Biographies Masthead

[Home]  [Sutta Indexes]  [Glossology]  [Site Sub-Sections]


Personalities of the Buddhist Suttas


Rāja Pasenadi

From Dictionary of Pāli Proper Names
by G.P. Malalasekera, D.Litt., Ph.D., M.a.(Lond.), O.B.E., Volume II, pp.168 ff.


King of Kosala and contemporary of the Buddha. He was the son of Mahā Kosala, and was educated at Takkasilā where, among his companions, were the Licchavi Mahāli and the Malla prince Bandhula. On his return home his father was so pleased with his proficiency in the various arts that he forthwith made him king.[1] As ruler, Pasenadi gave himself wholeheartedly to his administrative duties[2] and valued the companionship of wise and good men.[3] Quite early in the Buddha's ministry,[4] Pasenadi became his follower and close friend, and his devotion to the Buddha lasted till his death.

But Pasenadi's conversion did not prevent him from extending his favour, with true Indian toleration, to the members of other religious orders. Mention is even made of a great animal sacrifice which he once prepared, but which he abandoned on the advice of the Buddha, whom he sought at Mallika's suggestion.[5] He frequently visited the Buddha and discussed various matters with him.[6] The whole of the Third Samyutta (Kosala Samyutta), consisting of twenty-five anecdotes, each with a moral bias, is devoted to him. The topics discussed are many and varied. The Buddha and Pasenadi were equals in age, and their talks were, therefore, intimate and frank.[7] On one occasion we find the Buddha telling him to eat less and teaching his nephew Sudassana (or Uttara) a verse on the advantages of moderation, to be repeated to the king whenever he sat down to a meal. This advice was followed and the king became slim.[8] Pasenadi's chief consort was Mallikā, daughter of a garland-maker.[9] He loved her dearly and trusted her judgment in all things. When in difficulty he consulted her, realizing that her wisdom was greater than his own.[10] There is an account given[11] of Pasenadi seeking a confession from her that she loved him more than her own soul (attā) as a confirmation of their mutual trust. But the queen was pious and saw into the reality of things, and declared that nothing was dearer to her than her own soul. Piqued by this answer, Pasenadi sought the Buddha, who comforted him by explaining the true import of Mallikā's words. On another occasion, Pasenadi expressed to the Buddha his disappointment that Mallikā should have borne him a daughter instead of a son; but the Buddha pointed out to him that there was much, after all, to be said for daughters.[12]

Mallikā predeceased Pasenadi[13]; he had also other wives, one of them being the sister of Bimbisāra,[14] and another Ubbirī (q.v.). The Kaṇṇakatthala Sutta[15] mentions two others who were sisters: Somā and Sakulā.[16]

It is stated that Pasenadi wished to associate himself with the Buddha's family so that their relationship might be even closer. For seven days he had given alms to the Buddha and one thousand monks, and on the seventh day he asked the Buddha to take his meals regularly at the palace with five hundred monks; but the Buddha refused the request and appointed Ānanda to take his place. Ānanda came daily with five hundred others, but the king was too busy to look after them, and the monks, feeling neglected, failed to come any more, only Ānanda keeping to his undertaking. When the king became aware of this he was greatly upset, and determined to win the confidence of the monks by marrying a kinswoman of the Buddha. He therefore sent messages to the Sākyan chiefs, who were his vassals, asking for the hand of one of their daughters. The Sākyans discussed the proposition in their Mote-Hall, and held it beneath the dignity of their clan to accede to it. But, unwilling to incur the wrath of their overlord, they sent him Vāsabha-khattiyā, daughter of Mahānāma and of a slave-woman, Nāgamuṇḍa. By her, Pasenadi had a son Viḍūḍdabha. When the latter visited Kapilavatthu, he heard by chance of the fraud that had been practised on his father and vowed vengeance. When he came to the throne, he invaded the Sākyan territory and killed a large number of the clan without distinction of age or sex.[17] It is said that when Pasenadi heard of the antecedents of Vāsabhakhattiyā, he withdrew the royal honours which had been bestowed on her and her son and reduced them to the condition of slaves. But the Buddha, hearing of this, related to Pasenadi the Kaṭṭhahārika Jātaka, and made him restore the royal honours to the mother and her son. Mention is made of another son of Pasenadi, named Brahmadatta, who entered the Order and became an arahant.[18]

