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Personalities of the Buddhist Suttas


King Seniya Bimbisara of Magadha


Dictionary of Pali Proper Names: Bimbisara. - King of Magadha and patron of the Buddha. He ascended the throne at the age of fifteen and reigned in Rajagaha for fifty-two years. The Buddha was five years older than Bimbisara, and it was not until fifteen years after his accession that Bimbisara heard the Buddha preach and was converted by him. It is said[1] that the two were friends in their youth owing to the friendship which existed between their fathers.[2] But according to the Pabbaja Sutta[3] the first meeting between the Buddha and Bimbisara took place in Rajagaha under the Pandavapabbata, only after the Buddha's Renunciation. The king, seeing the young ascetic pass below the palace windows, sent messengers after him. On learning that he was resting after his meal, Bimbisara followed him and offered him a place in his court. This the Buddha refused, revealing his identity. The Commentary adds[4] that Bimbisara wished him success in his quest and asked him to visit first Rajagaha as soon as he had attained Enlightenment. It was in fulfilment of this promise that the Buddha visited Rajagaha immediately after his conversion of the Tebhatika Jatila. He stayed at the Supatittha-cetiya in Latthivanuyyana, whither Bimbisara, accompanied by twelve nahutas of householders, went to pay to him his respects. The Buddha preached to them, and eleven nahutas, with Bimbisara at their head, became sotapannas. On the following day the Buddha and his large retinue of monks accepted the hospitality of Bimbisara. Sakka, in the guise of a young man, preceded them to the palace, singing songs of glory of the Buddha. At the conclusion of the meal, Bimbisara poured water from a golden jar on the Buddha's hand and dedicated Veluvana [286] for the use of him and of his monks.[5] From this moment up till the time of his death, a period of thirty-seven years, Bimbisara did all in his power to help on the new religion and to further its growth. He set an example to his subjects in the practice of the precepts by taking the uposatha vows on six days of each month.[6]

Bimbisara's chief queen was Kosaladevi [q.v.), daughter of Mahakosala and sister of Pasenadi. On the day of her marriage she received, as part of her dowry, a village in Kasi, for her bath-money. Her son was Ajatasattu[7] (q.v.). Bimbisara had other wives as well; Khema, who, at first, would not even visit the Buddha till enticed by Bimbisara's descriptions of the beauties of Veluvana; and the courtezan Padumavati, who was brought from Ujjeni, with the help of a yakkha, so that Rajagaha might not lack a Nagarasobhini. Both these later became nuns. Padumavati's son was Abhaya. Bimbisara had another son by Ambapali, known as Vimala Kondanna, and two others, by different wives, known as Silava and Jayasena. A daughter, Cundi, is also mentioned.[8]

Bimbisara's death, according to the Commentaries,[9] was a sad one. Soothsayers had predicted, before the birth of Ajatasattu, that he would bring about the death of his father, for which reason his mother had wished to bring about an abortion. But Bimbisara would not hear of this, and when the boy was born, treated him with the greatest affection.[10] When the prince came of age, Devadatta, by an exhibition of his iddhi-power, won him over to his side and persuaded him to encompass the death of his father, Bimbisara's patronage of the Buddha being the greatest obstacle in the path of Devadatta. The plot was discovered, and Bimbisara's ministers advised him to kill Ajatasattu, Devadatta and their associates. But Bimbisara sent for Ajatasattu and, on hearing that he desired power, abdicated in his favour. Devadatta chided Ajatasattu for a fool. "You are like a man who puts a skin over a drum in which is a [287] rat," and he urged on Ajatasattu the need for the destruction of Bimbisara.

But no weapon could injure Bimbisara;[11] it was therefore decided that he should be starved to death, and with this end in view he was imprisoned in a hot-house (tapanageha) with orders that none but the mother of Ajatasattu should visit him. On her visits she took with her a golden vessel filled with food which she concealed in her clothes. When this was discovered she took food in her head-dress {moli), and, later, she was obliged to take what food she could conceal in her footgear. But all these ways were discovered, and then the queen visited Bimbisara after having bathed in scented water and smeared her person with catumadhura (the four kinds of sweets). The king licked her person and that was his only sustenance. In the end the visits of the queen were forbidden; but the king continued to live by walking about his cell meditating. Ajatasattu, hearing of this, sent barbers to cut open his feet, fill the wounds with salt and vinegar, and burn them with coals. It is said that when the barbers appeared Bimbisara thought his son had relented and had sent them to shave him and cut his hair. But on learning their real purpose, he showed not the least resentment and let them do their work, much against their will. (In a previous birth he had walked about in the courtyard of a cetiya with shoes on, hence this punishment!) Soon after, Bimbisara died, and was reborn in the Catummaharajika-world as a yakkha named Janavasabbha, in the retinue of Vessavana. The Janavasabha Sutta records an account of a visit paid by Janavasabha to the Buddha some time after.

