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Dictionary of Pali Proper Names

by G.P. Malalasekera, D.Litt., Ph.D., M.A. (Lond.), O.B.E.

The Pali Text Society
No copyright

Baranasi, Benares




Baranasi: The capital of Kasi-janapada. It was one of the four places of pilgrimage for the Buddhists - the others being Kapilavatthu, Buddhagaya and Kusinara - because it was at the Migadaya in Isipatana near Baranasi, that the Buddha preached his first sermon to the Panncavaggiya.[1] This was the spot at which all Buddhas set in motion the Wheel of the Law (Dhammacakka). It is the custom of Buddhas to travel by air from the Bodhi-tree to the scene of their first sermon, a distance of eighteen leagues,[2] but the present Buddha did all the journey on foot in order to be able to meet on the way the Ajivaka Upaka (q.v.).

Benares was an important centre of trade and industry. There was direct trade between there and Savatthi,[3](the road passing through Bhaddiya,[4]) and between there and Takkasila.[5] It was the custom for enthusiastic young men of Benares to go to the university at Takkasila,[6] but there seem to have been educational institutions at Benares also, some of which were older than even those of Takkasila.[7] From Veranja to Benares there seem to have been two routes: one rather circuitous, passing through Soreyya, and the other direct, crossing the Ganges at Payagatittha. From Benares the road continued to Vesali.[8] On the road from Benares to Rajagaha was Andhakavinda.[9] There seems to have been friendly intercourse between the chieftains of Benares and the kings of Magadha, as shown by the fact that Bimbisara sent his own physician, Jivaka, to attend to the son of the Treasurer of Benares.[10] The distance from Kosambi to Benares was thirty leagues by river.[11]

The extent of the city of Benares, including its suburbs, at the time when it was the capital of an independent kingdom, is often stated[12] to have been twelve leagues. The names of several kings are mentioned in the Jatakas, among them being those of Anga, Uggasena, Udaya, Kiki, Dhananjaya, Mahasilava, Vissasena, and Samyama.[13] The name which occurs most frequently, however, is that of Brahmadatta, which seems to have been the dynastic name of the Benares kings. In the Mahagovinda Sutta, the foundation of Baranasi is attributed to Maha-govinda, its first king being Dhatarattha, contemporary of Renu.[14] The Ceylon Chronicles[15] mention the names of others who reigned in Benares - e.g., Duppasaha and sixty of his descendants; Asoka, son of Samankara, [276] and eighty-four thousand of his descendants; also sixteen kings, ancestors of Okkaka. The city itself had been known by different names at different periods; thus, in the time of the Udaya Jataka it was called Surundhana; in that of the Sutasoma, Sudassana; in that of the Sonananda, Brahma-vaddhana; in that of the Khandahala, Pupphavati; in that of the Yuvan-jaya, Rammanagara;[16] and in that of the Sankha, Molini.[17] It was also called Kasinagara and Kasipura,[18] being the capital of Kasi. The Bhojajaniya Jataka[19] says that "all the kings around coveted the kingdom of Benares." In the Brahachatta Jataka,[20] the king of Benares is mentioned as having captured the whole of Kosala. At the time of the Buddha, however, Benares had lost its great political importance. Kosala was already the paramount power in India, and several successful invasions of Kasi by the Kosalans under their kings Vanka, Dabbasena and Kamsa, are referred to. The final conquest would seem to be ascribed to Kamsa because the epithet Baranasiggaha (conqueror of Benares) is an established addition to his name.[21]

Later, when Ajatasattu succeeded in establishing his sway over Kosala, with the help of the Licchavis, Kasi, too, was included in his kingdom. Even in the Buddha's time the city of Benares was wealthy and prosperous and was included in the list of great cities suggested by Ananda as suitable places for the Parinibbana of the Buddha.[22]

Mention is also made of a Banarasisetthi[23] and a Santhagarasala (Mote Hall), which was then, however, no longer being used so much for the transaction of public business as for public discussions on religious and philosophical questions.[24] Near Benares was a grove of seven sirisaka-trees where the Buddha preached to the Naga-king Erakapatta,[25] and also the Khemiyambavana where Udena met Ghotamukha;[26] on the other side of the river was Vasabhagama, and beyond that another village called Cundatthila.[27]

The Buddha is several times spoken of as staying in Benares, where he preached several sermons[28] and converted many people including Yasa, whose home was in Benares,[29] and his friends Vimala, Subahu, Punnaji and Gavampati, all members of eminent families.[30] Isipatana (q.v.) became a monastic centre in the Buddha's time and continued so [277] for long after. From there came twelve thousand monks under the leadership of Dhammasena to be present at the ceremony of the foundation of the Maha Thupa.[31]

In the past, Baranasi was the birthplace of Kassapa Buddha.[32] In the time of Metteyya Buddha, Baranasi will be known as Ketumati, at the head of eighty-four thousand towns. Sankha will be Cakkavatti there, but he will renounce the world and will become an arahant under Metteyya.[33] Baranasi evidently derives its name from the fact that it lies between the two rivers Barna and Asi.[34]


[1] D. ii. 141.

[2] MA. i. 388; BuA. 242, etc.

[3] DhA. iii. 429.

[4] Vin. i. 189.

[5] DhA. i. 123.

[6] See, e.g., J. ii. 4; DhA. i. 250.

[7] KhA. 198; see also DhA. iii. 445, where Susima, Sankha's son, goes from Takkasila to Benares for purposes of study.

[8] Sp. i. 201.

[9] Vin. i. 220.

[10] Ibid., 275 f.

[11] MA. ii. 929.

[12] E.g., J. iv. 377; vi. 160; MA. ii. 608.

[13] For details see s.v. The SNA. on the Khaggavisana Sutta contains the names of several kings of Benares who renounced the world and became Pacceka Buddhas.

[14] D. ii. 235 f.

[15] MT. 127, 129, 130.

[16] J. iv. 119 f.

[17] J. iv. 15.

[18] E.g., J. v. 54; vi. 165; DhA. i. 87.

[19] J. i. 178.

[20] J. iii. 116.

[21] J. ii. 403.

[22] D. ii. 146.

[23] E.g., DhA. i. 412; iii. 87, 365.

[24] E.g., J. iv. 74; ascetics who came to the city found lodging for the night in the Potters' Hall (e.g., DhA. i. 39).

[25] DhA. iii. 230.

[26] M. ii. 158.

[27] PvA. 168.

[28] E.g., A. i. 110 f., 279 f.; iii. 392 ff., 399 ff.; S. i. 105; v. 406; Vin. i. 189, 216 f., 289.

[29] Vin. i. 15.

[30] Ibid., 19.

[31] Mhv. xxix. 31.

[32] Bu. xxv. 33.

[33] D. iii. 75 f.

[34] CAGI. 499 f.




SN 2.12.067

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