A powerful clan of India in the time of the Buddha. They were certainly warriors (khattiya), for on that ground they claimed a share of the Buddha’s relics.¹ Their capital was Vesāli, and they formed a part of the Vajjian confederacy, being often referred to as the Vajjī (q.v.) Their strength lay in their great unity; if one Licchavi fell ill, all the others would visit him. The whole clan would join in any ceremony performed in the house of Licchavi, and they would all unite in honouring any distinguished visitors to their city.² They were beautiful to look at and wore brilliantly coloured garments, riding in brightly painted carriages.³ The Buddha once compared them to the gods of Tāvatiṃsa.⁴
Though this would seem to indicate that they were very prosperous and rich, they do not appear to have lived in luxury and idleness. They are, on the contrary, spoken of as sleeping on straw couches,⁵ being strenuous and diligent and zealous in their service.⁶ They also practised seven conditions of welfare (aparihānīyadhammā), which the Buddha claimed to have taught them at the Sārandada cetiya:
The young men among the Licchavī were evidently fond of archery, for mention is made ⁸ of large numbers of them roving about in the Mahāvana, with bows and arrows, the strings set, and surrounded by hounds. They were a martial people and fond of “sport,” but we find one of their Elders, Mahānāma complaining ⁹ of them to the Buddha: “The Licchavi youths are quick-
According to the Buddhist books, the Licchavī were devout followers of the Buddha and held him in the highest esteem.¹¹ Even careless boys, referred to above as wandering about with hounds and bows and arrows, would lay aside their arms when they saw the Buddha seated under a tree and would surround him with clasped hands, eager to hear him.¹² There were numerous shrines in Vesāli itself, several of which are mentioned by name: Cāpāla, Sattambaka, Bahuputta, Gotama, Sārandada, and Udena. Buddhaghosa says ¹³ that these shrines were originally yakkha cetiyas, where various yakkhas were worshipped, but that they were later converted into monasteries for the Buddha and his Order. It is, however, apparent from the Buddhist books themselves,¹⁴ that Vesāli was also a stronghold of the Nigaṇṭhā. The Buddha visited Vesāli at least three times,¹⁵ and is frequently mentioned as staying in Kūṭāgārasālā (q.v.) in Mahāvana. There the Licchavī visited him in large numbers, sometimes ¹⁶ disturbing the calm of the spot and obliging resident monks to seek peace in Gosiṅgasālavanadāya nearby. Once, five hundred Licchavī invited the Buddha to a discussion held by them at the Sārandada-
However, not all the Licchavī were followers of the Buddha. When Saccaka the Nigaṇṭha visited the Buddha at Mahāvana, he was accompanied by five hundred Licchavī, who did not all salute the Buddha as their teacher, but showed him only such respect as was due to an honoured stranger.¹⁸ Several eminent Licchavī are specially mentioned by name as having visited and consulted the Buddha; among whom are Mahānāma, Sīha, Bhaddiya, Sāḷha, Abhaya, Paṇḍitakumāra, Nandaka, Mahāli, and Ugga. Several Licchavī, both men and women, joined the Order — e.g., the famous courtesan Ambapālī, Jentī, Sīhā and Vāsitthī, and, among monks, Añjanavaniya, Vajjiputta, and Sambhūta.
The Licchavī were greatly admired for their system of government. It was a republic (gaṇa, saṅgha), all the leading members of which were called rājā.¹⁹ They held full and frequent assemblies at which problems affecting either the whole republic or individual members were fully discussed. When the assembly drum was heard, all left other duties and assembled immediately in the mote-
In their political relationships with their neighbours, the Licchavī seem to have been on friendly terms with Bimbisāra (q.v.), king of Magadha, and with Pasenadi, king of Kosala.²⁴ Generally speaking, they were friendly also with the Mallā, though the story of Bandhula (q.v.) shows that a certain amount of rivalry existed between the two tribes.
