Mandar Hill is about 700 feet high and is situated about 30 miles south of the town of Bhagalpur. There is a branch railway line ofthe Eastern Railway connecting Bhagal- pur with Mandar Hill and Mandar Hill station is the terminus of the branch line. Mandar Hill station is about three miles from Mandar Hill. There is also a good all- weather road connecting Bhagalpur to Dumka, the headquarters of Santhal Parganas district, and Mandar Hill is about a mile from the road at a certain point.
The hill consists of a huge mass of granite overgrown near the summit with low jungles. There are two temples near the top of the hill, approached by steps cut out of the rock. Mandar Hill is held very sacred in Hindu mythology and finds mention in the Mandar Mahatmya-a portion of Skanda Purana. An idea of the antiquity and legend of Mandar Hill can be had properly in the light of the antiquity and tradition of the district where Mandar Hill is situated.
Bhagalpur district is a part of ancient Anga and is an area hoary with traditions and legends. Atharva-veda mentions the people of Anga. It is said that Titikshu, the second son of Mahamanas, the, seventh in descent from Anu, had founded the kingdom Anava and named it after its ancestors. The Asura king Bali had five kshetraja sons from his wife Sudeshna, namely, Anga, Vanga, Kalinga, Pundra and Sumha.
The Anava kingdom was expanded under that Asura king and five kingdoms were carved out of it and named after his five sons. Separated from Magadha by the river Champa, Anga comprised of the modern districts of Bhagalpur and Monghyr. Malini was the capital of Anga desha and later on, in Matsya Purana we find mention of Champa Malini as the capital. There is frequent mention of the place in the Vana Parva of Mahabharata as a place of pilgrimage.
Not much is known about the genealogy of the kings of Anga, but Lomapada, the seventh in the genealogical list, was known to be a friend of King Dasharatha of Ayodhya. Champa was the great grandson of Lomapada and during his time the capital was re-named as Champa or Champapuri. Champapuri is often mentioned in the Mahabharata and later in the Buddhist works. It has been a citadel of Buddhism as well as Hinduism.
The large finds of Buddhistic relies throughout the district indicate that Anga desha was very much under Buddhistic influence, The area was also sanctified as the birth-place of Basupujya, the 12th Jaina Tirthankara and was closely associated with Parsva, the 23rd Jain Tirthankara. Lord Mahavira Vardhamana, the 24th and last Jaina Tirthankara, had spent three rainy seasons at Champapuri.
At the time of the Buddha, Champa was one of the six great cities, along with Rajagriha, Sravasti, Saketa, Kausambi and Varanasi. Subhadrangi, Asoka's mother, was born at Champa. Champa. is also associated with a number of Jataka stories, wherein we read of merchants boarding the ships at Champa and going to Ceylon and other areas. Anga desha was virtually the confluence of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.
Later, this area appears to have come under Satanika Parantap, the king of the Vatsyas, whose capital was Kausambi near Allahabad. Satanika Parantap had attacked Champa, which was then under the rule of King Dadhivahana. It appears that a later king, Bhattiya of Magadha, was defeated by Brahmadatta of Anga; but BimbiSara (c. 603-551 B. C.), son of Bhattiya, avenged his father's defeat and annexed Anga to his empire. Anga, with Champa as the capital, remained a part of the Magadhan Empire for centuries to come.
As a part of Magadha, Anga experienced the vicissitudes and changes of the ruling dynasties of the Magadhan Empire. The Sisunagas, Nandas, Mauryas, Sungas and the Guptas, as the rulers of the Magadhan empire, had control over Magadha some time or other. Bhagalpur district, which was the core of Anga desha, had also a full impact of the renaissance of Indian art, which the Guptas had ushered in. Many of the finely executed relies and statues that have been later found in Bhagalpur district could be ascribed to the Gupta era.
