The Holy Places of Jaiva Dharma: Mithila


King Janak holding Sita Devi

May 20, 2014 — CANADA (SUN) — A serial presentation of the holy places mentioned in the Jaiva Dharma of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur - Part 92.

The name 'Mithila' is derived from the name of King Miti, who was created from the body of his father, King Nimi. He established the capital of his kingdom at Mithilapuri and hence the region became known as Mithila. Having been born from the body of his father, he took the title Janaka. After this, the kings of Mithila were called Janaka, the most famous being Janaka Kushadhwaja (or Seeradhwaja), the father of Sita. He was 21st Janaka of Mithila, and his dynasty was known as the Videha Janaka. Altogether here were 57 kings in the dynasty of Videha Janaka.

The Janakas who ruled Videha were considered to be great scholars. They are believed to be among the oldest clans migrating from the River Saraswati as the river began drying up. Ancient Mithila, today known as Janakpur, is a city residing in the Dhanusa district of Southern Nepal. The modern-day territories that fall within the ancient boundaries of Videha are Mithila (India) and Mithila (Nepal).

Mithila's history crosses the great ages, and is mentioned many places in Mahabharata and Ramayana. Both Gautama Buddha and Vardamana Mahavira are said to have lived in Mithila. From the 6th through the 15th Centuries, Mithila was ruled, respectively, by the Pal, Sen, Deva and Oinwar dynasties. Within the boundaries of Bengal up to the 14th Century, it was then overrun by the Mughals.

The ancient history of Mithila was covered in a previous Sun Feature series on the Mahajanapadas of Jambudvipa, being the sixteen Great States in Jambudvipa (already covered in this Jaiva Dharma series). Fifth among the sixteen Mahajanapadas is the Vajji Kingdom:

The Kingdom of Vajji (Vriji) was comprised of eight or nine confederated clans, of whom the Licchhavis, the Videhans, the Jnatrikas and the Vajjis were the most important. A passage in the Sutrakritanga indicates that the Ugras, Bhogas, Kauravas and Aikshvakas were associated with the Jnatris and Licchavis, as subjects of the same ruler and the members of the same assembly, and these groups may have been among the other confederated clans.

Mithila (modern Janakpur) was the capital of Videha and a predominant center of political and cultural activity in northern India. Along with the capital of Videha, some of the other important towns and villages were Kundapura or Kundagrama, Bhoganagara and Hatthigama.

The Vajji Kingdom, with its royal court at Mithila, prospered under the reign of King Janaka. Janaka and his wife, Queen Sunayana, gave birth to Janaki (Sita Devi, who became the wife of Rama. Seeradhwaj Janaka was not only a brave king, but was also as well-versed in sastras and the Vedas as any rishi. He was the beloved pupil of Yajnavalkya, whose exposition of Brahman to the king forms one chapter of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. In Bhagavad-gita, Sri Krishna cites Janaka as an illustrious example of the practice of Karma-yoga.

The territory of the Vajji Kingdom was located on the north of the Ganges River and extended up to the Terai region of Nepal (the Himalayan plains). On the west, the Gandak River is thought to have been the boundary between the Vajji and Malla kingdoms. The Gandak may have also separated it from the Kosala Kingdom. On the east, its territory likely extended up to the banks of the Koshi and Mahananda Rivers.

The Licchavis of Vajji Kingdom are represented as being Vratya Kshatriyas in Manusmriti. Vaishali, the headquarters of the powerful Vajji republic and capital of the Licchavis was defeated by King Ajatasatru of Magadha, whose dynasty then became the most powerful kingdom of all the mahajanapadas.

Vajji (Sanskrit: Vṛji) or Vrijji is mentioned as one of the principal mahajanapadas in the Anguttara Nikaya and Jain Bhagavati Sutra (Saya XVM Uddesa I). The Vajjis were also mentioned by Pāṇini, Kautilya and Xuanzang.

The last king of Videha was Kalara, who is said to have perished along with his kingdom on account of his illicit approach to a Brahmin maiden. On the heels of his kingdom's ruins rose the republics of the Licchhavis and Videhans and seven other small confederations.

Vaishali was located 25 miles north of the river Ganges and 38 miles from Rajagriha, and was at the time a very prosperous town. The mother of Mahavira was a Licchavi princess. Generally, the Licchavis were known to be a very independent people.

Vaishali (modern Basarh in the Vaishali District of North Bihar) was the capital of the Licchavis and the political headquarters of the powerful Varijian confederacy. In the Ekapanna Jataka, the capital city Vaishali was described as being encompassed by a triple wall with three gates and watchtowers.

The Second Buddhist Council was held at Vaishali, and many Licchavis were followers of Buddha. During their lifetimes both Lord Mahavira and Buddha visited Vaishali several times. They were closely related by marriage to the Magadhas, and one branch of the Licchavi dynasty ruled Nepal until the start of the Middle Ages, as mentioned in our recent series on Nepal.


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