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One of the four great monarchies in the time of the Buddha, the other three being Magadha, Kosala, and Vaṃsa (or Vatsa). Avanti is also mentioned among the sixteen Mahājanapadā.¹ Its capital was Ujjenī. However, according to another account,² Māhissati is mentioned as having been, at least for some time, the capital of Avanti. It is quite likely that ancient Avanti was divided into two parts, the northern part having its capital at Ujjenī and the southern part (also called Avanti­dakkhiṇāpatha) at Māhissati (Māhismatī).³ This theory is supported by the fact that in the Mahābhārata,⁴ Avanti and Māhismatī are referred to as two different countries.

In the Buddha’s time, the King of Avanti was Pajjota, a man of violent temper,⁵ and therefore known as Caṇḍa Pajjota. He wished to conquer the neighbouring kingdom of Kosambī, of which Udena was king, but his plans did not work out as he had anticipated. Instead, his daughter Vāsuladattā became Udena’s wife and the two countries continued to be on friendly terms.⁶

The kingdom of Assaka is invariably mentioned in connection with Avanti. Even in the Buddha’s life-time, Avanti became a centre of Buddhism. Among eminent monks and nuns who were either born or resided there, are to be found: Mahā-Kaccāna, Nanda Kumāputta, Sona Kutikanna, Dhammapāla, Abhayarājakumāra, Isidatta, and Isidāsī.

It is said that when Pajjota heard of the Buddha’s advent to the world, he sent his chaplain’s son, Kaccāna, with seven others, to invite him to Avanti.

Having listened to the Buddha’s teaching, the messengers became Arahants, and when Kaccāna conveyed to the Buddha the king’s invitation to Avanti, he was asked by the Buddha to return and represent him. Kaccāna returned to Avanti and converted Pajjota to the faith of the Buddha.⁷ Henceforward Mahā-Kaccāna seems to have spent a good deal of his time in Avanti, dwelling in the city of Kuraraghara in the Papāta Pabbata.⁸

The religion thus introduced, however, does not seem to have spread to any extent until much later; for we find Mahā-Kaccāna experiencing great difficulty in collecting ten monks, in order that Soṇa-Kuṭikaṇṇa might receive the higher Ordination; in fact it was not until three years had elapsed that he succeeded.⁹ Later, when Soṇa Kuṭikaṇa visited the Buddha at Sāvatthi, he conveyed to the Buddha Mahā-Kaccāna’s request that special rules might be laid down for the convenience of the monks of Avanti Dakkhiṇāpatha and of other border countries.¹⁰ The Buddha agreed, and among the rules so laid down were the following:

  1. The higher Ordination could be given with only four monks and one learned in the monastic discipline (Vinayadhara).
  2. Monks are allowed the use of shoes with thick linings (because in Avanti the soil is black on the surface, rough and trampled by cattle).
  3. Monks are enjoined to bathe frequently (the men of Avanti attaching great importance to bathing).
  4. Sheepskins, goatskins, etc., could be used as coverlets.

Robes could be accepted on behalf of a monk who has left the district, and the ten days’ rule with regard to such a gift will not begin until the robes have actually reached the monk’s hands (this, evidently, because of difficulty of access).¹¹

By the time of the Vesāli Council, however, Avanti had become one of the important centres of the orthodox school, for we find Yasa Kākandakaputta sending messengers to Avanti to call representatives to the Council, and we are told that eighty-eight Arahants obeyed the summons.¹²

Among other localities in Avanti (besides those mentioned above) were Ghanaselapabbata, Makkarakata, and Veḷugāma, and, in Jaina works, we find mention also of Sudarsanapura.¹³

Even in the Buddha’s day there were rumours of the King of Avanti making preparations to attack Magadha, but we are not told that he ever did so.¹⁴ Subsequently, however, before the time of Candagupta, Avanti became incorporated with Magadha. Before Asoka became King of Magadha he was the Magadha Viceroy of Avanti and ruled in Ujjeni, and it was in Ujjeni that Mahinda and Saṅghamittā were born and grew up.¹⁵ However, the country seems to have retained its name at least as late as the second century A.D., as may be seen from Rudradāman’s Inscription at Junagadh.¹⁶

Avanti is now identified with the country north of the Vindhaya Mountains and north-east of Bombay, roughly corresponding to modern Mālwa, Nimār and adjoining parts of the Central Provinces.¹⁷

In the Milindapañha¹⁸ Avanti is mentioned as one of the three mandalas or great divisions of Jambudīpa, the other two being Pācīna and Dakkhiṇāpatha.

According to a late tradition recorded in the Buddhavaṃsa,¹⁹ the Buddha’s mat (nisīdana) and rug were deposited, after his death, in Avanti.

It has sometimes been suggested that Avanti was the home of modern Pāḷi.²⁰ It has further been suggested that the Avanti school of monks — founded by Mahā-Kaccāna, who was considered the greatest analytical exponent of the Buddha’s time — living in comparative isolation (as seen above) on account of difficulty of access,²¹ and laying special stress on ascetic practices (dhutavāda)²² — developed branches of knowledge dealing mainly with grammar and doctrinal interpretation by ways of exegetical analysis. The Pāḷi grammar ascribed to Kaccāyana and the Nettippakaraṇa were both works of this school.²³

Avanti was one of the parts into which the earth was divided by King Reṇu, with the help of his Great Steward, Mahā-Govinda. The King of Avanti at the time was Vessabhū and his capital Māhissati.²⁴

¹ A.i.213; iv.252, 256, 260. ² D.ii.235.

³ Bhandarkar: Carmichael Lectures (1918), p.54. ii.31, 10. Vin.i.277.

The romantic story of this marriage is given in DhA.i.191 ff. For a summary see Vāsuladattā.

ThagA.i.485. S.iii.9, 12; iv.115‑16; A.v.46; also UdA.307.

Vin.i.195. ¹⁰ Vin.i.197‑8. ¹¹ Cp. the first Nissaggiya rule, Vin.iii.195‑6.

¹² Vin.ii.298‑9. ¹³ Law: Ksatriya Tribes, p.148. ¹⁴ E.g., M.iii.7.

¹⁵ Mhv.xiii.8 ff. ¹⁶ Buddhist India, p.28.

¹⁷ Law: Geography of Early Buddhism, p.22. ¹⁸ Trs.ii.250, n.1.

¹⁹ Bu.xxviii.10. ²⁰ E.g., in Bud. India, pp.153‑4.

²¹ Avanti, however, lay on the road taken by Bāvari’s ten disciples on their way from Patiṭṭhāna to Sāvatthi.

²² Vin.ii.299. ²³ For a discussion of this see PLC.181 ff. ²⁴ D.ii.235‑6.

2. Avanti.– King of Ujjeni in a past age. During his reign the Bodhisatta was born, under the name of Citta, in a Caṇḍāla village outside Ujjeni. His story is related in the Citta-Sambhūta Jātaka. J.iv.390 ff.