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Arrah derives its name from the Sanskrit word Aranya, which means forest. The name could alternately have come from the Prakrit word ‘Arraha’, meaning ‘the saints’. Jain literature declares this place as a strong centre of ‘Jain Arhats’ and to this day, Arrah is spoken of in context of its relevance in Jainism. According to local traditions the town had various names in ancient times such as Chakrapura, Ekachakra and Aramanagara. Ekachakra is mentioned in the Mahavamsa as one of the capital cities of India during the time of Buddha. Xuanzang while travelling through this area, referred to the inhabitants as ‘demons of the desert’ who were converted by Buddha. From this, Cunningham is said to have identified the place with the site of the Ashokan stupa and the lion pillar. The name Aramanagara is mentioned in a recent Jain inscription from Masar. A Hindu legend associates the place with the demon Bakasura of the Mahabharata, who was killed by Bhima at a spot 1½ mile west of Arrah, now represented by the modern village Bakri. Another local derivation of the name Arrah is from ‘Ara’, or saw, According to legends, a pious local king was cut into two halves with this saw, to fulfil a promise made by him.
The temple is situated between the old and new portions of the town and is dedicated to Goddess Aranya, i.e. the presiding deity of the forests or deserts. The worship of a forest deity can be termed as quite unusual. Around 1812, Buchanan visited Arrah and was told by the local Pundits that the name of the town was derived from Aranya, meaning ‘a waste land’ or ‘forest’. It suggests that the entire area around modern Arrah must have been heavily forested in those days.
Arrah House had a prominent role to play in the 1857 uprising and now stands as a symbolism of gallantry. In this notable event of history, the rebel sepoys of Bengal army from Danapur cantonment laid siege around this house, under the leadership of Babu Kunwar Singh. Presently, this house is a heritage building and is situated in the Maharaja College campus, which is south east of Ramna Maidan. This building is a small double-storeyed structure on a raised plinth, built by the then engineer of the Railways, Vicars Boyle, when the construction of the railway line from Howrah to United Province (present UP) and Delhi was underway. This building was intended as a billiard room, the residence proper being a short distance away. According to Bengal List (page 342), it consists of a billiard room, 28 ft x 17 ½ ft, a small room, an attached bathroom on one side and a front verandah with semi-circular arched colonnade.
It is said that Lord Mahavira, the last Jain Tirthankar, took rest for some time at this place during his wanderings. Hence this place is called Bisram or rest. Jains from all over the country throng this place throughout the year. There are about 45 Jain temples at Arrah. These temples contain idols of Lord Mahavira.
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Dr. Abha Singh
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