Patna lies on the southern bank of the Ganges, as it flows past with the combined waters of the rivers Ghagra, Son and Gandak. At the point where the city is located, the sacred Ganges looks more sea than river: mighty, wide and never-ending.
A bustling city of 1,200,000 people, the city is approximately 15 km long and 5 km to 7 km wide.
The Buddhist and Jain pilgrim centres of Vaishali, Rajgir or Rajgriha, Nalanda, Bodhgaya and Pawapuri are all nearby. Patna is a sacred city for Sikhs also. Their tenth and last "human" guru, Guru Gobind Singh, was born here. It is the ideal gateway for all the places on this circuit. The monuments in and around the city take one down the history to its glorious past.
Apart from being the administrative centre of the state and its historic importance, the city is also a major educational centre and medical centre. Sadly, because of the neglect by the Union government of India and the apathy of the state government, the educational institutions, some of the oldest and most prestigious in the country, have fallen behind over the last decade.
The walled old area, called Patna City by the locals, is also a major trading centre.
Origin of name
The appellation Patna is etymologically derived from Patan, the name of the Hindu goddess Patan devi. Another theory says the name comes from Pattan, or a port in Sanskrit since the city, located near the confluence of four rivers, has been a thriving river port.
The city has been known by various names during its more than two millennia long existence—Pataligram, Pataliputra, Kusumpur, Pushpapura, Azimabad, and the present day Patna. Greek history mentions Palibothra.
Main article: History of Patna
Legend ascribes the origin of Patna to a mythological king Putraka who created Patna by magic 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 village and Putra means son.
From a scientific history perspective, it would be appropriate to surmise that the history of Patna started around the year 490 BC when Ajatashatru, the king of Magadh, wanted to shift his capital from the hilly Rajgriha to a more strategically located place to combat the Licchavis of Vaishali. He chose the site on the bank of Ganges and fortified the area. From that time, the city has had a continuous history, a record claimed by few cities in the world. 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.
With the rise of the Mauryan empire, the place became the seat of power and nerve centre of the sub-continent. From Pataliputra, the famed emperor Chandragupta Maurya (a contemporary of Alexander) ruled a vast empire, stretching from the Bay of Bengal to Afghanistan.
Early Mauryan Patliputra was mostly built with wooden structures. Emperor Ashoka, the grandson of Chandragupta Maurya, transformed the wooden capital into a stone construction around 273 BC. Chinese scholar Fa Hein, who visited India sometime around A.D. 399-414, has given a vivid description of the stone structures in his travelogue.
Megasthenes, Greek historian and ambassador to the court of Chandragupta gives the first written account of Patliputra. Much later, a number of Chinese travellers came to India in pursuit of knowledge and recorded their observation about Pataliputra in their travelogues.
In the years that followed, the city saw many dynasties ruling the Indian subcontinent from here. It saw the rules of the Gupta empire and the Pala kings. However, it never reached the glory that it had under the Mauryas.
With the disintegration of the Gupta empire, and continuous invasions of the Indian subcontinent by foreign armies, Patna passed through uncertain times. Bakhtiar Khilji captured Bihar in the 12th century AD and destroyed many ancient seats of learning, Patna lost its prestige as the political and cultural center of India.
The Mughal period was a period of unremarkable provincial administration from Delhi. The most remarkable period during these times was under Sher Shah Suri who revived Patna in the middle of the 16th century. He visualised a fort and a town on the banks of Ganga. Sher Shah's fort in Patna does not survive, but the mosque built in Afghan architectural style survives.
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 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, very little changed during this period other than the name,.
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 trading in 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. Peter Mundy, writing in 1632, calls this place, "the greatest mart of the eastern region".
In 1912, Patna became of the capital of Orissa Province and Bihâr when Bengal Presidency was partitioned. It soon emerged as an important and strategic centre. A number of imposing structures were constructed by the British. Credit for designing the massive and majestic buildings of colonial Patna goes to the architect, I. F. Munnings. Most of 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.
