious history. The dream, however, of a universal empire had not disappeared. It would be realized by a northern kingdom and would usher in one of the most creative periods in Indian history.

The Gupta Dynasty (320-550)

Under Chandragupta I (320-335), empire was revived in the north. Like Chandragupta Maurya, he first conquered Magadha, set up his capital where the Mauryan capital had stood (Patna), and from this base consolidated a kingdom over the eastern portion of northern India. In addition, Chandragupta revived many of Ashoka's principles of government. It was his son, however, Samudragupta (335-376), and later his grandson, Chandragupta II (376-415), who extended the kingdom into an empire over the whole of the north and the western Deccan. Chandragupta II was the greatest of the Gupta kings; called Vikramaditya ("The Sun of Power"), he presided over the greatest cultural age in India.

This period is regarded as the golden age of Indian culture. The high points of this cultural creativity are magnificent and creative architecture, sculpture, and painting. The wall-paintings of Ajanta Cave in the central Deccan are considered among the greatest and most powerful works of Indian art. The paintings in the cave represent the various lives of the Buddha, but also are the best source we have of the daily life in India at the time. There are forty-eight caves making up Ajanta, most of which were carved out of the rock between 460 and 480, and they are filled with Buddhist sculptures. The rock temple at Elephanta (near Bombay) contains a powerful, eighteen foot statue of the three-headed Shiva, one of the principal Hindu gods. Each head represents one of Shiva's roles: that of creating, that of preserving, and that of destroying. The period also saw dynamic building of Hindu temples. All of these temples contain a hall and a tower.

The greatest writer of the time was Kalidasa. Poetry in the Gupta age tended towards a few genres: religious and meditative poetry, lyric poetry, narrative histories (the most popular of the secular literatures), and drama. Kalidasa excelled at lyric poetry, but he is best known for his dramas. We have three of his plays; all of them are suffused with epic heroism, with comedy, and with erotics. The plays all involve misunderstanding and conflict, but they all end with unity, order, and resolution.

The Guptas tended to allow kings to remain as vassal kings; unlike the Mauryas, they did not consolidate every kingdom into a single administrative unit. This would be the model for later Mughal rule and British rule built on the Mughal paradigm.

The Guptas soon faced a wave of migrations by the Huns, a people who originally lived north of China. The Hun migrations would push all the way to the doors of Rome. Beginning in the 400's, the Huns began to put pressure on the Guptas. They were initially defeated by Skandagupta. However, by 480 they conquered large parts of Northwestern India. Western India was overrun by 500, and the last of the Gupta kings, presiding over a vastly diminished kingdom, perished in 550. However, the Huns were soon defeated by Yasovarman and later Baladitya, scion of the Guptas. A strange thing happened to the Huns in India as well as in Europe. Over the decades they gradually assimilated into the indigenous population and their state weakened.

Harsha, who was a descendant of the Guptas, quickly moved to reestablish an Indian empire. From 606-647, he ruled over an empire in northern India. Harsha was perhaps one of the greatest conquerors of Indian history, and unlike all of his conquering predecessors, he was a brilliant administrator. He was also a great patron of culture. His capital city, Kanauj, extended for four or five miles along the Ganges River and was filled with magnificent buildings. Only one fourth of the taxes he collected went to administration of the government. The remainder went to charity, rewards, and especially to culture: art, literature, music, and religion.

Because of extensive trade, the culture of India became the dominant culture around the Bay of Bengal, profoundly and deeply influencing the cultures of Burma, Cambodia, and Sri Lanka. In many ways, the period during and following the Gupta dynasty was the period of "Greater India", a period of cultural activity in India and surrounding countries building on the base of Indian culture. This medieval flowering of Indian culture would radically change course in the Indian Middle Ages. From the north came Muslim conquerors out of Afghanistan, and the age of Muslim rule began in 1100.

They ruled for over 400 years.

The Sultanate

With the disintegration of the Gupta empire, and continuous invasions of the Indian subcontinent by foreign armies, Patna passed through uncertain time like most of north India.

During the 12th century, Muhammad of Ghori's advancing forces captured Ghazni, Multan, Sindh, Lahore, and Delhi, and one of his generals Qutb-ud-din Aybak proclaimed himself Sultan of Delhi and established the first dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate. By the mid-12th century, Ikhtiar Uddin Muhammad bin Bakhtiar Khilji, one of the generals of Qutb-ud-din Aybak, conquered Bihar and Bengal, and Patna became a part of the Delhi Sultanate. He is said to have destroyed many ancient seats of learning, the most prominent being the Nalanda University near Rajgrih, about 120 km from Patna. Patna, which had already lost its stature as the political centre of India, lost its prestige as the educational and cultural center of India as well.

