Rajgir lost its political status after Ajatasattu’s son, Udayibhadda, slew his father and transferred the capital to Pataliputta. But the fact that Asoka erected a stupa and a stone pillar with an elephant capital during his pilgrimage to Rajgir, shows that the place remained as an important Buddhist centre for centuries. When Fa Hsien came during the fifth century he found the old city desolate, but outside the hills at Veluvana he found a band of monks living in the monastery. When Hsüan Tsang visited Rajgir in 637-638 AD, it was practically deserted. Of the ancient monasteries and stupas he found only foundation walls and ruins standing. He saw the Asoka stupa which was 18.3 m high and by the side of it, the Asokan pillar, about 15.2 m high with an elephant capital, the Pippala stone house said to be the cave of Mahakassapa and the Sattapanni caves. He also visited Gijjhakuta and saw a brick vihara at the western end of the hill and several stupas in the vicinity.
Although there is no record of Rajgir after Hsüan Tsang’s visit, the antiquities recovered from Rajgir during archeological excav-ations in 1905-06 showed that it continued to be a popular Buddhist shrine up to the 12th century AD. According to Fa Hsien, Ajatasattu built a new citadel outside the circle of five hills, namely: Vebhara, Pandava, Vepulla, Gijjhakuta and Isigili; that encircled the old Rajagaha city. The modern village of Rajgir encloses a part of this “New Rajagaha” which was protected by a massive wall of earth resembling an irregular pentagon in shape, with a circuit of 5 km. On the south, towards the hills, one can still see the stone fortifications that once protected the old city. The wall is 4.6 m to 5.5 m thick and rises to a height of 3.4 m at some places.
Rajgir is the modern name of Rajagaha or “royal abode”, an appropriate designation for a place that had remained as the capital of the powerful kingdom of Magadha for centuries. In the Buddha’s time, the ruler was King Bimbisara, who was later usurped by his parricidal son, Ajatasattu. In his first meeting with the Bodhisatta, Bimbisara was so impressed by his royal bearing that he offered to share his kingdom with the Bodhisatta. The latter, who had just renounced his Sakyan kingdom in search of the Deathless, declined the offer but promised to return to visit Rajgir after he had attained his goal. Soon after dispatching the Sangha to spread the Dhamma from Sarnath, the Buddha traveled to Uruvela, where he converted the Kassapa brothers and their matted-hair disciples, who all attained Arahantship. With this retinue of one thousand Arahants, the Buddha entered Rajgir, where he was warmly received by Bimbisara, who became a lay follower and offered the famous Bamboo Garden (Veluvana), to the Buddha and the Sangha.
As the capital of a powerful state, Rajgir was a hive of secular and religious activities. According to the Samannaphala Sutta, many heretical teachers operated in Rajgir, namely: Purana Kassapa, Makkhali Gosala, Ajita Kesakambali, Pakudha Kaccayana, Nigantha Nattaputta and Sanjaya Belatthaputta. Among the disciples of Sanjaya were two rich brahmins, Upatissa and Kolita, popularly known as Sariputta and Moggallana respectively. Both joined the Sangha after their conversion by the Arahant Assaji, and became the Buddha’s first and second Chief Disciples. Following their conversion, many paribbajakas or wandering ascetics also became followers of the Buddha. Among the laity, the most notable disciples were the royal physician Jivaka, adopted son of Prince Abhaya; and the millionaire Upali, a follower of Nigantha Nattaputta, who was sent to convert the Buddha but ended up as a lay disciple instead. Thus Rajgir became an important centre of Buddhism as the fame of the Buddha spread throughout Magadha.
Rajgir was also the scene of many attempts by Devadatta to kill the Buddha over the leadership of the Sangha. First he hired archers to assassinate the Buddha, but they were all converted by the Buddha instead. Next, as the Buddha was walking up the slopes of Gijjhakuta (Vulture Peak) one day, Devadatta hurled a rock from the summit at the Buddha but it missed and a splinter wounded the Buddha’s foot. Finally, he caused the elephant Nalagiri to be intoxicated with liquor and sent the ferocious beast to charge at the Buddha. But the Buddha subdued the animal with his loving kindness. Because of this miracle, Rajgir became sanctified as an important pilgrimage site. While Devadatta was plotting against the Buddha, Ajatasattu, at his instigation, usurped the throne and imprisoned his father in order to starve him to death. He regretted his actions too late, as his father had died before he could release him. Ajatasattu, later at the suggestion of Jivaka, sought the Buddha’s advice and became a lay disciple. After the Buddha’s Mahaparinibbana, he led an army to Kusinara to claim a share of the Buddha’s relics. He was the patron of the First Sangiti or Council held at Sattapanni Cave in Rajgir.
PLACE OF INTEREST
(i) Veluvana (Bamboo Grove) and Karanda Tank
When King Bimbisara heard that the Buddha had come to Rajgir with a retinue of one thousand Arahants, he went to the Sapling Grove to meet the Buddha and was converted by the Buddha, attaining the First Stage of Sainthood. Thereafter, he invited the Buddha to his palace for the following day’s meal, after which he donated the famous Bamboo Grove or Veluvana, the first donation of a park (arama), to the Buddha and Sangha.
