-Nutandhar Sharma, PhD
Up to the mid-20th century, it had been believed that the Buddha has visited the Kathmandu Valley. But modern researchers of Nepalese history deny this due to lack of historical evidences. In order to draw a geographical picture, one shall carefully study the information and compare them with literature, history, monument and traditional sources. Some Pali texts mention the geography of the Himalayan region. Also, Bhāṣā Vaṃśāvali, a Hindu chronicle, mentions the Buddha’s visit to Nepal. The new findings from Bhāṣā Vaṃśāvali and Pali Tripiṭaka compared with other sources may change the claim of the modern researchers that the Buddha did not visit the Kathmandu Valley.
Buddha, Buddhist geography, Kathmandu, Nepalese history, Himalayan region, Pali.
Local legends, almost all Nepali language chronicles (including Buddhist Nepālikabhūpavaṃśāvalī ) and the Svayambhū Purāṇa mention about the Buddha’s visit to the Kathmandu Valley. According to these sources, he had visited Svayambhū, Guhyeśvarī, Namobuddha shrines of and near the Valley en route to the Trayatiṃsa Loka. Some modern scholars of Buddhism in Nepal believe a very likely possibility of Buddha’s visit to the Kathmandu valley (Shakya M., 1997, p. 18), but others deny it (Regmi,1982, p. 124 & Thapa, 2001, p. 30). Those with the latter view believe that there is no historical evidence to support the narration of Buddha’s visit. This article tries to explore the topic not just from a historical point of view but also in connection with Buddhist geography.
The Buddha’s visit to the Himalayan region is mentioned in the Avadana literature. Ashakaji Vajracharya (1994, p. 10 & in preface) has assimilated some of the places of the Kathmandu Valley mentioned in the Avadanas. Minbahadur Shakya cites Kulavanta Ācārya’s compilation of Vodhisatvāvadānamālā in Nepal in the 12th century (Vajrācārya A., 1982, in preface) and I have verified the Avadāna stories against the Jātaka tales of Pali texts and found differences in geographical descriptions (Sharma, 2017, p. 128-130). Thus, its validity as a source for study is questionable.
Some Pali texts given below mention the geography of the Himalayan region, including Nepalese area, too. This article tries to analyze whether the places mentioned in the Pali texts can be identified as of the Kathmandu Valley.
First of all, let us see what the chronicles of Nepal and Svayabhū Purāṇa say about the Buddha’s visit to the Kathmandu Valley. The Nepālikabhūpavaṃśāvalī mentions about the Buddha’s visit in the valley as follows:
During the reign of this king [Jitedāsti], glorious Śākyasiṃha Buddha reached Nepāla from the city named Kapilavastu. He paid darśana to glorious Svayambhū and took abode in the vicinity of Puchāgra Caitya. He received respectful worship from nun Cūḍā, who was the first worshipper of the Mañjuśrī Caitya that was established in the memory of Mañjuśrī Bodhisattva. He preached about all the greatness of Nepal and described the glory of Svayambhū to his 1350 disciple-monks of the Brahmin and Kṣatriya castes, which included the monks such as Śārīputra, Maudgalyāyana, and Ānanda, to Maitreya and other Bodhisattvas, and all other gods. He went from there to glorious Guhyeśvarī and paid darśana to her. From there, he went eastwards to the hill named Namobuddha, where he told the ancient story of his past birth as prince Mahāsattva, the son of King Mahāratha of the country of Panauti known as Pāñcāla. He told how prince Mahasattva offered the flesh of his own body to a tigress when he came to the forest for amusements. He rediscovered the caitya which was hidden under the ground in the forest because age had passed since the caitya was made, with his own ornaments contained in it. He had the caitya monument renovated and made offerings. From there, he went to heaven and paid darśan to his mother Māyādevī, who had died on the seventh day of his birth. Then he returned to the realm of mortals and went westwards and then northwards, where he preached to the people and caused them to live virtue. From there, he wandered around preaching people the story of virtue and liberation. Knowing that it was the time for him to enter into nirvāṇa, he preached to a gathering of all the gods, such as Brahmā, and the assembly of monks such as Ānanda, in the city of Kuśinagara, and died there. Afterwards, when Śākyamuni Buddha reached Nepāla, some monks who had been his disciples accompanied him. By the order of the Buddha, they took abode in the hermitages in Nepālamaṇḍala and remained in their own dharma. After that, some monks who accompanied Śakyamunī Buddha to Nepāla remained here by the order of the Buddha. They took abode in some monasteries and lived in virtue. (Bajracharya M. & Michaels A., 2016, p. 29-30)
A Hindu chronicle of the 19th century, Bhāṣā Vaṃśāvali (Paudel, 1963), mentions about the Buddha’s visit in the valley as follows:
- Lord Vishnu incarnated as the Buddha came to the land of Uttarākhaṇḍa, he preached Buddhism to the demons that were observing penance in the Jātismaraṇa Tīrtha and made them monk. (p. 26, provisionally translated by the author)
- At the end of the third world age, in order to save the world, a child was born from the womb, after ten months, of queen Mayadevi of King Suddhodana on Wednesday, on the fourth day of bright half of Lunar month of Magha, when constellation called Śravaṇa [appeared]. The Iron Age arrived. On this very day, flowers rained from the sky, played drums, the angles sang, various auspicious words were heard and thus the people became delighted. This child was full of all qualities. This child was named as Śākyasiṃha, auspicious shaving at the age of thee and giving the sacred thread was performed at the age of seven. Later on, Brahma being a Buddhist priest praised him. Being a group of sages, Indra covered him with an umbrella, Wind God fanned a yak tail, the protector deities of all directions and other gods served him.
