Vaisali

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Author:Laxman Burdak, IFS (Retd.)

Vaishali District Map

Vaisali (वैशाली) or Vaishali is a district in Bihar in India. It is named after the Vaishali (ancient city). Basarh is identified with the capital of the ancient kingdom of Vaisali.[1] Alexander Cunningham[2] writes that the ruined fort of Besarh thus presents such a perfect coincidence of name, position, and dimensions with the ancient city of Vaisali, that there can be no reasonable doubt of their identity.

Variants

Location

Origin of the name

Vaishali derives its name from Nagavanshi King Visala[3] of the Mahabharata age.

History

Vasudeva Saran Agrawala[4] writes that The Lichchhavis are said to have comprised 7707 rajans living in Vesali, and it is stated in Lilita-vistara that each one of them thought: I am King, I am King. Panini mentions that Vrijis, of whose confederation the Lichchhavis formed part. There is reference in the Jatakas to the Lichchhavi rulers consecrated to rulership by sprinkling sacred water on them (Jat. IV.148). A similar custom prevailed among the Andhaka-Vrishnis and other Sanghas.


The history of Vaishali district is thus very ancient, and finds mention in the Indian classic Mahabharata, as well as in Buddhist and Jain tradition.

Vaishali derives its name from Nagavanshi King Visala[5] of the Mahabharata age. Even before the advent of Buddhism and Jainism, Vaishali was the capital of the vibrant republican Licchavi state since before the birth of Mahavira (c. 599 BC), which suggests that it was perhaps the first republic in the world, similar to those later found in ancient Greece. In that period, Vaishali was an ancient metropolis and the capital city of the republic of the Vaishali state, which covered most of the Himalayan Gangetic region of present-day Bihar state, India. Very little is known about the early history of Vaishali. The Vishnu Purana records 34 kings of Vaishali, 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.

Numerous references to Vaishali are found in texts pertaining to both Jainism and Buddhism, which have preserved much information on Vaishali and the other Maha Janapadas. Based on the information found in these texts, Vaishali was established as a republic by the 6th century BC, prior to the birth of Gautama Buddha in 563 bc, making it the world's first republic.

In the republic of Vaishali, Lord Mahavira was born. Gautama Buddha delivered his last sermon at Vaishali and announced his Parinirvana there. Vaishali is also renowned as the land of Ambapali (also spelled as Amrapali), the great Indian courtesan, who appears in many folktales, as well as in Buddhist literature. Ambapali became a disciple of Buddha.

A kilometre away is Abhishek Pushkarini, the coronation tank. The sacred waters of the tank anointed the elected representatives of Vaishali. Next to it stands the Japanese temple and the Vshwa Shanti Stupa (World Peace Pagoda) built by the Nipponzan Myohoji sect of Japan. A small part of the Buddha's relics found in Vaishali 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 on 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. Ananda, the favourite disciple of the Buddha, attained Nirvana in the midst of the Ganga outside Vaishali.

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.[6][7][8]

It contains one of the best-preserved of the Pillars of Ashoka, topped by a single Asiatic lion.

Visit by Fahian

James Legge[9] writes: East from this city ten yojanas, (the travellers) came to the kingdom of Vaisali. North of the city so named is a large forest, having in it the double-galleried vihara1 where Buddha dwelt, and the tope over half the body of Ananda.2 Inside the city the woman Ambapali3 built a vihara in honour of Buddha, which is now standing as it was at first. Three le south of the city, on the west of the road, (is the) garden (which) the same Ambapali presented to Buddha, in which he might reside. When Buddha was about to attain to his pari-nirvana, as he was quitting the city by the west gate, he turned round, and, beholding the city on his right, said to them, “Here I have taken my last walk.”4 Men subsequently built a tope at this spot.

