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Vesāli

A city, capital of the Licchavī. The Buddha first visited it in the fifth year after the Enlightenment, and spent the Rainy Season (vassa) thereThe Commentaries give detailed descriptions of the circumstances of this visit

Vesāli was inhabited by seven thousand and seven princes (rājā), 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. As the Buddha was then at Veḷuvana in Rājagaha, the Licchavi Mahāli, friend of Bimbisāra and son of the chaplain of Vesāli, was sent to Bimbisāra with a request that he should persuade the Buddha to go to Vesāli. Bimbisāra referred him to the Buddha himself, who, after listening to Mahāli’s story, agreed to go. The Buddha started on the journey with five hundred monks. Bimbisāra decorated the route from Rājagaha to the Gaṅgā, a distance of five leagues, and provided all comforts on the way. He accompanied the Buddha, and the Gaṅgā was reached in five days. Boats, decked with great splendour, were ready for the Buddha and his monks, and we are told that Bimbisāra followed the Buddha into the water up to his neck. The Buddha was received on the opposite bank by the Licchavī, with even greater honour than Bimbisāra had shown him. As soon as the Buddha set foot in the Vajjī territory, there was a thunderstorm and rain fell in torrents. The distance from the Gaṅgā to Vesāli was three leagues; as the Buddha approached Vesāli, Sakka came to greet him, and, at the sight of the devas, all the evil spirits fled in fear. In the evening the Buddha taught Ānanda the Ratana Sutta, and ordered that it should be recited within the three walls of the city, the round of the city being made with the Licchavī princes. This Ānanda did during the three watches of the night, and all the pestilences of the citizens disappeared. The Buddha himself recited the Ratana Sutta to the assembled people, and eighty-four thousand beings were converted. After repeating this for seven consecutive days, the Buddha left Vesāli.³ The Licchavī accompanied him to the Gaṅgā with redoubled honours, and, in the river itself, Devā and Nāgā vied with each other in paying him honour. On the farther bank, Bimbisāra awaited his arrival and conducted him back to Rājagaha. On his return there, the Buddha recited the Saṅkha Jātaka.

It was probably during this visit of the Buddha to Vesāli that Suddhodana died.⁴ According to one account,⁵ the Buddha went through the air to visit his dying father and to teach him, thereby enabling him to attain Arahantship before his death. It is not possible to know how many visits were paid by the Buddha to Vesāli, but the books would lead us to infer that they were several. Various Vinaya rules are mentioned as having been laid down at Vesāli.⁶

It was during a stay in Vesāli, to where he had gone from Kapilavatthu, that Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī followed the Buddha with five hundred other Sākyan women, and, with the help of Ānanda’s intervention, obtained permission for women to enter the Order under certain conditions.⁷

The books describe ⁸ at some length the Buddha’s last visit to Vesāli on his way to Kusinārā. On the last day of this visit, after his meal, he went with Ānanda to Cāpāla cetiya for his siesta, and, in the course of their conversation, he spoke to Ānanda of the beauties of Vesāli: of the Udena-cetiya, the Gotamaka-cetiya, the Sattamba-cetiya, the Bahuputta-cetiya, and the Sārandada-cetiya.

The Buddha generally stayed at the Kūṭāgārasālā (q.v.) during his visits to Vesāli, but it appears that he sometimes lived at these different shrines.¹⁰ During his last visit to the Cāpāla cetiya he decided to die within three months, and informed Māra and, later, Ānanda, of his decision. The next day he left Vesāli for Bhaṇḍagāma, after taking one last look at the city, “turning his whole body round, like an elephant” (nāgāpalokitaṃ apaloketvā).¹¹ The rainy season that preceded this, the Buddha spent at Beḷuvagāma, a suburb of Vesāli, while the monks stayed in and around Vesāli. On the day before he entered into the Rains Retreat, Ambapālī invited the Buddha and the monks to a meal, at the conclusion of which she gave her Ambavana for the use of the Order.¹²

Vesāli was a stronghold of the Nigaṇṭhā, and it is said that of the forty-two rainy seasons of the latter part of Mahāvīra’s ascetic life, he passed twelve at Vesāli.¹³

The Buddha’s presence in Vesāli was a source of discomfort to the Nigaṇṭhā, and we find mention ¹⁴ of various devices resorted to by them to prevent their followers from coming under the influence of the Buddha.