From then on, after hearing [requesting] words from the gods he went to the place where the demons were having penance. When the demons saw Śākyasiṃha they praised him saying ‘Vishnu has incarnated as the Buddha’ and asked for a boon to rule over the three worlds, Śākyasiṃha commanded them saying: ‘O demons, do not make a wish to rule over the world, instead, I will teach you how to get salvation.’ Then, the demons replied: ‘O Lord, we shall enjoy the stage of salvation but if we will not rule over the heaven, we would be hungry. What kind of pleasure we shall get from enjoying the state of salvation when we are hungry.’ The Lord gave a boon to them saying: ‘O demons, then you enjoy the gift given in anger without being respectful to others, eaten food without offering, offerings of the worship performed in dilemma, virtue collected during anger.’, and convinced the demons saying: ‘Non-violence is the greatest practice, non-violence is the greatest happiness. Whoever practices violence would get hell. Therefore, do not do violence, that is what is the consent of the Buddha too’, and gave knowledge of indriya jñana, prāṇāyāma, yoga, antargati, and various [other kinds of] pure knowledge to the demons who were being happy after getting the boon by the Buddha and [also] the Budda further says: ‘Do not be a king in the Iron Age, if you do so, you shall go to the hell getting various types of the sin like enjoying other’s property, wife, forcefully capturing other’s property, indulging sex, creating atrocities during anger etc.’ In order to get rid from those [sins, the demons] accepted Buddhism and resided in a vihāra enjoying themselves being free. [After some time,] all demons, after bowing down to the Lord, went back to their respective places and resided there happily. Thereafter, the Lord resided here in Nepal. Thirty different directional deities came here in the Jātismaraṇa Tīrtha, took religious bathe, bowed down to the Lord and ruled happily after going back to their respective realm. Whoever takes religious bathe in the Jātismaraṇ Tīrtha, he or she shall get heavenly abode after death. The place where Lord [Buddha] resided [is described as such in Sanskrit language]: ‘The Buddha arrived in the Uttara [north] Deśa [realm] of the Himalayan area where all the gods always become joyful.’ The gods resided in the heaven joyfully.” (p. 33-34, author’s own provisional translation)
- Hereafter, when many demons, wishing to rule over all the three worlds, were observing penance in the Jātismaraṇa Tīrtha with the command of king Vali, [Vishnu] incarnated as the Buddha named Śakyasiṃha came in order to save Indra’s land etc., preached Buddhism saying ‘Non-violence is the greatest virtue’ etc., saved Indra and others [deities], initiating them (demons) into Buddhism, thus, he glorified Buddhism and reduced the glory of the Vedic tradition.” (p. 38, author’s own provisional translation)
The narration of the Svayambhū Purāṇa is similar to that of Nepālikabhūpavaṃśāvalī. These texts somehow exaggerate the story of Buddha’s visit to Nepal although following conclusions can be drawn from those narrations:
According to the Buddhist chronicle Nepālikabhūpavaṃśāvalī and Svayambhū Purāṇa, during the reign of this king [Jitedāsti], Śākyasiṃha Buddha reached Nepal from the city named Kapilavastu. He paid darśana to Svayambhū and took abode in the vicinity of Puchāgra Caitya. From there, he went to heaven and paid darśan to his mother Māyādevī, who had died on the seventh day of his birth. Then he returned to the realm of mortals.
According to the Hindu chronicle, Bhāṣā Vaṃśāvalī, Lord Vishnu incarnated as the Buddha arrived in the Uttara [north] Deśa [realm] of the Himalayan area and preached Buddhism in the Jātismaraṇa Tīrtha.
