Today Bihar, India is a modest state, the twelfth largest in square mileage, though the third largest in numbers. For years, the state government did not invest much in the region, resulting in a faltering economy that fell behind compared to the rest of India. Recently, government policies have improved and tourists have increased in numbers to about 346,000. Thousands of years ago, however, the region was the birthplace of some of the most powerful empires in India.
In 325 BC the Mauryan Empire rose under the direction of Chandragupta Maurya who was born in the region of what is now Bihar. Lasting for about two hundred years, this empire had an area of about 5,000,000 square km and was one of the largest in the world at the time, certainly the largest the Indian subcontinent had ever seen. The territory stretched from what is now Afghanistan to the Himalayas. Chandragupta’s grandson, Ashoka came to power in 273 B.C., and led the empire into a period of peace.
Following a particularly brutal war, Ashoka found himself repentant for what he had done and what had happened under his control. He subsequently embraced Buddhism and banned various forms of violence throughout the kingdom, including a ban on hunting as well as indentured and force labour. He did maintain an army for order, but also extended a friendly hand to neighbouring empires. For over forty years the people lived in peace and prosperity, and is still and important figure in Indian minds and culture.
Several hundred years later, the region also saw the birth of the Gupta Empire, which lasted from CE 320 to CE 600s. Under this empire, India entered its ‘Golden Age’, when science and culture flourished. The Guptas managed to maintain control over the region through their expertise with weapons such as the long bow, use of steel weapons, and maintenance of a navy and well disciplined army.
Today rising numbers of tourists and a slowly improving economy show great promise for the state of Bahir. The area that was once the birthplace of two of the greatest Indian empires is beginning to show signs of its formal glory. Modern economists have rated it the ‘least corrupt state’ of India in 2011, and it is showing remarkable signs of improvement for judicial reforms and public safety. The future is looking very bright for this former cultural center.