The sutta begins a few days before the rainy retreat when Vassakara, the minister, visited the Buddha in Rajgir on the initiative of Ajatashatru, a king of the Haryanka dynasty of Magadha. The narrative continues beyond the three months of the rainy retreat and records the Passing Away of the Buddha, the Cremation and the division of relics finally ending with the erection of eight cetiyas or monuments enshrining the relics of the Buddha. This shows the Indian origin of Buddhist funeral customs.
There are of course numerous versions of the Mahāparinibbāṇa Sutta. Among them, the Pali version is the oldest in respect of language and contents. The Mahāparinibbāṇa Sutta is of utmost historical and cultural value and therefore it has become a sourcebook for students of Buddhism, Buddha biography and history of Buddhist thought and literature. Other versions of the text exist in Sanskrit, Tibetan and Chinese.