“Welcome to the first Republic in the world,” declares the Bihar Tourism signpost in Vaishali, for in the 6th century BCE, the world’s first democratic republic with elected representatives thrived here. Once the centre of trade and industry, the Buddha visited Vaishali many times and even preached his last sermon nearby at Kolhua. Vaishali is also holy to Jains as it is believed that Lord Mahavira was born nearby in Kundalagrama in Vaishali republic.
Vaishali is historically known as the capital of the Licchavis and the headquarters of the powerful Vajjian confederacy, around the 6th century BCE. Today a small village, Vaishali is firmly established on the Buddhist circuit of Bihar. It is also the site of Vaishali Mahotsav, a two-day festival held on the full moon night of Baisakh (mid-April) to celebrate the birth of Lord Mahavira. It features performances by artists from all over India.
Vaishali is located 56 km away from Patna and can be visited on a day trip from the capital.
Things to See & Do
Ashokan Pillar and Stupa, Kolhua
Kolhua is where Mauryan emperor Ashoka had erected the famous monolithic, polished sandstone pillar, now commonly called the Ashokan Pillar, consisting of a circular shaft, surmounted by a decorative bell-shaped capital, supporting a life-size figure of a lion facing north. Several other sites scattered around Kolhua are Raja Bisal ka Gadh (ancient Vaishali), Relic Stupa, Kharouna Pokhar (Abhishek-Pushkarni), Chakramdas and Lalpura. This place is also associated with the miracle of Lord Buddha in which the monkey king offered him a bowl filled with honey.
At the modern Kolhua, 3 km from the Relic Stupa, emperor Ashoka erected a lion pillar and a brick stupa. During excavations, some remains of the votive stupas of the Sunga (2nd-1st centuries BCE) and Kushana (1st-3rd centuries CE) periods were also unearthed.
Raja Vishal ka Garh (Fort of King Vishal)
There is a huge mound here with a circumference of about one kilometre, with two-metre high walls surrounded by a 43-metre wide moat. It is said that the ruins at the site are of an ancient parliament, where legislators used to gather.
A kilometre away from Raja Vishal Garh lies the sacred coronation tank whose water was used to anoint the elected representatives of Vaishali.
However, if you decide to visit then be warned that the water is not very clean. There are a few pedal boats in the water, which school kids use for joyrides.
World Peace Pagoda
Situated next to the coronation tank is the World Peace Pagoda. This symbol of world peace was constructed by Japanese Buddhists in 1996 and is only one of several that have been erected in various parts of the world.
Enshrined within the base and top chhatra of the structure, are holy relics of Buddha, found in Vaishali. The stupa features statues of Lord Buddha, made out of glass and fibre but polished with gold.
Buddha’s Relic Stupa
This is one of the eight relic stupas built over the sacred ashes of Lord Buddha. While originally a mud stupa, it was later encased with bricks and enlarged and is now in a dilapidated condition.
Following excavations in 1958, a relic casket of stone filled with ashes, a small conch, two glass beads, a fragment of gold leaf, and a copper punch-marked coin was discovered at the site.
Hieun Tsang, in his description of the stupa, stated that it was built over the corporal relic of the Buddha by the Licchavis of Vaishali, and that it was first opened by king Ashoka who took away nine-tenths of its relic.
Outside the stupa complex are stalls, where you can buy statues of the Buddha and Lord Mahavira, wooden and stone-carved objects as well as other souvenirs.
Located close to the stupa complex, the Vaishali Museum houses many objects found during excavations at nearby sites. Although a small museum, it has many interesting exhibits ranging from Buddhist and Brahmanical stone sculptures, decorated bricks, jewellery, toys, ceramics and pottery.
The quaintest exhibit in the museum is a toilet pan found during excavations at the swastika-shaped monastery at Kolhua. Due to its swastika shape, it was identified as a nunnery, which gives credence to the story of the inclusion of the foster-mother of the Buddha, Gautami, along with 500 female Buddhist followers, at the behest of Ananda, Buddha’s disciple, despite Buddha’s initial reluctance to admit women into the Sangha (Buddhist monastic community).
Timings 9.00 am — 5.00 pm, Fridays closed Entry fee â‚¹10 Photography prohibited
Bawan Pokhar Temple
Locally known as Bauna Pokhar, this temple is located on the northern banks of Bawan Pokhar, a few kilometres away from Raja Vishal ka Garh. It houses a collection of idols dating back to the Gupta and Pala period.
Basokund-Kundgram is one of the sites identified as the possible birthplace of Lord Mahavira. Located a few kilometres away from Abhishek Pushkarni, there is a temple (currently undergoing renovation) as well as a dharamshala for pilgrims at the site.
Where to Stay & Eat
The Vaishali Residency (Tel: 06224-229428; Tariff: â‚¹5,500) is a high-end option with a restaurant, Wi-Fi, as well as other comforts. For a budget stay, opt for BSTDC’s Youth Hostel (Patna Tel: 0612-2225411; Tariff: â‚¹500-2,000), opposite Shanti Stupa. It also has a restaurant. Their Ambapali Vihar Hotel is currently under renovation. You may also visit Vaishali as a day trip from Patna. For meals in air-conditioned comfort, you can try the Buddha Fun & Food Village near Abhishek Pushkarni and Abhi’s Restaurant.