Darbhanga -An air of rich cultural and heritage values
Darbhanga is situated on the banks of the Little Baghmati river in northern Bihar, about 145km from the state capital Patna. It is a municipal corporation city and the headquarter of Darbhanga district, comprising the twin towns of old Darbhanga Raj and Laheriasarai.
The city derived its name from “Dwarbanga”, a combination of two words Dwar and Banga, meaning gate and Bengal respectively. Thus “Dwarbanga”, means the “Gateway of Bengal” suggesting the region’s linguistic and cultural affinity with Bengal that commences from here.
Alternatively, the name Darbhanga refers to one Darbhangi Khan, who was the military head of Tughlaq forces, said to be the founder of the city.
Darbhanga lies in the heartland of ancient Mithila, which is a geographical and cultural region located between the lower ranges of the Himalayas and the River Ganga. The region was spread over more than half of the area of Bihar in India and part of adjoining Nepal. The present-day Bihar districts of Darbhanga, Madhubani, Muzaffarpur, Saharsa, Samastipur, Sitamarhi and Supaul in India and Dhanusha district in Nepal were parts of the Mithila region. The region was also known as Mithilanchal, Tirhut, and Tirabhukti.
History of Darbhanga Traces back to Prehistoric Period
Mithila was ruled by various dynasties at different periods of time. This included the Videh Janaks dynasty, of which the most famous Janak was King Kushadhwaj Janak. He was the 21st king in a chain of 57 Janak kings ruled Mithila. According to the Ramayana, he was the father of Mata Sita.
Several dynasties succeeded Janaka kings thereafter, such as Vajjisangh, Lichhavis, Shaishunag, Nand, Maurya, Shung, Kant, Gupta, Vardhan etc.
The later-era rulers of the region included Pal dynasty (6- 9th century), Sen dynasty (9-11th century), Karnat dynasty (11-14th century), Oinvar dynasty (1326- 1526CE), and Khandwala dynasty (1577-1947/1960CE).
Patrons of Cultural Activities in Darbhanga
The Kings of Khandwala dynasty, also known as Raj Darbhanga were great patrons of arts, music, and culture. In fact, Darbhanga is known as the cultural hub of the Mithila region. The kings of Raj Darbhanga actively encouraged Maithili culture and literature, Sanskrit and various sports activities including polo.
The kings were admirers of Hindustani music, particularly the Dhrupad music, a vocal style of Hindustani classical music. A major school of Dhrupad today is known as Darbhanga Gharana. The famed Ustad Bismillah Khan was a court musician of Raj Darbhanga for several years. Similarly, the renowned singer and dancer Gauhar Jaan and the top sitar player Pandit Rameshwar Pathak were also court musicians of Raj Darbhanga.
When the British conquered Bengal and Bihar towards the end of 18th century, they did not recognize Khandwala dynasty as a kingdom. They were considered only as zamindaris. After the independence in 1947, the Government of India abolished the Zamindari system and thus ended the fortunes of the Khandwala dynasty.
Present Scenario in Darbhanga
Darbhanga town a sub-division since 1845 was upgraded to an independent district in 1972 as part of a reorganization of districts in Bihar. Meanwhile, it attained the status of a city in 1961.
The land in Darbhanga District is generally very fertile and most of the areas remain under cultivation with very little areas of forest. The district is noted for its trade in fish, mango and makhana. The Malda variety mangoes from this region are very famous.
Darbhanga is the second-largest medical hub in Bihar after Patna and the 6th largest city in the state by population.
Darbhanga is a pilgrimage center since ancient times. The place is closely associated with the events in the lives of Lord Ram and Mata Sita, as mentioned in the Ramayana.
When Lord Ram was passing through Darbhanga on his way to Janakpur accompanied by Brahmarshi Vishvamitra and Lakshman, his feet accidentally touched a stone. And, then it turned into a beautiful woman. She was Ahalya, wife of Gautam Rishi. She had become a stone long ago as the Rishi cursed her to be so. He was angered by seeing her chastity being compromised by Indra through impersonation. It was as per the Rishi’s boon to his wife that Lord Ram became instrumental in getting her relief from the curse. There is a temple at this place dedicated to Ahalya.