There are several prestigious educational institutions in Patna like Patna College, Patna Women's College, Patna Science College, Bihar College of Engineering, Patna Medical College (formerly, Prince of Wales Medical College), Nalanda Medical College , Patna Dental College and the Patna Veterinary College.
Patna continued to be the capital of the state of Bihar after independence in 1947, though Bihar itself was partitioned again in 2000 when Jharkhand was carved out as a separate state of the Indian union.
Patna is located on the south bank of the Ganges River, called Ganga locally. Patna has a very long riverline, and it is surrounded on three sides by rivers—the Ganga, Sone, and Poonpun (also spelt Punpun). Just to the north of Patna across the river Ganga flows the river Gandak making it a unique place having four largish rivers in its vicinity.
The bridge over the river Ganga, named after Mohandas Gandhi, is 5850m long is said to be the longest single river bridge in the world.
- Altitude: 53 meters
- Temperature: Summer 43 °C to 21 °C, Winter 20 °C to 6 °C
- Rainfall (average): 1,200 mm
In Patna, as in most of Bihar, the summer temperatures rise very high as the hot tropical sun beats down with all its intensity coupled with a heat wave which though is not as severe as say in Delhi. The city, being near four large rivers, experiences a rather high humidity throughout the year.
The summer begins in April and peaks in June/July with the temperature soaring up to 46° C till the moisture laiden monsoon wind bring some much-needed relief to the parched fields. The rains last through August & September and continue into early October. The northern Indian winters bring bitter cold nights and sunny days to Patna from November to February till the arrival of the spring that brings the weather to a full cycle.
The local almanac divides the year into six seasons of roughly two months each. Apart from the usual four seasons: Summer, Monsoon, Winter and Spring, you may add mild winter between Monsoon and Winter and Mild summer just before the onslaught of the severe north Indian summer.
The population of Patna is over 1,285,470 (2001 census), which has grown from 917,243 in the 1991 census. The population density is 1132 persons per square kilometre. There are 839 females to every 1,000 males. Overall Literacy rate is 62.9%, and female Literacy rate is 50.8%. Source – District Elementary Education Report Card 2004 of National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration, New Delhi (www.eduinfoindia.net)
Many languages are spoken in Patna. Hindi is the official language of the state of Bihar. Thanks to the British influence since early days, English is also spoken extensively.
People and culture
Status of Women
The women are respected and have a say in the affairs of the family. If one compares the status of women if other parts of the north India, then it is comes as a pleasant surprise.
People are religious and family oriented, and their lives are deeply rooted in tradition. The interests of the family take precedence over that of an individual. Families are generally large, though the government is actively encouraging family planning to curb rapid population growth. Extended families often live together or near each other, and form the basic social and economic unit of the society. The elderly are respected and cared for by their families. The society is patriarchal with the father considered the head of a household.
Middle-class families, especially in urban areas, are becoming more nuclear, and a middle- or upper-class fathers are expected to take care of the children financially until they have finished an education and taken a job, regardless of how long it takes. Most poor women work outside the home because of economic necessity, and a growing number of urban women are joining the professional workforce.
Most marriages are still arranged by parents; the degree to which the children are consulted depends on the family. Marriage is sacred and is considered to endure beyond death. Weddings are times of great celebration, expense, and feasting. Ceremonies are often elaborate. In many ceremonies, the bride and groom exchange garlands and promises before they circle around a fire seven times to solemnize the marriage. Bright clothing, jewellery, and flowers are part of almost every type of ceremony. The bride’s parents may still give a dowry, such as money or land, to the groom, even though the practice is illegal.
