Vaishali (ancient city)
Capital of the Asokan pillar at Vaiśālī
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It was the capital city of the Licchavi, considered one of the first example of a republic, in the Vajjian Confederacy (Vrijji) mahajanapada, around the 6th century BCE. It was here in 539 BCE the 24th Jain Tirthankara, Bhagwan Mahavira was born and brought up in Kundalagrama in Vaiśālī republic, which makes it a pious and auspicious pilgrimage to Jains. Also Gautama Buddha preached his last sermon before his death in c. 483 BCE, then in 383 BCE the Second Buddhist council was convened here by King Kalasoka, making it an important place in both Jain and Buddhist religions. It contains one of the best-preserved of the Pillars of Ashoka, topped by a single Asiatic lion.
At the time of the Buddha, Vaiśālī, which he visited on many occasions, was a very large city, rich and prosperous, crowded with people and with abundant food. There were 7,707 pleasure grounds and an equal number of lotus ponds. Its courtesan, Amrapali, was famous for her beauty, and helped in large measure in making the city prosperous. The city had three walls, each one gāvuta away from the other, and at three places in the walls were gates with watch towers. Outside the town, leading uninterruptedly up to the Himalaya, was the Mahavana, a large, natural forest. Nearby were other forests, such as Gosingalasāla.
The city finds mention in the travel accounts of Chinese explorers, Faxian (4th century CE) and Xuanzang (7th century CE), which were later used in 1861 by British archaeologist Alexander Cunningham to first identify Vaiśālī with the present village of Basrah in Vaishali District, Bihar.
Vaiśālī derives its name from King Vishal of the Mahabharata age. The city was also called Visālā. Buddhaghosa, the a 5th-century Indian Theravadin Buddhist commentator and scholar says, that Vesali was so called because it was extensive or Vishal.
Even before the advent of Buddhism and Jainism, Vaiśālī was the capital of the vibrant republican Licchavi state. In that period, Vaiśālī was an ancient metropolis and the capital city of the republic of the Vaiśālī state, which covered most of the Himalayan Gangetic region of present-day Bihar state, India. However, very little is known about the early history of Vaiśālī. The Vishnu Purana records 34 kings of Vaiśālī, the first being Nabhaga, who is believed to have abdicated his throne over a matter of human rights and believed to have declared: "I am now a free tiller of the soil, king over my acre." The last among the 34 was Sumati, who is considered a contemporary of Dasaratha, father of the Hindu god, Lord Rama.
In the republic of Vaiśālī, Lord Mahavira was born. Gautama Buddha delivered his last sermon at Vaiśālī and announced his Parinirvana there. Vaiśālī is also renowned as the land of Amrapali, the great Indian courtesan, who appears in many folktales, as well as in Buddhist literature. Ambapali became a disciple of Buddha.Manudev was a famous king of the illustrious Lichchavi clan of the confederacy, who desired to possess Amrapali after he saw her dance performance in Vaishali.
A kilometer away is Abhishek Pushkarini, the coronation tank. The sacred waters of the tank anointed the elected representatives of Vaiśālī. Next to it stands the Japanese temple and the Vishwa Shanti Stupa (World Peace Pagoda) built by the Nipponzan Myohoji sect of Japan. A small part of the Buddha's relics found in Vaiśālī have been enshrined in the foundation and in the chhatra of the Stupa.
Near the coronation tank is Stupa 1 or the Relic Stupa. Here the Lichchavis reverentially encased one of the eight portions of the Master's relics, which they received after the Mahaparinirvana. After his last discourse the Awakened One set out for Kushinagar, but the Licchavis kept following him. Buddha gave them his alms bowl but they still refused to return. The Master created an illusion of a river in spate which compelled them to go back. This site can be identified with Deora in modern Kesariya village, where Ashoka later built a stupa. Ānanda, the favourite disciple of the Buddha, attained Nirvana in the midst of the Ganges outside Vaiśālī.