A son was born to Ajatasattu on the day of Bimbisara's death. The joy he experienced at the birth of his son made him realize something of the affection his own father must have felt for him, and he questioned his mother. She told him stories of his childhood, and he repented, rather belatedly, of his folly and cruelty. Soon after, his mother died of grief, and her death gave rise to the protracted war between Ajatasattu and Pasenadi, as mentioned elsewhere.[12]

The books contain no mention of any special sermons preached by the Buddha to Bimbisara nor of any questions asked by him of the Buddha.[13] Perhaps, like Anathapindika, his equal in devotion to the [288] Buddha, he refrained from giving the Buddha extra trouble, or perhaps the affairs of his kingdom, which was three hundred leagues in extent,[14] did not permit him enough leisure for frequent visits to the Buddha. It is said that he once visited four monks - Godhika, Subahu, Valilya and Uttiya -and invited them to spend the rainy season at Rajagaha. He built for them four huts, but forgot to have them roofed, with the result that the gods withheld the rains until the king remembered the omission.[15]

Bimbisara's affection for the Buddha was unbounded. When the Licchavis sent Mahali, who was a member of Bimbisara's retinue, to beg the Buddha to visit Vesali, Bimbisara did not himself try to persuade the Buddha to do so, but when the Buddha agreed to go he repaired the whole road from Rajagaha to the Ganges - a distance of five leagues - for the Buddha to walk upon; he erected a rest-house at the end of each league, and spread flowers of five different colours knee-deep along the whole way. Two parasols were provided for the Buddha and one for each monk. The king himself accompanied the Buddha in order to look after him, offering him flowers and perfume and all requisites throughout the journey, which lasted five days. Arrived at the river, he fastened two boats together decked with flowers and jewels and followed the Buddha's boat into the water up to his neck. When the Buddha had gone, the king set up an encampment on the river bank, awaiting his return; he then escorted him back to Rajagaha with similar pomp and ceremony.[16]

Great cordiality existed between Bimbisara and Pasenadi. They were connected by marriage, each having married a sister of the other. Pasenadi once visited Bimbisara in order to obtain from him a person of unbounded wealth (amitabhoga) for his kingdom. Bimbisara had five such - Jotiya, Jatila, Mendaka, Punnaka and Kakavaliya; but Pasenadi had none. The request was granted, and Mendaka's son, Dhananjaya, was sent back to Kosala with Pasenadi.[17]|| ||

Bimbisara also maintained friendly relations with other kings, such as Pukkasati, king of Takkasila, Candappajjota, king of Ujjeni, to whom [289] he sent his own physician Jivaka to tend in his illness-and Rudrayana of Roruka.[18]

Fistula: a congenital or acquired passage leading from an abscess or hollow organ to the body surface or from one hollow organ to another and permitting passage of fluids or secretions.
- Websters

p.p. explains it all - p.p.

Among the ministers and personal retinue of Bimbisara are mentioned Sona-Kolvisa, the flower-gatherer Sumana who supplied the king with eight measures of jasmine-flowers, the minister Koliya, the treasurer Kumbhaghosaka and his physician Jivaka. The last named was discovered for him by the prince Abhaya when he was suffering from a fistula. The king's garments were stained with blood and his queens mocked him. Jivaka cured the king with one single anointing; the king offered him the ornaments of the five hundred women of the palace, and when he refused to take these, he was appointed physician to the king, the women of the seraglio and the fraternity of monks under the Buddha.[19]

When Dhammadinna wished to leave the world, Bimbisara gave her, at her husband's request, a golden palanquin and allowed her to go round the city in procession.[20]

Bimbisara is generally referred to as Seniya Bimbisara. The Commentaries[21] explain Seniya as meaning "possessed of a large following" or as "belonging to the Seniyagotta," and Bimbisara as meaning "of a golden colour," bimbi meaning gold.

