The name Rajgir came from Rājagṛiha ‘house of the king’ or “royal house”, or the word ‘rajgir’ might have its origin in its plain literal meaning, “royal mountain”. It was the ancient capital city of the Magadha kings until the 5th century BC when Ajatashatru moved the capital to Pataliputra. In those days, it was called Rajgrih, which translates as ‘the home of Royalty’.
The epic Mahabharata calls it Girivraja and recount the story of its king, Jarasandha, and his battle with the Pandava brothers and their allies Krishna. Jarasandha who hailed from this place, had been defeated by Krishna 17 times. The 18th time Krishna left the battlefield without fighting. Because of this Krishna is also called ‘ranachorh’ (one who has left the battlefield). Mahabharata recounts a wrestling match between Bhima (one of the Pandavas) and Jarasandha, the then king of Magadha. Jarasandha was invincible as his body could rejoin any dismembered limbs. According to the legend, Bhim split Jarasandha into two and threw the two halves facing opposite to each other so that they could not join. There is a famous Jarasandha’s Akhara (place where martial arts are practiced).
It is also mentioned in Buddhist and Jain scriptures, which give a series of place-names, but without geographical context. The attempt to locate these places is based largely on reference to them and to other locations in the works ofChinese Buddhist pilgrims, particularly Faxian and Xuanzang. It is on the basis of Xuanzang in particular that the site is divided into Old and New Rajgir. The former lies within a valley and is surrounded by low-lying hills, Rajgir hills. It is defined by an earthen embankment (the Inner Fortification), with which is associated the Outer Fortification, a complex of cyclopean walls that runs (with large breaks) along the crest of the hills. New Rajgir is defined by another, larger, embankment outside the northern entrance of the valley and next to the modern town.
It is sacred to the memory of the founders of both the religions: Buddhism and Jainism and associated with both the historical Buddha and Mahavira. It was here that Gautama Buddha spent several months meditating, and preaching at Gridhra-kuta, (‘Hill of the Vultures’). He also delivered some of his famous sermons and initiated king Bimbisara of Magadha and countless others to Buddhism. On one of the hills is the Saptparni cave where the First Buddhist Council was held under the leadership of Maha Kassapa. Lord Mahavira spent fourteen years of his life at Rajgir and Nalanda, spending chaturmas (i.e. 4 months of the rainy season) at a single place in Rajgir (Rajgruhi) and the rest in the places in the vicinity. It was the capital of his favourite shishya (follower) king Shrenik. Thus Rajgir is a very important religious place for Jains also.
Rajgir is also famous for its association with Haryanka dynasty Kings Bimbisara and Ajatashatru. Ajatashatru kept his father Bimbsara in captivity here. The sources do not agree which of the Buddha’s royal contemporaries, Bimbisara and Ajatashatru, was responsible for its construction. Ajatashatru is also credited with moving the capital to Pataliputra (modern Patna).
Historically, Rajgir has been a very important place, as capital to many empires. Main tourist attractions include the ancient city walls from Ajatshatru’s period, the Bimbisar’s Jail, Jarasandh’s Akhara, Gridakuta hill, Sonabhandara cave and the Jain temples on the five peaks.
Rajgir is famous for its hot water springs, locally known as Brahmakund, a sacred place for Hindus. Another major attraction is the peace pagoda, Vishwa Shanti Stupa, built in 1969, one of the 80 peace pagodas in the world, to spread the message of peace and non-violence. The rope-way that leads to it is another attraction. The Japanese temple is beside the Venu Vana. Venu Vana is an artificial forest, where one can enjoy Eternal peace, and meditate.