Pasenadi's sister, Kosaladevī, was married to Bimbisāra. Mahākosala gave her a village in Kāsi as part of her dowry, for her bath-money. When Ajātasattu killed Bimbisāra, Kosaladevī died of grief, and Pasenadi confiscated the Kāsi village, saying that no patricide should own a village which was his by right of inheritance. Angered at this, Ajātasattu declared war upon his aged uncle. At first, victory lay with Ajātasattu, but Pasenadi had spies who reported to him a plan of attack suggested by the Thera Dhanuggaha-Tissa, in the course of a conversation with his colleague Mantidatta, and in the fourth campaign Pasenadi took Ajātasattu prisoner, and refused to release him until he renounced his claim to the throne. Upon his renunciation, Pasenadi not only gave him his daughter Vajirā in marriage, but conferred on her, as a wedding gift, the very village in dispute.[19]

Three years later, Viḍūḍabha revolted against his father. In this he was helped by the commander-in-chief, Dīghakārāyana, nephew of Bandhula (q.v.). Bandhula, chief of the Mallas, disgusted with the treachery of his own people, had sought refuge with his former classmate, Pasenadi, in Sāvatthi. Bandhula's wife, Mallikā, bore him thirty-two sons, brave and learned. Pasenadi, having listened to the tales of his corrupt ministers, contrived to have Bandhula and all his sons killed while they were away quelling a frontier rebellion. Bandhula's wife was a devout follower of the Buddha's faith, and showed no resentment against the king for this act of treachery. This moved the king's heart, and he made all possible amends. But Dīghkārāyana never forgave him, and once when Pasenadi was on a visit to the Buddha at Medatalumpa (Uḷumpa), leaving the royal insignia with his commander-in-chief, Dīghakārāyana took advantage of this opportunity, withdrew the king's bodyguard, leaving behind only one single horse and one woman-servant, hurried back to the capital and crowned Viḍūḍabha king. When Pasenadi heard of this, he hurried on to Rājagaha to enlist Ajātasattu's support; but as it was late, the city gates were closed. Exhausted by his journey, he lay down in a hall outside the city, where he died during the night.

When Ajatasattu heard the news, he performed the funeral rites over the king's body with great pomp. He wished to march at once against Viḍūḍabha, but desisted on the advice of his ministers.[20]

Pasenadi had a sister, Sumanā, who was present at his first interview with the Buddha and decided to enter the Order, but she delayed doing so as she then had to nurse their aged grandmother. Pasenadi was very fond of his grandmother, and was filled with grief when she died in her one hundred and twentieth year. After her death, Sumanā became a nun and attained arahantship.[21] The old lady's possessions were given over to the monks, the Buddha giving special permission for them to be accepted.[22]

Among the king's most valued possessions was the elephant Seta[23]; he had two other elephants, Bhadderaka (or Pāveyyaka)[24] and Puṇḍarlka.[25] Mention is also made[26] of a pet heron which lived in the palace and conveyed messages. Tradition says[27] that Pasenadi had in his possession the octagonal gem which Sakka had given to Kusa. He valued it greatly, using it as his turban jewel, and was greatly upset when it was reported lost; it was, however, recovered with the help and advice of Ānanda. The Jātaka Commentary[28] records that Pasenadi built a monastery in front of Jetavana. It was called the Rājakārāma, and the Buddha sometimes stayed there. Pasenadi's chaplain, Aggidatta (q.v.) had originally been Mahākosala's chaplain. Pasenadi therefore paid him great respect. This inconvenienced Aggidatta, and he gave his wealth to the poor and renounced the world.[29] Pasenadi's minister, Santati (q.v.), who was once allowed to reign for a week in the king's place as reward for having quelled a frontier dispute, did likewise.[30] The king was always ready to pay honour to those who had won the praise of the Buddha, as in the case of Kāṇa,[31] Culla-Eka-Sāṭaka,[32] or Aṇgulimālā[33]; on the other hand, he did not hesitate to show his disapproval of those who disregarded the Buddha's teaching - e.g., Upananda.[34]

