Sultanganj is a place of hoary antiquity. It is traditionally associated with the sage Jahnu, whose ashram was a centre of learning and culture. Jahnu Muni's ashram was located on the rock jutting out of the bed of the Ganga River. Now the site has the Shiva temple of Ajgaivinath, also known as Gaibinath Mahadeo. The story is that the river Ganga on her way to the ocean interrupted the Muni in his meditation by the rush of her currents. The sage swallowed the river in a gulp. Bhagiratha intervened and the Muni again let her out by making an incision in his thigh. That is why the river Ganga is also called Jahnavi.

Like many of the ancient temples, the origin of Ajgaivinath temple is also shrouded in mystery. According to one legend, Lord Shiva was given his bow here, known as Ajgav, and so the place came to be known as Ajgaivinath. The ancient name of the place was Jahangira, which was derived from the name of Jahnu Muni. Jahangira is a distorted form of Jahnu giri (the hill of Jahnu) or Jahnu griha (the abode of Jahnu). Jahangira is now a small village forming a part of the town of Sultanganj.

Traditionally Sultanganj formed a part of the great Anga State. In the days of the Mahabharata, Karna, the sixth brother of the five Pandavas, ruled in Anga. The capital of Anga was Champa. Champa is the present Champanagar situated three miles to the west of Bhagalpur. King Karna had his castles at Champa (modern Champanagar) and Jahnugiri (modern Sultanganj). At present Champanagar, the- site of Karna's castle, is well known as Karnagarh. Karnagarh is practically a part of Bhagalpur town now.
Some scholars have associated the large plateau of Karnagarh in Bhagalpur, where there are still ramparts of a fort, as one of the famous pre-Buddhist forts. The site had several bastions and ditches. When the British took over, the area wasselected for housing the Hill Rangers, a body of troops raised from among the Santals of Raj-Mahal Hills. For some time this was the headquarters of the wing of an Indian regiment and slowly the bastions have disappeared although the ditches are still there.

The State Constable Training School now mainly occupies the plateau. Karnagarh area of Sultanganj, which had King Karna's castle, is also a large plateau. It is now called Krishnagarh, after the name of a zamindar of the branch of Raj Banaili, by the name of KumarKrishnanand Singh, who built a large residential structure on the site.

Sultanganj was also famous during the rule of the Pala and Sena kings (from 730 A.D. to 1199 A.D.). It is said that Dharmapala, the first king of the Pala dynasty, had laid the foundation of the VikramshilaUniversity at Sultanganj. This claim, however, is now not finding much support and the said famed University is deemed to have been at Patharghatta near Colgong in Bhagalpur district. The relies discovered by excava- tions there, along with other circumstantial evidence, suggest that Patharghatta was probably the real site of Vikramshila University.

But there is no doubt that during the Pala and Sena kings, Sultanganj area was bestowed with a number of fine works of art and architecture. Numerous ancient relies like stupa's, seals, coins, terracotta and images have beenfound in Sultanganj, A bronze Buddha image, now in the Birmingham Museum, is probably the best known relic discovered in Sultanganj. This bronze image is a fine piece of metalled sculpture, which has drawn the admiration of the world. The image is characterized by delicacy of design and ornamental detail.

Some of the other important antiquities of Sultanganj, now preserved in the Patna Museum, are:

(1) Mukhalinga, height 9 ¼" of black stone, with face of a male.

(2) Buddha in Bhumisparsa Mudra, height 8" broken, inscribed, in black stone.

(3) Buddha in a preaching pose seated on a lotus upheld by a wag, broken, 9" X 6", in black stone, inscribed.

(4) Black stone torso of a dancing figure, 8 ‘ ½ X 7".

(5) Black stone torso of a seated preaching Buddha figure, 4" X 2".

(6) One black stone mukhalinga, 1" X 1".

(7) Upper half of a black stone prabha torana of a Buddhist image arch consisting of three bands of floral decorations. Centre of the arch is occupied by a kriti mukha flanked by two flying Gandharvas and two panels containing Bodhisatva figures. In the corner is a temple with a mutilated Bodhisatva figure, measurement 1’6 ½ 7.X 1’5" X 5’ ¾".

(8) Torso of a black stone figure of Bodhisatva with a seated Buddha figure, 21 7 " X 1’ 4 ½".

(9) Head of a stone figure of Bhairab, 1'3" X 11".

