The 8th International Conference Buddhism & Australia
Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia Illustrations
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Kingdoms at the time of the Buddha
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The Middle Land , that part of northern India known to the Buddha, was divided into 16 countries (mahājanapada), most of which he lived in or traveled through during his long and successful career. The most important of these countries was Magadha , which was ruled by King Bimbisāra and later, during the last years of the Buddha’s life, by his son Ajatasattu. Some years after the Buddha’s final Nirvāṇa, the capital of Magadha was moved from Rājagaha to Patna and the country embarked on a policy of expansion. By the 3rd century BCE, Magadha had conquered almost all of India , Pakistan and Afghanistan . To the east of Magadha was Aṇga, a small kingdom on the banks of the Ganges that was annexed to Magadha during King Bimbisāra reign. The capital of Aṇga was Campa. Magadha ’s main rival to the north-west was Kosala with its capital at Sāvatthi and during the Buddha’s life both countries went to war with each other several times. The Buddha spent most of the last 20 years of his life in Kosala and the king, Pasenadi, was one of his most devoted disciples. To the north of Magadha was Vajji, a confederacy of several tribes, the most important of which were the Licchavis and the Videhas. By the Buddha’s time the Licchavis had emerged as the dominant tribe and their chief city, Vesāli, had become the de facto capital of the confederacy. In the last year of the Buddha’s life the king of Magadha was already making plans to invade Vajji. Wedged between Kosala and Vajji was the Sakyān country, the Buddha’s homeland. Although nominally independent the Sakyans were under the influence of their larger and more powerful neighbor to the west and we read in the Tipiṭaka that ‘the Sakyans are vassals of the king of Kosala, they offer him humble service and salutation, do his bidding and pay him honor.’ Just before the Buddha’s final Nirvāṇa the Sakyan country was conquered by Kosala after a swift and bloody campaign. Occasionally, the Buddha would visit Kasi which once held sway over much of the Middle Land but by his time had become politically insignificant. However, despite its waning political fortunes Vārāṇasī , the capital of Kasi, remained and continues to be even today an important center of religion, culture and trade. Before the Buddha renounced the world he used only perfume and silk brocade that came from Varanasi , two products that the city is still famous for. Further west of Kasi and to the south of Kosala was Vaṃsa which was ruled by King Udena during much of the Buddha’s lifetime. The capital Kosambi was on the Yamuna and was visited by the Buddha on several occasions. See Travels, The Buddha’s.
The Geography of Early Buddhism, B.C. Law,1979.