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Today is Nikini Pasalosvaka Poya - The urbane traveller

The Buddha's Wanderings: The area in which the Buddha wandered during his life corresponds roughly to the modern Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The furthermost east he went which can still be identified as Kajangla (now Kankjol, 18 k south of Rajmahal right on the Indo-Bangladesh border) and the furthermost west he is known to have gone is Mathura, some 180 kilometres south of Delhi. These two locations are nearly a thousand kilometres apart.

Himalayan foothills

The Buddha's movements northwards were of course limited by the then impenetrable jungles of the Himalayan foothills and it is unlikely that he ever went further south than the southern edge of the Ganges watershed. Still, this would mean that his wanderings covered an area roughly equivalent to 200,000 square kilometers, a huge area by any standards.

The Bhikkhus who fail to begin their Vas Retreat on Esala Pasalosvaka Poya day do so on Nikini Pasalosvaka Poya day.
There are two days on which bhikkhus may start their retreat for the rainy season. One is Esala Pasalosvaka Poya, the other Nikini. Starting retreat on Esala Pasalosvaka Poya is known as ‘Pera Vas’, while starting retreat on Nikini Pasalosvaka is called ‘Pasu Vas’.
In the history of Buddhism too, Nikini is an important poya day. It was on Nikini Pasalosvaka Poya day the First Great Dhamma Council was held in order to rid the Buddha Dhamma of many wrong beliefs. which were creeping into the Dhamma through certain opportunistic persons of the day.
Five hundred Arhant bhikkhus, led by Ven. Great Kasyapa attended this first ever Great Seminar at which what the Buddha taught was arranged in an orderly manner.
Ven. Ananda, who knew all the Dhamma and who was known as the ‘Treasurer of Dhamma’ was the only bhikkhu who had not attained Arhanthood, though he was the most indispensable member of the Sangha to make the Council successful; His participation to the Council was agreed unanimously by the Sangha; anyway on the previous night to the Seminar Ven. Ananda attained Arhanthood.

The evidence suggests that the Buddha only occasionally visited the outer edges of this region. For example he only visited Mathura once and he probably visited Anga in the east (i.e. Campa, Bhaddiya and Kajangla corresponding to modern Bhanalpur District) only once also. Incidentally, I believe that Bhaddiya or Bhaddiyanagara as it is also sometimes called in the Thripitaka, can be safely identified with the village of Bhaddiya some 12 kilometres south of Bhagalpur.

However, most of the Buddha's wanderings took place in the eastern part of this area, between the great cities of Savatthi, Rajagaha, Vesali and Kosambi. The Thripitaka mention carriageways in towns and paths, roads and highways through the countryside.

However, there is little doubt that these names referred to the frequency of traffic on these arteries, not to the quality of their paving or their width. All roads in ancient India were little more than dusty, rutted tracks in the summer and impassable rivers of mud in the rainy season.

Banditry added to the risks of long distance travel. Travellers on the road between Savatthi and Sakheta were often robbed (Vin, IV:87) and of course the fearsome Angulimala was a robber and murderer who operated in forested areas around Savatthi. Once the Buddha and an attendant were on tour of Kosala when they came to a fork in the road. The Buddha said they should take one fork while the attendant said they should take the other. This debate continued for some time until in a huff the attendant put the Buddha's bowl down and walked off on the way he thought correct.

Remote districts

He hand't gone far before he was attacked by bandits who "struck him with their fists and feet and tore his robe" (Ud, 90). In the more remote districts travellers might have difficulty finding food, water and shelter. The Thripitaka mentions a traveller getting down on all fours to drink from a puddle in a cows footprint because no other water was available and of two parents lost in the wilderness who saved themselves from starvation by killing and eating their child.

More normally though travel was just uncomfortable, tedious and undertaken only when necessary. And yet it seems that the Buddha spent most of his time on the road in order to reach as many people as possible. Such was his determination and compassion.

