A city near the Himalaya, capital of the Sākiyans. It was founded by the sons of Okkāka, on the site of the hermitage of the sage Kapila - see Kapila (3) (J.i.15, 49, 50, 54, 64, etc.; see also Divy 548, and Buddhacarita I.v.2). Near the city was the Lumbinīvana where the Buddha was born, and which became one of the four places of pilgrimage for the Buddhists. Close to Kapilavatthu flowed the river Rohinī, which formed the boundary between the kingdoms of the Sākyans and the Koliyans (DhA.iii.254). In the sixth century B.C. Kapilavatthu was the centre of a republic, at the head of which was Suddhodana. The administration and judicial business of the city and all other matters of importance were discussed and decided in the Santhāgārasālā (D.i.91; J.iv.145). It was here that Vidūdabha was received by the Sākyans (J.iv.146f).
The walls of the city were eighteen cubits high (J.i.63; according to Mtu.ii.75 it had seven walls). From Kapilavatthu to the river Anomā, along the road taken by Gotama, when he left his home, was a distance of thirty yojanas (J.i.64). The city was sixty leagues from Rājagaha, and the Buddha took two months covering this distance when he visited his ancestral home, in the first year after his Enlightenment. On this journey the Buddha was accompanied by twenty thousand monks, and Kāludāyī went on ahead as harbinger. The Buddha and his company lived in the Nigrodhārāma near the city and, in the midst of his kinsmen, as he did at the foot of the Gandamba, the Buddha performed the Yamakapātihāriya to convince them of his powers. (J.i.87ff; this journey to Kapilavatthu was one of the scenes depicted in the relic-chamber of the Mahā-Thūpa, Mhv.xxx.81).
On this occasion he preached the Vessantara Jātaka. The next day the Buddha went begging in the city to the great horror of his father, who, on being explained that such was the custom of all Buddhas, became a sotāpanna and invited the Buddha and his monks to the palace. After the meal the Buddha preached to the women of the palace who, with the exception of Rāhulamātā, had all come to hear him. At the end of the sermon, Suddhodana became a sakadāgāmī and Mahā-Pajāpatī a sotāpanna. The Buddha visited Rāhulamātā in her dwelling and preached to her the Candakinnara Jātaka. The next day Nanda was ordained, and seven days later Rāhula (also Vin.i.82). As a result of the latter's ordination, a rule was passed by the Buddha, at Suddhodana's request, that no one should be ordained without the sanction of his parents, if they were alive. On the eighth day was preached the Mahādhammapāla Jātaka, and the king became an anāgāmī. The Buddha returned soon after to Rājagaha, stopping on the way at Anupiyā, where the conversions of Ananda, Devadatta, Bhagu, Anuruddha, and Kimbila took place.
During the visit to Kapilavatthu, eighty thousand Sākyans from eighty thousand families had joined the Buddhist Order (Vin.ii.180; DhA.i.112; iv.124, etc.).
According to the Buddhavamsa Commentary (BuA.4; Bu. p.5f), it was during this visit that, at the request of Sāriputta, the Buddha preached the Buddhavamsa. It is not possible to ascertain how many visits in all were paid by the Buddha to his native city, but it may be gathered from various references that he went there several times; two visits, in addition to the first already mentioned, were considered particularly memorable. On one of these he arrived in Kapilavatthu to prevent the Sākyans and the Koliyans, both his kinsmen, from fighting each other over the question of their sharing the water of the Rohinī; he appeared before them as they were preparing to slay each other, and convinced them of the futility of their wrath. On this occasion were preached the following Jātakas: the Phandana, the Daddabha, the Latukika, the Rukkhadhamma, and the Vattaka - also the Attadanda Sutta.
Delighted by the intervention of the Buddha, the two tribes each gave him two hundred and fifty youths to enter his Order and, with these, he went on his alms rounds alternately to Kapilavatthu and to the capital of the Koliyans (J.v.412ff; the Sammodamāna Jātaka also seems to have been preached in reference to this quarrel, J.i.208). On this occasion he seems to have resided, not at the Nigrodhārāma, but in the Mahāvana.
The second visit of note was that paid by the Buddha when Vidūdabha, chagrined by the insult of the Sākyans, invaded Kapilavatthu in order to take his revenge. Three times Vidūdabha came with his forces, and three times he found the Buddha seated on the outskirts of Kapilavatthu, under a tree which gave him scarcely any shade; near by was a shady banyan-tree, in Vidūdabha's realm; on being invited by Vidūdabha to partake of its shade, the Buddha replied, "Let be, O king; the shade of my kindred keeps me cool." Thus three times Vidūdabha had to retire, his purpose unaccomplished; but the fourth time the Buddha, seeing the fate of the Sākyans, did not interfere (J.iv.152).