At the time of the Buddha, Vesāli 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, Ambapālī, was famous for her beauty, and helped in large measure in making the city prosperous.¹⁵ The city had three walls, each one quarter of a league (= 1 gāvuta) away from the other, and at three places in the walls were gates with watch-towers.¹⁶

Outside the town, leading uninterruptedly up to the Himavā, was the Mahāvana (q.v.),¹⁷ a large, natural forest. Nearby were other forests, such as Gosiṅgasālavanadāya.¹⁸

Among important suttas taught at Vesāli are the Mahāli, Mahāsīhanāda, Cūḷasaccaka, Mahāsaccaka, Tevijja, Vacchagotta, Sunakkhatta, and Ratana Sutta.¹⁹ The Bālovāda Jātaka and the Siṅgāla Jātaka (No.152) were taught at Vesāli. After the Buddha’s death a portion of his relics was enshrined in the City.²⁰

One hundred years later Vesāli was again the scene of interest for Buddhists, on account of the “Ten Points” raised by the Vajjiputtakā (q.v.), and the second Council held in connection with this dispute at the Vālikārāma.

The city was also called Visālā.²¹ There were Nāgā living in Vesāli; these were called Vesālā.²² Vesāli is identified with the present village of Basrah in the Muzafferpur district in Tirhut.²³

Footnotes

¹ BuA., p.3. ² KhpA.160 ff.= SNA.i.278; DhA.iii.436 ff; cp. Mtu.i.253 ff.

³ According to the DhA. account the Buddha stayed only seven days in Vesāli; KhA. says two weeks.

See ThigA., p.141; AA.i.186.

It was during this visit of the Buddha to Kapilavatthu (tadā) that Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī first asked his permission to join the Order, but her request was refused. AA.i.186.

See, e.g., Vin.i.238, 287 f; ii.118, 119‑27. The visit mentioned in the last context seems to have been a long one; it was on this occasion that the Buddha ordered the monks to turn their bowls upon the Licchavi Vaḍḍha (q.v.) For other Vinaya rules laid down at Vesāli, see also Vin.ii.159 f; iii and iv passim.

 Vin.ii.253 ff; see Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī. E.g., D.ii.95 ff.

Cf. Mtu.i.300, where a Kapinayha-cetiya is also mentioned. All these were once shrines dedicated to various local deities, but after the Buddha’s visit to Vesāli, they were converted into places of Buddhist worship. Other monasteries are also mentioned, in or near Vesāli — e.g., Pāṭikārāma, Vālikārāma.

¹⁰ See also D.ii.118. ¹¹ D.ii.122. ¹² D.ii.98; but see Dial.ii.102, n.1.

¹³ Jacobi: Jaina Sutras (S.B.E.) Kalpa Sūtra, sect. 122; Vesāli was also the residence of Kandaramasuka and Pāthikaputta (q.v.) Among eminent followers of the Buddha who lived in Vesāli, special mention is made of Ugga (chief of those who gave pleasant gifts), Piṅgiyānī, Kāraṇapālī, Sīha, Vāseṭṭha (A.iv.258), and the various Licchavī (q.v.)

¹⁴ See, e.g., Sīha. ¹⁵ Vin.i.268.

¹⁶ J.i.604; cf.i.389. Perhaps these three walls separated the three districts of Vaisālī mentioned in the Tibetan Dulva (Rockhill, p.62); Hoernle (Uvāsagadasāo Translation ii., p.4, n.8) identifies these three districts with the city proper, Kundapura and Vāniyagāma, respectively mentioned in the Jaina books. Buddhaghosa says (e.g., Sp.ii.393) that Vesāli was so called because it was extensive (visālībhūtatā Vesāli ti uccati); cf. UdA.184 (tikkhattuṃ visālabhūtattā); and MA.i.259.

¹⁷ DA.i.309. ¹⁸ A.v.134.

¹⁹ See also: A.i.220, 276; ii.190, 200; iii.38, 49 ff., 75, 142, 167, 236, 239; iv. 16, 79, 100, 179, 208, 274 ff., 279 ff., 308 ff; v. 86, 133, 342; S.i.29, 112, 230; ii.267, 280; iii.68, 116; iv. 109, 210 ff., 380; v. 141 f, 152 f, 258, 301, 320, 389, 453; D.ii.94 ff; the subjects of these discourses are mentioned passim, in their proper places; see also DhA.i.263; iii.267, 279, 460, 480.

²⁰ D.ii.167; Bu.xxviii.2. ²¹ E.g., AA.i.47; Cv.xcix.98. ²² D.ii.258.

²³ See Vincent Smith, J.R.A.S. 1907, p.267 f., and Marshall, Arch. Survey of India, 1903‑4, p.74.

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