A city, capital of the Licchavis. The Buddha first visited it in the fifth year after the Enlightenment, and spent the vassa there (BuA., p. 3). The Commentaries give detailed descriptions of the circumstances of this visit. KhpA.160ff.= SNA.i.278; DhA.iii.436ff.; cp. Mtu.i.253ff
Vesáli was inhabited by seven thousand and seven rájás, each of whom had large retinues, many palaces and pleasure parks. There came a shortage in the food supply owing to drought, and people died in large numbers. The smell of decaying bodies attracted evil spirits, and many inhabitants were attacked by intestinal disease. The people complained to the ruling prince, and he convoked a general assembly, where it was decided, after much discussion, to invite the Buddha to their city. As the Buddha was then at Veluvana in Rájagaha, the Licchavi Maháli, friend of Bimbisára and son of the chaplain of Vesáli, was sent to Bimbisára with a request that he should persuade the Buddha to go to Vesáli. Bimbisára referred him to the Buddha himself, who, after listening to Maháli's story, agreed to go. The Buddha started on the journey with five hundred monks. Bimbisára decorated the route from Rájagaha to the Ganges, a distance of five leagues, and provided all comforts on the way. He accompanied the Buddha, and the Ganges was reached in five days. Boats, decked with great splendour, were ready for the Buddha and his monks, and we are told that Bimbisára followed the Buddha into the water up to his neck. The Buddha was received on the opposite bank by the Licchavis, with even greater honour than Bimbisára had shown him. As soon as the Buddha set foot in the Vajjian territory, there was a thunderstorm and rain fell in torrents. The distance from the Ganges to Vesáli was three leagues; as the Buddha approached Vesáli, Sakka came to greet him, and, at the sight of the devas, all the evil spirits fled in fear. In the evening the Buddha taught Ananda the Ratana Sutta, and ordered that it should be recited within the three walls of the city, the round of the city being made with the Licchavi princes. This Ananda did during the three watches of the night, and all the pestilences of the citizens disappeared. The Buddha himself recited the Ratana Sutta to the assembled people, and eighty four thousand beings were converted. After repeating this for seven consecutive days, the Buddha left Vesáli. (According to the DhA. account the Buddha stayed only seven days in Vesáli; KhA. says two weeks). The Licchavis accompanied him to the Ganges with redoubled honours, and, in the river itself, Devas and Nágas vied with each other in paying him honour. On the farther bank, Bimbisára awaited his arrival and conducted him back to Rájagaha. On his return there, the Buddha recited the Sankha Játaka. (See 2.)
It was probably during this visit of the Buddha to Vesáli that Suddhodana died. (See ThigA., p. 141; AA.i.186).
It was during this visit of the Buddha to Kapilavatthu (tadá) that Mahá Pajápatí Gotamí first asked his permission to join the Order, but her request was refused (AA.i.186).
According to one account, the Buddha went through the air to visit his dying father and to preach to him, thereby enabling him to attain arahantship before his death. It is not possible to know how many visits were paid by the Buddha to Vesáli, but the books would lead us to infer that they were several. Various Vinaya rules are mentioned as having been laid down at Vesáli. See, e.g., Vin.i.238, 287f; ii.118, 119 27. The visit mentioned in the last context seems to have been a long one; it was on this occasion that the Buddha ordered the monks to turn their bowls upon the Licchavi Vaddha (q.v.). For other Vinaya rules laid down at Vesáli, see also Vin.ii.159f.; iii. and iv. passim.
It was during a stay in Vesáli, whither he had gone from Kapilavatthu, that Mahá Pajápatí Gotamí followed the Buddha with five hundred other Sákyan women, and, with the help of Ananda's intervention, obtained permission for women to enter the Order under certain conditions. Vin.ii.253ff.; see Mahá Pajápatí Gotamí.
The books describe (E.g., D.ii.95ff) at some length the Buddha's last visit to Vesáli on his way to Kusinárá. On the last day of this visit, after his meal, he went with Ananda to Cápála cetiya for his siesta, and, in the course of their conversation, he spoke to Ananda of the beauties of Vesáli: of the Udena cetiya, the Gotamaka cetiya, the Sattambaka cetiya, the Bahuputta cetiya, and the Sárandada cetiya. Cf. Mtu.i.300, where a Kapinayha-cetiya is also mentioned. All these were once shrines dedicated to various local deities, but after the Buddha's visit to Vesáli, they were converted into places of Buddhist worship. Other monasteries are also mentioned, in or near Vesáli e.g., Pátikáráma, Válikáráma.
