Before embarking on a trip to Munger, the immediate reaction of friends and family is usually, 'You're not going to Bihar are you? In that state, thieves and murderers outnumber the ordinary people. There are agitators, rebellious students and corrupted politicians on every street corner. I would fear for your life.'
But actually the stories which one hears about Bihar are not really true. For thousands of people come to the ashram every year and no one has so far had any problem.
Bihar State has a spiritual heritage that goes back to ancient times. Its soil has been touched by the feet of Gautama Buddha, Mahavir and other great saints, sages and kings. The first sound of 'Gayatri' was whispered on Bihari winds. And here Mother Ganga herself bathed and caressed the shining bodies of Ram and other holy ones.
'Yes, of course', people will say, 'all this is very true, but things have certainly changed. Bihar is different now.' Perhaps, but the inner core of man is just the same- the atma, that can never change. The spiritual energy that made the saints and sages of yesterday is the same energy that flows through the hearts and minds of the Bihari people today.
Bihar comes from the word vihara which means monastery (Buddhist). Ashoka, a great king who ruled Bihar from Patliputra (today's Patna), after Buddha and before the time of Christ, said that he would build one vihara for each of the 84 sections of the dharma as taught by Buddha. Thus we can say that Bihar, for many thousands of years was not only a place of many historical events but a place where religion and spiritual life were cultivated to a very high degree. In fact it was the birthplace of some of the religions, such as Buddhism and Jainism, which have transformed the spiritual atmosphere of the world. Vihar also means 'to roam, joyfully', and indeed Bihar was once a place where people roamed, rooted in spiritual consciousness. Ancient Bihar consisted of four main centres of civilisation: Mithila, Vaishali, Anga and Magadha.
Mithila, which is north of the Ganges, has been a centre of Hindi and Aryan civilisation since prehistory. It was an area where Janaka ruled, Yajna-valkya legislated and Gautama meditated. Mithila was the homeland of Nyaya, one 'shat darshan' (six philosophies), according to the Hindu sciences. Great thinkers such as Vachaspati Misra, lived here, as did the great dramatist Vidyapati. In view of the deep heritage of Mithila, we have one of our ashrams in Begusarai.
Vaishali, also north of the Ganges, had the privilege to be the seat of the first republic of the world. It figured predominantly during Buddha's wanderings and is mentioned in Buddhist literature. It was the homeland of Mahavir and is rich in Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism.
Magadha includes the modern districts of Patna and Gaya. The people of these areas are very individualistic and traditional by nature. They opposed the Aryan culture in the past and in recent times, the modern western lifestyle.
Patna (108 miles from Munger), the capital of Bihar, is identified with the ancient city of Patliputra, the imperial capital of Magadha kingdom, which dates back to the 6th century BC and has association with Lord Buddha and King Ashoka. In fact Ashoka ruled most of India from here around 250 BC Patliputra also has the unique honour and privilege of sending out the first international emissaries of peace and co-operation to different parts of the world.
Patliputra was also the capital of Chandra Gupta Maurya, who defeated Alexander the Great's general Seleucus Nicator. It had strong ties with Greece from a very early time and the famous Greek ambassador Megasthenes came to Patliputra in the 4th century BC Patna was the birthplace of the tenth and final guru of the Sikhs, Govind Singh.
Gaya (100 miles from Munger) is a very ancient and sacred city and centre of pilgrimage for Hindus from all parts of India. It is almost compulsory for devout Hindus to come here after the death of their mother or father and offer 'pindas' (funeral cakes) for the peace of the departed souls.
Bodhgaya is just 15 kilometres from Gaya. Here, sitting under a peepal tree, after years of physical penance and austerity, Gautama Buddha found the solution of the problems which had beset his mind. On the full moon day of Baisakh (May), all his doubts vanished and he became fully enlightened - he became the Buddha.
Rajgir is also in Magadha (100 miles from Munger), and is so called because once every house resembled a palace (raja - king; graha - house). The soil of Rajgir is saturated with the spirit of Buddha as he spent a great portion of his life here. King Ashoka also ruled from here before moving his capital to Patliputra. Rajgir is the oldest recorded capital of India. It is now a health resort, famous for its mineral springs.