In keeping with the rules laid down by himself and in accordance with long established samana tradition the Buddha spent three months of the rainy season in one location and the rest of the year on what were called 'walking tours'. According to the commentarial tradition after the 20th year of his ministry he spent every rainy season in or near savatthi, the capital of Kosala.


The fact that more of his discourses are set in this city that in any other place suggests that there is some foundation in this tradition and if it is true he may have decided to limit his wanderings at that time due to age. he would have been sixty years old at the time.

All the Buddha's journeys were undertaken on foot although as there are numerous rivers in the land he knew must have often had to use boats or ferries despite being no specific mention of him ever actually doing this. We read of monks once crossing a river by holding on to the tails and backs of a herd of cattle that was swimming across the same river suggesting that when there were neither bridges, boats or rafts that the Buddha might have had to improvise as these monks did.

There is no mention of the Buddha travelling by carriage or cart. In only one place is he described as wearing sandals so he probably went bare footed most of the time (Vin, IV: 186).

The Thripitaka mentions the itinerary of many of the Buddha's journeys giving us an idea of the distances he sometimes travelled. For example, we know that within the first twelve months after his enlightenment he went from Uruvela to Isipatthana via Gaya and Benares, spent the three months of the rainy season there and then travelled to Rajagaha via Benares, Gaya, Uruvela and Lativanna. All these places can be identified with certainly and thus we can calculate that he must have walked at least 300 kilometres.

Round trip of 1,600 km

In the longest single journey recorded in the Thripitaka he went from Rajagaha to Vesali to Savatthi and back to Rajagaha via Kritigiri and Avali, a round trip of at least 1,600 kilometres (Vin, IV, 189). It is likely that he would have started a trip like this at the end of the rains retreat and arrived back in time for the next retreat nine months later.

Unfortunately it is not possible to know how much time these or any of the other journeys might have taken. In the famous Mahaparinibbana Sutta we know that he went from Rajagaha to Kusinara via Nalanda, Patna and Vesali, a total distance of about 300 kilometres.

According to the sutta he left Vesali at the end of the rains retreat (October) and of course he is supposed to have attained final nirvana in Kusinara on the full moon of Vesakha (May).

This suggests that he took seven months to travel about 95 kilometres. Even allowing for the fact that he was old and in ill health this seems like a very long time.

It should be pointed out that only later text in the Thripitaka mentions that the Buddha's parinivana took place at Vesakha and the sutta gives the impression that while his last journey was slow it was at a steady pace. However, it seems likely that the Buddha conducted his journeys at a leisurely pace.

The evidence suggests that he would wake before sunrise, go for pindapata in the nearest town or village just after sunrise and having eaten, would set off while it was still cool.

He would walk until the midday heat became unpleasant and then take an afternoon rest. If there was a village nearby he might stay until the next morning and if not he might continue walking until he got to the next village. How long he stayed at a particular place would have depended on many factors - whether local people came to talk with and listen with him, whether food and water was available, whether the atmosphere was congenial.

We know for example that he cut short his first stay in Rajagaha when people began to complain that too many young men were leaving their families to become minks (Vin,IV:43). Once he arrived in the village of Thuna to find that there was no water to drink because the brahmin inhabitants, hearing that he was coming, had blocked up their wells with rice husks and cow dung (Ud, 78). Reception

The warm and respectful reception that Buddhist monks get today was not always available to the Buddha and his disciples.

He is often described as travelling with either 500 monks (a conventional number meaning 'a lot') or simply with "a large group of monks". At other times he would dismiss his attendant and companions telling them that he wanted to wander by himself for a while (S,III;94).

The Buddha was not, as is commonly supposed, primarily a forest dweller. Of the four monasteries he founded and now identified by archaeologists - Ghositarama, Jivakarama, Jetavana and Veluvana - the first is actually inside the walls of the city while the other three are within easy waking distance of their respective cities.

When staying in these places the Buddha's accommodation would have been reasonably comfortable but when he was on the road the situation was very different and he would have to sleep in or take shelter in whatever was available.

2500th Buddha Jayanthi yet to come?