The Buddha generally stayed at the Kútágárasálá (q.v.) during his visits to Vesáli, but it appears that he sometimes lived at these different shrines (See D.ii.118). During his last visit to the Cápála cetiya he decided to die within three months, and informed Mára and, later, Ananda, of his decision. The next day he left Vesáli for Bhandagáma, after taking one last look at the city, "turning his whole body round, like an elephant" (nágápalokitam apaloketvá) (D.ii.122). The rainy season which preceded this, the Buddha spent at Beluvagáma, a suburb of Vesáli, while the monks stayed in and around Vesáli. On the day before he entered into the vassa, Ambapáli invited the Buddha and the monks to a meal, at the conclusion of which she gave her Ambavana for the use of the Order (D.ii.98; but see Dial.ii.102, n.1).
Vesáli was a stronghold of the Niganthas, and it is said that of the forty two rainy seasons of the latter part of Mahávíra's ascetic life, he passed twelve at Vesáli. Jacobi: Jaina Sutras (S.B.E.) Kalpa Sútra, sect. 122; Vesáli was also the residence of Kandaramasuka and Pátikaputta (q.v.). Among eminent followers of the Buddha who lived in Vesáli, special mention is made of Ugga (chief of those who gave pleasant gifts), Pingiyáni, Káranapáli, Síha, Vásettha (A.iv.258), and the various Licchavis (see Licchavi.)
The Buddha's presence in Vesáli was a source of discomfort to the Niganthas, and we find mention (See, e.g., Síha) of various devices resorted to by them to prevent their followers from coming under the influence of the Buddha.
At the time of the Buddha, Vesáli was a very large city, rich and prosperous, crowded with people and with abundant food. There were seven thousand seven hundred and seven pleasure grounds and an equal number of lotus ponds. Its courtesan, Ambapálí, was famous for her beauty, and helped in large measure in making the city prosperous (Vin.i.268). The city had three walls, each one gávuta away from the other, and at three places in the walls were gates with watch towers.
J.i.604; cf.i.389. Perhaps these three walls separated the three districts of Vaisálí mentioned in the Tibetan Dulva (Rockhill, p.62); Hoernle (Uvásagadasáo Translation ii., p.4, n.8) identifies these three districts with the city proper, Kundapura and Vániyagáma, respectively mentioned in the Jaina books. Buddhaghosa says (e.g., Sp.ii.393) that Vesáli was so called because it was extensive (visálíbhútatá Vesáli ti uccati); cf. UdA.184 (tikkhattum visálabhútattá); and MA.i.259.
Outside the town, leading uninterruptedly up to the Himálaya, was the Mahávana (DA.i.309) (q.v.), a large, natural forest. Near by were other forests, such as Gosingalasála. (A.v.134)
Among important suttas preached at Vesáli are the Maháli, Mahásíhanáda, Cúla Saccaka, Mahá Saccaka, Tevijja, Vacchagotta, Sunakkhatta and Ratana.
See also A.i.220, 276; ii.190, 200; iii.38, 49ff., 75, 142, 167, 236, 239; iv. 16, 79, 100, 179, 208, 274ff., 279ff., 308ff.; v. 86, 133, 342; S.i.29, 112, 230; ii.267, 280; iii.68, 116; iv. 109, 210ff., 380; v. 141f, 152f, 258, 301, 320, 389, 453; D.ii.94ff.; the subjects of these discourses are mentioned passim, in their proper places; see also DhA.i.263; iii.267, 279, 460, 480.
The Telováda Játaka (No. 246) and the Sigála Játaka (No. 152) were preached at Vesáli. After the Buddha's death a portion of his relics was enshrined in the City. (D.ii.167; Bu.xxviii.2)
One hundred years later Vesáli was again the scene of interest for Buddhists, on account of the "Ten Points" raised by the Vajjiputtaká, (q.v.), and the second Council held in connection with this dispute at the Válikáráma.
The city was also called Visálá. (E.g., AA.i.47; Cv.xcix.98). There were Nágas living in Vesáli; these were called Vesálá (D.ii.258).
Vesáli is identified with the present village of Basrah in the Muzafferpur district in Tirhut. See Vincent Smith, J.R.A.S. 1907, p. 267f., and Marshall, Arch. Survey of India, 1903 4, p. 74.