Home page Up (parent) Next (right) Previous (left) Abbreviations

Page last updated on 8 May, 2017

Association for Insight Meditation Home Page


A city, the capital of Magadha. There seem to have been two distinct towns; the older one, a hill fortress, more properly called Giribbaja, was very ancient and is said ¹ to have been laid out by Mahāgovinda, a skilled architect. The later town, at the foot of the hills, was evidently built by Bimbisāra

However, both names were used indiscriminately,³ though Giribbaja seems, as a name, to have been restricted to verse passages. The place was called Giribbaja (mountain stronghold) because it was surrounded by five hills ⁴ — Paṇḍava, Gijjhakūṭa, Vebhāra, Isigili, and Vepulla — and Rājagaha, because it was the seat of many kings, such as Mandhātu and Mahāgovinda. It would appear, from the names given of the kings, that the city was a very ancient royal capital.⁶ The Commentaries ⁷ explain that the city was inhabited only in the time of Buddhas and Cakkavattis; at other times it was the abode of yakkhas who used it as a pleasure resort in spring. The country to the north of the hills was known as Dakkhiṇāgiri.⁸

Rājagaha was closely associated with the Buddha’s work. He visited it soon after the Renunciation, journeying there on foot from the River Anomā, a distance of thirty leagues.⁹ Bimbisāra saw him begging in the street, and, having discovered his identity and the purpose of his quest, obtained from him a promise of a visit to Rājagaha as soon as his aim should be achieved.¹⁰ During the first year after the Enlightenment therefore, the Buddha went to Rājagaha from Gayā, after the conversion of the Tebhātika Jaṭilā. Bimbisāra and his subjects gave the Buddha a great welcome, and the king entertained him and a large following of monks in the palace. It is said that on the day of the Buddha’s entry into the royal quarters, Sakka led the procession, in the guise of a young man, singing songs of praise of the Buddha. It was during this visit that Bimbisāra gifted Veḷuvana to the Order and that the Buddha received Sāriputta and Moggallāna as his disciples.¹¹ Large numbers of householders joined the Order, and people blamed the Buddha for breaking up their families. However, their censure lasted for only seven days. Among those ordained were the Sattarasavaggiyā with Upāli at their head.

The Buddha spent his first Rains Retreat (vassa) in Rājagaha and remained there during the winter and the following summer. The people grew tired of seeing the monks everywhere, and, on coming to know of their displeasure, the Buddha went first to Dakkhiṇāgiri and then to Kapilavatthu.¹²

According to the Buddhavaṃsa Commentary (p.13), the Buddha spent also in Rājagaha the third, fourth, seventeenth and twentieth vassa. After the twentieth year of his teaching, he made Sāvatthi his headquarters, though he seems frequently to have visited and stayed at Rājagaha. It thus became the scene of several important suttas, e.g., the Āṭānāṭiya, Udumbarika, and Kassapa, Jīvaka, Mahāsakuludāyi, and the Sakkapañha Sutta.¹³ Many of the Vinaya rules were enacted at Rājagaha. Just before his death, the Buddha paid a last visit there. At that time, Ajātasattu was contemplating an attack on the Vajjī , and sent his minister, Vassakāra, to the Buddha at Gijjhakūṭa, to find out what his chances of success were.¹⁴

After the Buddha’s death, Rājagaha was chosen by the monks, with Mahā-Kassapa at their head, as the meeting place of the First Convocation. This took place at the Sattapaṇṇiguhā, and Ajātasattu extended to the undertaking his whole-hearted patronage.¹⁵ The king also erected at Rājagaha a cairn over the relics of the Buddha, which he had obtained as his share.¹⁶ According to the Mahāvaṃsa,¹⁷ some time later, acting on the suggestion of Mahā-Kassapa, the king gathered at Rājagaha seven donas of the Buddha’s relics which had been deposited in various places — excepting those deposited at Rāmagāma — and built over them a large thūpa. It was from there that Asoka obtained relics for his vihāras.

