BEHAR, or Bihar, a town of India, in the Patna district of Bengal, which gives its name to an old province, situated on the right bank of the river Panchana. Pop. (1901) 45,063. There are still some manufactures of silk and muslin, but trade has deserted Behar in favour of Patna and other places more favourably situated on the river Ganges and the railway, while the indigo industry has been ruined by the synthetic products of the German chemist, and the English colony of indigo planters has been scattered abroad.
The old province, stretching widely across the valley of the Ganges from the frontier of Nepal to the hills of Chota Nagpur, corresponds to the two administrative divisions of Patna and Bhagalpur, with a total area of 44,197 sq. m. and a population of 24,241,305. It is the most densely populated tract in India, and therefore always liable to famine; but it is now well protected almost everywhere by railways. It is a country of large landholders and formerly of indigo planters. The vernacular language is not Bengali, but a dialect of Hindu; and the people likewise resemble those of Upper India. The general aspect of the country is flat, except in the district of Monghyr, where detached hills occur, and in the south-east of the province, where the Rajmahal and Santal ranges abut upon the plains.
Behar abounds in great rivers, such as the Ganges, with its tributaries, the Ghagra, Gandak, Kusi, Mahananda and Sone. The Ganges enters the province near the town of Buxar, flows eastward and, passing the towns of Dinajpur, Patna, Monghyr and Colgong, leaves the province at Rajmahal. It divides the province into two almost equal portions; north of the river lie the districts of Saran, Champaran, Tirhoot, Purnea, and part of Monghyr and Bhagalpur, and south of it are Shahabad, Patna, Gaya, the Santal parganas, and the rest of Monghyr and Bhagalpur. The Ganges and its northern tributaries are navigable by country boats of large burden all the year round. The cultivation of opium is a government monopoly, and no person is allowed to grow the poppy except on account of government. The Behar Opium Agency has its headquarters at the town of Patna. Annual engagements are entered into by the cultivators, under a system of pecuniary advances, to sow a certain quantity of land with poppy, and the whole produce in the form of opium is delivered to government at a fixed rate.
Saltpetre is largely refined in Tirhoot, Saran and Champaran, and is exported both by rail and river to Calcutta. The manufactures of less importance are tussore-silk, paper, blankets, brass utensils, firearms, carpets, coarse cutlery and hardware, leather, ornaments of gold and silver, etc. Of minerals - lead, silver and copper exist in the Bhagalpur division, but the mines are not worked. One coal-mine is worked in the parganas. Before the construction of railways in India, the Ganges and the Grand Trunk road afforded the sole means of communication from Calcutta to the North-Western Provinces. But now the railroad is the great highway which connects Upper India with Lower Bengal. The East Indian railway runs throughout the length of the province. The climate of Behar is very hot from the middle of March to the end of June, when the rains set in, which continue till the end of September. The cold season, from October to the first half of March, is the pleasantest time of the year.
History. - The province of Behar corresponds to the ancient kingdom of Magadha, which comprised the country now included in the districts of Patna, Gaya and Shahabad, south of the Ganges. The origin of this kingdom, famous alike in the political and religious history of India, is lost in the mists of antiquity; and though the Brahmanical Puranas give lists of its rulers extending back to remote ages before the Christian era, the first authentic dynasty is that of the Saisunaga, founded by Sisunaga (c.600 B.C.), whose capital was at Rajagaha (Rajgir) in the hills near Gaya; and the first king of this dynasty of whom anything is known was Bimbisara (c.528 B.C.), who by conquests and matrimonial alliances laid the foundations of the greatness of the kingdom. It was in the reign of Bimbisara that Vardhamana Mahavira, the founder of Jainism, and Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, preached in Magadha, and Buddhist missionaries issued thence to the conversion of China, Ceylon, Tibet and Tatary. Even to this day Behar, where there are extensive remains of Buddhist buildings, remains a sacred spot in the eyes of the Chinese and other Buddhist nations.