Buddha Jayanthi:1. The oldest chronicles that deal with Indian history are the Purana works. There are 18 Puranas. Some reliable data can be extracted from the Vayu Purana, which contain two lists of kings. One list is shorter and older than the longer list. The longer list adds new materials at a later date, which therefore is deemed as interpolation. Both lists begin with Parikshit as the starting point. The shorter list is as follows:

Ajatasatru ruled for 25 years
Udayin ruled for 33 years
Sisunaga ruled for 40 years
Kakawanna ruled for 36 years
Mahanadin ruled for 43 years
Chandragupta ruled for 24 years
Bindusara ruled for 25 years

Total duration 226 years

Please note two things in this list. Firstly the end of the reign of Bindusara is the same as the beginning of the accession of Asoka. Secondly the Parinirvana took place on the 8th year of the reign of Ajatasatru. From the 8th of Ajatasatru's reign up to the accession of Asoka the time gap is 218 years.

226-8=218 years

2. Dipa Vamsa (V.I) corroborates the Vayu Purana evidence positively - when it says 210 years after the Sambuddha had passed into Nirvana, Piyadassi (Asoka) was consecrated.

3. The Mahavamsa (V.21) also agrees with the above evidence, when it states:

"After the Nirvana of the Conqueror and before his (Asoka's) consecration were 218 years.

Above arguments boil, down to the following conclusion:

a) The accession of Asoka took place on 268 B.C.

b) That the Parinirvana of the Buddha took place 218 years before the accession of Asoka.

c) That the Parinirvana of the Buddha took place on 268+218=486 B.C.

There is yet another very strong evidence, which confirms the date of 486 B.C. for the Parinirvana. This is also the only evidence that points to the date of Parinirvana directly. Takakusu, the Japanese historian wrote to the Journals of the Royal Asiatic Society in 1896, 1897, 1905 and 1909 and enlightened the public about the existence of a certain record in a temple in Canton, which had safely guarded the purity of the dating of the Buddha Parinirvana.

Needless to say that the Buddhists more than anybody else would do their best to safeguard the authenticity of the date of Parinivana. After an annual procession, the temple authorities punched a hole in a log. This annual dot was to preserve the dating correctly. This is called the Dotted Record of Canton. In the year 489 A.D. there were 975 dots punched on the log. When we subtract 489 years from 975 we arrive at the date of Parinirwana: Thus:

975-489=486 B.C


The date of Parinirwana is 486 B.C. We have to reject the 544 B.C. date for Parinirvana as it is accepted in Sri Lanka today,

Why we have to reject the 544 B.C. date? The time gap between the parinirvana and the accession of Asoka is definitely 218 years, and this is conclusively proved. Now if 544 B.C. is the date of Parinirvana the accession of Asoka should take place on 544-218 years=326 B.C.

1. As we stated before all the Indian scholars placed the date of the accession of Chandragupta Maurya between 324 B.C. and 317 B.C. If Asoka's accession according to Sri Lankan reckoning took place in 326 B.C. how could Asoka succeed to the throne even before his grandfather Chandragupta become King?

2. Are we going to say that all the Indian scholars are utterly incorrect in their dating?

3. Further, if the Parinirvana took place in 544 B.C. then Alexander the Great should meet Asoka and not his grandfather Sandracottos.

4. How incredible it is to place the Buddha Jayanthi in 544 B.C. can be understood when we relate this dating to Sri Lankan Chronology.

If Jayanthi was in 544 B.C. then Asoka become king in 326 B.C. Asoka ruled for 36 years, that is, up to 290 B. C. (326 B.C. - 36 yrs=290 B.C.) Sri Lankan scholars place the reign of King Devanampiyatissa between 250-210 B.C. How could Asoka communicate with Devanampiyatissa if he died 40 years before the accession of Devanampiyatissa?