Pasenadi liked to be the foremost in gifts to the Buddha and his Order. This was why he held the Asadisadāna (q.v.) under the guidance and inspiration of Mallikā; but he was hurt when the Buddha's sermon of thanksgiving did not seem to him commensurate with the vast amount (fourteen crores) which he had spent. The Buddha then explained to him that this lack of enthusiasm was out of consideration for the king's minister Kāḷa. When the king learned that Kāḷa disapproved of the lavish way in which money had been spent at the almsgiving, he banished him from the court, while he allowed the minister Juṇha, who had furthered the almsgiving, to rule over the kingdom for seven days.[35]

Pasenadi seems to have enjoyed discussions on topics connected with the Dhamma. Reference has already been made to the Kosala Saṅyutta, which records several conversations which he held with the Buddha when visiting him in Sāvatthi; even when Pasenadi was engaged in affairs of state in other parts of the kingdom, he would visit the Buddha and engage him in conversation if he was anywhere in the neighbourhood. Two such conversations are recorded in the Dhammacetiya Sutta (q.v.) and the Kaṇṇakatthala Sutta (q.v.). If the Buddha was not available, he would seek a disciple. Thus the Bāhitika Sutta (q.v.) records a discussion between Pasenadi and Ānanda on the banks of the Aciravatī. Once when Pasenadi was in Toraṇavatthu, midway between Sāketa and Sāvatthi, he heard that Khemā Therī was there, and went at once to visit and talk to her.[36] Rhys Davids thinks[37] that Pasenadi was evidently an official title[38] and that the king's personal name was Agnidatta. He bases this surmise on the fact that in the Divyāvadāna (p. 620) the king who gave Ukkaṭṭha to Pokkarasādi is called Agnidatta, while in the Dīgha Nikāya (i. 87) he is called Pasenadi, and that Pasenadi is used as a designation for several kings.[39] The evidence is, however, insufficient for any definite conclusion to be drawn.

According to the Anāgatavaṃsa,[40] Pasenadi is a Bodhisatta. He will be the fourth future Buddha.


[1] DhA. i. 338; for his genealogy see Beal: Records ii. 2, n. 3.

[2] E.g., S. i. 74, 100; the Commentary (SA i. 109 f.) adds that the king tried to put down bribery and corruption in his court, but his attempt does not appear to have been very successful.

[3] Thus he showed his favour to Pok-kharasādī and Caṅkī, by giving them, respectively, the villages of Ukkaṭṭha and Opasāda free of all taxes. It is said that his alms-halls were always open to everyone desiring food or drink (Ud. ii. 6). Even after becoming the Buddha's follower, he did not omit to salute holy men of other persuasions (Ud. vi. 2).

[4] According to Tibetan sources, Pasenadi's conversion was in the second year of the Buddha's ministry (Rockhill, p. 49). We find the king referring to the Buddha, at their first meeting, as being young in years (S. i. 69). Their first meeting and conversation, which ended in Pasenadi's declaring himself an adherent of the Buddha, are recorded in the Dahara Sutta (q.v.).

[5] S. i. 75; for details see the Mahāsupina and Lohakumbhi Jātakas. It is said (SA. i. 111) that the king fell in love with a woman while riding round the city; on discovering that she was married, he ordered her husband to go, before sunset, and fetch clay and lilies from a pond one hundred leagues away. When the man had gone, the king ordered the gatekeepers to shut the gates early and not on any account to open them. The husband returned in the evening, and finding the gates shut, went to Jetavana, to seek protection from the king's wrath. The king spent a sleepless night owing to his passion and had bad dreams. When the brahmins were consulted they advised a great animal sacrifice. The story is also found at DhA. ii. 1 ff., with several variations in detail.

[6] It is said that he went three times a day to wait on the Buddha, sometimes with only a small bodyguard. Some robbers, knowing this, arranged an ambush in the Andhavana. But the king discovered the plot, of which he made short work.