Staple food of majority of the population is “bhat, dal, roti, tarkari and achar”, prepared basically from rice, lentils, wheat flour, vegetables, and pickle grade raw, unripe fruits. Traditionally, mustard oil has been the popular cooking medium for Patnaites. Plain boiled milk as well as curd is widely used by all section of the Patnaites. "Kichdi", the broth of rice and lentils, seasoned with spices, and served with several accompanying items like curd, chutney, pickles, papads, ghee (clarified butter) and chokha (boiled messed potatoes, seasoned with finely cut onions, green chilies) constitutes the lunch for most Patnaites on Saturdays.
Patna is also known for the sweet delicacies of central Bihar including Khaja, Motichoor ka Ladoo, Kala Jamun, Kesaria Peda, Parwal ka Mithai, Khubi ka Lai and Chena Murki. These owe their origin to towns in the vicinity of Patna: Khaja from Silao, Ladoo from Maner, Kala Jamun from Vikram, Khubi ka Lai from Bakhtiarpur, Kesaria Peda from Gaya and Chena Murki from Koelwar. Descendants of the original family members of the cooks, called halwais in the local language, have migrated to urban Patna and authentic sweet delicacies are now available in the city itself. Unlike the Bengali sweets which are soaked in syrup of sugar and are therefore wet, sweets of Patna and Bihar are mostly dry.
- Pua', prepared from a mixture of powdered rice, milk, ghee (clarified butter), sugar and honey
- Pittha, steam cooked, mixture of powdered rice
- Tilkut, referred to as 'Palala' in Buddhist literature, is made of pounded 'tila' or sesame seeds (Sesamum indicum) and jaggery or sugar
- Chiwra, beaten rice, served with a coat of creamy curd and sugar or jaggery
- Makhana (a kind of water fruit) is prepared from lotus seeds and is taken puffed or as kheer, prepared with milk and sugar
- Sattu, powdered baked gram, is a high energy giving food. It is taken mixed with water or with milk. Sometimes, sattu mixed with spices are used to prepare stuffed 'chapattis', locally called as 'makuni roti'.
A variety of non-vegetarian items are also prepared by a section of the population. Fish curries are widely used by a cross section of non-vegetarian population of all social groups. Mughal cuisine are well known and widely relished in Patna. Of late, Continental dishes are also catching up fancy. Various types of rolls which are also available in New York owe their origin to Patna. Some muslim families moved from here to Karachi in Pakistan during partition, and then to the US, taking with them their culture and cuisine. They sell various vegetarian and non vegetarian rolls and are rather popular by the generic name Roll Bihari in and around Lexington Avenue (South) in New York.
Patna is connected by Indian Railways to all major cities of India. It is situated on the main line of the Eastern Railway and a side line connects it to Gaya making it a Railway Junction. The airport at Patna is named Lok Nayak Jayaprakash Airport after a popular leader. Regular domestic flights, connecting Patna with Delhi, Calcutta, Mumbai, Ranchi, and a few other places are available.
National Highway 31 passes through Patna. A number of roads branching from Patna connect the city to other parts of Bihar. Bus services are available to all parts of the state, and several towns and cities of Jharkhand.
The river Ganges is navigable throughout the year and there is considerable boat traffic for transporting cargo. However, with the construction of a bridge over Ganges, the river traffic and ferry services have lost their importance.
Local public transport—City buses ply on few routes. Auto rickshaws and pedal rickshaws are the basic means of public transport within the city limits.
Patna has long been a major agricultural center of trade, its most active exports being grain, sugarcane, sesame, and medium-grained Patna rice. It is also an important business centre of eastern India.
The hinterland of Patna is endowed with excellent agro-climatic resources and the gains of the green revolution have enabled the older eastern part of Patna (locally called as Patna City) to develop as a leading grain market of the state of Bihar, and one of the biggest in eastern India. Patna, being the state capital, with a growing middle income group households, has also emerged as a big and rapidly expanding consumer market, both for Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG), as also for other consumer durable items. A large and growing population, and expanding boundaries of the city, is also spurring growth of service sector. The old and established educational institutions of the city have always been contributing to the national pool of excellent human resources.
Places of interest
Some of the places of interest in the city are:
- Agam Kuan, literally the unfathomable well which is said to date back to the Ashokan period.
