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Kusinārā

The capital of the Mallā and the scene of the Buddha’s death. At that time it was a small city, “a branch-township with wattle-and-daub houses in the midst of the jungle,” and Ānanda was, at first, disappointed that the Buddha should have chosen it for his Parinibbāna. However, the Buddha, by teaching the Mahāsudassana Sutta, pointed out to him that in ancient times it had been Kusāvatī, the royal city of Mahā-Sudassana (D.ii.146). Between Kusinārā and Pāvā, three quarters of a league (three gāvuta) away (DA.ii.573) — from where the Buddha came to Kusinārā on his last journey from Rājagaha, stopping at various places — lay the stream of Kakuṭṭhā on the banks of which was the Ambavana; beyond that was the Hiraññavatī river, and near the city, in a south-westerly direction, lay the Upavattana, the sāla-grove of the Mallā, which the Buddha made his last resting-place (UdA.238; DA.ii.572 f).

After the Buddha’s death his body was carried into the city by the northern gate and out of the city by the eastern gate; to the east of the city was Makuṭabandhana, the shrine of the Mallā, and there the body was cremated. For seven days those assembled at the ceremony held a festival in honour of the relics (D.ii.160 f).

It is said that the Buddha had three reasons for coming to Kusinārā to die:

  1. Because it was the proper venue for the teaching of the Mahāsudassana Sutta;
  2. Because Subhadda would visit him there and, after listening to his discourse, would develop meditation and become an Arahant while the Buddha was still alive; and
  3. Because the Brahmin Doṇa would be there, after the Buddha’s death, to solve the problem of the distribution of his relics (UdA.402 f; DA.ii.573 f).

As the scene of his death, Kusinārā became one of the four holy places declared by the Buddha to be fit places of pilgrimage for the pious, the other three being LumbinīBuddhagayā, and Isipatana (D.ii.140). Mention is made of other visits paid to Kusinārā by the Buddha, prior to that when his death took place. Thus, once he went there from Āpaṇa and having spent some time at Kusinārā, proceeded to Ātumā. The Mallā of Kusinārā were always great admirers of the Buddha, even though not all of them were his followers, and on the occasion of this visit they decided that any inhabitant of Kusinārā who failed to go and meet the Buddha and escort him to the city, would be fined five hundred. It was on this occasion that Roja the Malla was converted and gave to the Buddha and the monks a supply of green vegetables and pastries (Vin.i.247 f). During some of these visits the Buddha stayed in a wood called Baliharaṇa, and there he taught two of the Kusinārā Suttas (A.i.274 f; v.79 f) and the Kinti Sutta (M.ii.238 f). A third Kusinārā Sutta he taught while staying at Upavattana. (A.ii.79; for another discourse to some noisy monks at Upavattana, see Ud.iv.2).

Kusinārā was the birthplace of Bandhula and his wife Mallikā (DhA.i.338, 349). It was twenty-five leagues ² from Rājagaha and lay on the high road from Aḷaka to Rājagaha, the road taken by Bāvarī’s disciples (SN.v.1012).

This was evidently the road taken also by Mahā-Kassapa from Pāvā, when he came to pay his last respects to the Buddha (Vin.ii.284).

According to a late tradition, one-eighth of the Buddha’s relics were deposited in a cairn in Kusinārā and honoured by the Mallā (D.ii.167; Bu.xxviii.3).

In ancient times Kusinārā was the capital of King Tālissara and twelve of his descendants (Dpv.iii.32). It was also the scene of the death of Phussa Buddha at the Setārāma (v.l. Sonārāma) (BuA.195; Bu.xix.25).

In Hiouen Thsang’s day there still existed towers and Sarighārāmas erected to mark the spots connected with the Buddha’s last days and obsequies at Kusinārā. According to his account (Beal. op.cit. li. lii. n) Kusinārā was nineteen leagues from Vesāli.

To the northern Buddhists the place was also known as Kusigrāma (Kusigrāmaka) and Kusinagarī (e.g., Dvy.152 f, 208).

Kusinārā is identified with the village of Kasia at the junction of the river Rapti and the smaller Gondak and in the cast of the Gorakhpur district (CAGI.i.493). A copper plate belonging to the thūpa erected at the site of the Buddha’s death has recently been discovered (CAGI.i.714).

The people of Kusinārā are called Kosinārakā. e.g., D.ii.167.

¹ Malalsekera’s original edition has Kapilavatthu. However, that was not the birthplace of the Siddhattha, but his family home. The reference (D.ii.140) — which is in the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta — lists the four places to be visited by a devout follower to arouse religious emotion (Catusaṃvejanīyaṭṭhānāni). These are: 1) here the Tathāgata was born, 2) here the Tathāgata became Fully Enlightened, 3) here the Tathāgata set in motion the wheel of the Dhamma, and 4) here the Tathāgata attained the final cessation without remainder (ed.)

² DA.ii.609; according to Fa Hsien, p.40, it was twenty-four leagues (yojana) from Kapilavatthu.


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