Visits of the Buddha to Vaiśālī
|The Four Main Sites|
|Four Additional Sites|
Vaishali is well known for its close association with the Buddha. After leaving Kapilavastu for renunciation, he came to Vaishali first and had his spiritual training from Ramaputra Udraka and Alara Kalama. After the Enlightenment the Buddha frequently visited Vaishali. He organized his Bhikshu Sangha on the pattern of Vaishalian democracy. It was here that he established the Bhikshuni Sangha, initiating his maternal aunt Maha Prajavati Gautami into the order. His last Varshavasa (rainy season resort) was here and he announced his approaching Mahaparinirvana (the final departure from the world) just three months in advance. Before leaving for Kusinagara, where he laid his mortal coil, he left his alms-bowl (Bhiksha-Patra) here with the people of Vaishali. The Buddha visited Vaiśālī in the fifth year after his Enlightenment, and spent the rainy season there. The Buddhist Theravadin Commentaries give detailed descriptions of the circumstances of this visit. Vesāai was inhabited by seven thousand and seven rajas, each of whom had large retinues, many palaces and pleasure parks. There came a shortage in the food supply owing to drought, and people died in large numbers. The smell of decaying bodies attracted evil spirits, and many inhabitants were attacked by intestinal disease. The people complained to the ruling prince, and he convoked a general assembly, where it was decided, after much discussion, to invite the Buddha to their city. As the Buddha was then at Veluvana in Rājagṛha, the Licchavi Mahāli, friend of King Bimbisara and son of the chaplain of Vesali, was sent to Bimbisara with a request that he should persuade the Buddha to go to Vaiśālī.
Bimbisāra referred him to the Buddha himself, who, after listening to Mahāli's story, agreed to go. The Buddha started on the journey with five hundred monks. Bimbisāra decorated the route from Rājagṛha to the Ganges, a distance of five leagues, and provided all comforts on the way. He accompanied the Buddha, and the Ganges was reached in five days. Boats, decked with great splendour, were ready for the Buddha and his monks, and we are told that Bimbisāra followed the Buddha into the water up to his neck. The Buddha was received on the opposite bank by the Licchavis, with even greater honour than Bimbisāra had shown him. As soon as the Buddha set foot in the Vajjian territory, there was a thunderstorm and rain fell in torrents. The distance from the Ganges to Vaiśālī was three leagues; as the Buddha approached Vaiśālī, Sakka came to greet him, and, at the sight of the devas, all the evil spirits fled in fear. In the evening the Buddha taught Ānanda the Ratana Sutta, and ordered that it should be recited within the three walls of the city, the round of the city being made with the Licchavi princes. This Ānanda did during the three watches of the night, and all the pestilences of the citizens disappeared. The Buddha himself recited the Ratana Sutta to the assembled people, and eighty four thousand beings were converted. After repeating this for seven consecutive days, the Buddha left Vaiśālī. (According to the DhA. account the Buddha stayed only seven days in Vaiśālī; KhA. says two weeks). The Licchavis accompanied him to the Ganges with redoubled honours, and, in the river itself, Devas and Nāgas vied with each other in paying him honour. On the farther bank, Bimbisāra awaited his arrival and conducted him back to Rājagṛha. On his return there, the Buddha recited the Sankha Jātaka.
It is not possible to know how many visits were paid by the Buddha to Vaiśālī, but the books would lead us to infer that they were several. Various Vinaya rules are mentioned as having been laid down at Vaiśālī. The visit mentioned in the last context seems to have been a long one; it was on this occasion that the Buddha ordered the monks to turn their bowls upon the Licchavi Vaddha. Also other Vinaya rules were laid down at Vaiśālī. It was during a stay in Vaiśālī, whither he had gone from Kapilavatthu, that Mahapajapati Gotami followed the Buddha with five hundred other Sakyan women, and, with the help of Ānanda's intervention, obtained permission for women to enter the Order under certain conditions.
The books describe at some length the Buddha's last visit to Vesali on his way to Kusinara. On the last day of this visit, after his meal, he went with Ānanda to Cāpāla cetiya for his siesta, and, in the course of their conversation, he spoke to Ānanda of the beauties of Vaiśālī: of the Udena cetiya, the Gotamaka cetiya, the Sattambaka cetiya, the Bahuputta cetiya, and the Sārandada cetiya, where a Kapinayha-cetiya is also mentioned. All these were once shrines dedicated to various local deities, but after the Buddha's visit to Vaiśālī, they were converted into places of Buddhist worship. Other monasteries are also mentioned, in or near Vaiśālī (for example Pātikārāma, Vālikārāma).
The Buddha generally stayed at the Kutagarasala during his visits to Vaiśālī, but it appears that he sometimes lived at these different shrines. During his last visit to the Cāpāla cetiya he decided to die within three months, and informed Māra and, later, Ānanda, of his decision. The next day he left Vaiśālī for Bhandagama, after taking one last look at the city, "turning his whole body round, like an elephant". The rainy season which preceded this, the Buddha spent at Beluvagama, a suburb of Vaiśālī, while the monks stayed in and around Vaiśālī. On the day before he entered into the vassa, Ambapāli invited the Buddha and the monks to a meal, at the conclusion of which she gave her Ambavana for the use of the Order.