[7] Pasenadi was extremely attached to the Buddha, and the books describe how, when he saw the Buddha, he bowed his head at the Buddha's feet, covering them with kisses and stroking them (M. ii. 120). The Chinese records say (Beal, xliv.) that when the Buddha went to Tāvatiṃsa, Pasenadi made an image of the Buddha in sandalwood, to which he paid honour. He was very jealous of the Buddha's reputation, and put down with a firm hand any attempt on the part of heretics to bring discredit on him - e.g., in the case of Sundarī-Nandā (q.v.). In the Aggañña Sutta (D. iii. 83 f.), the Buddha explains why Pasenadi honours him. For Pasenadi's own explanation as to why people honoured the Buddha even more than the king, see M. ii. 123; see also A. v. 65 ff. Pasenadi was also jealous of the reputation of the Order, and if anything arose which seemed likely to bring discredit on it, he took prompt steps to have the matter remedied - e.g., in the case of Kuṇḍadhana {q.v.) and Kumāra Kassapa's mother (q.v.). Pasenadi's palace overlooked the Aciravatī, and when he once saw some monks sporting in the river in an unseemingly way, he made sure that the Buddha knew of it (Vin. iv. 112). The story of the blind man and the elephant shows that he was anxious to justify the Buddha's teaching as against that of other sects (SNA. ii. 529).

[8] S. i. 81; DhA. iii. 264 f.; iv. 6 f.; the Samyutta Commentary (SA. i. 136) states that the bowl out of which he ate (paribhogapāti) was the size of a cartwheel. Pasenadi was always conscious of his own dignity - e.g., the incident with Chattapāṇi (q.v.); but see Vin. iv. 157 f., which probably refers to the same story.

[9] See s.v. Mallikā for details of her marriage with the king.

[10] E.g., in the Asadisadāna.

[11] S. i. 74.

[12] S. i. 83.

[13] A. iii. 57.

[14] DhA. i. 385; Pasenadi's relations with Bimbisāra were very cordial. Bimbisāra had five millionaires in his kingdom - Jotiya, Jaṭila, Meṇḍaka, Puṇṇaka and Kākavaliya - while Pasenadi had none. Pasenadi therefore visited Bimbisāra and asked for one to be transferred to him. Bimbisāra gave him Dhanañjaya, Meṇḍaka's son, and Pasenadi settled him in Sāketa (DhA. i. 385 ff.).

[15] M. ii. 125.

[16] In the Saɱyutta Nikāya (v. 351), the king's chamberlains, Isidatta and Purāṇa, speak of his harem. When he went riding in the park he took with him his favourite and lovely wives on elephants, one before and one behind. They were sweetly scented - "like caskets of scent" - and their hands were soft to the touch.

[17] DhA. i. 339 ff.; J. i. 133 f.; iv. 144 ff

[18] ThagA. i. 460; the Dulva says that Jeta, owner of Jetavana, was also Pasenadi's son (Rockhill, p. 48).

[19] J. ii. 237, 403; iv. 342 f.

[20] M. ii. 118; MA. ii. 753 ff.; DhA. i. 353 ff.; J. iv. 150 ff.

[21] ThigA. 22; S. i. 97; A. iii. 32.

[22] Vin. ii, 169.

[23] A. iii. 345.

[24] DhA. iv. 25.

[25] Ibid., ii. 1.

[26] J. iii. 134 f.

[27] SA. i. 115; J. i. 382 ff.

[28] J. ii. 15. According to Hiouen Thsang, Pasenadi also built a monastery for Pajāpati Gotamī (Beal, Records ii. 2).

[29] DhA. iii. 241 ff.; SNA. (580) says that Bāvarī was Mahākosala's chaplain and Pasenadi studied under him. When Pasenadi came to the throne, Bāvarī declared his wish to leave the world. The king tried to prevent him but failed; he did, however, persuade Bāvarī to live in the royal park. Bāvarī, after staying there for some time, found life in a city uncongenial. The king thereupon detailed two of his ministers to establish a suitable hermitage for Bāvarī.

[30] DhA. iii. 28 ff.

[31] Ibid., ii. 150 ff.

[32] Ibid., iii. 2 ff.

[33] M. ii. 100.

[34] S. i. 153 f.

[35] DhA. iii. 188 ff.

[36] S. iv. 374 ff.

[37] Buddhist India, p. 10.

[38] The UdA. (104) explains Pasenadi as "paccantaṃ parasenaṃ jinātī ti = Pasenadi." According to Tibetan sources he was so called because the whole country was illuminated at the time of his birth (Rockhill, p. 16).

[39] E.g., in Dvy. 369, for a king of Magadha and again in the Kathāsaritsāgara i. 268, 298.

[40] J.P.T.S. 1886, p. 37.