According to the Pali texts, the Buddha after his enlightenment, halted his seventh year rainy season (varṣāvāsa) in Trayatiṃsa Loka, where he preached to his dead mother incarnated as a devaputra in heaven; thereafter, he came down to the town of Saṃkāśya (UP) in India; a similar story described in the Nepalese chronicles too (e.g. Bajracharya & Michaels, 2016, p. 27). According to Buddhism, Trayatiṃsa Loka is situated on top of the Meru (Kailash) mountain and demons inhibit its bottom.
Many scholars (e.g. Thapa, 2001, p. 30) have questioned the authenticity of the legends of Buddha’s visit to Kathmandu (and also similar visits to Sri Lanka and Myanmar) due to lack of historical evidence. But no scholar, hitherto has taken the narration seriously of the Hindu chronicle Bhāṣā Vaṃśāvali and names mentioned in it. Geographical names carry a long historical tradition. According to Bimala Charan Law (1976, p. 1-2), fewer descriptions of Buddhist geography are found and, in order to draw a geographical picture, one should carefully study that information and compare them with literature, history, monument and traditional sources (p.1-2). This statement also gives a methodical support to this study on Buddha’s visit to Nepal.
In the Pali Tripiṭaka, the world ‘Nepal’ is mentioned nowhere, but the Nepalese rivers and mountains are mentioned there. River Gaṇḍakī is mentioned as Mahi (Upaddyaya, 1991, p. 110), river Kośī as Kosikī (Upaddyaya, 1991, p. 121-122), river Bāgmatī as Bāhumatī (Upaddyaya, 1991, p. 113), the Chure Mountain as Usīraddhaja Pavvata (Sharma, 2017, p. 105), and larger Cārakośejhāḍī as Mahāvana (Sharma, 2017, p. 104). Some scholars wrongly identified that the Pavvataraṭṭha Nagara mentioned in a Pali text as a territory of Nepal (Sharma, 2017, p. 98-99). Similar to this, Rhys Davids and Malalasekar wrongly thought Ceta Raṭṭa as a part of Nepal (Sharma, 2017, p. 98). In the Pali Tripiṭaka, the territory of Nepal is mentioned generally as Panccatimā Janapada in the Avidūre-nidāna (Bajrācārya, D., 2011, p. 66) and Himavanta (Upaddyaya, 1991, p. 100) as well. ‘Himavanta’ means ‘Himalayan region’ and ‘Panccatimā Janpada’ generally means ‘a bordering city’. It has been proven that the actual meaning of ‘Janapada’ used in Pali texts is ‘the territory belonging to the adjacent country’, which is not completely independent (Sharma, 2017, p. 107-110).
In the traditional Buddhist saṃkalpa (ritual vow), Nepal is mentioned as belonging to the territory of northern Pañcāla (Shakya, 1994, p. 14). Northern Pañcāla had come under the Kośala Mahājanapada during the time of Buddha. Not only that, Kāśi, Kapilvastu and Koliya janapadas were also under the control of Kośala (Sharma, 2017, p. 111-112). According to Rhys Davids (1903), Nepal was also under the control of the rulers of Kośala (p. 17). It seems true, because even in the King Samudragupta’s inscription of Prayag dating to fourth century CE, Nepal is mentioned as pratyanta rājya (Sarkar, 1993, p. 262-268) and the King of Nepal used to pay tribute to King Samudragupta. The meaning of Sanskrit word ‘pratyanta’ is equal to ‘panccatimā’ in Pali. Sylvan Levi has written that the Buddhist Sanskrit text Mūlasarvāstivādavinayavastu, which he believes was originally written in Nepal in the third century CE, mentions Nepal as Naivāla. In this text, it is mentioned that a group of Buddhist monks of Śrāvastī (of Kośala) visited Nepal together with the merchants and also there was another visit of Upasthāpaka Bhikṣu Ānanda to Nepal during the time of the Buddha (Levi, 1990, [Appendix], p. 6-12) Mūlasarvāstivādavinayavastu is geographically familiar to Nepal that it mentions the shape of Nepal is like a humpback of a camel. A camel’s two humps can be compared with the Chure and Mahabharata mountains. The way to go to Śrāvastī from Kathmandu was through Ṭiṣṭuṅga, Devaghāṭ, Koliya Janapada and Kapilavastu (Sharma, 2017, p. 120).
Now, let us see what Pāli Tripiṭaka mentions about the territory of Nepal:
Rajju-sutta of Saṃyukta Nikāya has mentioned that once the Buddha was residing in a hut of the jungle of Himalayan region of Kośala (Bajrācārya, D., 1999, p. 137).