Nalanda Vihara was the greatest Buddhist university of India. Close to Rajgir, it was established in the 5th century AD and continued to flourish until the 12th century AD. Many great saints and scholars came to study and teach here including Nagarjun, the great South Indian philosopher and the well known Chinese traveller/scholar, Hiuen Tsang. The university also had the patronage of kings from all over India. Students came from China, Japan, Korea, Tibet and probably Asia Minor to study, and pandits from the university were invited to teach in many foreign countries.
Nalanda taught all spheres of knowledge besides Buddhism - Nyaya Shastras and Samkhya; Tantra, including magic (Arthava Veda); theology; science; Chikitsavidya (medicine/therapy) and the Vedas were expounded. In the study of Tantra itself, much work was carried out on mudras, mandalas, mantra, yoga and samadhi, as is now being done here at Ganga Darshan. It is said that Nalanda had a maximum of 10,000 students and a Buddhist student was expected to study in a school or monastery for 8-12 years.
Anga included today's Bhagalpur and Munger.
Another great and ancient Buddhist university was founded by Pala emperors at Vikramshila. The site is supposed to be at present day Sultanganj near Bhagalpur, just 30 miles from Munger. Like Ganga Darshan, it is said to have been founded on a rocky bluff on the banks of the Ganges. It was equal to Nalanda University and the same subjects were taught, the study of tantra being emphasised.
All 64 areas of Bihar played a leading role in the cultural, philosophical and religious life of India. According to Mahabharata, 'Gayatri Mantra' originated in this area, and Vishwamitra, one of the gurus of Rama, also lived here. The Pala kings who reigned around the 10th century AD were earnest Buddhists and owing to their patronage, Bihar, including Munger, remained the last refuge of Buddhism in Northern India up until the time of the Muslim conquests.
Munger (Monghyr) is located beside the River Ganges, 108 miles east of Patna, the capital of Bihar State. Forty miles to the east is Bhagalpur. To the south is Hazaribagh, a famous tourist spot, game park and hill station; Ranchi, famous for its salubrious climate, and Jamshedpur, a main industrial centre of India.
The area now included in the district of Munger once formed part of the 'madhya desa' or middle kingdom of the first Aryan settlers. It has been identified with Modagiri, mentioned in the great classic of ancient India, the 'Mahabharaf. In the Digvijaya Parva of the Mahabharat we find mention of Muda-giri, which is identified as the same as the Modagiri. In the Sabha Parva of Mahabharat a description is given of Bhima's conquest in Eastern India in which he defeated Kama, the king of Anga (which included Munger). He also fought a battle at Munger. But the earliest historical information about Munger (or Mudagiri) is derived from an inscribed copperplate found within the fort area. It refers to King Devapala who flourished in the 9th century AD, and it was engraved to commemorate a meeting of the princes and armies subject to the Pala Kings of Bengal. The plate does not mention any fort or town at Munger but merely relates that the king encamped on the spot and constructed a bridge of boats across the Ganges.
An ancient stone inscription ascribes the foundation of the town of Munger to Chandra Gupta Maurya, after whom it was initially called Gupta Garh. Munger was also known as Maudagalyagiri, after Maudgalya, a disciple of Buddha who converted a rich merchant of Munger into Buddhism. But the origin of the word Munger may go back even further, before the arrival of the Aryans. It was once a dwelling place of aboriginal tribes called 'Mons' or 'Mundas' and it has been suggested that this is the original root of the name Munger.
Munger was also the dwelling place of a muni (yogi) called 'Mudgala Muni'; hence Munger was once known as Munigiri (hill of the muni) as well as Munigriha (house of the muni). Then this name was abbreviated to Munigir, then Monghyr by the British, and finally Munger a few years ago.
Munger was once a place of advanced culture. Hiuen Tsang in the seventh century AD visited parts of Munger and mentions that the "manners of the people are simple and honest; there are ten Buddhist monasteries with about 4000 priests."
