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Author:Laxman Burdak, IFS (Retd.)

Vaisakha or Vishakha was one of the Buddhist places visited by Xuan Zang in 636 AD. Alexander Cunningham[1] has identified that Fa-Hian's Sha-chi is the same as Hwen Thsang's Visakha, and that both are identical with Saketa or Ajudhya.


Origin of the name

City is saidto get name after Vishakha, the daughter of Dhananja, a rich merchant, who had emigrated from Rajagriha to Saketa. [2]

Mention by Panini

Visakha (विशाखा) is mentioned by Panini in Ashtadhyayi. [3]


Visit by Xuanzang in 636 AD

Alexander Cunningham[4] writes that Much difficulty has been felt regarding the position of Fa-Hian's " great kingdom of Shachi," and of Hwen Thsang's Visakha, with its enormous number of heretics or Brahmanists ; but I hope to show in the most satisfactory manner that these two places are identical, and that they are also the same as the Saketa and Ajudhya of the Brahmans. The difficulty has arisen chiefly from an erroneous bearing recorded by Fa-Hian, who places She-wei, or Sravasti, to the south of Shachi, while Hwen Thsang locates it to the north- east, and partly from his erroneous distance of 7+3+10=20 yojanas instead of 30, from the well-known city of Sankisa. The bearing is shown to be erroneous

[p.402]: from the route of a Hindu pilgrim from the banks of the Godavari to Sewet or Sravasti, as recorded in the Ceylonese Buddhist works. This pilgrim, after passing through Mahissati and Ujjani, or Mahesmati and Ujain, reaches Kosambi, and from thence passes through Saketa to Sewet, that is along the very route followed by Hwen Thsang.[5] We have, therefore, two authorities in favour of Sewet being to the north of Saket. With regard to the distance, I refer again to the Buddhist books of Ceylon, in which it is recorded that from Sakaspura (or Sangkasyapura, now Sankisa) to Sewet was a journey of 30 yojanas.[6] Now, Fa-Hian makes the distance from Sankisa to Kanoj 7 yojanas, thence to the forest of Holi, on the Ganges, 3 yojanas, and thence to Shachi 10 yojanas, or altogether only 20 yojanas, or 10 less than the Ceylonese books. That Fa-Hian's statement is erroneous is quite clear from the fact that his distance would place Shachi in the neighbourhood of Lucknow; whereas the other distance would place it close to Ajudhya, or Faizabad, or in the very position indicated by Hwen Thsang's itinerary. Here, again, we have two authorities in favour of the longer distance. I have no hesitation, therefore, in declaring that Fa-Hian's recorded bearing of She-wei from Sha-chi is wrong, and that "north" should be read instead of " south."

I have now to show that Fa-Hian's Sha-chi is the same as Hwen Thsang's Visakha, and that both are identical with Saketa or Ajudhya. With respect to Sha-chi, Fa-Hian relates that " on leaving the town by the southern gate you find to the east of the road the place where Buddha bit a branch of the nettle-

[p.403]:tree and planted it in the ground, where it grew to the height of seven feet, and never increased or diminished in size."[7] Now, this is precisely the same legend that is related of Visakha by Hwen Thsang, who says that "to the south of the capital, and to the left of the road (that is, to the east as stated by Fa-Hian), there was, amongst other holy objects, an extraordinary tree 6 or 7 feet high, which always remained the same, neither growing nor decreasing,[8] This is the celebrated tooth-brush tree of Buddha, to which I shall have occasion to refer presently. Here I need only notice the very precise agreement in the two descriptions of this famous tree, as to its origin, its height, and its position. The perfect correspondence of these details appears to me to leave no doubt of the identity of Fa-Hian's Sha-chi with the Visakha of Hwen Thsang.

With respect to the identification of Visakha with the Saketa of the Hindus, I rest my proofs chiefly on the following points :

1st, that Visakha, the most celebrated of all females in Buddhist history, was a resident of Saketa before her marriage with Purnna Varddhana, son of Mrigara, the rich merchant of Sravasti ; — and

2nd, that Buddha is recorded by Hwen Thsang to have spent 6 years at Visakha, while, by the Pali annals of Turnour, he is stated to have lived 16 years at Saketa.[9]

The story of the noble maiden Visakha is related at great length in the Ceylonese books.' According to

[p.404]:Hardy,[10] she erected a Purvvarama at Sravasti, which is also mentioned by Hwen Thsang. Now, there was also a Purvvarama at Saketa, and it can hardly be doubted that this monastery was likewise built by her. She was the daughter of Dhananju a rich merchant, who had emigrated from Rajagriha to Saketa. Now, amongst the oldest inscribed coins which have been discovered only at Ajudhya, we find some bearing the names of Dhana Deva and Visakha-Datta. I mention this because it seems to me to show the probability that the family of Dhananja and Visakha was of great eminence in Saketa or Ayodhya ; and I infer from the recurrence of their names, as well as from the great celebrity of the lady, that the city may possibly have been called Visakha after her name.

The other proof which I derive from the years of Buddha's residence is direct and convincing. According to the Ceylonese annals, Buddha was 35 years of age when he attained Buddhahood; he then led a houseless life for 20 years, preaching in various places in Northern India, all of which are detailed ; and of the remaining 25 years of his life he spent 9 in the Jetavana monastery at Sravasti, and 16 in the Pubharamo monastery at Saketapura.[11] Now, in the Burmese annals[12], these numbers are given as 19 years and 6 years, and in the last figure we have the exact number recorded by Hwen Thsang. [13]Nothing can be more complete than this proof. There were only

[p.405]:two places at which Buddha resided for any length of time, namely, Sravasti, at which he lived either 9 or 19 years, and Saketa, at which he lived either 6 or 16 years; and as according to Hwen Thsang he lived for 6 years at Visakha, which is described as being at some distance to the south of Sravasti, it follows of necessity that Visakha and Saketa were one and the same place.