Pāṭaliya-sutta of Saṃyukta Nikāya mentions that the Buddha was residing in Uttara Nigama of Koliya territory, where Pāṭaliya Gāmaṇi came to visit him (Upaddyaya, 1991, p. 195-196).
Jantu-sutta gives a story of the group of proud monks living in the Himavatkhaṇḍa (Himalayan region) of Kośala (Upaddyaya, 1991, p. 86).
Sukhavihārī Jātaka mentions that the people, after receiving pravajjyā initiation, used to come to stay building hermitages in Himavanta (Bajrācārya, D., 2011, p. 193).
Surāpāna and Vacchanakha Jataka mention that the sages residing in Himalaya used to go to Vārāṇasi to test salt and sour, as well as to Campā [near Bhagalpur in India] (Bajrācārya, D., 2011, p. 210).
Kuṇāla Jātaka describes that the Buddha has traveled all over Himalayan region through areal-route [ākāśamārga] (Bajrācārya, D., 2011, p. 283).
Among those areas, the Uttara Nigama of Koliya’s territory mentioned in Pāṭaliya-sutta of Saṃyukta Nikāya is important in this study and can be assimilated with the Uttara [north] Deśa [realm] of the Himalayan area, where the Buddha preached Buddhism in the Jātismaraṇa Tīrtha as mentioned in the Bhāṣā Vaṃśāvalī. During the Licchavi period, Kathmandu was known as Koligrāma because the Koliyas were living here (Vajrācārya, D., 1973, p. 173). Koliya Janapada, the neighboring territory of Kathmandu Valley, was under the control of Kośala during the time of the Buddha; at that time, Nepal was called ‘Panccatimā Janapada’ of Kośala. Therefore, it is not surprising that a Koliya settlement as a satellite city was in the Kathmandu Valley. The Buddha’s mother, a Koliyan, Mayadevi’s sculpture is shown wearing a Scythian frock over her sari (Altekar, 1987, p. 679). Śaka is the Indian term used for the Scythian. The Scythian fashion was popular among the Koliyans of that time. May be, this could be a reason for the fact that Licchavi Nepal had used the Śaka era. The city of Kathmandu is also called ‘Yeṃ’ in Newari language, which means ‘north’. It seems that ‘Yeṃ’ is the Newari translation of Uttara [Northern] Nigama. According to Acārya Haribhadra (Vajrācārya, H., 2002, p. 679) and Amarakośa (Gautama, 1969, p. 243) ‘nigama’ means ‘a settlement of businessmen’. Kathmandu is also a traditional settlement of businessmen, and the Jātismaraṇa Tīrtha mentioned in the Bhāṣā Vaṃśāvalī is situated in the Rājārājeśvarī Ghāṭa in the Paśupati area of Kathmandu as well (Sharma, 2017, p. 119). There is an ancient icon of Devāvatāra, a Licchavi caitya in Rājārājeśvarī Ghāṭa and there are several Licchavi caityas in Vajreśvarī shrine nearby too. This evidence suggests that the Buddha might have visited the Kathmandu Valley, though the story was differently described in the local chronicles and Svayambhū Purāṇa. Here, his visit of areal-route (ākāśmārga) should be considered as a high mountain-route.
The problem here is the statement of Buddhaghoṣa from fifth century CE, who says, “The Buddha has not spent any night in the Pratyanta Janapada” (Malalasekar, G., 2007, p. 93). It is obvious that Nepal was a pratyanta rājya according to Samudragupta’s 4th century CE inscription at Prayag and thereafter, Nepal became independent by the time of King Bṛṣadeva at the beginning of the fifth century (Vajrācārya, D., 1973, p. 20) and no more a pratyanta rājya.
With this insight, it is clear that Nepal was no more pratyanta rājya during the time of Buddhaghoṣa and he was right, too. Bimala Charan Law (2008, p. 27), Alexander Cunningham (1871, 450-452.), and Rhys T.W. Davids (1903, p. 30) mention that Himalaya is the northern boundary of Madhyadeśa. Ma ṇi bka’ ‘bum, a holy Tibetan text, also agrees in some way that the Buddha visited the Kathmandu Valley but not Tibet (Sharma, 2017, p. 122).
From the above discussion, it is clear that it is not yet the time to stand with the claim of modern researchers of Nepalese history that the Buddha did not visit the Kathmandu Valley. The evidence provided in the traditional sources cited in this article indicates that the Buddha had actually visited the Kathmandu Valley. Further research and more evidence and findings may strengthen the claim. At present, one can simply say that the Kathmandu Valley is one of the glorious lands where the Buddha once visited.
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