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Footsteps of Amrapali Reverberate

By Amlan Home Chowdhury
As the dawn’s cool breeze gently kisses you walking by the ancient ruins of Raja Vishal Ka Garh of Vaishali in Bihar, you have a strange feeling you hear the sounds of Ghungroo-chained footsteps of legendary Nagar Badhu of Lichhavis Amrapali going to meet Lord Buddha.
On a second eerie feeling, it would appear as if the ether is carrying from the nearby mango orchard the hymn Buddham Sharanam Gachhami hummed by saffron-robed Buddhist monks. The mango orchard was donated to Sangha or Buddhist monistic order by Vaishali’s Nagar Badhu — the court dancer — Amrapali.
A little few more steps inside the ruins, you just cannot help but feel you hear the rhapsody of the last groan of a dying soldier and maniacal war cry by Magadh Emperor Ajatshatru who raided the Lichhavi Republic of Vaishali nearly 2600 years ago to wrest Amrapali and carry her away to Rajgir, his capital.
Vaishali, the most famous Mahajanapada of ancient Aryavartha, was loved by Lord Buddha. Licchavis also loved him with all the sublimity. During Tathagata’s last journey, he even had told to the weeping townsfolk of Vaishali that he might soon attain Mahaparinirvana: death, liberating him from the vortex of life and death.
This ancient city is associated with three characters: Buddha and peace, Emperor Ajatshatru and extreme violence and Amrapali and her lover’s madness.
Let us turn over the pages of history of Vaishali where love, lust, betrayal, shrewd politicking and battle cries rattled amidst chanting of Buddham Sharanam Gachhami. As you turn over those pages and history unfolds, you feel you are reading an action-packed thriller.
Once inside the ancient rectangular brick build Raja Vishal Ka Garh, you have an uncanny feeling of having entered into a strange Xanadu where Vaishali’s legendary Nagarbadhu or court dancer is dancing with the royal audience completely enraptured. If you don’t have tastes for music and dance and have an inclination of a Yogi or recluse, you are not invited at the dancing programmes of Amrapali.
Of course Yogis irks her. Hence, you would feel she is singing a song that is meant for a Yogi like you: “Jao re jogi tum jaore, yeh hai prem-i-o ki nagri…..” A beautiful song of the Bollywood vintage Amrapali, the film showed Ajatshatru making numerous attempts to snatch Amrapali, destroy Vaishali Republic and kill Lord Buddha.
Of course Lord Buddha forbade Ajatshatru not to invade Vaishali but the cruel emperor invaded the Lichhavi Republic, destroyed it only to lose Amrapali who becomes a Monk. Just guess what happened next? Don’t fall from the crest, Ajatshatru himself turns a Buddhist.
Vaishali, the Mahajanapad Buddha loved the most, really opiates you. In the morn’s tranquility, one really turns imaginative! Moreover, the surrounding is such that one cannot help but to imagine the long bygone scenes of Buddha sitting under a mango tree in the legendary mango orchard that Amrapali had donated to his Sangha (monistic order) and delivering his discourses with citizen of the Mahajanapad listening to it.
As if you have gone back to those days of the past, you really hallucinate of an extremely beautiful dame and dancer – of course, Amrapali – walking leisurely through the thoroughfares of ancient Vaishali wearing glittering ornaments and gorgeous dresses to go to Raja Vishal Ka Garh or the parliament hall of ancient Lichhavis to perform her dance programme. Of course her maids equally attired with colourful dresses and adorned with ornaments, following her.
On turning over the pages of pages of Cullakalinga Jataka and Ekapanna Jataka, we find that there used to be 7,707 Rajas of the functioning democracy of Lichhavis. They would meet each year to elect one of their members as ultimate authority or ruler having a council of nine other Rajas to assist him in running the country. Was it not like our present day council of ministers?
These Buddhist scriptures say besides the elected ruler, there also used to be an Uparaja (deputy chief), Senapati (chief of army) and Bhandagarika (chancellor of exchequer). They were elected by the people through public voting.
There are records that Lord Buddha greatly supported republican system of Lichhavis and never liked Magadhan version of absolute monarchy.
As the Buddhist text Mahaparinirban Sutra says, Ajatshatru wanted to destroy the Lichhavi republicanism and Vajji confederacy. But Vaishali was stronger than his Magadh Kingdom.
Extremely cunning, Ajatshatru sent his wily minister Vassakara to meet Lord Buddha to get some tips on how to overthrow Lichhavi republic. On getting Buddha’s audience, Vassakara asked the Lord what were the ways of trouncing Vaishali.
To this question, Gautama said Lichhavis were simply invincible as they followed such golden rules as taking decisions by majority of opinions of Rajas (modern day Members of Parliament) and follow the ancient rules of Vaishali Gana (tantra) or democracy. Gautama said so long as the Rajas remain united, Ajatshatru cannot destroy Vaishali.
This proves Buddha strongly supported Lichhavi republicanism. Ajatshatru, in fact, wanted to know Buddha’s view on the strong points of Lichhavi Republic so that he could formulate his war plan against the Vaishali people accordingly. He knew he has to sow the seeds of disunity among the Rajas through bribe. And he did that. The result was destruction of Vaishali.
A little away from Abhishek Pushkarni, there is a mango grove—Amrapalivana. Nearly 2600 years ago, it was here where Lord Buddha stayed at the invitation of Nagar Badhu or royal courtesan of the Lichhavis: Ambapali or Amrapali. Ajatshatru loved her so much so that he 16 invasions on Vaishali to destroy it and snatch Amrapali. Ultimately, he was successful. He had both Amrapali and Vaishali. But could not keep her for long as she became a Buddhist “Bhikshuni” –monk.
According to Buddhist legend, Ajatshatru became very closely associated with Buddha after the fall of Vaishali. Ajatshatru completely surrendered himself to Buddha, his Dhamma and his Sangha.

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