Rājagaha was one of the six chief cities of the Buddha’s time, and as such, various important trade routes passed through it. The others cities were Campā, Sāvatthi, Sāketa, Kosambī, and Bārāṇasī.¹⁸ The road from Takkasilā to Rājagaha was one hundred and ninety-two leagues long and passed through Sāvatthi, which was forty-five leagues from Rājagaha. This road passed by the gates of Jetavana.¹⁹ The Parāyana Vagga ²⁰ mentions a long and circuitous route, taken by Bāvarī’s disciples in going from Patiṭṭhāna to Rājagaha, passing through Māhissati, Ujjeni, Goṇaddha, Vedisā. Vanasavhaya, Kosambī, Sāketa, Sāvatthi, Setavyā, Kapilavatthu, Kusinārā, on to Rājagaha, by way of the usual places (see below).

From Kapilavatthu to Rājagaha was sixty leagues.²¹ From Rājagaha to Kusinārā was a distance of twenty-five leagues,²² and the Mahā Parinibbāna Sutta gives a list of the places ²³ at which the Buddha stopped during his last journey along that road — Ambalaṭṭhikā, Nālandā, Pāṭaligāma (where he crossed the Gaṅgā), Koṭigāma, Ñātika (??), Vesāli, Bhandagāma, Hatthigāma, Ambagāma, Jambugāma, Bhoganagara, Pāvā, and the Kakuṭṭha River, beyond which lay the Mango grove and the Sāla grove of the Mallas.

From Rājagaha to the Gaṅgā was a distance of five leagues, and when the Buddha visited Vesāli at the invitation of the Licchavī, the kings on either side of the river vied with each other to show him honour.²⁴ The distance between Rājagaha and Nāḷandā is given as one league, and the Buddha often walked between the two.²⁵

The books mention various places besides Veḷuvana, with its Kalandaka-nivāpa-vihāra in and around Rājagaha — e.g., Sītavana, Jīvaka’s Ambavana, Pipphaliguhā, Udumbarikārāma, Moranivāpa with its Paribbājakārāma, Tapodārāma, Indasālaguhā in Vediyagiri, Sattapaṇṇiguhā, Laṭṭhivana, Maddakucchi, Supatiṭṭha cetiya, Pāsāṇakacetiya, Sappasoṇḍikapabbhāra and the pond Sumāgadhā.

At the time of the Buddha’s death, there were eighteen large monasteries in Rājagaha.²⁶ Close to the city flowed the rivers Tapodā and Sappinī. In the city was a Potter’s Hall where travellers from far distances spent the night, e.g., Pukkusāti;²⁷ it had also a Town Hall.²⁸ The city gates were closed every evening, and after that it was impossible to enter the city.²⁹

In the Buddha’s time there was constant fear of invasion by the Licchavī, and Vassakāra (q.v.) is mentioned as having strengthened its fortifications. To the north east of the city were the brahmin villages of Ambasaṇḍā³⁰ and SāIindiya;³¹ other villages are mentioned in the neighbourhood, such as Kīṭāgiri, Upatissagāma, Kolitagāma, Andhakavinda, Sakkhara and Codanāvatthu (q.v.) In the Buddha’s time, Rājagaha had a population of a hundred and eighty million, ninety million in the city and ninety million outside, and the sanitary conditions were not of the best.³² The Treasurer of Rājagaha and Anāthapiṇḍika had married each other’s sisters, and it was while Anāthapiṇḍika (q.v.) was on a visit to Rājagaha that he first met the Buddha.

The people of Rājagaha, like those of most ancient cities, held regular festivals; one of the best known of these was the Giraggasamajjā (q.v.) Mention is also made of troupes of players visiting the city and giving their entertainment for a week on end.³³

Soon after the death of the Buddha, Rājagaha declined both in importance and prosperity. Susunāga transferred the capital to Vesāli, and Kālāsoka removed it again to Pāṭaliputta, which, even in the Buddha’s time, was regarded as a place of strategically importance. When Hiouen Thsang visited Rājagaha, he found it occupied by brahmins and in a very dilapidated condition.³⁴ For a long time, however, it seems to have continued as a centre of Buddhist activity, and among those mentioned as having been present at the foundation of the Mahā Thūpa were eighty thousand monks led by Indagutta.³⁵


¹ VvA. p.82; but cp. D.ii.235, where seven cities are attributed to his foundation.

