Vaishali or Vesali (Pali) was a city, the capital of the Licchavis and the Vajjian Confederacy. Five years after the Enlightenment in Bodh Gaya, Lord Buddha came to Vaishali, the capital of one the first republican states in the Ganga, Vaishali is bound by the hills of Nepal on the north and the river Gandak on the west. At the time of the Buddha, Vesali was a very large city, rich and prosperous, crowded with people and with abundant food. There were seven thousand seven hundred and seven pleasure grounds and an equal number of lotus ponds. Its courtesan, Ambapali, was famous for her beauty, and helped in large measure in making the city prosperous.
Vaishali is also renowned as the place where the Buddha delivered his last sermon. Following a severe illness, the Master asked Ananda to assemble all the bhikshus. The Enlightened One told the gathering that the Mahaparinirvana (final extinction) was imminent. The Great Master asked the monks to spread the Dharma in order to bring about the good and happiness of many.
Going back to the town, a little way off the main road, can be seen the ruins of the mythical King Vishala's fort, from which Vaishali derived its name. Vaishali also finds mention in the Hindu epic, Ramayana.
Vesáai 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. The Lichchavi nobility came to receive the Enlightened One with a cavalcade of elephants and chariots bedecked with gold. As the Lord set foot on the soil of Vaishali, lightning and thunder followed by a heavy downpour purged the plague-infected city. The Buddha preached the Ratna Sutra to those assembled, and eighty-four thousand people embraced the new faith.
It was during a stay in Vesáli, The Buddha's foster mother, Mahaprajapati Gautami, along with 500 Sakyan women made a pilgrimage by foot from Kapilavastu to Vaishali, seeking to join the Order. Three times the Lord refuses their entreaties. Ultimately they shaved their heads, donned the orange robes and beseeched the Lord once again. The Enlightened One was finally persuaded to admit the women as bhikshunis or nuns.
It was also at Vaishali that Amrapali, the famous courtesan, earned the respect of the Sangha and a place in history, with her generous donations. The neighbouring village of Amvara is said to be the site of Amrapali's mango grove. Once when the Lord was visiting Vaishali, Amrapali invited him to her house and the Lord graciously accepted the offer. An overjoyed Amrapali, returning on her chariot, raised a cloud of dust. The Lichchavi princes going to meet the Buddha got enveloped in the dust and learnt of the Buddha's forthcoming visit to her house. The Lichchavi princes wanted to exchange Amrapali's honour for one hundred thousand gold coins. Amrapali steadfastly refused their offer and after the Buddha's visit to her house she was purged of all impurities. She gifted her mango grove to the Sangha. Amrapali joined the order after realising the transitory nature of all things, including beauty.
Kutagarshala Vihara is 3 kms form the main town. It was built by the Lichchavis for Sakhamuni. Known as Buddha Stupa 2, this site has revealed extensive remains of a monastery with an open courtyard and verandah. A large tank and the Kutagarshala Chaitya can be seen in the south.
It was at Kutagarshala Vihara that a monkey took the Lord's alms bowl and climbed a tree to gather honey for him. The Buddha accepted his humble offering and the monkey in great joy, leaping from tree to tree, accidentally fell and was impaled on the stump of a tree. Dying a noble death, the monkey went to heaven. Kutagarshala Vihara is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm. Entry fee Rs 2.
Among the precious archaeological finds is the relic casket containing the ashes of the Buddha now preserved in the Patna Museum. In the north is the Ashoka Pillar with a bell capital and large brick stupa, originally built by the Emperor to mark the site where the site where Buddha delivered his last discourse.
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.
The Site Museum
In the north is the Site Museum. It has an excellent collection dating from 3rd century BC to 6th century AD. The terracotta monkey heads in different styles are interesting. The Site Museum is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm. It is closed on Fridays. Entry is free.
After his last discourse the Awakened One set out for Kushinagar, but the Lichchavis 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.
Location and Transport
Vaishali is linked to Patna, 60 kms away, by the 5.5kms long Mahatma Gandhi Bridge across the Ganga. Leaving the crowded market place of this small district town, the metalled road leads to the village of Basarh, which the British archaeologist, Alexander Cunnigham, identified as the ancient Vaishali. There is no local transport and visitors are advised to take their own vehicles for sightseeing.
Patna, 56 kms
Muzaffarpur, 36 kms
Hajipur, 35 kms
Hajipur, 35 kms, on the North Eastern Railway
Patna, 56 kms
A hundred years after the Mahaparinirvana, the second Buddhist Council was held in Vaishali. The momentous results of this Council were the dispatch of missionaries to different parts of the world for the propagation of the Dharma.