The region also has a connection with Mahabharata, as it is believed that Pandavas stayed here during the period of their exile.
There are various temples and mosques around the region, visited by devotees around the year.
Darbhanga is situated at a latitude of 26.17°N and a longitude if 85.9°E with an average elevation of 171 ft above the sea level. The district is boarded by Madhubani district in the north, Samastipur district on the south and Saharsa district on the east. The districts of Muzaffarpur and Sitamarhi share its western border.
Darbhanga district is having a total geographical area of 2,279 Sq. Km. Major cities such as Patna, Muzaffarpur, and Purnia are at a distance of 145km, 75km, and 250km respectively from Darbhanga.
Darbhanga has long summers beginning March to last even in late July. The average temperature remains at about 41o c during summer with May being the warmest month. The region gets an annual rainfall of 1,143mm, mostly in the months of June, July, August, and September. August is the wettest month Darbhanga.
Winter starts around October and ends in February. The average temperature is around 17o c during this period. January is the coolest month, while December the driest.
The best time to visit Darbhanga is during the months of January, February, November, and December. You will experience good weather with pleasant average temperatures during this period.
How to Reach Darbhanga
The place is well connected with other parts of the country by state and national highways and railways. National highway NH57 from Muzaffarpur to Purnia is passing through Darbhanga. Other national highways touching the placeincludes NH 27 from Porbandar to Silchar and NH 105 to Jainagar that starts from the city. Besides, the district has several state highways and frequent bus services to all major cities.
Darbhanga is the busiest railway station of Samastipur Division, and it is connected directly to all the major cities like Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, Pune, Bengaluru, Amritsar, Ahmedabad, Patna, and others.
The Lok Nayak Jaiprakash Narayan International Airport Patna (145km) is the nearest domestic airport. The Janakpur Airport in Nepal is 85km away from here
People, Language, Culture
According to census 2011, the total population of the city’s metropolitan region is 3,06,089. The district has a population of 3,259, 789. Hindus are in majority here, followed by Muslims. Rest of the population consists of Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, and Christians.
Main languages spoken in this district are Maithili, Hindi, and Urdu. There are several minor linguistic groups such as Bengali, Sindhi, Punjabi, and Marwari in this area The region has a literacy rate of 64%.
People depend mostly on agriculture for a living, and they cultivate mainly crops such as paddy, wheat, pulses, moong, urad, arhar, jute and sugar-cane, and maize. A number of small-scale industries are also present in Darbhanga, mostly sugar mills, paper mills, and handlooms.
People are also engaged in handicrafts, bamboo works, clay works etc. The region is famous for Madhubani paintings and artwork largely used on the occasions of mythological and religious events.
People of Darbhanga shares a rich tradition and cultural heritage. It is reflective of Darbhanga’s historic contributions in promoting literature, culture, justice, and philosophy through its rulers and citizens. Traditionally people are religious-minded, and fervent rites and rituals are part of their practices.
Places of Interest
There are a number of places of historical and religious significance in Darbhanga you would like to visit. The city has well-planned and designed complex of palaces, temples, gardens, and lakes, built by rulers of Raj Darbhanga at different periods of time.
Some of the popular palaces include Nargauna Palace, Rambagh Palace, Lakshmishwar Vilas Palace also known as Anandbagh Bhawan and Bela Palace. Today, most of the buildings attached to the palaces are used by the Sanskrit University and Lalit Narayan Mithila University.
Some of the very popular visiting centers in Darbhanga include the following:
Ahilya Asthan temple is situated in Ahiyari village about 35 km from Darbhanga. This place is at the border with Sitamarhi district in Bihar. The temple is dedicated to Ahilya, wife of Gautham Rishi. She had to remain as a stone for ages due to a curse by her husband and got salvation by the touch of Lord Ram’s feet.