Bimbisara was murdered by his son Ajatasatru, who succeeded him, and whose bloodthirsty policy reduced the whole country between the Himalayas and the Ganges under the suzerainty of Magadha. According to tradition, it was his grandson, Udaya, who founded the city of Pataliputra (Patna) on the Ganges, which under the Maurya dynasty became the capital not only of Magadha but of India. The remaining history of the dynasty is obscure; according to Mr Vincent Smith, its last representative was Mahanandin (417 B.C.), after whose death the throne was usurped, under obscure circumstances, by Mahapadma Nanda, a man of low caste (Early Hist. of India, p. 36). It was a son of this usurper who was reigning at the time of the invasion of Alexander the Great; and the conqueror, when his advance was arrested at the Hyphasis (326 B.C.), meditating an attack on Pataliputra (the Palimbothra of the Greeks), was informed that the king of Magadha could oppose him with a force of 20,000 cavalry, 200,000 infantry, 2000 chariots, and 3000 or 4000 elephants. The Nanda dynasty seems to have survived only for two generations, when (321 B.C.) Chandragupta Maurya, the founder of the great Maurya dynasty, seized the throne. This dynasty, of which the history belongs to that of India (q.v.), occupied the throne for 137 years. After the death of the great Buddhist king, Asoka (c.231), the Maurya empire began to break up, and it was finally destroyed about fifty years later when Pushyamitra Sunga murdered the Maurya king Brihadratha and founded the Sunga dynasty. Descendants of Asoka continued, however, to subsist in Magadha as subordinate rajas for many centuries; and as late as the 8th century A.D. petty Maurya dynasties are mentioned as ruling in Konkan. The reign of Pushyamitra, who held his own against Menander and succeeded in establishing his claim to be lord paramount of northern India, is mainly remarkable as marking the beginning of the Brahmanical reaction and the decline of Buddhism; according to certain Buddhist writers the king, besides reviving Hindu rites, indulged in a savage persecution of the monks. The Sunga dynasty, which lasted 112 years, was succeeded by the Kanva dynasty, which after 45 years was overthrown (c.27 B.C.) by the Andhras or Satavahanas. In A.D. 236 the Andhras were overthrown, and, after a confused and obscure period of about a century, Chandragupta I. established his power at Pataliputra (A.D. 320) and founded the famous Gupta empire (see Gupta), which survived till it was overthrown by the Ephthalites (q.v.), or White Huns, at the close of the 5th century. In Magadha itself the Guptas continued to rule as tributary princes for some centuries longer. About the middle of the 8th century Magadha was conquered by Gopala, who had made himself master in Bengal, and founded the imperial dynasty known as the Palas of Bengal. They were zealous Buddhists, and under their rule Magadha became once more an active centre of Buddhist influence. Gopala himself built a great monastery at Udandapura, or Otantapuri, which has been identified by Sir Alexander Cunningham with the city of Behar, where the later Pala kings established their capital. Under Mahipala (c.1026), the ninth of his line, and his successor Nayapala, missionaries from Magadha succeeded in firmly re-establishing Buddhism in Tibet.
In the 11th century the Pala empire, which, according to the Tibetan historian Taranath, extended in the 9th century from the Bay of Bengal to Delhi and Jalandhar (Jullundur) in the north and the Vindhyan range in the south, was partly dismembered by the rise of the "Sena" dynasty in Bengal; and at the close of the 12th century both Palas and Senas were swept away by the Mahommedan conquerors, the city of Behar itself being captured by the Turki free-lance Mahommed-i-Bakhtyar Khilji in 1193, by surprise, with a party of 200 horsemen. "It was discovered," says a contemporary Arab historian, "that the whole of that fortress and city was a college, and in the Hindi tongue they call a college Bihar." Most of the monks were massacred in the first heat of the assault; those who survived fled to Tibet, Nepal and the south. Buddhism in Magadha never recovered from this blow; it lingered in obscurity for a while and then vanished.
Behar now came under the rule of the Mahommedan governors of Bengal. About 1330 the southern part was annexed to Delhi, while north Behar remained for some time longer subject to Bengal. In 1397 the whole of Behar became part of the kingdom of Jaunpur; but a hundred years later it was annexed by the Delhi emperors, by whom - save for a short period - it continued to be held. The capital of the province was established under the Moguls at the city of Behar, which gave its name to the province. From the middle of the 14th to the middle of the 16th century a large part of Behar was ruled by a line of Brahman tributary kings; and in the 15th century another Hindu dynasty ruled in Champaran and Gorakhpur. Behar came into the possession of the East India Company with the acquisition of the Diwani in 1765, when the province was united with Bengal. In 1857 two zemindars, Umar Singh and Kumar Singh, rebelled against the British government, and for some months held the ruinous fort of Rohtas against the British.
See Imperial Gazetteer of India (Oxford, 1908), s.v. "Bihar" and "Bengal"; V.A. Smith, Early History of India (2nd ed., Oxford, 1908).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)