In the time of Phussa Buddha, when the Buddha's three step-brothers, sons of King Jayasena, obtained their father's leave to entertain the Buddha for three months, Bimbisara, then head of a certain district, looked after all the arrangements. His associates in this task were born as petas, and he gave alms to the Buddha in their name in order to relieve their sufferings.[22]

During his lifetime, Bimbisara was considered the happiest of men, but the Buddha declared[23] that he himself was far happier than the king.

The kahapana in use in Rajagaha during Bimbisara's time was the standard of money adopted by the Buddha in the formation of those rules into which the matter of money entered.[24]

Bimbisara had a white banner and one of his epithets was Pandaraketu.[25] Nothing is said about his future destiny, but he is represented in the Jaaavasabha Sutta[26] as expressing the wish to become a Sakadagami, and this wish may have been fulfilled.


[1] Mhv. ii. 25 ff.; Dpv. iii. 50 ff.

[2] Bimbisara's father was called Bhati (MT. 137; Dpv. iii. 52); according to Thibetan sources (Rockhill, op. cit., 16) he was called Mahapaduma and his mother Bimbi.

[3] SN. vs. 405 ff.; also J. i. 66 and DhA. i. 85; also Rockhill, p. 27.

[4] SNA. ii. 386.

[5] Vin. i. 35 ff. It was this gift of Veluvana which formed the model for Devanampiyatissa's gift of the Mahameghavana to Mahinda (Mhv. xv. 17). The gift of Veluvana was one of the incidents sculptured in the Relic chamber of the Maha Thupa (Mhv. xxx. 80). It may have been in Veluvana that the king built for the monks a storeyed house, fully plastered (Vin. ii. 154). With the attainment of sopatatti, the king declared that all the five ambitions of his life had been fulfilled: that he might become king, that the Buddha might visit his realm, that he might wait on the Buddha, that the Buddha might teach him the doctrine, that he might understand it (Vin. i. 36). According to BuA. (p. 18 f.) the king became a sotapanna after listening to the Maha Narada Jataka.

[6] PvA. 209.

[7] Also J. iii. 121.

[8] For details of the names in this paragraph see s.v.

[9] E.g., DA. i. 135 ff.; see also Vin. ii. 190 f.

[10] For details see s.v. Ajatasattu.

[11] Probably because he was a sota-panna. He also had the power of judging the status of anyone by his voice - e.g., in the case of Kumbhaghosa (DhA. i. 233).

[12] See s.v. also J. ii. 237, 403.

[13] When he heard that the Buddha intended to perform a miracle, although he had ordered his disciples to refrain from doing so, Bimbisara had doubts about the propriety of this and questioned the Buddha who set his doubts at rest (DhA. iii. 204; J. iii. 263 f.). It was also at the request of Bimbisara that the Buddha established the custom of the monks assembling on the first, eighth, fourteenth and fifteenth days of each month (Vin. i. 101 f.).

[14] DhA. iii. 205; the kingdom included eighty thousand villages (gama) (Vin. i. 179).

[15] ThagA. i. 125. He similarly forgot his promise to give Pilindavaccha a park-keeper, if the Buddha would sanction such a gift. Five hundred days later he remembered his promise, and, to make amends, gave five hundred park-keepers with a special village for their residence, called Aramikagama or Pilindagama (Vin. i. 207 fm).

[16] DhA. iii. 438 ff.

[17] DhA. i. 385 f.; AA. i. 220. Some of these were richer than Bimbisara -e.g., Jotiya {q.v.), whose house was built entirely of jewels while the king's palace was of wood; but the king showed no jealousy (DhA. iv. 211).

[18] Dvy. 545.

[19] Vin. i. 272 f.

[20] MA. i. 516.

[21] E.g., UdA. 104. According to Thibetan sources, Bimbi was the name of his mother, and from this his own name was derived; but another reason was that he was radiant like the morning sun (Rockhill 16).

[22] See Tirokudda Sutta, also PvA. 21 ff.; for his intercession on behalf of another peta see PvA. 89.

[23] E.g., M. i. 95.

[24] Sp. ii. 297.

[25] Thag. vs. 64; ThagA. i. 147.

[26] D. ii. 206.




Dictionary of Pali Proper Names, by G. P. Malalasekera, D.Litt., Ph.D., M.A. (Lond.), O.B.E., Pali Text Society, 1974
See also MN 86, Angulimala Sutta.