After the death of Bimbisāra, Ajātasattu, in his desire for the expansion of Magadha, resolved to destroy the Licchavī. He was probably partly influenced by his fear of his foster brother Abhayarājakumāra (q.v.), who had in him Licchavi blood. Buddhaghosa gives another story.²⁵ There was a port on the Gaṅgā, extending over one league, half of which territory belonged to Ajātasattu, and the other half to the Licchavī. Nearby was a mountain, from which much fragrant material (? gandhabhaṇḍa) flowed into the river. While Ajātasattu was making preparations to claim his portion of this material, the Licchavī would go before him and remove it all. This happened on several occasions, and Ajātasattu vowed vengeance. In order to discover what the Buddha thought of his chances of success, he sent to him his minister Vassakāra. The Buddha predicted ²⁶ that as long as the Licchavī remained united they were proof against any foe. Ajātasattu then decided to bring about disunion among them. He was successful in this, with the aid of Vassakāra (q.v.) When Ajātasattu arrived at the gates of Vesāli, the Licchavī, owing to their disunion, were unable to put up any opposition, and Ajātasattu captured the city without further trouble.²⁷ The degeneration may have set in earlier among the Licchavī, for we find reference to their giving up their earlier austere habits and to their fondness for soft pillows, long sleep and other luxuries.²⁸ Their power and prosperity were probably also weakened by the plague and drought that had ravaged Vesāli.
The Commentaries contain a mythical account of the origin of the Licchavī.²⁹ The queen of Bārāṇasī gave birth to a lump of flesh, and, wishing to avoid disgrace, her ladies in waiting put it in a sealed casket and threw it into the Gaṅgā. A deva wrote the king’s name on the casket, which was picked up by an ascetic, who tended the embryo until two children, a boy and a girl, emerged from it. The ascetic fed them with milk. Whatever entered the stomachs of the children could be seen as though the stomach were transparent, so that they appeared skinless (nicchavi); some said the skin was so thin (līnachavī) that the stomach and whatever entered it appeared as though sewn together. From this the children came to be called Licchavi, and, as they grew, were brought up by the villagers living near the hermitage. The other children disliked them, saying they were to be avoided (vajjitabbā) because of their quarrelsome disposition. When they were sixteen years old the villagers obtained land for them from the king, founded a town, and married them together. Their country came to be called Vajjī. They had sixteen pairs of twins, and their city had to be greatly enlarged — hence its name, Visālā or Vesāli.
¹¹ Five hundred Licchavī once gave a garment each to Piṅgiyānī, because he recited a verse in praise of the Buddha (A.iii.239).
¹⁵ The first visit was in order to destroy the threefold panic of drought, sickness, and non-
¹⁹ According to Mtu.i.271, there were 68,000 rājās in Vesāli; the Jātaka stories (J.i.504; J.iii.1) speak of 7707; see also DhA.iii.436.
²⁰ DA.ii.517 f.
²¹ See D.ii.76 f., where the Buddha enjoins on the monks the observance of the same habits as practised by the Licchavī. These are given at Vin.i.56 (VT.i.169 f ).
²⁵ DA.ii.516 f; AA.ii.703; was the port Pāṭaligāma? see UdA.408.
²⁸ S.ii.268; see also DhA.iii.280, where they quarrel over a woman; cp. Sp.i.284.
²⁹ MA.i.258; KhpA, etc., for a very comprehensive account of the Licchavī, see Law, Ksatriya Clans in Buddhist India, pp.1 ﬀ.
References in the notes are to the Pāḷi texts of the PTS. In the translations, these are usually printed in the headers near the spine, or in square brackets in the body of the text, thus it would be ii 101 in the spine or  in the text. References to the Commentaries are usually suffixed with A for Aṭṭhakathā (DA, MA, SNA, etc.) but references to the Jātaka Commentary are given as J, not JA, which would normally be used, as that is reserved for the Journal Asiatic.