Why I go back to Bihar,
again and again

— Sharanya Sahay

What makes us go back to Bihar, again and again? If we were to give a cryptic sound byte to this, we would prefer the term Soft Power.

The soft power of a geographical entity, as against its hard power represented through infrastructure and the state of economy, encompasses the self-confidence and self-pride expressed through its various art and creative forms.

Look at China and you will realize how they are peddling soft power —through films, music, sports, dance and drama, painting, literature, and now through Buddha—to establish their hegemony over the mightiest in the world. Their major positioning game in the last Beijing Olympics was to do just that and they won hands down. United States was doing the same by using Hollywood for long—bombarding the world with their imageries of a higher and more prosperous life style. Pentagon actually commissioned hundreds of Hollywood films after the world got hostile to their bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and these films were subliminally making the audience accept globally that Americans are a good lot of people who do not fight and even when they are forced to, they do it for restoring justice, liberty, equality, and freedom.

In an informal chat, one of the former Director Generals of Doordarshan from Bihar shared how intense and active is Chennai on hosting an average of more than 50 cultural events every day. You look at Madhya Pradesh and you have hordes of cultural happenings in Bhopal and elsewhere and the pleasant fact is that it has enjoyed the patronage of the State—irrespective of the political party in power over several decades now. Chhattisgarh has followed suit. In Kolkata, I have personally witnessed the former Chief Minister visiting the main cultural hub—Nandan near Chowrangee—almost every third day to watch a drama, a music concert, or a painting exhibition. You can listen to the local FM radio to find out how they churn out jingles, songs, jokes, and stories incessantly to create that soft power of the place. To assess the aesthetic power of a city today, you just need to count the number of coffee table book it has produced.

Bihar needs to take a lesson or two from these examples, all the more so once it has taken to the path of fast development — reportedly second only to Gujarat. The branding leverage that Bihar got after successfully hosting the Prakash Utsav and Kalchakra in 2017 was an eye opener. Both the national and the international media for the first time ever in recent time spoke of Bihar as the spiritual hub—a fulcrum of three influential religions in the world - Sikhism, Jainism, and Buddhism.

On its recently begun journey of hard power development, what course of action through soft power you think the State or civil society can initiate to consolidate its gains? The first action is to not only harp on the glorious past, but also bring out the exciting present.

Besides great spiritual legacies stated above, we need to rediscover Bihar in terms of its current and future potential. Only recently we are hearing startling advantages that Bihar enjoys in the branding game: very few of us would have ever imagined that the 14 kilometers of magnificent walls on the Rajgir hills have far greater antiquity value than the Great wall of China; hardly do we ever realize about half of the ancient universities in the world actually were located in Bihar of today – you would have certainly heard of Nalanda and Vikramshila among these, but may not have of the remaining four which are in the advanced stage of excavation. How many of you ever visualize that the ancient city of Pataliputra was the most prosperous city in the world for over one thousand years, producing some of the best of minds in the field of medicine, sexology, grammar, astronomy, literature, and numerology?

But it is not only the remote past that a Bihari can justifiably be proud of. Its extant cultural capital – language, music and dance, paintings and crafts, poetry and literature, food and its presence in Bollywood - is as exciting.

The raw materials for preserving such native consciousness are found in abundance among Biharis. The foremost is the linguistic structure signifying the importance they assign to collective – they use “HUM” instead of chaste “MAIN.” It runs like an underlying thread in all the four dialects – Magahi, Bhojpuri, Maithili, and Angika – of Bihar. Further, their sense of honour and self-pride is quite deep seated; Most of you would have observed them prefer sell eggs or fruits than beg on the streets of Delhi or any other metropolitan cities in India.

Other raw materials for Bihari soft power are Dhrupad of Mullik fame, Gayaki of Darbhanga and Bettiah Gharanas; Fagua of Holi and Birha of migration; Sugva of Chhath; Bidesia, Reshma-Chuharmal, Bihula-Bisahari, Bahura-Gorin, Raja Salhesh, Sama Chakeva, and Dom-Kach theatre style originating out of Anga Pradesh.

Patna school of painting called Patna Qalaam, Madhubani painting, Manjusha Kala or Angika Art, pillars of Ashoka, Didarganj Yakshi, Sultanganj Buddha, crafts such as special container woven out of sikki grass in the north, the "pauti", cotton dhurries and curtains, tussah or tussar silk - each tells you a unique story.

Folk dances similarly are several such as dhobi nach, jhumarnach, manjhi, gondnach, jitiyanach, more morni, dom-domin, bhuiababa, rah baba, kathghorwa nach, jat jatin, launda nach, bamar nach, jharni, jhijhia, natua nach, bidapad nach, sohrai nach, and gond nach.

If food is the foundation of a civil society’s soft power, Bihar has a varied base: Tilba and Chewda of Katarni rice, delicious eatables such as Litti and Chokha, Sattu, Tilkut, Thekua, Khamauni, Bhura, Pitthow, Khaja, Danauri, Tisauri, Anarsa, Khubi ki Lai, Malpua, Makhana are the commonest examples among others.

Of the most important component of soft power – literature and poetry - Bihar has produced a number of writers of Hindi, including Raja Radhika Raman Singh, Shiva Pujan Sahay, Divakar Prasad Vidyarthy, Ramdhari Singh 'Dinkar', Ram Briksh Benipuri, Phanishwar Nath 'Renu', Gopal Singh "Nepali" and Baba Nagarjun. Mahapandit Rahul Sankrityayan, the great writer and Buddhist scholar, was born in Uttar Pradesh but spent his life in Bihar. Hrishikesh Sulabh is the prominent writer of the new generation. Arun Kamal and Aalok Dhanwa are the well-known poets. Different regional languages also have produced some prominent poets and authors. Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay, who is among the greatest writers in Bangla, resided for a considerable period in Bihar.

Among the latest Indian writers in English, Upamanyu Chatterjee and Vikram Seth spent a good time in Patna. Devaki Nandan Khatri, who rose to fame at the beginning of the 20th century on account of his novels such as Chandrakanta and Chandrakanta Santati, was born in Muzaffarpur. Vidyapati Thakur was the most renowned medieval Bihari poet of Maithili. Bihar has also produced a number of scholars, writers and poets in Urdu, including Shaad Azimabadi, Jamil Mazhari, Bismil Azimabadi (Poet of famous patriotic couplet, 'Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamare dil mein hai'), Maulana Shabnam Kamali, Kaif Azimabadi etc.

The story of Bihar in Bollywood – films, actors, and artistes requires a long narration, which we will be touching upon separately in this website.

We hope for the time being, we have been able to explain why we go back to Bihar, again and again. We promise to bring to you each of the aspects separately and elaborately in the website. These segments will cover the soft power constituents of Bihar at length – food, music, art, culture, heritage, literature, language, films, festivals, fairs etc - penned down by authors of repute, mostly Biharis. For any Bihari, for that matter anyone, eager to look at one’s state as a branding potential, it will be an opportunity lost if not explored today. Join hands!

Sharanya Sahay