Various kings and dynasties arose and ruled Munger. In the 8th-9th century, the Pala kings ruled over this area and many others as far as Bengal. Then came Muslim invasions, starting about the thirteenth century with Muhamed Bakhtiyar. It was then overrun by a series of Muslim rulers such as Sultan Muhamed Tuqhlaq, Bahlol Lodhi and his son, prince Danyal of Bengal. The town of Munger, lying as it does at a strategic point on the bank of the Ganges, was once a place of military importance. Then it came under the hands of various other Muslim rulers including Babar, Sher Shah and Akbar. Also Munger did not escape raids by the Marathas from western India, in 1743.
The first real contact with British forces came in 1757, when Eyre Coote came to Munger at the head of a British force in pursuit of Jean Low, the French adventurer who was fleeing northwards after the battle of Plassey. He was not allowed to enter the fort and was given a strong hint to leave by the fort garrison, who lined the ramparts with their matches held near the cannons. Many other British expeditions came into Munger area in the subsequent years as British influence gradually spread in Eastern India.
In 1762 Mir Kasim Ali Khan, a Muslim king, transferred his capital from Murshidabad to Munger and trained his troops here, modelled on the British system. He also began to manufacture arms, which is even to this day carried on. He was a very just ruler and did much to wipe out corruption and injustice. Munger become renowned for culture and many scholars came to stay at his court.
He, however, differed with the British over matters of trade and administration and after various skirmishes, he was ousted after a furious two day battle at Munger in 1763. The British then took over Munger and slowly its strategic importance diminished and it became a sanatorium for troops, then a lunatic asylum for sepoys, a depot for army clothing and finally an invalid station for British troops. In the mid 1850's a British traveller, Sir Joseph Hooker, described Munger as: "by far the prettiest town I have ever seen on the river".
Many famous people visited Munger including Swami Vivekananda, Swami Dayananda, Mahatma Gandhi, Swami Sivananda and last but not least Swami Satyananda who came, stayed and founded the now world famous Bihar School of Yoga.
The fort occupies an area of 222 acres of land, the walls having a circuit of 21/1 miles. It is built on a rocky eminence which projects some distance into the Ganges. Towards the west, and partly towards the north, the river comes to the walls, while on the landside the fortifications are defended by a deep moat about 175 feet wide. The ramparts which still stand today as monuments to Munger's former glory, are about 30ft. thick.
The highest point in the fort is Karan Chaura or Karan Ghabutra (the slab of Raja Karan) - now the site of Ganga Darshan. Karan was a contemporary of Vikrama, the supreme king of India at that time, and an ardent worshipper of goddess Chandi Devi, whose sthan (place of worship) is located about a mile to the east of the fort. When the British occupied Munger, they erected a saluting battery on Karan Chaura (platform). It was the capture of this hill by Capt. Smith that played an important part in quelling the 'White Mutiny' against the British by certain rebellious European officers in 1766. Subsequently General Goddard built a huge palatial bungalow on this hill and it became the residence of the commanding officer. Later the house was acquired by the Maharaja of Vizianagram, and then by the Raja of Murshidabad. In 1978 the area was acquired by the Bihar School of Yoga and renamed 'Ganga Darshan' by Swami Satyananda Saraswati. It is now being developed solely as a world centre for the modern yogic/tantric renaissance.
The Ganges flows north only at two places along its entire length- at Benares and Munger, which makes Munger a very venerated spot. At this exact place on the Ganges, half a kilometre from Ganga Darshan, is the ancient ghat (bathing place) known as Kashtaharani Ghat. It is mentioned in the 26th Chapter of the Adi Khand of Valmiki's 'Ramayana', that both Rama and his brother Lakshman took rest at Kashtaharani Ghat after defeating the demoness Taraka. The relaxation they had, gave rise to the name of Kashtaharani (place of removal of afflictions and of relaxation).
It was here also that Sita, after having been rescued from the clutches of Ravana in Ceylon, landed on her way to Sitakund. Sitakund (pool of Sita), five miles away, is where she proved her innocence by the fire ordeal. She came out of the fiery ordeal unscathed and imparted to the pool the heat she had absorbed from the fire. These now hot springs can still be seen today and thousands of people make pilgrimages there. The mineral water obtained from the springs is a well known tonic. And these waters and the waters of the Ganges are reputed to cure all types of skin diseases.
