Bihar is a state in north-eastern India. It is the twelve largest State in terms of geographical size. It is bounded by 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 including plateau is divided into two parts by the river Ganga which flows through the middle from west to east. In the year 2000, Bihar was subdivided—the northern part remaining as Bihar, and the southern part becoming the State of Jharkhand.
Ancient Bihar (Magadha) was a centre of power, learning and culture. From here arose India’s first and greatest empire, the Maurya empire and Buddhism as one of the world’s most widely adhered-to religions.
Bihar emerged as a large state in free India with Patna as its capital city. After independence, since the late 1970s, Bihar, however, lagged behind the other Indian States in social and economic development. Recently the improved governance has led the State to an economic revival through increased investment in infrastructure, better health care, greater emphasis on education, and a diminution in crime and corruption.
As per 2011 population census, Bihar was the third most populated state of India. Nearly 85% of the total population of Bihar reside in rural areas. The sex ratio was 919 females per 1,000 males.
The caste-based politics came into force, with power initially being in the hands of the Yadav, Rajput and Brahmin communities. For two decades, the Indian National Congress governed the State hand-in-glove with the central government of Indira Gandhi. There were occasional breaks Congress governance, as in 1977. In between, the socialist movement tried to break the stranglehold of the status quo under the leadership of Mahamaya Prasad Sinha and Karpoori Thakur. This did not, however, flourish due to the impractical idealism of the leaders and the machinations of the central leaders of the Congress party who felt threatened by a large politically aware State.
In 1990 Janata Dal came to power with Lalu Prasad Jadav as the Chief Minister. By 2004, after 14 years of Lalu’s governance, the ‘Economist’ magazine commented, “Bihar had become a byword of widespread and inescapable poverty, of corrupt politicians indistinguishable from mafia-dons, a caste-ridden social order that has retained the worst feudal cruelties.”
In 2005, as dissatisfaction mounted, the RJD was voted out of power and replaced by a coalition with NDA, headed by Nitish Kumar as the Chief Minister. The CPM and Forward Bloc have a minor presence, along with the other extreme left.
In the 2010 State election, Bihar’s Nitish Kumar-led government won 206 seats out of 243. In contrast to prior governments, whích emphasised divisions of caste and religion, Nitish’s manifesto was based on economic development by curbing crime and corruption and greater social equality for all sections of the society. And since 2010, the government has confiscated the properties of corrupt officials and redeployed them as school buildings.
The economy of Bihar is largely agriculture-based. The State has also a small industrial sector compared to the other Indian States including neighbouring Jharkhand. The official languages of the State are Hindi and Urdu. As per 2011 census, the literacy rate is 63.82% out of which male literacy is 73.4% and female literacy 53.3%. As for religion, the Hindus form the major community and Muslims form about 17% of the State’s population.
There are some Buddhist and Jaina communities too. Gautam Buddha attained enlightenment at Bodh Gaya in Bihar. And Vardhaman Mahavira, the 24th and the last Tirthankara of Jainism was born in Vaishali around 6th century BC. In rural Bihar, religion is the main component of popular culture. Shrines are located everywhere—even at the foot of trees, roadsides, etc. There are many varieties of festivals. However, Chhath is the major festival in Bihar.
Bihar has a very old tradition of folk songs, such as phage (Holi songs). The State has also contributed to the Indian (Hindustani) classical music and has produced musicians like Ustad Bismillah Khan, who later migrated out of Bihar.
Tourism has spread in Bihar as the State is one of the oldest inhabited places in India, with a history spanning 3,000 years. The historically rich culture and heritage of Bihar can be observed from the large number of ancient monuments that are visited by many tourists from around the world. In earlier days, tourism in the region was mainly based on the historical famous educational sector. Now Mahabodhi Temple, a Buddhist shrine at Bodh Gaya is a UNESCO World heritage.