A copper statue of the Buddha measuring 71 feet in height, discovered at Sultanganj, is an exquisite specimen, which is now kept in the Birmingham Museum. This is one of the finest of the finds in Bhagalpur district. Fa-hien and Hieun-tsang had both visited Bhagalpur districts. The district has also the site of the famous Vikramshila University, as the recent excavations at Patharghatta region near Colgong have unearthed a large number of relies which go to substantiate the claim of this area as the site of that great university.
Under the Palas, Anga desha had an era of prosperity and a revival of culture. The Bhagalpur copper plate of Narayana Pala indicates that this monarch had recovered north Bengal and Bihar from the hands of the Pratihara king Mahendra Pala (c. 885-910 A.D.), who had previously defeated him. An inscription dated the sixth year of the reign of Gopala IT, who succeeded Narayana Pala, has been found at qajimpara in Malda district (West Bengal) and it refers to a victorious camp of Gopala 11 at Ghataparbatika.
Ghataparbatika is traditionally associated with Bateshwarsthan at Patharghatta, near Colgong, which is now once again accepted as the site of Vikramshila University. Later the Sena kings also had their impact on Anga.
Mandar Hill is a great place of pilgrimage although it is not so well known now. The relies on Mandar Hill indicate a confluence of two religions, Hinduism and Jainism, and side by side there are temples held sacred by the followers of these two creeds. Mandar Hill temples were desecrated by Kala Pahar and one of the idols, Madhusudan Bhagwan, was removed by someone and enshrined in a temple at Baunsi. Especially on Makar Sankranti day thousands of local pilgrims visit the temples at Mandar.
The numerous relies of buildings, tanks, large wells and stone figures, found for a mile or two round the base of this sacred bill, indicate that once there was a large city here. The popular story is that the city at the foot of the hill had 52 markets, 53 streets and 88 tanks. According to local tradition, on the night of the Diwali festival a large building (the ruins of which are still there and the walls of which contain an immense number of small holes, evidently to hold chiraghs or small lamps) was formerly illuminated by thousands of lights, each householder supplying one light only.
Now for a description of the relics at Mandar Hill. The two temples at the top are to be approached by stages, as it were. At the foot of the hill there is a tank called Papaharini and from the vicinity of the tank three routes lead to the top of the hill. The name of the tank Papaharini is suggestive.
There is a legend about the tank. There was a king in Karnatak, Chola by name, who is supposed to have taken a bath in the tank on Makar Sankranti day before he went to offer his puja at the temple atop the hill. It is said that the king was cured of the disease from which he was suffering. Some say it was leprosy while others suggest that it was a persistent skin trouble. The reputation that the tank has gained for curing ailments attracts a large number of people to it on the Makar Sankranti day for a bath.
From 4 A.M. till 12 noon, hundreds of people have their bath in this tank and a big mela is held near the tank. Thousands collect to have a darshan of Madhusudan Bhagwan particularly on this day. It is said that this deity was enshrined at the temple of Mandar, but left the hill and went to Baunsi when the temple was desecrated by Kala Pahar.
On the Makar Sankranti day the image is brought out from Baunsi and is taken in a procession to Mandar. After a worship at Mandar Hill it is taken back to Baunsi. Papaharini tank also attracts a large number of bathers on Mekh Sankranti, solar eclipse, and lunar eclipse, Bhado Purnima, Kartik Purnima and Maghi Purnima days. The water of the tank is often taken for being kept in the houses of the devotees, who regard it to be as sacred as the waters of the Ganga. There is a dak bungalow belonging to the Forest Department near this tank.
Near Papaharini tank at the foot of the hill there are a number of ruined temples said to have been destroyed by Kala Pahar. Of the three routes, which lead from the Papaharini tank to the top of the hill, the path a little to the east is much used. On this path stairs have been cut out of the stone. The legend is that these stairs had been cut at the instance of King Ugra Bhairab. A few yards up this path there is a headless idol or an image. It is the image of either Durga or Kali and it is said that Kala Pahar had beheaded the idol. A little higher up there is a small idol on a small pillar. This idol is worshipped as the Sun God.
