The Ancient Names and History of Patna
It is under the Mauryans that the name Patliputra of the city had come to be more commonly used. Meghasthenes mentions it with the Greek name of Patliputra and gives a very elaborate description of the various parts of the city,its fortifications, and its complicated municipal 0rganisation.
Some idea of the city can also be had from Kautilyas Arthasastra which indicates that the ramparts were wide enough to allow the chariots move about freely. The early Buddhists tradtion says that the Third Great Council of the Biddhist : was held at Patliputra during Ashoka’s reign and that the famous Buddhist text of Kathavatthu was composed at this time. It would also suggests that the Buddhists had a great establishment at Patliputra with the name of Kukkutarama,which was supported and patronized by Ashoka. The Jaina tradition equally claims association with Patliputra of this age saying that the first collection of their Scriptures was made here in the 4th Century B.C. and that the famous teacher Sthalabhadra was born and brought up in Patliputra at a spot which they still point out near Gulzarbagh station in the old city area. The Hindu traditions also associate with Patali putra . The great Literacy fugures like Varsha,Upavarsha,Panini,Pingala,Vyadi, Vararuchi,Patanjali etc. who are believed to have flourished between 4th Century to Ist Century B.C. .
This I obvious from these Indian traditions that during the centuries after 300 B.C.,the city was commonly known by the name of Patliputra. The name Patliputra was obviously derived from the original village of Patali of the days of the Buddha, though the significance of the addition of Putra to it is not clear. The simpler explanation of the name would appear to be that the city having grown up from, or being a successor to, the ancient and humble village of Patali,it come to be called as Patliputra( i.e. literally son or successor of Patali). Numerous legends,therefore,exist to explain the derivation bringing into their stories personalities about whose existence history is silent. Bachanan Quotes a tradition that Patali was a daughter of King Sudarshan who founded the city and bestowed it on her who “cherished the city like a mother, on which account it was called Patliputra or son of Patali.” The historians and the visitors have many stories to say about the name of Patna derived from Patliputra ‘son of Patali.
After the fall of the Mauryan Empire, the Sungas continued to have their capital at Patialiputra ,on the extrinction of the Sunga Dynasty in the first Century B.C., the history of Pataliputra becomes obscure,till we heart of it again during the 4th Century A.D. as Capital of Imperial Guptas.Early in the 5th Century Fa Hian, the Chinese pilgrim,visited Patliputra and speaks highly of the city. He resided at Patliputra for nearly three years to learn Sanskrit and to copy manuscripts of the sacred texts. From his description it seems Patliputra was then a great seat of Buddhists learnings ,perhaps something like Nalanda of later days.
At the end of 5th century the Gupta Empire collapsed and with it was gone for ever the greatness of Pataliputra . Hinan Tsiang,the Chinese pilgrim visited Pataliputra in about 635 A.D., but found it lone deserted with the ruins.
Patliputra was heard of no more afterwards as a place of any significance. It is true that the Khalimpur grant of the Pala king Dharmapala refers to the grant having been issued from the king’s camp at Patliputra in the 32nd year of his reign (i.e. late 9th century A.D.) and a terracotta seals of his time was also found at Patna. In some of the Nalanda seals the name Srinagara is mentioned which,it is believed,represnted the ancient Patliputra in the Pala period.
The first historical reference to Patna occurs in 1541 A.D. in the Muslim Chronicle of Sher Shah’reign,called Tarikh-i-Sher-Shahi which says that Sher Shah built fort at Patna on the bank of the Ganges. It appears, therefore, that for sometime before Sher Shah Patna had come to be the current name of the place. It seems up to the 12th century A.D.or so the name Srinagara or Nagara had been inuse, but since its population or importance had further dwindled badly,the name of Nagara, which in Sanskrit means a large town,wasd no lnger regarded as appropriate. It may ,therefore, have been designated as Pattana, i.e. literally a smaller town,from which probably the name Patna is derived in a corrupted form.
After the construction of the fort by Sher Shah in the middle of 16th Century,however,the position changed. It rapidly grew in importance and at the end of the 16th century,it was again a great town with a large trade in opium,cloth,sugar and other commodities. It was in the field of commerce and trade that the new town came to therefore,so much that earlier in the 17th Century it was reputed to be “ the largest town in Bengal and most famous for trade.”
Tavernier’s account of Patna would suggest that it was the great entrepot of northern India.
Under the Mughals Patna was made the headquarters of the Governor of Bihar and was thus once more a centre of Political life after more than a millennium. The town had been renamed as Azimabad in 1704 by Azim-us-Shan but this name was soon forgotten. The City continued to be called as Patna,though the more ancient names of Kusumpura,Pataliputra,Srinagar had almost been forgotten. The Jains,however, continued to cherish the memory of ancient Patliputra,even as late as 1791 A.D. as seen from some of the Jain imageinscriptions found at Patna ,but this was notin common knowledge of the people.