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A mellow hamlet two hours by bus from Patna, Vaishali’s diverse claims to fame touch on four religions; Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism, and Democracy. Around the sixth century BC, Vaishali was the capital of the Vajjian confederacy, a republic governed by a parliament elected under universal suffrage and kept in line by a system of checks and balances. Birthplace and hometown of Mahavira, the founder of Jainism, Vaishali also figures prominently in the life of the Buddha; it was here that he announced his impending parinirvana; afterwards, his relics were first en-stupa-ed and his followers held the second Buddhist council at Vaishali. Of course, these are small potatoes compared to the Hindu story: The Ramayana says Vaishali is where the gods and demons pow-wowed before churning the oceans. Nevertheless, Buddhists dominate the town. Some Japanese had a yen to put up a large glossy stupa, and for good measure they threw in a water tower, now going up beside the museum. Popular with backpackers from Japan, Korea, and others who slide over from Bodh Gaya, the town attracts more with its peace and quiet than its modest relics.

Sights

A big pile of rubble in the fields behind the Tourist lodge, off to the left, is all that remains of the Raga Vishal Ka Garh, a great Vajjian assembly hall. After the republic’s demise, it served as a palace and then a fort before crumbling into the cow pasture. The Coronation Tank, resembling a rustic Olympic-sized swimming pool was used to anoint the town’s leaders during inaugural ceremonies – today it is used as the local Laundromat. A small, unremarkable museum next to the tank showcases some of the stone and terra-cota pieces dug from the earth nearby. The stupa behind the museum, Stupa I, covered with a conical tin roof, occupies a small, well-landscaped garden adjoining the Archaeological survey office. It is believed that the stupa contains a portion of the Buddha’s ashes.

The other noteworthy attractions, in a fenced-in compound 4 km farther down the road are best reached by rickshaw. The road cuts through rice paddies and several villages. At the site, a pillar, thought by some to be Ashokan, stands sentinel over another Stupa (Stupa II), excavated only recently. The pillar differs from other Ashokan pillars in many respects: it is square, thick, and squat, not round and slender, and the lion leaves a little too much to the imagination. Nearby, the remains of the Monkey Tank, reputedly built to commemorate an offering from the king of the monkeys to the Buddha, are being gradually uncovered.

Map of Vaishali

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