Three le north-west of the city there is a tope called, “Bows and weapons laid down.” The reason why it got that name was this:— The inferior wife of a king, whose country lay along the river Ganges, brought forth from her womb a ball of flesh. The superior wife, jealous of the other, said, “You have brought forth a thing of evil omen,” and immediately it was put into a box of wood and thrown into the river. Farther down the stream another king was walking and looking about, when he saw the wooden box (floating) in the water. (He had it brought to him), opened it, and found a thousand little boys, upright and complete, and each one different from the others. He took them and had them brought up. They grew tall and large, and very daring, and strong, crushing all opposition in every expedition which they undertook. By and by they attacked the kingdom of their real father, who became in consequence greatly distressed and sad. His inferior wife asked what it was that made him so, and he replied, “That king has a thousand sons, daring and strong beyond compare, and he wishes with them to attack my kingdom; this is what makes me sad.” The wife said, “You need not be sad and sorrowful. Only make a high gallery on the wall of the city on the east; and when the thieves come, I shall be able to make them retire.” The king did as she said; and when the enemies came, she said to them from the tower, “You are my sons; why are you acting so unnaturally and rebelliously?” They replied, “If you do not believe me,” she said, “look, all of you, towards me, and open your mouths.” She then pressed her breasts with her two hands, and each sent forth 500 jets of milk, which fell into the mouths of the thousand sons. The thieves (thus) knew that she was their mother, and laid down their bows and weapons.5 The two kings, the fathers, thereupon fell into reflection, and both got to be Pratyeka Buddhas.6 The tope of the two Pratyeka Buddhas is still existing.

In a subsequent age, when the World-honoured one had attained to perfect Wisdom (and become Buddha), he said to is disciples, “This is the place where I in a former age laid down my bow and weapons.”7 It was thus that subsequently men got to know (the fact), and raised the tope on this spot, which in this way received its name. The thousand little boys were the thousand Buddhas of this Bhadra-kalpa.8

It was by the side of the “Weapons-laid-down” tope that Buddha, having given up the idea of living longer, said to Ananda, “In three months from this I will attain to pavi-nirvana;” and king Mara9 had so fascinated and stupefied Ananda, that he was not able to ask Buddha to remain longer in this world.

Three or four le east from this place there is a tope (commemorating the following occurrence):— A hundred years after the pari-nirvana of Buddha, some Bhikshus of Vaisali went wrong in the matter of the disciplinary rules in ten particulars, and appealed for their justification to what they said were the words of Buddha. Hereupon the Arhats and Bhikshus observant of the rules, to the number in all of 700 monks, examined afresh and collated the collection of disciplinary books.10 Subsequently men built at this place the tope (in question), which is still existing.


1 It is difficult to tell what was the peculiar form of this vihara from which it gets its name; something about the construction of its door, or cupboards, or galleries.

2 See the explanation of this in the next chapter.

3 Ambapali, Amrapali, or Amradarika, “the guardian of the Amra (probably the mango) tree,” is famous in Buddhist annals. See the account of her in M. B., pp. 456-8. She was a courtesan. She had been in many narakas or hells, was 100,000 times a female beggar, and 10,000 times a prostitute; but maintaining perfect continence during the period of Kasyapa Buddha, Sakyamuni’s predecessor, she had been born a devi, and finally appeared in earth under an Amra tree in Vaisali. There again she fell into her old ways, and had a son by king Bimbisara; but she was won over by Buddha to virtue and chastity, renounced the world, and attained to the state of an Arhat. See the earliest account of Ambapali’s presentation of the garden in “Buddhist Suttas,” pp. 30-33, and the note there from Bishop Bigandet on pp. 33, 34.

4 Beal gives, “In this place I have performed the last religious act of my earthly career;” Giles, “This is the last place I shall visit;” Remusat, “C’est un lieu ou je reviendrai bien longtemps apres ceci.” Perhaps the “walk” to which Buddha referred had been for meditation.

5 See the account of this legend in the note in M. B., pp. 235, 236, different, but not less absurd. The first part of Fa-hien’s narrative will have sent the thoughts of some of my readers to the exposure of the infant Moses, as related in Exodus. [Certainly did. — JB.]

6 See chap. xiii, note 14.

7 Thus Sakyamuni had been one of the thousand little boys who floated in the box in the Ganges. How long back the former age was we cannot tell. I suppose the tope of the two fathers who became Pratyeka Buddhas had been built like the one commemorating the laying down of weapons after Buddha had told his disciples of the strange events in the past.

8 Bhadra-kalpa, “the Kalpa of worthies or sages.” “This,” says Eitel, p. 22, “is a designation for a Kalpa of stability, so called because 1000 Buddhas appear in the course of it. Our present period is a Bhadra-kalpa, and four Buddhas have already appeared. It is to last 236 million years, but over 151 millions have already elapsed.”

9 “The king of demons.” The name Mara is explained by “the murderer,” “the destroyer of virtue,” and similar appellations. “He is,” says Eitel, “the personification of lust, the god of love, sin, and death, the arch-enemy of goodness, residing in the heaven Paranirmita Vasavartin on the top of the Kamadhatu. He assumes different forms, especially monstrous ones, to tempt or frighten the saints, or sends his daughters, or inspires wicked men like Devadatta or the Nirgranthas to do his work. He is often represented with 100 arms, and riding on an elephant.” The oldest form of the legend in this paragraph is in “Buddhist Suttas,” Sacred Books of the East, vol. xi, pp. 41-55, where Buddha says that, if Ananda had asked him thrice, he would have postponed his death.

