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Sarnath, Varanasi
Vaishali, Bihar - Buddhist Holy Sites in India
138    Dibyendu Banerjee    12/03/2024

Located around 55 km northwest of Patna, the Capital City of Bihar, Vaishali is one of the most revered sites for Buddhists, which contains the Buddha Relic Stupa, possibly the earliest known example of a stupa, said to be enshrining one of the eight parts of the mortal remains of Lord Buddha after he attained Mahaparinirvana. However, although Vaishali is famous for its close association with Lord Buddha, its history dates back to the 6th century BC and long before the advent of Buddhism, it was the capital city of the Licchavi state, considered as the first Democratic State in the world, which covered most of the Himalayan Gangetic region of present-day Bihar.

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During those days, Vaishali, located on the northern bank of the Ganges, was the centre for trade and industry, while Pataliputra, the capital of the Empires of the Mauryas and the Guptas, situated on the southern bank, was the political centre of the Gangetic plain.

vaishali bihar

Unfortunately, almost nothing is known about the early history of Vaishali. However, the Vishnu Purana, one of the ancient texts of Hinduism, records 34 kings of Vaishali and the last among them was Sumati, considered to be a contemporary of Dasharatha, the king of the Koshala kingdom, who ruled from his capital at Ayodhyā, as mentioned in Mahabharata, one of the Sanskrit epics of ancient India. Vaishali is also renowned as the land of Amrapali, a celebrated nagarbadhu or courtesan, originated in the Buddhist Jataka Tales, some 1500 years ago and also mentioned in many folktales, who subsequently became a disciple of Buddha.

vaishali bihar
The Abhishek Pushkarn or the Coronation Tank

History says, after leaving Kapilavastu, where he grew up and lived for the first 29 years of his life, Prince Siddhartha came to Vaishali to pursue the spiritual path and undertook his initial spiritual training from Rāmaputra Udraka and Alara Kalama and after attaining Bodhi or enlightenment, he frequently visited Vaishali as Buddha and it is the place, where he first allowed the induction of women Bhikshuni in the Sangha, initiating his maternal aunt Mahaprajapati Gautami into the order.

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During his last visit to Vaishali, he announced his approaching Mahaparinirvana, the final departure from the world, just three months in advance, before leaving for Kushinagar, where he died.

vaishali bihar
vaishali bihar
The Relic Stupa

Vaishali contains various sites of Buddhist interest that attract people from around the world, who are interested in history and spirituality. One of the most revered sites is the Buddha Relic Stupa, built by the Lichhavis as a mud-stupa in the 5th century BC, enshrining one of the eight portions of the physical remains of Lord Buddha after he attained Mahaparinirvana. The stupa, also known as the Stupa 1, was discovered by Dr A S Altekar in 1985, during an archaeological excavation, when the stone casket was excavated from the core of the stupa, containing the holy ashes of Lord Buddha mixed with earth, along with a piece of conch, pieces of beads, a thin golden leaf and a copper punch-marked coin.

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While the casket was shifted to Patna Museum in 1972, a shed was erected over it to protect the site from further damage. Bordered by a lovely variety of shrubs and flowering trees, the Abhishek Pushkarn, also known as Coronation Tank, is located very near to the Relic Stupa. It is believed that the tank contains pious water and the Lichhavi kings were expected to take a bath in the tank before their coronation.

vaishali bihar
The Lion on the top of the Ashokan Pillar

Ashoka Pillar, located inside the Vaishali Archaeological Ruins complex, was erected by King Ashoka in 3rd century BC. Influenced by Greco Buddhist style, the 60 feet (18.3 m) tall pillar is made of a highly polished single piece of red sandstone, surmounted by a bell-shaped capital, topped by a life-size figure of a lion on a rectangular platform. However, the lion is more abstract and less aggressive in appearance than the other Ashokan pillars in the country. Interestingly, lion was a common ancient symbol of royal power, which is also associated with the Buddha, who was known as Shakyasimha or the lion of the Shakya clan in his early life. The pillar is situated beside a brick stupa, known as Ananda Stupa, overlooking a small tank, known as Ramkund, which is said to contain the mortal remains of Ananda, one of the main disciples of Lord Buddha.

vaishali bihar
The Vishwa Shanti Stupa

Next to the coronation tank stands the Japanese temple, the Vishwa Shanti Stupa or World Peace Pagoda, built by a sect of Japanese Buddhist in 1969. Surrounded by enormous greenery and a pond, the 125 feet (38 m) tall white pagoda has a 20 m dome and enshrines a small part of Buddhist relics found in Vaishali.

vaishali bihar

Located on the bank of the Coronation Tank and at a distance of around half a kilometre from the Vishwa Shanti Stupa, the Vaishali Museum was established in the year 1971 by the Archaeological Survey of India, to preserve and display the antiquities found during the excavation in and around the area. The museum, equipped with four galleries, displays the terracotta objects like human figurines, Naigamesha, mother and child, the Hindu Goddess Durga, plaque of Buddha and others in the first galley and the terracotta figurines of ram, elephant, horse, bull, dog, monkey, birds, snake hood, seals and others in the second gallery. While its third gallery displays the Painted Grey-Ware (PGW) and Northern Black Polished Ware (NBPW) objects like antler, bone, bangle, arrowheads, iron and copper implements like knife, nail, bell and the like, the fourth gallery exhibits items like earthen wares, bowls, dishes, miniature vessels, vases, lamps, ink pots, lid bells, sprinklers, spouts etc.

vaishali bihar

The Vaishali Museum

Apart from the above, the vast archaeological site of Vaishali also contains the Kutagarasala Vihara, the Bawan Pokhar Hindu temple, built during Pala period, along with the ruins of several others, which include the Raja Vishal's Garh, said to be an old parliament house.

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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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