After a few days in Bodhgaya we were headed to Vaishali. Named after the ancient king Vishala, Vaishali occupies a significant place in the evolution of Buddhism. The journey through the rural heartland of Bihar was a mix of dusty roads, busy hamlets, different shades of green and rising modernity in Patna. We crossed over the long bridge on the Ganga spotting the point where Sanghmitra (King Ashoka’s daughter) sailed to Sri Lanka with a branch of the Bodhi Tree to spread the Master’s word. We stopped by at village Jagdishpur near Vaishali for lunch at a co-travelers’s ancestral home, the taste of which still lingers in my memory. We reached Vaishali at dusk and checked into Vaishali Residency which was situated in the middle of acres of cultivation on the banks of the river Gandak. The glittering night sky from the terrace was a treat for the eyes and like always mine immediately started searching for the shooting star.
Lord Buddha arrived here, a few years after his enlightenment to alleviate the sufferings of the people. It is believed that there was a thunderous downpour on his arrival which cleansed the city of drought and disease. Lord Buddha recited the Ratana Sutta to Ananda his most ardent disciple requesting him to chant the same around the city for protection and prosperity. It surely changed the fortunes of Vaishali since 84000 people embraced Buddhism along with the kings and princes soon after. During the next few years, the master stayed at this place off and on, in Kutagarasala Vihara the ruins of which lie next to the trademark Ashoka Pillar, with the lion atop. Lord Buddha delivered his last sermon in Vaishali, informing his disciples about his impending Mahaparinirvana and his desire to go to Kushinagar. Incidentally, the lion on the pillar faces North, the direction in which the Master travelled towards Kushinagar. Ananda Stupa lies next to the Ashoka Pillar overlooking the water body Ram Kund. In stories of Buddhism it is mentioned that a band of monkeys dug this tank for Lord Buddha for his convenience during his extended periods of stay at Kutagarshala Vihara. They also offered him bowls of honey out of love and respect. We sat in the lawns for a while, overlooking the Ram Kund(pond), listening to the readings from Dhammapada, observing the reflection of the Ashoka Pillar in the still water, and perusing through our lives, our beliefs and each one experiencing in their own way that something which cannot be easily expressed in words.
A few kilometres away from Kutagarshala Vihara we visited Licchavi Stupa in a beautiful garden with blooming red flowers. The quiet corners under the trees were quite ideal for meditation. The Licchavi kings received one portion of the relics of the Buddha which was reverentially enshrined in the stupa along with ashes, beads, gold leaf foil and other precious stones which were unearthed during archaeological excavations and now displayed in Patna Museum.
From the garden we could see the spire of the glistening white 125 feet tall Vishwashanti Stupa or World Peace Pagoda which was built by a Buddhism sect of Japan. A small portion of the relics found in Vaishali have been enshrined here in the foundation and the chhatra of the Stupa. The famous lines inscribed on the stupa are ‘Nam Myoho Renge Kyo’ which when translated into English essentially means ‘I devote myself to the Wonderful Law of the Lotus-Flower Sutra”. Next to it is the Abhishek Pushkarini or the Coronation Tank where the princes and elected representatives were anointed. A little further is the Vaishali Museum which has an excellent collection of terracotta monkey heads. This further endorses the impact of the monkeys in the history of Vaishali. Our enthusiastic tour guide took us around the sites, regaling us with interesting anecdotes from history about Amrapalli (queen of the mango gardens and ruled the heart of mighty king Ajatshatru of Magadha) the courtesan turned nun, transformation of her life under the influence of Lord Buddha and the grand ceremony that was held here when ladies led by Lord Buddha’s step mother Maha Prajapati were inducted into the monastic order as Bhikshuni’s or nuns.
Vaishali is best visited as a day trip from Patna or as an overnight halt on the way to Kushinagar. There are not too many options to stay apart from Vaishali Residency which is a newly built clean, comfortable and spacious place. The nearest airport and rail head is in Patna about 60 kms away.
Related Read: Planning a Buddhist Pilgrimage in India