Among important suttas preached at Vaiśālī are the Mahāli, Mahāsíhanāda, Cúla Saccaka, Mahā Saccaka, Tevijja, Vacchagotta, Sunakkhatta and Ratana. After the Buddha's death a portion of his relics was enshrined in the City. One hundred years later Vaiśālī was again the scene of interest for Buddhists, on account of the "Ten Points" raised by the Vajjiputtakā, (q.v.), and the Second Buddhist Council held in connection with this dispute at the Valikarama.
Jainism at Vaishali
The Svetambaras state that the final Tirthankara, Mahavira, was born and raised in Kshatriyakund district, Vaiśālī to King Siddhartha and Queen Trishila. Vaiśālī was a stronghold of the Nirgranthas (Jains), and it is said that of the forty-two rainy seasons of the latter part of Mahavira's ascetic life, he spent twelve at Vaiśālī. Vaiśālī was also the residence of Kandaramasuka and Pātikaputta. Among eminent followers of the Buddha who lived in Vaiśālī, special mention is made of Ugga (chief of those who gave pleasant gifts), Pingiyani, Karanapali, Siha, Vasettha, and various Licchavis.
Notable Buddhist sites in Vaishali
Near the coronation tank is Stupa 1 or the Relic Stupa. Here the Licchavis reverentially encased one of the eight portions of the Master's relics, which they received after the Mahaparinirvana. After his last discourse the Awakened One set out for Kushinagar, but the Licchavis kept following him. Buddha gave them his alms bowl but they still refused to return. The Master created an illusion of a river in spate which compelled them to go back. This site can be identified with Deora in modern Kesariya village, where Ashoka later built a stupa.
Kutagarasala Vihara is the monastery where Buddha most frequently stayed while visiting Vaiśālī. It is located 3 kilometres from the relic Stupa, and on its ground can be found the Ānanda Stupa, with an Asokan pillar in very good condition (perhaps the only complete Asokan pillar left standing), and an ancient pond.
World Peace Pagoda
Next to the coronation tank stands the Japanese temple and the Viśvā Śānti Stūpa (World Peace Pagoda) built by Japanese Nichiren Buddhist sect Nipponzan-Myōhōji. A small part of the Buddha's relics found in Vaiśālī have been enshrined in the foundation and in the chhatra of the Stupa.
There is an Archaeological Survey of India museum near the Vishva Shanti Stupa.
- Bindloss, Joe; Sarina Singh (2007). India: Lonely planet Guide. Lonely Planet. p. 556. ISBN 1-74104-308-5.
- Hoiberg, Dale; Indu Ramchandani (2000). Students' Britannica India, Volumes 1-5. Popular Prakashan. p. 208. ISBN 0-85229-760-2.
- Kulke, Hermann; Dietmar Rothermund (2004). A history of India. Routledge. p. 57. ISBN 0-415-32919-1.
- Leoshko, Janice (2003). Sacred traces: British explorations of Buddhism in South Asia: Histories of vision. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. ISBN 0-7546-0138-2.
- See Vincent Smith, J.R.A.S. 1907, p. 267f., and Marshall, Arch. Survey of India, 1903 4, p. 74
- E.g., AA.i.47; Cv.xcix.98
- e.g., Sp.ii.393
- visālíbhútatā Vesāli ti uccati; cf. UdA.184 (tikkhattum visālabhútattā; and MA.i.259
- Vaisali Encyclopædia Britannica.
- BuA., p. 3
- KhpA.160ff.= SNA.i.278; DhA.iii.436ff.; cp. Mtu.i.253ff
- See, e.g., Vin.i.238, 287f; ii.118, 119 27
- see Vin.ii.159f.; iii. and iv. passim
- E.g., D.ii.95ff
- Cf. Mtu.i.300
- See D.ii.118
- nāgāpalokitam apaloketvā - D.ii.122
- D.ii.98; but see Dial.ii.102, n.1)
- D.ii.167; Bu.xxviii.2
- Jacobi: Jaina Sutras (S.B.E.) Kalpa Sútra, sect. 122
- Kumar, Dilip (1986). Archaeology of Vaishali. Ramanand Vidya Bhawan.
- Singer, Noel.F. (2008). Vaishali and the Indianization of Arakan. APH Publishing. ISBN 81-313-0405-1.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Vaishali.|
- Entry on Vesali in the Buddhist Dictionary of Pali Proper Names
- Description of Vaisali by the Chinese pilgrim monk Faxian (399-414 AC)
- Suttas spoken by Gautama Buddha concerning Vesali: (more)