10 Or the Vinaya-pitaka. The meeting referred to was an important one, and is generally spoken of as the second Great Council of the Buddhist Church. See, on the formation of the Buddhist Canon, Hardy’s E. M., chap. xviii, and the last chapter of Davids’ Manual, on the History of the Order. The first Council was that held at Rajagriha, shortly after Buddha’s death, under the presidency of Kasyapa; — say about B.C. 410. The second was that spoken of here; — say about B.C. 300. In Davids’ Manual (p. 216) we find the ten points of discipline, in which the heretics (I can use that term here) claimed at least indulgence. Two meetings were held to consider and discuss them. At the former the orthodox party barely succeeded in carrying their condemnation of the laxer monks; and a second and larger meeting, of which Fa-hien speaks, was held in consequence, and a more emphatic condemnation passed. At the same time all the books and subjects of discipline seem to have undergone a careful revision.

The Corean text is clearer than the Chinese as to those who composed the Council — the Arhats and orthodox monks. The leader among them was a Yasas, or Yasada, or Yedsaputtra, who had been a disciple of Ananda, and must therefore have been a very old man.

Visit by Xuanzang in 637 AD

Alexander Cunningham[10] writes that From the stupa of the measuring-vessel, Hwen Thsang proceeded to the north-east for 140 or 150 li, or 23 to 25 miles, to Vaisali. He mentions having crossed the Ganges on the road ; but as he was already to the north of that river, his notice must certainly refer to the Gandak, which flows within 12 miles of Degwara. We must therefore look for Vaisali to the east of the Gandak. Here, accordingly, we find the village of Besarh, with an old ruined fort which is still called Raja-Bisal-ka-garh, or the fort of Raja Visala, who was the reputed founder of the ancient Vaisali. Hwen Thsang states that the Royal Palace was between 4 and 5 li, or from 3500 to 4400 feet in circuit, which agrees with the size of the old fort, according to my measurement of 1580 feet by 750 feet, or 4600 feet in circuit, along the lines of the ruined walls. The place is mentioned by Abul Fazl, as Besar[11] and it is still a considerable village, surrounded with brick ruins. It is exactly 23 miles from Degwara, but the direction is north-north-east, instead of north-east. This position also agrees with Hwen Thsang's subsequent distance and bearing to the bank of the Ganges opposite Pataliputra, or Patna, which was due south 120 li,[12] or 20 miles, the actual position of Hajipur on the north bank of the Ganges being 20 miles almost due south. The ruined fort of Besarh thus presents such a perfect coincidence of name, position, and dimensions with the ancient city of Vaisali, that there can be no reasonable doubt of their identity.


[p.444]: According to Hwen Thsang's estimate, the kingdom of Vaisali was 6000 li, or 833 miles, in circuit,[13] which is certainly too great, unless it included the neighbouring kingdom of Vriji, which he described as 4000 li, or 667 miles, in circuit. Now the capital of Vriji is said to be only 500 li, or 83 miles, to the north- east of Vaisali ; and as both of the districts are placed between the mountains and the Ganges, it is quite certain that there must be some mistake in the estimated dimensions of one of these. The utmost limit that can be assigned to the joint districts, with reference to the surrounding States, is not more than 750 or 800 miles in circuit, from the foot of the mountains to the Ganges on the south, and from the Gandak on the west to the Mahanadi on the east. I conclude, therefore, either that there is some mistake or exaggeration in the estimated size of one or both of the districts, or that the two districts are the same kingdom under different names. That the latter was actually the case, I will now endeavour to show.