The True 2500 Jayanthi Anniversary

When should we celebrate the true Buddha Jayanthi? As we proposed that 486 B.C. should be the date of Buddha Jayanthi, the 2500th Jayanthi should be placed on 2500 - 486 B.C.=2014 A.D. Thus the 2500th Anniversary of the Buddha Jayanthi is yet to come. We will have to wait patiently for another 8 years to celebrate the 2500th anniversary of the Buddha Jayanthi.

No man should meddle with history and change the dates to his own convenience. The Sri Lankan ingenuity of plunging into places where even the angels fear to tread, has been twice demonstrated in 1956 A.D. and again in 2006 A. D. for the humour of the foreign historians.

A mathematical genius in Sri Lanka once calculated, against all known evidence, that the date of the Parinirvana of the Buddha, from which begins the Buddha Jayanthi, should fall on 544 B.C., and that the 2500th year of Buddha Jayanthi should fall on 1956 A.D., a date otherwise important for Sri Lankan politics.

Even after fifty years from the said commemoration, no one in Sri Lanka dared to question the validity of this motivated dating. Again political expediency took priority over the authentic truth, which is left conveniently ignored. Let us note that at this instance how the glaring evidence militates against the 544 B.C. dating of the Parinirvana of the Buddha.

When we accepted and celebrated the 2550th anniversary of the Buddha Jayanthi on 2006 A.D. we equated 2550. Buddha Varsha (B.V.) with 2006 A.D. If 2006 A.D. = 2550 (B.V.) - 2006 A.D. = 544 B.C., that means the Parinirvana of the Buddha took place 544 years before the birth of Christ (B.C.).

This equation in the first place, contradicts all known chronological evidence, and in the second place, ignores the obvious evidence furnished by archaeology and history. An examination of the evidence would prove beyond all doubts, that not only the date of Buddha Jayanthi, but also the century to which the Buddha belonged as accepted in Sri Lanka are incorrect and need immediate revision.

There are two significant dates in ancient Indian history, which form the chronological benchmarks to calculate the date of the Parinirvana. Once these two, at least one of them is fixed on a firm foundation, the date of Parinirvana can be easily ascertained. The two benchmarks are:

1. The date of accession of Chandragupta Maurya

2. The date of the accession of Asoka.

Historians are divided on validity of these two dates. The early group of historians relied on the Latin and Greek sources after rejecting the Buddhist evidence, and tried to pinpoint the date of accession of Chandragupta.

Even Geiger falls into this group and relied on western classical evidence, in his dating of the ancient period of history. This school of historians was led by Vincent Smith. He pointed out that the writers who accompanied Alexander the Great had kept reports of this visit.

There are few direct and authentic statements made by these classical writers. They refer to a certain Sandrakottos or Andracottas, who is unanimously identified with Chandragupta, the grandfather of Asoka. Here are some of these classical statements, used by modern historians.

(a) "Alexander met Sandrakottos while the latter was yet a 'Stripling', and that he succeeded not long after the departure of Alexander."

The departure of Alexander from India is fixed at 323 B.C., by western historians.

(b) "Soon after the return of Alexander, the throne of Magadha, and with it the impartial possessions of the Nanda Dynasty, passed by a coup-de-tat into the hands of an adventures whom the Greek and Latin writers call Sandrakottos." This is a summary made by Rapson in his book Ancient India (P. 100).

(c) Plutarch, a classical writer, in his book Lives, and in Life of Alexander, states that, Alexander met Chandragupta, and not long after the departure of Alexander, Chandragupta succeeded to the throne. "Not long after" is taken as immediately after by Raichaudhuri and others who belong to the first group of historians.

(d) Plutarch further states thus, "Nor was this an exaggeration for not long afterwards Andracottas who had by that time mounted the throne, presented Seleucos with 500 elephants, and subdued the whole of India with an army of "600,000 men." (R. C. Majumda, Classical Accounts of India, (p. 198). According to his statement overrunning the whole of India takes place after presenting 500 elephants to Seleucos. Seleucos Nikator was the able General of Alexander, who after Alexander's death became the king of Western Asia. Therefore, Chandragupta's conquest of India cannot be placed after his meeting with Seleucos.