The temple was built by Maharaj Chhatra Singh Bahadur of Darbhanga in 1817. Ramanavami is an important festival at this temple and large fairs are held every year on the occasion.
Shyama Kali Temple
Shyama Kali temple or Ma Shyama temple is in the Madheshwar campus near the Lalit Narayana Mithila University at Darbhanga, dedicated to Goddess Kali. It is about 2KM from the Darbhanga railway station.
The temple was built in 1933 on the pyres of the King of Darbhanga Rameshwar Singh, who was an ardent devotee of the Goddess. A 10-ft tall idol of the Goddess Kali built in black marble is enshrined in the sanctum. The ceiling of the temple is full of tantric signs and symbols.
It is a large temple surrounded by a pond and a host of other temples in the close vicinity. The entire complex was the cremation ground of the Royal family. This is a popular shrine visited by large crowd daily.
Manokamna Mandir is a white marble temple located near the Nargauna Palace in the Lalit Narayan Mithila University campus in Darbhanga. The temple is dedicated to Lord Hanuman.
Manokamna means desire. Devotees flock this temple carrying pens and pencils and write their desires on the temple walls praying for fulfillment.
The Chandradhari Museum was established in 1957 on the north bank of Mansarowar Lake near the Darbhanga railway station. All artifact and rare objects of the museum were donated by one Chandradhari Singh of Ranti Dyordhi Madhubani. Thus, the museum is named after him.
The museum has a fabulous collection of the attractive artifact, which is displayed in 11 different halls of the double-storied building. This includes the collection of different styles of paintings, black basalt stone sculptures, Nepalese and Tibetan brass statues and stuffed animals, costly gems and precious stones among other things. The museum also has a library.
Maharaja Lakshmishwar Singh Museum
Maharaja Lakshmishwar Singh Museum is adjacent to the Chandradhari Singh Museum in Darbhanga. Established in 1977, the museum is named after the erstwhile king of Darbhanga, Maharaja Sir Lakshmishwar Singh (1858-1898).
The artifact and other objects of the museum are the collections or donations of the members of the royal family. This includes the royal throne of King Rameshwar Singh, royal bed, Grecian-style statues, and beautiful ivory and wooden objects, exquisitely carved works and others.
Kusheshwarasthan Bird Sanctuary
Kusheshwarasthan bird sanctuary area is situated about 45km east of Darbhanga city. It was established in 1994 considering the area’s greater ecological, faunal, floral, geomorphological and natural importance.
The sanctuary consists of some 14 waterlogged villages of Kusheshwar Asthan block spread over an area of over 7,000 acres. It has about 202 low-lying lakes. The place is the winter home for migratory birds from about eight countries.
Normally some 15 rare species of birds visit the sanctuary between November and March every year from countries as far away as Mongolia and Siberia. This includes the marbled teal, Indian darter, white-winged wood duck, Indian skimmer and the endangered Dalmatian pelican and Siberian crane.
Festivals of Darbhanga
Darbhanga, the cultural capital of Bihar, traditionally promotes cultural events, fairs, and festivals from ancient times. Today, a number of fairs and melas are held in various parts of the district every year on the occasions such as Ramanavami, Kartik Purnima, Dussehra, Janmashtami, Makar Sankranti, and Divali. This apart, people celebrate some regional festivals called Madhushrawani, Kojagra, Indra Puja and Jat-Jatin.
Another important festival in the region is Chatth Puja held twice in a year; in March and November. This is dedicated to the Sun God, expressing the people’s gratitude for the bounties of life on earth. It does not involve any idol worship.
The four-day festival is celebrated with weeks of preparation, by maintaining utmost sanctity and purity, observing fast and singing folk songs in praise of the Sun God and his consort Chatti Maiyya or Goddess Usha.
Darbhanga also organizes an International Film Festival every year since 2013 as a step towards inspiring and promoting regional movies particularly Bhojpuri, Maithili etc. This is one of the well-attended film festivals in east India.