My first impressions of Vaishali were created by Acharya Chatursen’s book “Vaishali ki Nagarvadhu”. The opulence described in the book and the characters that you have heard about. But probably do not know much about making the place very inviting for any history buff. On top of it, it is also the birthplace of Lord Mahavira. Hence the birthplace of Jainism. So it was a must-visit place in Bihar for me. The place today nowhere resembles its past glory. I was happy to discover many interesting things that I had never heard about. Though people would associate the place with Buddha and Mahaveer, to me it would always remain the city of Amrapali.
It is just an hour’s drive from Patna. You get a glimpse of the rural life on the way. We saw many teenaged girls riding their colorful bicycles. Spoke to a few of them and found them extremely confident and happy. We saw very neat and clean houses with round fodder cases standing outside each house. The time of year was such that it was like driving through yellow mustard fields. And the vast expanse of open fields. Because of missing industry, you still see the sky and land till your eye can see the horizon. We also got to see the MLA of the region doing rounds and listening to people. Making an instant speech including making promises and sparkling in his crisp white clothes.
We started our tour by visiting the old Buddha Relic Stupa. Which was the place where originally the 1/8th of the ashes of Buddha were kept? After the Mahaparinirvana of Buddha, his remains were distributed amongst the eight claimants. Including the Lichhavis of Vaishali, and this is the Stupa that they had built over his relics. The relics were excavated from this stupa and are now kept at the Patna Museum. The original Stupa was a small mud Stupa. Which was later expanded during the Mauryan, Shunga & Kushan periods? The relics were found in a stone casket containing ashes, a small conch, two glass beads, a gold leaf, and a punch-marked copper coin. A new Vishwa Shanti Stupa similar to the one in Rajgir has been built here too. Because of the paucity of time, we had to skip it.
Kolhua part of the ancient city of Vaishali
Kolhua is a part of the ancient city, which is associated with Buddha. This is where the monkeys offered honey to Buddha and became an important part of Buddha’s story. Stupa here actually commemorates the memory of that event only. Like the relic stupa, this was also a much smaller stupa. That was later enhanced by the various dynasties that ruled the region. Buddha is said to have spent many rainy seasons here. Two important things that he did here was inducting the women into the sangha. And making the first monastery for the nuns here. Converting the famous Amrapali to a Buddhist monk and taking her into the sangha. Behind this stupa stands the Ashoka pillar with a lion capital on it.
Of all the Ashoka Pillars that I have seen, this is probably the best-preserved. Though the famous polish of the pillars can no longer be seen. There are no inscriptions on this pillar. But the lion sits very elegantly on the capital and rest all features of a typical Ashoka pillar-like inverted lotus are there. There is a swastika-shaped monastery that has been recently unearthed, along with few tanks. The complex is a typical Buddhist complex, with thousands of votive stupas. And small shrines spread across the complex.
Excavations are being carried out in one part of the complex and new discoveries being made every day. Precious stones, beads, seals, terracotta figurines, etc have been excavated from this complex, including a crowned monkey. Monkey adds to the story of the place where they not only gave honey to the Buddha but also dug a huge seven-layered tank for him. Like Nalanda, we could see some carved bricks here and there peeping out of the ruins.
Vaishali – Birthplace of Lord Mahaveer
It is the birthplace of Lord Mahavira, the founder of Jainism. Unfortunately, his birthplace is only a small space with signboard telling you that this is the place where he was born. In the background is an unfinished structure of an intended temple. Which we were told is under dispute and has been in that state for quite some time. Jain temples are rich and beautiful everywhere. Ironically this place seems to be completely ignored. There is an institute for research on Jainology that has an old but beautiful library.
Raja Vishal ka Garh
Raja Vishal ka Garh is the oldest part of this heritage place said to be from the epic period. Belonging to a king by the name Vishal. I guess the place may have been named after him. The site is said to be his palace. I have not yet learned to make out the plan of the building by looking at its foundations, so could not make out much of the site. The board there explains the excavated site. And says that antiquities from various historical periods have been found from here, most of which are kept in the museum now.
A Chaturmukhlinga i.e. a linga with faces on four sides has been recently excavated. The faces are those of Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, and Surya. There are inscriptions on the base of the linga that attribute the image to the Gupta period. It has been installed in the town. A temple is being built around it. When we visited this place, there were a group of women doing Kirtana. There are other antique idols that can be seen at Bavan Pokhar temple, though they are not displayed in the practicing part of the temple.
The tank, which is supposed to have belonged to the palace of Amrapali, still exists. Locals told us that the peculiarity of this tank is that no weeds ever happen in it. There are weeds all around the tank but never in the tank. Unfortunately, we could not see the museum that has the antiquities from its various sites. All museums in the country are closed on Mondays and this particular one is closed on Fridays.
I loved this small town with a glorious past. You must know the history of this town to be able to enjoy it.
Recommend you to read following travel blog posts on Historical places in Bihar.