Foreign invaders often used abandoned viharas as military cantonments. They set up their headquarters in Nalanda region and called it Bihar, which is derived from the term Vihar. The region roughly encompassing the present state of Bihar was dotted with Buddhist vihara, which were the abodes of Buddhist monks in the ancient and medieval period. The town still exists and is called Bihar or Bihar Sharif (Nalanda District). Later on the headquarters was shifted from Bihar to Patana (current Patna) by Sher Shah Suri and the whole Magadha region was called Bihar.

The Mughals

The Mughal period was a period of unremarkable provincial administration from Delhi. The most remarkable period of these times was under Sher Shah, or Sher Shah Suri. Sher Shah Suri hailed from Sasaram, about 160 km south-west of Patna and revived Patna in the middle of the 16th century. On his return from one of the expeditions, while standing by the Ganges, he visualised a fort and a town. Sher Shah's fort in Patna does not survive, but the mosque built by Sher Shah in 1545 survives. It is built in Afghan architectural style. There are numerous tombs inside.

The earliest mosque in Patna is dated 1489 and is built by Alauddin Hussani Shah, one of the Bengal rulers. Local people call it the Begu Hajjam's mosque in honour of a barber who got it repaired in 1646.

Mughal emperor Akbar came to Patna in 1574 to crush the Afghan Chief Daud Khan. Akbar's Secretary of State and author of Ain-i-Akbari refers to Patna as a flourishing centre for paper, stone and glass industries. He also refers to the high quality of numerous strains of rice grown in Patna that is famous as Patna rice in Europe.

Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb acceded to the request of his favourite grandson Prince Muhamad Azim to rename Patna as Azimabad, in 1704 while Azim was in Patna as the subedar. However, other than the name, very little changed during this period.

The Nawabs

With the decline of Mughal empire, Patna moved into the hands of the Nawabs of Bengal, who levied a heavy tax on the populace but allowed it to flourish as a commercial centre. During 17th century, Patna became a centre of international trade.

The British started with a factory in Patna in 1620 for the purchase and storage of calico and silk. Soon it became a trading centre for saltpetre, urging other Europeans—French, Danes, Dutch and Portuguese—to compete in the lucrative business. Various European factories and godowns started mushrooming in Patna and it acquired a trading fame that attracted far off merchants. Peter Mundy, writing in 1632, calls this place, "the greatest mart of the eastern region".

The Company rule

After the Battle of Buxar, 1764, the Mughals as well as the Nawabs of Bengal lost effective control over the territories then constituting the province of Bengal, which currently comprises the Indian states of West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, as also some parts of Bangladesh. The East India Company was accorded the diwani rights, that is, the right to administer the collection and management of revenues of the province of Bengal, and parts of Oudh, currently comprising a large part of Uttar Pradesh. The diwani rights were legally granted by Shah Alam, who was then ruling sovereign Mughal emperor of Undivided India.

The Battle of Buxar, which was fought hardly 115 km from Patna, heralded the establishment of the rule of the British East India Company in East India.

During the rule of the British East India Company in Bihar, Patna emerged as one of the most important commercial and trading centers of the East India, preceded only by Kolkata.

The British Raj

Under the British Raj, Patna gradually started to attain its lost glory and emerged as an important and strategic centre of learning and trade in India. When the Bengal Presidency was partitioned in 1912 to carve out a separate province, Patna was made the capital of the new province of Bihar and Orissa. The city limits were stretched westwards to accommodate the administrative base, and the township of Bankipore took shape along the Bailey Road (originally spelt as Bayley Road, after the first Lt. Governor, Charles Stuart Bayley). This area was called the New Capital Area.

To this day, locals call the old area as the City whereas the new area is called the New Capital Area. The Patna Secretariat with its imposing clock tower and the Patna High Court are two imposing landmarks of this era of development. Credit for designing the massive and majestic buildings of colonial Patna goes to the architect, J. F. Munnings.

By 1916–1917, most of the buildings were ready for occupation. These buildings reflect either Indo-Saracenic influence (like Patna Museum and the state Assembly), or overt Renaissance influence like the Raj Bhawan and the High Court. Some buildings, like the General Post Office (GPO) and the Old Secretariat bear pseudo-Renaissance influence. Some say, the experience gained in building the new capital area of Patna proved very useful in building the imperial capital of New Delhi.

The British built several educational institutions in Patna like Patna College, Patna Science College, Bihar College of Engineering, Prince of Wales Medical College and the Patna Veterinary College. With government patronage, the Biharis quickly seized the opportunity to make these centres flourish quickly and attain renown.

After the creation of Orissa as a separate province in 1935, Patna continued as the capital of Bihar province under the British Raj.

Patna played a major role in the Indian independence struggle. Most notable are the Champaran movement against the Indigo plantation and the Quit India Movement of 1942..

Gallery : Patna as Capital

See also


  1. ^
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