Bihar was known as Magadha during the ancient time and the Maurya Empire originated here. During the 5th and 6th centuries, the kingdom of Magadha was the cultural centre of Bihar. The Gupta Empire of Magadha is known as the golden age of India. The University of Nalanda was set up during this time. During the 16th century Bihar came under the supremacy of the Mughal Empire under Akbar. With the decline of the Mughal Empire, Bihar came under the dominions of the Nawab of Bengal.
There is a Stupa and stambha built in the place where Buddha spent his last rainy season in Vaishali. Emperor Ashoka built more than thirty such memorial pillars in different regions. A statue of an animal was often sculpted on top of the Stupa. This style originated in Persia and was later continued by Jains in south India. In Patna the Golghar is an eccentric dome like an inverted rice bowl which was used as a storehouse during famines. It is twenty seven meters high, built with brick and mortar and is devoid of any decorations. It has a staircase to the top and a hole on top, through which grain was poured in. The design is one of the functional doctrines of the middle Ages. Bodh Gaya is a pilgrim place with temples, stupas and monasteries. The place where Lord Buddha sat is now sacred. The surrounding stone fencing dates to the 2nd century. The large temple beside the Bodhi tree was built in the 7th century. Though half complete, it is important as a relic that depicts the exceptional quality of Buddhist construction. The temple has four small towers in each corner and is of the five shrine style. The small towers were added in the 19th century. The main tower is made of bricks and finished with plaster. The original tower was curved, resembling the shikharas of Hindu temples. At present most Buddhist countries have constructed temples in Bodh Gaya and it has become the meeting ground and extensive storehouse of various Buddhist architectural styles.
The Choti Dargah is the earliest examples of Islamic architecture in Patna. The Choti Dargah belongs to the Mughal era and is similar in style to the ones in Agraand Fatehpur Sikri. The base of the dome has pillars, beams and broad eaves. There is a closed corridor and a small mosque in the precincts. The top of the big minaret in the southeast corner is broken. Architecture in Bihar during Akbar was a domain which was principally focused and concentrated upon the legendary and historic Rohtas Fort, the one still instance which remains unconquered. The mosques in Rohtas were the ideal picture that Mughal architecture in Bihar had rested in the tremendous shoulders of Akbar's aristocracy. However, outside the purview of Rohtas hill fort, Akbar's architectural dexterity in Bihar is also noticed in places like Hajipur, Patna and Munger. The Gurudwara in Patna is built in the Mughal style. Architecture in Bihar during Jahangir bears much similarity and likeness with Bengal and its Indo-Islamic touch under Mughal hands.
During Emperor Ashoka's reign, unique developments in Indian architecture started with the cave temples. There are seven cave temples surviving from the early days, on Barabar and Nagarjuni hills. These do not belong to the Buddhist religion but to a religion called Ajivika which was prevalent in those days. The caves are small and simple, with very little decoration, for example, the Lomas Rishi cave on the Barabar hills.