Mallika was the beautiful and talented daughter of the foreman of garland-makers in Savatthi. Mallika, who was sixteen, often went to the public flower gardens with her friends. One beautiful, clear day she packed a lunch of special rice and set out for the flower gardens to join her friends. As she was leaving the city, she saw the Buddha with a group of monks seeking alms.
So inspired was Mallika by the serenity and presence of the Buddha that she offered Him the lunch she had packed and prostrated herself at His feet. She had no idea that she was offering her food to the Buddha but was overjoyed and suffused with happiness by her impulsive gesture.
The Buddha accepted the gift and smiled. ananda, the Buddha’s personal attendant, knowing that the Buddha would not have smiled without a reason, asked Him why he had smiled. The Buddha replied that this girl would reap the benefits of her gift the very same day by becoming the Queen of Kosala.
This seemed an impossibility for Mallika was of low caste. In India at that time the caste system flourished. It seemed very unlikely that King Pasenadi Kosala would choose a girl of low caste as his queen. King Kosala, who was one of the powerful kings of India, was at that time in battle with King Ajatasattu, the king of Magadha. Defeated in battle he was returning, downcast, when he heard sweet, melodious singing in the flower garden. Enchanted by the singing he rode into the flower garden to find the exceedingly beautiful Mallika. Mallika, who was overjoyed by her gift to the Noble One, was dancing and singing in happiness among the flowers.
For some time King Kosala observed Mallika, who was a vision of beauty and grace. Then, dismounting from his horse, he spoke to her and asked if she was married. When Mallika replied that she was not married he talked to her about his misfortune in battle. Soothed by her consoling words and enraptured by her beauty and gentleness, he decided to make her his queen. Placing her carefully on his horse he took her back to her parents’ home. In the evening he sent an entourage to fetch her to the palace and made her his queen.
As the beloved of King Kosala, Mallika was respected by all and surrounded by luxury and a multitude of servants, who fulfilled her every wish. Soon it was known to all that Mallika the flower girl was elevated to the position of Queen of Kosala resulting from the effects of her heartfelt gift to the Buddha. Wherever she went people would joyously honour her, saying, "There goes Mallika, our queen, who gives generously to the Buddha."
Mallika in turn became a devoted follower of the Buddha and a supporter of the Noble Order. She was also an intelligent queen who questioned and analyzed her observations. Observing the different status of people, her elevation from poverty to wealth and power, and convinced that nothing happened without a cause, Mallika went to the monastery where the Buddha was residing with the following question:
"Why is it that some women are beautiful, wealthy and powerful,
While some are beautiful but without wealth and power,
And yet others ugly but wealthy and powerful,
And some ugly, poor and without power?"
The Buddha then explained to her that those who are gentle and patient are born beautiful. Those who have given generously are born wealthy. And those that who not envious and rejoice in the success of others are born with power. Rare is the person who has performed all three of these deeds and as such, depending on their actions, one found a combination of these traits in persons. Mallika then decided that she would practice generosity, compassion and patience, and be happy at the success of others.
She provided alms and requisites to the Buddha and His retinue and built an ebony hall for Dhamma discussion. She practiced gentleness to her husband and servants and all others with whom she came into contact when performing her duties as queen. And when King Pasenadi Kosala decided to take a second wife, Vasabha Khattiya, she welcomed her and treated her as a younger sister without envy or jealousy.
Mallika also helped King Kosala, who was a follower of the Brahmins, to have confidence in the teachings of the Buddha. The king had had some disturbing dreams, which he felt represented some misfortune. Summoning the Brahmin priests the king asked them to interpret his dreams. Claiming that the Gods were displeased, they requested a huge animal sacrifice to appease the Gods. Mallika, who practiced the Buddha’s teaching of compassion and loving-kindness to all living beings, was horrified to find preparation for the slaughter of so many animals. She advised the King to seek the Buddha’s counsel on the meaning of his dreams.
The Buddha informed the king that these dreams did not foretell any misfortune for him. As a result of his practice of meditation, the king had dreamt of the future in the matter that was closest to him, the royalty and the government. The Buddha said that these dreams signified the downfall in society that would occur as a result of moral deterioration of royalty and their governments. King Pasenadi Kosala became a devoted follower of the Buddha and a royal patron after this incident.
The king also requested the Buddha to send a teacher to the palace to instruct his wives in the Dhamma. The Buddha delegated ananda to teach Mallika and Vasaba Khattiya the Dhamma. Mallika, with her keen mind, progressed rapidly, but Vasaba Khattiya (who was a relative of the Buddha) was inattentive, slow to understand and had difficulty in grasping the Dhamma. ananda approached the Buddha and informed him of the progress of the two royal ladies by saying that Queen Mallika grasped the concepts of the Dhamma and practised diligently what he taught, but that the Buddha’s kinswoman had derived little benefit from the Dhamma. The Buddha confirmed ananda’s assessment by saying that well-spoken words were fruitless to those who did not study and practice the Dhamma, just as a beautiful flower without scent, while the well-spoken words were fruitful to those who studied and practiced the Dhamma, like a beautiful flower that was laden with scent.
Even though the king and queen were a devoted couple they had their differences. In one instance the king had a falling out with Mallika regarding the way she was carrying out her royal duties. The Buddha then advised the king to reconcile their differences by relating instances from their past lives.
The first instance was when they were born as husband and wife in the Deva world. They had been very attached to each other and one day had been separated due to a flash flood that prevented the king’s return to their home. So worried and grief-stricken had they both been in their separation that they had vowed never to be separated again even for one day.
The other was when the king had been the crown prince and Mallika his consort. The prince had contacted leprosy and had decided to give up his kingdom and live in the jungle away from his subjects. The queen had decided that she would join him and had taken care of him and nursed him to health. When King Kosala heard these incidents from the past he forgave Mallika and reconciled their differences. Mallika, in gratitude to the Buddha for His counsel, said:
"With joy I heard your varied words,
Which were spoken for our welfare.
With your words you dispelled my sorrow.
May you live long, my Ascetic Bringer of Joy."
Though Mallika led a blameless life of generosity and loving-kindness she transgressed and indulged in sexual misconduct in one instance. When questioned by the king, without owning up to her inappropriate behaviour, she lied to cover up her disgrace.
This one incident, which occurred shortly before her death, must have worked on her mind because at death she was reborn for seven days in hell.
King Kosala was grief-stricken at the death of his chief queen and visited the Buddha to find out her place of rebirth. Knowing that she was reborn in hell due to her misconduct and deceit, and not wanting to add to the sorrows of the king, the Buddha distracted the king by giving an inspiring discourse that took his mind away from the question. For six days the Buddha prevented King Kosala from asking the place of Mallika’s rebirth by distracting him with inspiring teachings. On the seventh day he informed the King that Mallika had been reborn in the Tusita Heaven among the Devas of delight.