Thursday, September 16, 2010

Ambapali, the Royal Courtesan of Vaishali

During my college days, I had an opportunity to read a novel by eminent Hindi writer Acharya Chatursen. The novel entitled Vaishali Ki Nagarvadhu was an interesting read. As the name suggests, the novel describes Ambapali, as the Nagarbadhu of Vaisali, hailed as the first republic of the world.

A royal courtesan, Ambapali, variously known as Amrapali or Ambapalika, has been accorded a place of high respect in the Buddhist Scriptures. A contemporary of the Buddha, Ambapali was wealthy, highly intelligent and famous far and wide. her machless beauty together her youth, talent and intelligence made Amrapali the cynosure and dream of entire Vaishali. While passing through Vaishali, the Buddha accepted her invitation to dine with her. This indicates that the better status of the courtesan in ancient India.

The early life of Ambapali is veiled in obscurity. She was named because she was born at the foot of a mango tree in one of the royal gardens in the Vaishali kingdom. A woman of amazing beauty, Ambapali participated in the contest to become Nagarvadhu (courtesan) of Vaishali. This leads us to conclusion that there was no stigma attached to become Nagarvadhu at that time.

Ambapali is said to have become a Buddhist nun and one of the most beautiful poems of the Pali Canon is attributed to her.

When Bimbisara, the powerful Magadhan Emperor, heard of Ambapali, he became jealous and thought of prodcuing in his kingdom a courtezan who would be superior to her. Hence, Salavati came into picture and she also became famous in Magadha. The glory and prosperity of Vaishali was a thorn in the eyes of Bimbisara.

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