In one of the Buddhist legends, quoted by Burnouf,[14] Buddha proceeds with Ananda to the Chapala stupa, and seating himself under a tree, thus addresses his disciple : " How beautiful, O Ananda, is the city of Vaisali, the land of the Vrijis," etc. In the time of Buddha, and for many centuries afterwards, the people of Vaisali were called Lichhavlv ; and in the Trikanda- sesha^ the names of Lichhavi, Vaideha, and Tirabhukti, are given as synonymous. Vaideha is well known to the readers of the Ramayana as a common name of Mithila, the country of Raja Janaka, whose daughter


[p.445]:

Sita is also named Vaidehi. Tirabhukti is the present Tirahuti, or Tirlmt. Now, the modern town of Janakpur, in the Mithari district, is acknowledged by the universal consent of the natives of the country, to be the same place as the ancient Janakpur, the capital of Mithila. It also corresponds exactly with the position assigned by Hwen Thsang to Chen-shu-na, the capital of Vriji. M. Vivien de Saint-Martin reads the Chinese name as Che-thu-na, but M. Stanislas Julien renders it by Chha-su-na, and points out that the second character is found in Sukra, and I may add also in Sudra. The correct rendering of the name is doubtful ; but if the bearing and distance recorded by the Chinese pilgrims are correct, it is almost certain that the capital of Vriji in the seventh century must have been at Janakpur.

Hwen Thsang gives the name of the country in its Sanskrit form, as Fo-li-shi, or Vriji ; but it is also stated that the people of the north called the country San-fa-shi, or Samvaji, [15] which is the Pali form of Samvriji, or the "United Vrijis." From this name, I infer that the Vrijis were a large tribe which was divided into several branches, namely, the Lichhavis of Vaisali, the Vaidehis of Mithila, the Tirabhukis of Tirhut, etc. Either of these divisions separately might therefore be called Vrijis, or any two together might be called Vrijis, as well as Samvrijis, or the "United Vrijis." "We have a parallel case in the warlike tribe of the Bagris, or Sambagris of the Satlej, which consisted of three separate divisions. I conclude therefore that Vaisali was a single district in the territories of the United Vrijis, or Wajjis, and there-


[p.446]: fore that the estimated size of Vaisali proper, as recorded by Hwen Thsang, is a simple mistake. Perhaps we should read 1500 li, or 250 miles, instead of 5000 li, or 833 miles. In this case the district of Vaisali would be limited to the south-west corner of the country of the Vrijis, to the westward of the little Gandak river.

To the north-west of Vaisali, at somewhat less than 200 li, or 33 miles, Hwen Thsang places the ruins of an ancient town, which had been deserted for many ages. There Buddha was said to have reigned in a previous existence, as a Chakravartti Raja, or supreme ruler, named Mahadeva, and a stupa still existed to commemorate the fact. The name of the place is not given, but the bearing and distance point to Kesariya, an old ruined town, just 30 miles to the north-north- west of Vaisali. The place possesses a mound of ruins with a lofty stupa on the top, which the people attribute to Raja Vena Chakravartti. In the Puranas also, Raja Vena is called a Chakravartti, or supreme monarch ; and I have found his name as widely spread through northern India as that of Rama, or the five Pandus. This monument stands at the point of crossing of the two great thoroughfares of the district, namely, that from Patna northward to Bettiah, and that from Chapra across the Gandak to Nepal. It is a curious illustration of this fact that Buddha him-self, according to the Ceylonese chronicles, informed Ananda,[16] that "for a Chakravartti Raja they build the thupo at a spot where four principal roads meet." I have little doubt therefore that this is the identical place indicated by the Chinese pilgrim.

Jat History

Hukum Singh Panwar (Pauria)[17] writes .... When the Saka people moved still further in the far eastern countries, they founded a city named Vaisali[18] in Burma, which became the capital of Arakan, ruled over by the Hindu dynasty of


The Jats:Their Origin, Antiquity and Migrations: End of p.196


Dhanyawati from 8th century AD. to 11th century A.D., and which is now identified with Vaithali village, surrounded by monuments ancient Vaisali. It is further interesting to note that the ancient Kambuja[19] (modern Cambodia and Cochin-China, or Kampuchia Kambojia, Thailand-Dahiland?) and Ayuthya = Ayodhya, which was made capital by a chief of Utong, who assumed the title of Ramadhipat in 1350 A.D. in Siam (Thailand or Dahiland) are unmistakably reminicent of the migrations and settlements of the Sakas, Kambojas and probably Manvas (Manns) [20] also in those countries in olden times[21] (For ancient Indian Literature in Java and Bali islands, see Weber, 1914; 189 195, 208,229, 271, 280). Jitra or Jatra, a place name in the plains of Malaya, may well be attributed to the old Saka Jats (Mall or Malli from ancient Malloi) in that peninsula, probably known as Malaya after them.