² Hsouien Thsang says (Beal, ii.145) that the old capital occupied by Bimbisāra was called Kusāgra. It was afflicted by frequent fires, and Bimbisāra, on the advice of his ministers, abandoned it and built the new city on the site of the old cemetery. The building of this city was hastened on by a threatened invasion by the king of Vesāli. The city was called Rājagaha because Bimbisāra was the first person to occupy it. Both Hiouen Thsang and Fa Hsien (Giles: 49) record another tradition which ascribed the foundation of the new city to Ajātasattu. Pargiter (Ancient Ind. Historical Tradition, p.149) suggests that the old city was called Kusāgrapura, after Kusāgra, an early king of Magadha. In the Rāmāyana (i. 7, 32) the city is called Vasumatī. The Mahābhārata gives other names — Bārhadrathapura (ii.24, 44), Varāha, Vrsabha, Rsigiri, Caityaka (see PHAI.,p.70). It was also called Bimbisārapurī and Magadhapura (SNA.ii.584).

³ E.g., S.N. vs. 405.

SNA.ii.382; it is said (M.iii.68) that these hills, with the exception of Isigili, were once known by other names e.g., Vaṅkaka for Vepulla (S.ii.191). The Saṃyuttanikāya (i.206) mentions another peak near Rājagaha — Indakūṭa. See also Kāḷasilā.


In the Vidhura Jātaka (J.vi.271), Rājagaha is called the capital of Aṅga. This evidently refers to a time when Aṅga had subjugated Magadha.

E.g., SNA. loc.cit.

SA.i.188. J.i.66. ¹⁰ See the Pabbajjā Sutta and its Commentary.

¹¹ Details of this visit are given in Vin.i.35 ff. ¹² Vin.i.77 ff.

¹³ For other incidents in the Buddha’s life connected with Rājagaha, see Gotama. The most notable of these was the taming of Nāḷāgiri.

¹⁴ D.ii.72. ¹⁵ Vin.ii.285; Sp.i.7 f; DA.i.8 f., etc. ¹⁶ D.ii.166.

¹⁷ Mhv.xxxi.21; MT. 564. ¹⁸ D.ii.147. ¹⁹ MA.ii.987; SA.i.243.

²⁰ SN. vss.1011‑3. ²¹ AA.i.115; MA.i.360. ²² DA.ii.609.

²³ D.ii.72 ff.

²⁴ DhA.iii.439 f; also Mtu.i.253 ff; according to Dvy (p.55) the Gaṅgā had to be crossed between Rājagaha and Sāvatthi, as well, by boat, some of the boats belonging to the king of Magadha and others to the Licchavī of Vesāli.

²⁵ DA.i.35. ²⁶ Sp.i.9. ²⁷ MA.ii.987. ²⁸ J.iv.72.

²⁹ Vin.iv.116 f; the city had thirty-two main gates and sixty-four smaller entrances (DA.i.150; MA.ii.795). One of the gates of Rājagaha was called Taṇḍulapāla (M.ii.185). Round Rājagaha was a great peta world (MA.ii.960; SA.i.31).

³⁰ D.ii.263. ³¹ J.iii.293.

³² SA.i.241; DhA.ii.43; it was because of the city’s prosperity that the Mettiya-Bhummajakā made it their headquarters (Sp.iii.614). The city was not free from plague (DhA.i.232).

³³ See, e.g., the story of Uggasena. ³⁴ Beal, op.cit., ii.167. ³⁵ Mhv.xxix.30.

Finding Footnote References

Sakkapañha Sutta, Dīghanikāya, Di.ii.262

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 ii 262 in the spine, or [263] and [264] in the text. References to the Jātaka Commentary are given as J, not JA, which would normally be used, as that is reserved for the Journal Asiatic.