When the writer first visited Veluvana in 1991, the place was slightly overgrown with bushes and on the south side towards the hot springs a number of Muslim tombs could be seen on a large mound to the left of the main entrance. The cemetery is believed to be the site of the Veluvana Vihara built by Bimbisara for the Buddha’s residence. The whole area has been cleaned up and Veluvana now looks like a pleasant park, planted with shade trees, bamboo and flowers, reflecting its original status as the royal park of King Bimbisara. In the vicinity of Veluvana is a large pond with a Buddha image at the centre. This pond is believed to be the site of the Karanda tank mentioned in Buddhist text as the Karanda kanivapa where the Buddha used to take his bath.
(ii) Pippala House
A short distance from Veluvana, at the foot of Vebhara hill, are the hot springs of Rajgir, a popular picnic spot for bathing. A little above the hot springs, on the right side of the path uphill, is a
118 remarkable stone structure known locally as the “machan” (watch-tower). The structure is roughly cube-shaped with dimensions of 26 m long by 25 m wide by 7 m high and is built of unhewn blocks of stone set on the rock. According to Sir John Marshall, who excavated the site in 1905-06, the structure was originally a watch-tower and “in after times, when no longer required for defensive purposes, they would afford convenient cells for ascetics to meditate in”. This structure is believed to be the Pippala stone house, residence of Ven. Maha Kassapa, Convenor of the First Council. According to Samyutta V, 78, the Buddha visited Maha Kassapa on one occasion when the latter was ill and expounded the Seven Factors of Enlightenment, upon hearing which Maha Kassapa recovered from the illness.
(iii) Sattapanni caves
The Sattapanni caves, site of the First Buddhist Council held three months after the Mahaparinibbana in 543 BC, is situated on top of Vebhara hill, beyond the largest Jains temple. There a narrow footpath descends some 30 m to a long artificial terrace in front of a line of six caves (there might have been seven originally). The caves have been sealed off to ensure the safety of visitors. The terrace in front of the caves is about 36.6 m long and 10.4 m at the widest point and part of the retaining wall of large unhewn stones on the outer edge can still be seen. This place agrees with the description of Sattapanni found in the Pali texts, where five hundred Arahants convened to codify the Buddha’s Teaching. Over the last 2,500 years a lot of erosion would have taken place, so the terrace was probably bigger in those days, to accommodate so many Arahants.
(iv) Bimbisara Jail
About 2 km south of Veluvana beside the main road is an area about 60 m square enclosed by the remains of a stone wall 2 m thick. This area has been identified as the prison in which Bimbisara was jailed by his son Ajatasattu, who usurped the throne. It is said that from this prison the king could see the Buddha up in Gijjhakuta, the sight of whom provided great joy to the prisoner.
(v) Jivaka’s mango garden (Jivaka ambavana)
According to Pali sources, Jivaka’s mango garden is situated between the city’s East Gate and Gijjhakuta, and the site has been identified a short distance from the foot of Gijjhakuta. According to the Vinaya Texts, Jivaka Komarabhacca was the adopted son of Prince Abhaya, who found him alive (jivati) in a dust heap when he was an infant and raised him up. When he was old enough, he set out for Taxila to study medicine for seven years. To test his knowledge, his teacher asked him to go all round Taxila to search for any plant which was not medicinal and bring it back. Jivaka proved to be so proficient in medicinal plants that he returned after a long search and declared that he had not seen any plant that was not medicinal within a yojana (13 km) of Taxila.
Returning to Rajgir, he cured many people suffering from serious ailments and even performed surgery, something unheard of in those days. He became the leading physician and surgeon of Rajgir and earned great wealth through his medical practice. At some point in his career, he became a lay disciple and used to attend on the Buddha three times a day. When the Buddha’s foot was injured by a splinter from a rock hurled by Devadatta, it was Jivaka who attended on him and healed the wound. Realizing the advantages of having a monastery near his home, Jivaka built one 120 on his extensive mango garden and donated it to the Buddha. The site of this monastery was excavated recently, which exposed the buried foundations of elliptical buildings, possibly of monastic nature, of an early date.
(vi) Gijjhakuta (Vulture Peak)
Gijjhakuta hill was the favourite resort of the Buddha and the scene of many important discourses while he was in Rajgir. To reach the top, one has to climb up a long stone stairway, 6.1 m to 7.3 m wide, called the Bimbisara road, built by the King to enable him to reach the summit to see the Buddha. The rocky path ends near the top of the hill where one can see two natural caves believed to be used by Ven. Sariputta and Ven. Ananda. At the summit, one can see the huge granite rock formation resembling a vulture standing with folded wings, from which the hill derived its name. Recently, a cement staircase has been constructed to facilitate the pilgrim’s climb to the top, which is a flat terrace surrounded by a low retaining wall with a shrine near the precipice. This spot offers a commanding view of the valley below. It is a favourite place for pilgrims to perform puja or circumambulate while reciting the virtues of the Buddha. Nearby is another smaller cave believed to be used by Ven. Moggallana.
(vii) Maddakucchi (Rub-belly)
The Pali name maddakucchi, which means “rub-belly”, was derived from a story that at this place the queen of Bimbisara, knowing that she was carrying a patricide, tried to abort the foetus by a forcible massage of her belly. Maddakucchi, which finds mention in the Pali scriptures, is situated at the base of Gijjhakuta. It is believed to be the place where the Buddha was brought by stretcher after being wounded on the leg by a splinter of a big rock hurled by Devadatta from the summit of Gijjhakuta hill. Formerly, this place contained a deer park and a monastery.
Rajgir in Bihar Sarif district in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh
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70 km by road east of Bodhgaya
90 km by road south ofPatna(Capital of Bihar)
16 km from Nalanda
26 km from Dobhi turn north from the National Highway Delhi-Varanasi-Kolkata