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Āḷavaka (Sutta)

1. Āḷavaka.– The king of Āḷavi. He was in the habit of holding a hunt once in seven days to keep his army in trim. One day when he was hunting, the quarry escaped from where the king lay in wait and, according to custom, it became the king’s duty to capture it. He, therefore, followed the animal for three leagues, killed it and, having cut it in half, carried it in a pingo. On his way back he happened to pass under the banyan tree which was the abode of the yakkha Āḷavaka. The yakkha had been granted a boon by the yakkha-king, which allowed him to eat anybody who came within the shadow of the tree. Accordingly, he seized the king, but later released him on obtaining his promise that he would provide him at regular intervals with a human being and a bowl of food (SnA.i.217 ff).

For the rest of the story see Āḷavaka Yakkha.

2. Āḷavaka Yakkha.– The yakkha referred to above.

King Āḷavaka, with the help of the mayor of the town (Nagaraguttika) and his ministers, was able to keep his promise for some time, by sending criminals to the yakkha. The yakkha’s power was such that at the sight of him men’s bodies became as soft as butter. Soon there were no criminals left, and each household was forced to contribute one child for sacrifice to the yakkha.

Then women, about to bring forth children, began to leave the king’s capital. Twelve years passed in this manner and the only child left was the king’s own son, Āḷavaka Kumāra. When the king learnt this, he ordered the child to be dressed in all splendour and taken to the yakkha. The Buddha, with his Eye of Compassion, saw what was going to happen and went to the yakkha’s abode.

Āḷavaka was away at a meeting of the yakkhas in Himavā. His doorkeeper Gadrabha admitted the Buddha, after warning him of the yakkha’s unmannerly nature. The Buddha went in and sat down on Āḷavaka’s throne while Gadrabha went to Himavā to announce to his master the Buddha’s arrival. While the Buddha was there, teaching Āḷavaka’s women-folk, the yakkhas Sātāgira and Hemavata, passing through the air on their way to the assembly in Himavā, being made aware of the Buddha’s presence by their inability to fly over him, descended to Āḷavaka’s palace and made obeisance to the Buddha before resuming their journey.

When Āḷavaka heard from Gadrabha and from Sātāgira and Hemavata of the Buddha’s visit, he was greatly incensed and uttering aloud his name, he hurried to his abode. There with all the various supernatural powers he could command he tried to dislodge the Buddha from his seat, but without success even his special weapon, the Dussāvudha being of no avail against the Buddha. Then, approaching the Buddha, Āḷavaka asked him to leave his house, which the Buddha did. He then summoned the Buddha back and he came. Three times this happened and three times the Buddha obeyed, judging compliance to be the best way of softening his wrath, but the fourth time the Buddha refused to return. Thereupon Āḷavaka expressed his desire to ask questions of the Buddha, hoping thereby to fatigue him. The Buddha agreed, and when he had answered all the questions to Āḷavaka’s satisfaction, the latter became a Stream-winner (sotāpanna) (SnA.i.239).

At dawn, King Āḷavaka’s men brought the young prince, Āḷavaka-Kumara to the yakkha, as a sacrifice. Hearing the yakkha’s shouts of joy at the close of the Buddha’s discourse, they greatly marvelled. When they announced to Āḷavaka that they had brought their offering, and handed him the child, he was greatly ashamed because of the Buddha’s presence. Āḷavaka gave the child to the Buddha, who blessed him and gave him back to the king’s messengers. The boy, having passed from the yakkha’s hands to those of the Buddha, and from there to the king’s men, thereafter became known as Hatthaka Āḷavaka (SnA.i.239‑40).

When the king and the citizens heard that the yakkha had become a follower of the Buddha, they built for him a special abode near that of Vessavaṇa and provided him with endless gifts of flowers, perfumes, etc., for his use. The story of Āḷavaka, of which the above is a summary, is given in full in SnA.i.217‑40 and in SA.i.244‑59. It is also given in brief in AA.i.211‑12 and with some difference in detail.

Āḷavaka’s abode was thirty leagues from Sāvatthi, and the Buddha covered the whole journey in one day (SnA.i.220). The abode was near a banyan tree and on the ground (bhummatthaṃ), well protected with walls, etc., and covered on the top by a metal net, it was like a cart enclosed on all sides. It was three leagues in extent, and over it lay the road to Himavā by air (SnA.i.222). Ascetics, having seen the glittering palace, often called to find out what it was. Āḷavaka would ask them questions regarding their faith, and when they could not answer he would assume a subtle form and, entering their hearts, would drive them mad (SnA.i.228).

Āḷavaka shouted his name before starting from Himavā to vanquish the Buddha. He stood with his left foot on Manosilātala and his right on Kelāsakūṭa. His shout was heard throughout Jambudīpa and was one of the four shouts, mentioned in tradition, as having travelled so far (SnA.i.223; for the others see Puṇṇaka, Vissakamma and Kusa). Āḷavaka had a special weapon, the Dussāvudha, comparable to Sakka’s Vajirāvudha, Vessavaṇa’s Gadāvudha and Yama’s Nayanāvudha. It had the power, if it were thrown into the sky, of stopping rain for twelve years and if cast on the earth of destroying all trees and crops for a like period. If hurled into the sea it would dry up all the water, and it could shatter Sineru into pieces. It was made of cloth and is described as a vatthāvudha, and it was worn as a part of the yakkha’s upper garment (uttariya).

There are three salient features in the story of Āḷavaka that link it closely to the large circle of stories grouped by Professor Watanabe (J.P.T.S.1909‑10, pp.240 ff) under the title of Kalmāsapāda stories:

  1. The man-eating yakkha;
  2. the captured king saving himself by a promise to provide the yakkha with offerings, and the sanctity of that promise; and
  3. the conversion of the yakkha.

The conversion of Āḷavaka is considered one of the chief incidents of the Buddha’s life ¹ (e.g., J.iv.180; vi.329; Mhv.xxx.84).

Āḷavaka’s name appears in the Aṭānāṭiya Sutta, among the yakkhas to whom followers of the Buddha should appeal for protection in time of need (D.iii.205). (See also Āḷavaka Sutta.)

¹ The Jayamaṅgala Gāthā celebrates the eight victories of the Buddha over: Māra the Evil One, Āḷavaka yakkha, the drunken, ferocious elephant Nāḷāgiri, the multi-murderer Aṅgulimāla, the liar Ciñca-māṇavikā, Saccaka the arrogant heretic, Nandopananda the Nāga, and the conceited Baka Brahma. (“It is quite possible that the text of the Jayamaṅgala Gāthā was composed in Sri Lanka in the late medieval period perhaps after the tenth century.” Mahinda Deegalle)

1. Āḷavaka Sutta.– Records the eight questions asked of the Buddha by Āḷavaka Yakkha and the answers given by the Buddha. It is said (SnA.i.228) that Āḷavaka’s parents had learnt the questions and their answers from Kassapa Buddha and had taught them to Āḷavaka in his youth; but he could not remember them and, in order that they might be preserved, he had them written on a gold leaf with red paint, and this he stored away in his palace. When the Buddha answered the questions he found that the answers were exactly the same as those given by Kassapa (SnA.i.231).

The tenth sutta of the Uraga Vagga of the Suttanipāta. It also appears in the Saṃyuttanikāya (S.i.213 ff) and is included in the collection of protection discourses (Paritta).

2. Āḷavaka Sutta.– A conversation between the Buddha and Hatthaka Āḷavaka in which the Buddha states that he is among those who enjoy real happiness. A.i.136 f.