- Kumhrar, the site of the ruins of the Ashokan Patliputra
- Harmandir Saheb, constructed by Punjab ruler Maharaja Ranjit Singh, consecrates the birthplace of Guru Gobind Singh Jee
- State Secretariat Building and its Clock Tower, including the Martyrs Memorial commemorating the seven school and college students who were brutally killed by the armed forces under the command of the British Raj in front of the Patna Secretariat during the Quit India movement of 1942.
- High Court Building
- Golghar ( a beehive shaped granary)- One of the oldest British buildings in Patna.
- Patna Museum called the Jadu Ghar: The well-known museum has a fine collection of stone and bronze sculptures and terracotta figures of Hindu and Buddhist artists. Didarganj Yakshi is the most prized collection of this museum.
- Khuda Baksh Oriental Library: It has a collection of rare ancient manuscripts.
- Begu Hajjam's mosque, built in 1489 by the Bengal ruler Alauddin Hussani Shah
- Pathar ki Masjid built by Pervez, the elder brother of Shah Jehan and the first Mughal prince who made Bihar his residence
- Jalan Museum that houses an interesting museum famous for its jade collection and Chinese paintings
- Sadaqat Ashram on the banks of the river Ganga which later became the retreat of Dr. Rajendra Prasad
- Zoological and Botanical garden called Sanjay Gandhi Jaivik Udyan
- Padri Ki Haveli, deemed to be the oldest church in Bihar dating back to 1772
- Bankipore Club on the banks of the river Ganges. The dance hall of this club is said to be one of the original buildings built by the Dutch in the 17th century.
- Darbhanga House, also called Nav Lakha building. This was built by the Maharaj of Darbhanga. This beautiful building on the banks of Ganges now houses the post graduate departments of Patna University.
- Patna College administrative block said to be the Dutch Residence
- Gandhi Maidan called the Patna Lawns during the British Raj.
Most of the government-run schools in Patna are affiliated to Bihar School Examination Board, whereas most of the private schools are affiliated to ICSE and CBSE boards. The government-run public schools lack many facilities, but are the only options for the poor who cannot afford the fees in private schools. The fees at Delhi Public School, Patna, is considered to be the highest amongst all schools of the city. Ishan International is the cheapest of all, and the most recommended by the Government Board too.
A number of schools are run by Christians missionaries - prominent among them being the Jesuits.
Unlike the rest of India, many colleges also provide an option for the plus 2 level of education (Class 11 and 12) raising the standard of education due to access to superior teachers of colleges. As a result, a high percent of the students are able to qualify in All India competitive examinations like IIT JEE and All India Medical Entrance.
Patna University, established in 1917 and among the oldest universities on the Indian subcontinent. It has 11 colleges, including famous colleges like Science College,Bihar National College Patna Women's College, Patna College and Patna Medical College & Hospital, formerly Prince of Wales Medical College & Hospital. Patna Women's College is a leading women's college in Bihar, followed by Magadh Mahila College.
There are two engineering colleges in Patna
- Bihar College of Engineering, now National Institute of Technology, Patna
- Patna Institute of Technology
There are two medical colleges:
- Patna Medical College and Hospital,
- Nalanda Medical College and Hospital,
Patna is served by two universities, Patna University, which was established in 1917, and Magadh University, with its headquarters at Bodh Gaya.
The city was a premier centre of education in the British India. It maintained its position till the sixties, but due to the continuous neglect of the educational infrastructure by the state and central governments, the city falls desperately short of the needs of the growing population for higher education. As such, a large number of students, after completing their school education, move away to New Delhi, and other parts of India, for pursuing higher studies.
Media & entertainment
- "Patna," Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 2001
- Bihar Government Tourism Department
- A Brief History of Patna
- Astra Infotech: Bihar tourism
- Mysterindia.com: India places: Patna
- PatnaDaily.com Patna_Photo Gallery