(10) A number of old gold ornaments and coins.

The Murli Hill of Sultanganj situated just on the bank of the Ganga, from where one has to take the boat to visit the Ajgaivinath temple at mid-Gauga, is also a place of antiquity. It contains a Gupta inscription and a number of Hindu and Buddhistic images. There are large stone slabs and other relies to show that there were temples as well on this hill. Now the hill has got a mosque at its summit, which is ascribed to Ikhtiyar Muhammad Khilji, son of Bakhtiyar Khilji. Ikhtiyar Muhammad Khilji is taken to be the fanatic whohaddestroyed Nalanda and Vikramshila Universities towards the close of the 12th century A.D.

Most of the other images left unmolested at Murli Hill were disfigured by Kala Pahar, another fanatic who was the military commander of Daud Khan, the Ruler of Bengal. Daud Khan had revolted against Akbar in 1573 and had held out till his force was routed and he was put to death by the imperial force near Rajmahal in 1576. There is not much evidence, however, to show that Sultanganj came under the influence of the Jains. This is rather peculiar, as the 23rd Tirthankara Parsva and the 24th or the last Tirthankara Mahavira Vardhamana had visited Champanagar or Bhagalpur.

Champanagar had been visited by Lord Mahavira several times and it is recorded that he had spent three Parjjusanas (rainy season retirement) there. Champanagar was also the birth-place of Birja-Jina and another Jain scholar, Palakpaya Muni, the author of Hasti-Ayurveda, an elaborate account of the ailments of elephants. Champanagar is also the birthplace of the 12th Jain Tirthankara Basupujya and at Nathnagar, contiguous to Champanagar, there is a Jain temple of the Digambaras dedicated to Basupujya.

It is somewhat unlikely that Sultanganj, being so close to Champanagar, would not have come under the Jain influence in some way or other. Rather it could be suggested that, if excavations are still carried out at some of the well-known sites at Sultanganj, Jain relies might be discovered. Regarding the find of a large number of Buddhist images and particularly the very fine image of the Buddha now in the Birmingham Museum, one has to remember that when Hieun Tsang visited Champs, he had found several Sangha- ramas (Viharas) mostly in ruins, with about two hundred Buddhist monks.

At that time (606647 A. D.) the area was under the rule of the Khetauri kings of Mal origin and they were very antagonistic to the Buddhist monks. But Buddhism had another spurt in Anga during the Pala kings.Under Dharma- pala (c. 770810 A.D.), the son of Gopala, the frontier of the Anga empire touched the west of the Sone River. Dharmapala was a great Buddhist and a patron of education and culture.

He is supposed to have founded Vikramshila Vihara on a hillock on the bank of the Ganga in Northern Magadha. Cunningham had identified Vikramshila Vihara with the village of Silao near Baragaon.
There is another theory that Vikramshila University was in the area where there are the present villages of Orip, Antichak and Madhorampur near Batesharasthan, six miles north of the Colgong station. Excepting Silao all the other places are in Bhagalpur district.It is remarkable that Jahangira had persisted in being an important place in the kingdom of Anga through all the ages, Vedic, Epic, Buddhistic, as well as in the days of the Muslim rule and later.

The origin of Ajgaivinath temple at Jahangira or Sultanganj is not exactly known. Some claim it to be a Swayambhu on the rock, discovered and then given an abode. That this is a very ancient place of worship there can be no doubt. The three temples of Shiva, namely, the Ajgaivinath temple at Sultanganj, Basukinath temple at Basukinath near Dumka and the temple of Vaidyanath at Deoghar in Santal Parganas are the three most famous Shiva temples in Bihar and they have attracted lakhs of pilgrims every year from a long time past.

Even now large bands of devotees are found walking carrying holy Ganga water, chanting mantras and making a pilgrimage to all these three Shiva temples. The temple is solidly built on the rock and has got a series of marvelous rock sculpture and some inscriptions. Some of the specimens of the rock panel sculpture at this temple can hold there own against any of the best known specimens anywhere in India.

It is, however, strange that the famous Shiva temple known as Ajgaivinath, which is ancient and so widely known, should have a name with a Muslim impress. It is clear that during the Muslim rule the name of Jahangira was changed to Sultanganj and the name has stuck through the British period to this day

1 comment:

  1. Good information on Sultanganj and its antiquities.