(The place where monkey offered honey to Buddha)
The ancient city of Vaishali is of great significance to Buddhists on their pilgrimage because it is not merely the place where one of the four major miracles was performed by Buddha. Here Buddha also gave his last sermon before his parinibbana.
During Buddha’s lifetime, Vaishali was the capital of the Vajjian confederacy with eight clans (of which the Licchavis and Videhans were the most important). The city was protected by three walls and governed by 7707 kings (representatives of the people).
Vaishali had a very long association with Buddha. When leaving Kapilvastu in search for enlightenment, Siddhartha first reached Vaishali and received training from Udraka and Alara Kalama. After his enlightenment, the Buddha visited Vaishali on the request of Mahali, the Licchavi prince, as Vaishali was suffering from drought and plague, causing many people to die. As soon as Buddha reached the Vijjian territory a thunderstorm developed and heavy rain poured down onto the city which cleansed the inhabitants and their homes. In Vaishali, Buddha preached Ratna Sutta and ordered Ananda to recite it within three walls of Vaishali for protection.
It was here in Vaishali that a monkey took Buddha’s alms bowl and returned it after filling it with honey as its offering to Buddha; this is considered as one of the four great miracles in Buddha’s life. A group of monkeys also dug a tank for the use of Buddha in Vaishali. Buddha also allowed women to enter the order of monks for the first time on the request of Ananda and thus Bhikkuni Sangha was established in Vaishali. The ruins of the first monastery of nuns can be seen on the south-western side of the Asokan Pillar.
Buddha spent his last rainy retreat and announced his eminent parinibbana in Vaishali. It was at Kutagarshala Vihar that the Buddha delivered his final discourse; a stupa built by Asoka in Kolhua marks that event. Vaishali is also known for Amrapali who was the city courtesan and became a disciple of Buddha. She donated her mango grove to the Sangha. Around one hundred years after Buddha’s parinibbana, Vaishali hosted the second Buddhist council under the patronship of King Kalasoka of Magadh.
Major Attractions in Vaishali:
(Buddhist Pilgrimage Sites)
1. Relic Stupa: The relic stupa of Lichhavis is situated in Vaishali right in front of Abhishek Puskarni built over the share of Buddha’s relics which Lichhavis received in Kusinagar after the last rites of Buddha. The original stupa built by Lichhavis was a mud structure and became renovated and enlarged at least four times. The remains of the relic stupa can be seen under an open shelter with a dome shaped roof. It is surrounded by ruins of Buddhist Monasteries built by the Lichhavis.
2. Raj Vishal ka Garh: Raj Vishal ka Garh is situated in the village of Basarh of Vaishali. The house is believed to be the citadel of Vaishali and the site of the ancient city. The 7707 representatives of the ancient confederation of Vaishali met and discussed the day-to-day affairs of the state in this very house. The ruins consist of a large brick mound and are more than 1500 meters in circumference.
3. Asoka Pillar:To commemorate Buddha’s last sermon and his announcement of approaching Parinibbana, Emperor Asoka had this pillar erected in Vaishali. The pillar is made out of single sandstone surmounted by a lion capital. The face of the lion is directed toward north as a symbol of direction taken by Buddha on his last journey. The pillar is probably the only one built by Asoka which has not been damaged and is still in its original condition.
4. Asoka Stupa:The Asoka Stupa is just adjacent to the Asoka pillar. This dome-shaped brick structure is 4.6 meters in height and 20 meters in diameter. Next to this stupa are the ruins of the large Buddhist monastery including the premises where Buddha used to stay and preach. The swastika shaped monastery of the nuns can also be found right next to it.
5. Monkeys Tank: Near the Asoka pillar is a tank called Rama Kund. It has been identified as the tank which was originally dug by a troop of monkeys. However, it was later enlarged significantly.
6. Abhishek Pushkarini (Coronation tank): Abhishek pushkarini is sited near the relic stupa. It was considered sacred by the Lichhavis and all elected representatives of the republic were anointed by the sacred water of the tank.
7. Kesaria Stupa: The Kesaria Stupa is the highest stupa in the world and stands in the East Champaran district around 56 kilometer from Vaishali. The height of the Kesaria Stupa is 32 meters (30 cm taller than the Borobodaur Stupa in Java) and spans 427 meters. The original height of the stupa was 38 meters, but the 1934 earthquake of Bihar resulted in considerable destruction of the upper part of the stupa.
In Vaishali Buddha announced his approaching Parinibbana in Kusinagar and prepared for his final journey along with his disciples. In deep sorrow, the Lichhavis kept following him towards Kusinagar and they were not willing to return. Eventually, to persuade them to return, Buddha created an illusion of a river which finally compelled them to move home. He then gave them his alms bowl as memorial and asked them to return to their respective homes. Later, the Licchavis built a mud stupa in memory of that event. This mud stupa was later enlarged and renovated by a brick structure during the Maurya, Sung and Kusana periods.