The identity of Saketa and Ayodhya has, I believe, always been admitted ; but I am not aware that any proof has yet been offered to establish the fact. Csoma de Koros,[14] in speaking of the place, merely says "Saketana or Ayodhya," and H. H. Wilson, in his Sanskrit Dictionary, calls Saketa " the city Ayodhya." But the question would appear to be set at rest by several passages of the 'Ramayana' and 'Raghuvansa,'[15] in which Saketanagara is generally called the capital of Raja Dasaratha and his sons. But the following verse of the 'Ramayana,' which was pointed out to me by a Brahman of Lucknow, will be sufficient to establish the identity. Aswajita, father of Kaikeyi, offers to give his daughter to Dasaratha, Raja of Saketa- nagara : —

Saketam nagaram Raja namna Dasaratho bali.
Tasmai deya maya kanya Kaikeyi nama to jana.

The ancient city of Ayodhya or Saketa is described in the ' Ramayana' as situated on the bank of the Sarayu or Sarju river. It is said to have been 12 yojanas, or nearly 100 miles in circumference, for which we should probably read 12 kos, or 24 miles, — an extent which the old city, with all its gardens, might once possibly have

[p.406]:covered. The distance from the Guptar Ghat on the west, to the Ram Ghat on the east, is just 6 miles in a direct line, and if we suppose that the city with its suburbs and gardens formerly occupied the whole intervening space to a depth of two miles, its circuit would have agreed exactly with the smaller measurement of 12 kos. At the present day the people point to Ra Ghat and Guptar Ghat as the eastern and western boundaries of the old city, and the southern boundary they extend to Bharat-Kund, near Bhadarsa, a distance of 6 kos. But as these limits include all the places of pilgrimage, it would seem that the people consider them to have been formerly inside the city, which was certainly not the case. In the 'Ayin Akbari,' the old city is said to have measured 148 kos in length by 36 kos in breadth,[16] or, in other words, it covered the whole of the province of Oudh to the south of the Ghaghra river. The origin of the larger number is obvious. The 12 yojanas of the Ramayana,' which are equal to 48 kos, being considered too small for the great city of Rama, the Brahmans simply added 100 kos to make the size tally with their own extravagant notions. The present city of Ajudhya, which is confined to the north-east corner of the old site, is just two miles in length by about three quarters of a mile in breadth ; but not one half of this extent is occupied by buildings, and the whole place wears a look of decay. There are no high mounds of ruins, covered with broken statues and sculptured pillars, such as mark the sites of other ancient cities, but only a low irregular mass of rubbish heaps, from which all the bricks have been excavated for the

[p.407]:houses of the neighbouring city of Faizabad. This Muhammadan city, which is two miles and a half in length by one mile in breadth, is built chiefly of materials extracted from the ruins of Ajudhya. The two cities together occupy an area of nearly six square miles, or just about one-half of the probable size of the ancient capital of Rama. In Faizabad the only building of any consequence is the stuccoed brick tomb of the old Bhao Begam, whose story was dragged before the public during the famous trial of Warren Hastings. Faizabad was the capital of the first Nawabs of Oudh, but it was deserted by Asaf-ud-daolah in A.D. 1775.

In the seventh century the city of Visakha was only 16 li, or 2-2/3 miles, in circuit, or not more than one-half of its present size, although it probably contained a greater population, as not above one-third or perhaps less of the modern town is inhabited. Hwen Thsang assigns to the district a circuit of 4000 li, or 667 miles, which must be very much exaggerated. But, as I have already observed, the estimated dimensions of some of the districts in this part of the pilgrim's route are so great that it is quite impossible that all of them can be correct. I would therefore, in the present instance, read 400 li, or 67 miles, and restrict the territory of Visakha to the small tract lying around Ajudhya, between the Ghagra and Gomati rivers.


  1. The Ancient Geography of India: I. The Buddhist Period, Including the ...By Sir Alexander Cunningham, p.402
  2. The Ancient Geography of India: I. The Buddhist Period, Including the ...By Sir Alexander Cunningham, p.404
  3. V. S. Agrawala: India as Known to Panini, 1953, p.176
  4. The Ancient Geography of India/Vaisakha, p.401-407
  5. Hardy, ' Manual of Buddhism,' p. 334.
  6. ibid; p. 301.
  7. Remusat, 'Fo-kwe-ki,' c. xix. ; and Seal's 'Fah-Hian,' c.xix. 27.
  8. Julien's ' Hiouen Thsang,' ii, 292.
  9. I take the 6 years of the pilgrim to be a mistake for 16 years, as the whole period of Buddha's teaching is carefully accounted for in the Ceylonese annals.
  10. 'Manunl of Buddhism,' p. 220. .Julien's 'Hiouen Thsang,' i. 305. The Pubbaramo is also mentioned in the ' Ceylonese Annals ;' see Taruour, Journ. Asiat. Soc. Bengal, vii. 790.
  11. Tumour, Journ. Asiat. Soc. Bengal, vii. 790.
  12. Bigandet, ' Legend of Burmese Buddha,' p. 142.
  13. Julien's 'Hiouen Thsang,' ii. 292.
  14. ' Asiatic Researches,' xx. 442.
  15. 'Raghuvansa,' sarg. xiii. slok. 79, and sarg. xiv. slok. 13.
  16. Gladwyn's translation, ii. 32.