There are a number of hills around this area, part of the Vindhyas mountain range. The great Chinese traveller, Hiuen Tsang, in his accounts, records sighting the Hiranya Parvat (golden mountain) on the south bank of the Ganges which "belched forth masses of smoke and vapor that obscured the sun and the moon." This area has been identified as Munger. Even now there are a number of hot springs here which testify to volcanic action in the past. The most famous are at Bhimbandh, about 40 miles from Munger, which is associated with a story about Buddha. Buddha had an encounter in the Bhimbandh forest with Angulimala, a renowned robber and murderer, who wore a necklace of the fingers of his victims. Instead of making Buddha his next victim, he was overcome by the spiritual power and love of Buddha. He renounced his evil ways and became a famous disciple.
According to the tantric tradition, Chandi Sthan (the place of goddess Chandi) in Munger is one of the 64 shakti peeths in India. These peeths are said to have arisen from the body of Parvati. Myth says that King Daksha was performing an important fire ceremony to which he invited all the gods except Shiva. His daughter, Parvati, came to find out why her husband was not included. She became infuriated and threw her body into the blazing sacrificial fire. When Shiva found out what had happened he became wild, and took the burnt body of Parvati, then known as Sati, on his shoulder and wandered aimlessly like a mad man. Vishnu became concerned and threw his divine disc at Sati's body, hoping to bring Shiva to his senses. Her body was cut into 64 pieces, each falling in a different part of India. Her eye fell here in Munger, and can be seen depicted in the Chandi temple.
Chandi has an atmosphere of tantra. The loneliness of the place, the dark subterranean cave that is adjacent to the cremation ground stretching along the Ganges and the ritual performed there, all indicate a tantric origin. Also, there used to be a small platform between two giant banyan trees which was the asana (seat) of Raja Bhratrihari, brother of Vikramaditya, where he attained tantric siddhi (salvation). Bhratrihari is famous throughout India for many fine books which he wrote on vairagya (renunciation). He himself renounced his kingdom and became a sannyasin.
Munger has always been a spiritual place belonging to the yogis, rishis and munis. It was a great cultural centre where the chanting of mantra and the scriptures took place. Munger is said to have been the Kingdom of King Kama. At that time it was known as Angadesha and also included Bhagalpur. There were different persons by the name Kama; which Kama actually ruled is not certain. However, it seems likely to be Kama of the Mahabharat, the son of Kunti.
Kama was a great devotee of Devi and devout tantric. It is said that Kama would go to the Chandi Sthan temple in the early morning via an underground tunnel from Ganga Darshan, and perform a horrific sacrifice of his physical body in which he cut himself in pieces and offered these to the 64 yoginis. When he had thrown his whole body into a boiling vat of ghee, Chandi would appear and resurrect his body, offering him a boon of 50kgs. gold. He would take this gold back to his palace and distribute it to all the beggars and needy people from the now famous platform, Kama Chaura Thus Kama became known as Danavir, or the Charitable One.
The story goes that the King of India at this time, called Vikrama (though his identity is not sure, he may be the famous Vikramaditya who ruled from Ujjain), wanted to find out how Kama was obtaining his gold. So he followed him one morning and watched the whole sacrifice.
Next morning, Vikrama went ahead of Kama and performed the same sacrifice. Chandi, being pleased with his offering, appeared to him and offered him the boon. Vikrama asked for the precious stone (shila), the philosopher's stone, which enabled one to have the 50kgs. of gold without this torturous sacrifice plus that day's 50kgs. of gold. Chandi accepted and gave him what he desired. This meant that whoever performed the sacrifice thereafter could not be saved, nor could they receive any gold. As usual Kama came to do his worship that morning. Chandi knowing the present state of affairs turned the boiling vat of ghee upside down so Kama could not perform the sacrifice and thereby saved his life.
What remains today of the Chandi temple is the inverted cauldron.
In continuation of the profound spiritual tradition of Bihar and Munger, Ganga Darshan has been founded and built under the inspiration of Swami Satyananda Saraswati, disciple of Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh. It will continue the work started by the Universities of Nalanda and Vikramshila and will be a pathfinder for the current and future spiritual awakening of people throughout the world in the spheres of yoga and tantra.