Notes by Wiki editor

  • Jat historian Hukum Singh Panwar (Pauria)[22] writes that Waddel interprets some of these seals to assert that Guti or Gut engraved on them was either the name of a Saka chief or was an ethnic title of a tribe. Further, he identifies Guti or Gut with Goth, or Getae, Sacae (Saka) descendants of Narishyanta, from whom Jat clan Nehra has descended.
  • Vaisali as the name of a river in south of Gwalior in the Madhya Pradesh may also be a vestige of the Sakas of ancient Vaisali. The Gohad fort, built by Bamraulia Jats in Bhind district of Madhya Pradesh, was situated on the Vaisali River where it takes a circular turn. It shows further evidence of Jats and Saka connections.
  • Jat King of Magadha - K.P. Jayaswal writes that A great famine and invasion made the Eastern Provinces distracted, terrorised and demoralised. In that country, undoubtedly, (then) there will be a king a great king of Mathura Jata (जाट) (Jat = जाट) family, born of a Vaisali (वैशाली) lady (T.), originally Vaisya . He became the king of the Magadhas (758-60). It is to be marked that although the king is not named, he is described as the son of the Vaisali Lady in the Tibetan text. He is said to have been a Mathura-Jata (जाट) (Sanskrit- Jata-vamsa जाट-वंस) . Jata-vam'sa, that is, Jata Dynasty stands for Jarta, that is, Jat. That the Guptas were Jat, we already have good reasons to hold (JBORS, XIX. p. 115). His Vaisali mother is the Lichchhavi lady. Evidently the ancestors of Samudra Gupta, according to this datum, once belonged to Mathura. [23]

References

  1. http://monastic-asia.wikidot.com/vaisali
  2. The Ancient Geography of India: I. The Buddhist Period, Including the ...By Sir Alexander Cunningham, p.439
  3. Sandhya Jain:Adideo Arya Devata, A Panoramic view of Tribal-Hindu Cultural Interface, Published in 2004 by Rupa & Co, 7/16, Ansari Road, Daryaganj, New Delhi, p.130
  4. India as Known to Panini, p. 428-429
  5. Sandhya Jain:Adideo Arya Devata, A Panoramic view of Tribal-Hindu Cultural Interface, Published in 2004 by Rupa & Co, 7/16, Ansari Road, Daryaganj, New Delhi, p.130
  6. Bindloss, Joe; Sarina Singh (2007). India: Lonely planet Guide. Lonely Planet. p. 556. ISBN 1-74104-308-5.
  7. Hoiberg, Dale; Indu Ramchandani (2000). Students' Britannica India, Volumes 1-5. Popular Prakashan. p. 208. ISBN 0-85229-760-2.
  8. Kulke, Hermann; Dietmar Rothermund (2004). A history of India. Routledge. p. 57. ISBN 0-415-32919-1.
  9. A Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms/Chapter 25
  10. The Ancient Geography of India/Vaisali, p.443-447
  11. 'Ayin Akbari,' ii. 198. See Map No. XI. for its position.
  12. Julien's ' Hiouen Thsang,' ii. 399. 90 li to Swetapura, plus 30 li to the Ganges, or together 120 li from Vaiaali. In the pilgrim's life, the distance to Swetapura is said to be 100 li; vol. i. p. 137.
  13. Julien's ' Hiouen Thsang,' ii. 384.
  14. Introduction a L'Hist. du Buddh. Ind. p. 74.
  15. 'Hiouen Thsang,' ii. 402 ; note by M. Stanislas Julien.
  16. Tumour, Journ. Asiat. Soc. Bengal, vii. 1006.
  17. The Jats:Their Origin, Antiquity and Migrations/The Scythic origin of the Jats, p.196-197
  18. Mathur op.cit., p. 883. Radha Kumud Mukerji, Anc.Ind. Allahabad, 1966, pp. 489f
  19. Radha Kumud Mukerji, op.cit., p. 492.
  20. Ibid. Mathur, op.cit., p. 37. Takakusu, A record of the Buddhist Religion as practised in Ind. and the Malay Archipelago, Delhi, 1966, p. 41. Chaturvedi, Vimalkant: Bankok City of Buddha Temples. in 'The Suman Sauram' (Hind i), Jhandewala Estate, Rani Jhansi Marg, New Delhi, May 1988, p. 49. The city was destroyed by the Burmese army.
  21. Ency. America, No, 28, p.107. about 100,000 Indians [of Jat tribes of Dahiya (Dahae) and Mann?) migrated to Vietnam in prehistoric time. (within brackets mine).
  22. The Jats:Their Origin, Antiquity and Migrations: p.351
  23. An Imperial History Of India: pp 51-52

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