Further up there is another very big idol having three faces and ten hands. This deity is Mahakal Bhairab. A little higher but in close proximity to Mahakal Bhairab, there is a small image of Sri Ganesha. Near the latter image, as you go up, there is an idol of Saraswati, which is about two feet high. Near the idol of Mahakal Bhairab and just by the side of the stairs, there is a three-line inscription.
Two very thick and remarkably parallel lines run round the bill. It is difficult to believe that any human hand couldpossibly have drawn them. The lines are at a distance of about six feet from each other and look as if a motor vehicle with grooved tyres bad passed over the hill. The story goes that this hill was bound with a serpent and the sea was churned with it at the time of Samudra Manthar. The steep granite hill hardly offers any foothold and engineers are of the opinion that it is extremely difficult for any human agency to make these marks round the -massive hill without modern equipment
After a pilgrim passes the image of Mahakal Bhairab, he will feel as if a lot more of physical exertion has to be put in to reach the summit, especially as the path becomes extremely steep. In spite of the steps cut out of the stone, it is far from easy to ascend. Here also one finds some inscriptions, which are not very distinct. Near about these inscriptions there is another female deity with eight hands. This image is worshipped as Saraswati. Above this idol -one comes across two paths and both of them lead to a cave temple of Narsingh Bhagwan.
There is a tank known as Sita Kund. One of these paths passes by Sita Kund while the other skirts another tank called Sunkh Kund. Sita Kund tank is about 500 feet long and 100 feet wide and is situated in front of the ruins of the oldest temple, at a level of 500 feet above the surrounding plain. Near Sita Kund there are three large tamarind trees which offer shade to the pilgrims. The cave temple of Narsingh Bhagwan is carved out of the hill and the roof is so low that one cannot stand up in it. Near the cave temple there is one small ashram constructed of bricks and stones.
The ashram apparently accommodated some hermits in the past. The ashram is now empty. On the summit of the hill there are two small temples. One of the temples contains six marks of human feet. These marks are held sacred and the legend is that they are the foot-marks of Vishnu, Saraswati and Laxmi. There are two other temples at the summit occupied by the Jains and are used by them as places of pilgrimage. The Jain temples are built of stone and mortar and are evidently not very old.The summit of the hill commands exquisite scenery. The tanks surrounding the hill, the fields, and the two rivers, the Chir and the Chandan, look very beautiful. Mandar Hill is extremely valuable for the antiquarian and the Hindu and Jain pilgrims.
According to the legend commonly believed, it was here that Vishnu had defeated the notorious giant Madhukaitab in a battle that had lasted for ten thousand years, ultimately the Mandar Hill had been thrust over the body of Madhukaitab, so that the monster could not do any further harm to the earth. We have also referred to the legend, to be found in the Puranas and the Mahabharata, that this hill was used for churning the ocean to extract the nectar from its bosom (Samudra Manthan).
It is known that, with the break-up of the Gupta Empire, the later Guptas of Magadha, whose connections with the imperial Guptas have not been fully ascertained, established supremacy over Magadha. Adityasena, son of Madhava Gupta, was the eighth king of this line and came to be known as a greatadministrator. An inscription of Adityasena has been discovered on the 'Mandar Hill. This inscription relates that both he and his queen Sri Kondadevi had installed an image of Narahari (Man-lion), an incarnation of Vishnu, on the hill, and that the queen performed an act of piety by excavating a tank, known as Papaharini, at the foot of the said hill. Papaharini was also known as Manohar Kund.
The Mandar Mahatmya, a portion of the Skanda Purana, describes Mandar Hill. It is said that Raja Chhatra Sen of the Chol tribe, who lived before the time of the Muhammadans, erected the oldest temples at the summit. Some of the carvings on the rocks are taken by some to be shell writings. Mandar Hill is also very important as it has the unique image of Vishnu, probably the only sculpture in Bihar where Vishnu, in his man-lion incarnation, has not been shown as tearing Hiranyakashipu. The image is 34 inches high and made of black stone. It belongs to the Gupta period.