Only one fact stands undisputed. That is Alexander met Chandragupta, before Chandragupta ascended the throne. Alexander left India in 323 B.C. Chandraguptha's accession therefore should take place after 323 B.C. How long after is in question.

The generals of Alexander remained in India till 317 B.C. It was on this date that the two generals Peithen and Eudemos, who ruled Punjab and Sind, left India. So long as these generals remained in India, Chandragupta would not be able to seize Punjab and Sind. The struggle for power might have continued up to 317 B.C. or so, and it was Chandragupta who caused these generals to leave Indian territory.

With his evidence we arrive at the following conclusions. The accession of Chandragupta Maurya to the throne took place on a date between 323 B.C. and 316 B.C. (or 317 B.C.). Almost all the Indian historians are agreed on this conclusion.

The following are the dates arrived at by prominent scholars of ancient history for the accession of Chandragupta Maurya.

1. B.K. Mookeji's date - 324 B.C.
2. Rai Chaudhuri's date - 323 B.C.
3. Vincent Smith's date - 322 B.C.
4. Rapson's date - 321 B.C.
5. Thapar's date - 321 B.C.
6. Narain's date - 321 B.C.
7. W. W. Tarn's date - 317 B.C.

All those dates fall within a period of seven years. Since all these dates are based on the same evidence, we can conclude that the date of accession of Chandragupta cannot be precisely pinpointed to a definite year. A margin of error of seven years spoils the bench mark.

Out of the two bench marks stated above we are therefore compelled to look for the date of accession of Asoka, in order to find a foolproof dating. In this we rely mostly on Buddhist sources, which the Hindu historians of India condemned as unreliable.

Who would be more interested in preserving the sacred date of the demise of their teacher the Buddha than the Buddhists themselves? As I have proved in my book The Later Mauryas of Ancient India. The Indian scholars are prejudiced, and that prejudice was the result of their ignorance.

There is definite evidence to prove the date of accession of Asoka. They are:- (i) Evidence from Divyavadana, the Northern Buddhist Chronicle. Divyavadana says that after the conversion of Asoka into Buddhism, he wanted to go on a pilgrimage to worship sacred Buddhist sites.

It also says the event was of such tremendous importance that Thera Yasa extended his hand and covered the sun on that occasion in order to show the whole world how important it was. Of course this description is an interpretation of a natural event in religious fashion.

The truth is that a solar eclipse had taken place in India on the day of Asoka's pilgrimage. Actually a solar eclipse had taken place in India on the 4th May 249 B.C. (Eggermont, The Chronology of the Reign of Asoka Moriya p 165).

The Rumendei Inscription of Asoka is carved on the Asokan Pillar at Lumbini. This inscription says that Asoka set up this pillar on the 19th year of his reign. When we couple this evidence with that of the eclipse given above, we arrive at the equation:- 249 B.C. = 19th year of Asoka's accession. Asoka's accession therefore was on 249+19 B.C. i.e. 249+19 = 268 B.C., was the date of Asoka's accession.

(ii) Another solid evidence is furnished by Rock Edict XIII of Asoka. R. E. XIII refers to five great potentates of Western Asia, to whom Asoka had sent his missionaries. One of the five Kings, Alexander of Epirus died in 255 B.C. Asoka says that he sets up this inscription on his 12th year of accession. Now, if the 12th year of his accession is on or before 255 B.C., his accession should be placed on or before 255+12 = 267 B.C.

The above perusal of the aforesaid bench marks, has clarified the two positions. Out of the two dates, that of Asoka's accession, apparently is more reliable. As we proceed on in our inquisition we will furnish further confirmatory evidence to prove our standpoint. Now accepting the date of 268 B.C. as our starting point, let us calculate the date of Maha Parinirvana. The following evidence proves that 218 years before the accession of Asoka, the Parinirvana of the Buddha took place. Here is the unanimous evidence.

The writer is one of the leading authorities on Ancient Indian History and Culture. His book 'The Later Mauryas' is a prescribed text of History in Indian universities.



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