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Rājagaha, meaning ‘King’s Abode,’ was the capital of the Kingdom of Magadha, the largest city in the Middle Land, and was visited by the Buddha on many occasions during his life. It consisted of two parts, the old city built amongst hills, and the new city located on the plain just beyond the hills. Both were surrounded by huge walls, the remains of which can still be seen today. The Buddha praised the beauty of many of the natural and man-made landmarks around the city (D.II,116), his two favorite places being the Bamboo Grove and a low rocky hill called the Vultures’ Peak, just beyond the east gate of the city. Several places in Rājagaha which are mentioned in the Tipiṭaka have been identified and excavated by archaeologists. Rājagaha is now called Rajgir and is in the modern north Indian state of Bihar.
A city, the capital of Magadha. There seem to have been two distinct towns; the older one, a hill fortress, more properly called Giribbaja, was very ancient and is said (VvA. p.82; but cp. D.ii.235, where seven cities are attributed to his foundation) to have been laid out by Mahāgovinda, a skilled architect. The later town, at the foot of the hills, was evidently built by Bimbisāra.
Hiouen Thsang says (Beal., ii.145) that the old capital occupied by Bimbisāra was called Kusāgra. It was afflicted by frequent fires, and Bimbisāra, on the advice of his ministers, abandoned it and built the new city on the site of the old cemetery. The building of this city was hastened on by a threatened invasion by the king of Vesāli. The city was called Rājagaha because Bimbisāra was the first person to occupy it. Both Hiouen Thsang and Fa Hsien (Giles: 49) record another tradition which ascribed the foundation of the new city to Ajātasattu.
Pargiter (Ancient Ind. Historical Tradition, p.149) suggests that the old city was called Kusāgrapura, after Kusāgra, an early king of Magadha. In the Rāmāyana (i. 7, 32) the city is called Vasumatī. The Mahābhārata gives other names - Bārhadrathapura (ii.24, 44), Varāha, Vrsabha, Rsigiri, Caityaka (see PHAI.,p.70).
It was also called Bimbisārapurī and Magadhapura (SnA..ii.584).
But both names were used indiscriminately (E.g., S. N. vs. 405), though Giribbaja seems, as a name, to have been restricted to verse passages. The place was called Giribbaja (mountain stronghold) because it was surrounded by five hills - Pandava, Gijjhakūta, Vebhāra, Isigili and Vepulla* - and Rājagaha, because it was the seat of many kings, such as Mandhātā and Mahāgovinda (SnA..ii.413). It would appear, from the names given of the kings, that the city was a very ancient royal capital. In the Vidhurapandita Jātaka (J.vi.271), Rājagaha is called the capital of Anga. This evidently refers to a time when Anga had subjugated Magadha.
* SnA.ii.382; it is said (M.iii.68) that these hills, with the exception of Isigili, were once known by other names e.g., Vankaka for Vepulla (S.ii.191). The Samyutta (i.206) mentions another peak near Rājagaha - Indakūta.
See also Kālasilā.
The Commentaries (E.g., SnA. loc. cit) explain that the city was inhabited only in the time of Buddhas and Cakkavatti kings; at other times it was the abode of Yakkhas who used it as a pleasure resort in spring. The country to the north of the hills was known as Dakkhināgiri (SA.i.188).
Rājagaha was closely associated with the Buddha's work. He visited it soon after the Renunciation, journeying there on foot from the River Anomā, a distance of thirty leagues (J.i.66). Bimbisāra saw him begging in the street, and, having discovered his identity and the purpose of his quest, obtained from him a promise of a visit to Rājagaha as soon as his aim should be achieved (See the Pabbajjā Sutta and its Commentary). During the first year after the Enlightenment therefore, the Buddha went to Rājagaha from Gayā, after the conversion of the Tebhātika Jatilas. Bimbisāra and his subjects gave the Buddha a great welcome, and the king entertained him and a large following of monks in the palace. It is said that on the day of the Buddha's entry into the royal quarters, Sakka led the procession, in the guise of a young man, singing songs of praise of the Buddha. It was during this visit that Bimbisāra gifted Veluvana to the Order and that the Buddha received Sāriputta and Moggallāna as his disciples. (Details of this visit are given in Vin.i.35ff ). Large numbers of householders joined the Order, and people blamed the Buddha for breaking up their families. But their censure lasted for only seven days. Among those ordained were the Sattarasavaggiyā with Upāli at their head.
The Buddha spent his first vassa in Rājagaha and remained there during the winter and the following summer. The people grew tired of seeing the monks everywhere, and, on coming to know of their displeasure, the Buddha went first to Dakkhināgiri and then to Kapilavatthu (Vin.i.77ff).
According to the Buddhavamsa Commentary (p.13), the Buddha spent also in Rājagaha the third, fourth, seventeenth and twentieth vassa. After the twentieth year of his teaching, he made Sāvatthi his headquarters, though he seems frequently to have visited and stayed at Rājagaha. It thus became the scene of several important suttas - e.g., the Atānātiya, Udumbarika and Kassapasīhanāda, Jīvaka, Mahāsakuladāyī, and Sakkapañha.
For other incidents in the Buddha's life connected with Rājagaha, see Gotama. The most notable of these was the taming of Nālāgiri.
Many of the Vinaya rules were enacted at Rājagaha. Just before his death, the Buddha paid a last visit there. At that time, Ajātasattu was contemplating an attack on the Vajjians, and sent his minister, Vassakāra, to the Buddha at Gijjhakūta, to find out what his chances of success were (D.ii.72).
After the Buddha's death, Rājagaha was chosen by the monks, with Mahā Kassapa at their head, as the meeting place of the First Convocation. This took place at the Sattapanniguhā, and Ajātasattu extended to the undertaking his whole hearted patronage (Vin.ii.285; Sp.i.7f.; DA.i.8f., etc.). The king also erected at Rājagaha a cairn over the relics of the Buddha, which he had obtained as his share (D.ii.166). According to the Mahā Vamsa, (Mhv.Xxxi.21; MT. 564) some time later, acting on the suggestion of Mahā Kassapa, the king gathered at Rājagaha seven donas of the Buddha's relics which had been deposited in various places - excepting those deposited at Rāmagāma - and built over them a large thūpa. It was from there that Asoka obtained relics for his vihāras.
‘Rajagaha in Ancient Literature’, Memoirs of the Archaeological Survey of India, 1938.