The Buddha certainly paid other visits besides these to Kapilavatthu. On one such visit he preached the Kanha Jātaka (J.iv.6ff). Various Sākyans went to see him both at the Nigrodhārāma and at the Mahāvana, among them being Mahānāma (S.v.369f; A.iii.284f; iv.220f; v.320f), Nandiya (S.v.403f; 397f; A.v.334f), Vappa (A.ii.196; M.i.91), and perhaps Sārakāni (S.v.372).
During one visit the Buddha was entrusted with the consecration of a new mote-hall, built by the Sākyans; he preached far into the night in the new building, and, when weary, asked Moggallāna to carry on while he slept. We are told that the Sākyans decorated the town with lights for a yojana round, and stopped all noise while the Buddha was in the mote-hall (MA.ii.575). On this occasion was preached the Sekha Sutta (M.i.353ff).
The books record a visit paid by the Brahmā Sahampati to the Buddha in the Mahāvana at Kapilavatthu. (This appears, from the context, to have been quite close to the Nigrodhārāma.)
The Buddha, worried by the noisy behavior of some monks who had recently been admitted into the Order, was wondering how he could impress on them the nature of their calling. Sahampati visited him and, being thus encouraged, the Buddha returned to Nigrodhārāma and there performed a miracle before the monks; seeing them impressed, he talked to them on the holy life (S.iii.91f; Ud.25).
A curious incident is related in connection with a visit paid by the Buddha to Kapilavatthu, when he went there after his rounds among the Kosalans. Mahānāma was asked to find a place of lodging for the night; he searched all through the town without success, and at length the Buddha was compelled to spend the night in the hermitage of Bharandu, the Kālāman (A.i.276f). On another occasion we hear of the Buddha convalescing at Kapilavatthu after an illness (A.i.219).
Not all the Sākyans of Kapilavatthu believed in their kinsman's great powers, even after the Buddha's performance of various miracles. We find, for instance, Dandapānī meeting the Buddha in the Mahāvana and, leaning on his staff, questioning him as to his tenets and his gospel. We are told that in answer to the Buddha's explanations, Dandapānī shook his head, waggled his tongue, and went away, still leaning on his staff, his brow puckered into three wrinkles (M.i.108f.; this was the occasion for the preaching of the Madhupindika Sutta).
Others were more convinced and patronized the Order - e.g., Kāla-Khemaka and Ghatāya, who built cells for monks in the Nigrodhārāma (M.iii.109. As a result of noticing these cells, the Buddha preached the Mahasuññāta Sutta).
It is said that the Buddha ordained ten thousand householders of Kapilavatthu with the "ehi-bhikkhu-pabbajā." (Sp.i.241)
Mahānāma was the Buddha's most frequent visitor; to him was preached the Cūladukkhakkhandha Sutta (M.i.91f).
The Dakkhinā-vibhanga Sutta was preached as the result of a visit to the Buddha by Mahā-Pajāpatī-Gotamī. Apart from those already mentioned, another Sākyan lady lived in Kapilavatthu, Kāligodhā by name, and she was the only kinsman, with the exception of the Buddha's father and wife, to be specially visited by the Buddha (S.v.396).
The inhabitants of Kapilavatthu are called Kapilavatthavā (E.g., S.iv.182).
From Kapilavatthu lay a direct road to Vesālī (Vin.ii.253), and through Kapilavatthu passed the road taken by Bāvarī's disciples from Alaka to Sāvatthi (Sn.p.194).
From the Mahāvana, outside Kapilavatthu, the forest extended up to the Himalaya, and on the other side of the city it reached as far as the sea (MA.i.449, UdA.184; Sp.ii.393).
It is significant that, in spite of the accounts given of the greatness of Kapilavatthu, it was not mentioned by Ananda among the great cities, in one of which, in his opinion, the Buddha could more fittingly have died than in Kusinārā (D.ii.146). After the Buddha's death, a portion of the relics was claimed by the Sākyans of Kapilavatthu, and a shrine to hold them was erected in the city (D.ii.167; Bu.xxviii.2). Here was deposited the rug (paccattharana) used by the Buddha (Bu.xxviii.8).
In the northern books the city was called Kapilavastu, Kapilapura, and Kapilāvhayapura (E.g. Lal. p.243, 28; The Buddha-carita, I.v.2 calls it Kapilasyavastu). According to the Dulva (Rockhill, p.11), the city was on the banks of the Bhagīrathī.
The identification of Kapilavatthu is not yet beyond the realm of conjecture. Hiouen Thsang (Beal ii.,p.13f) visited the city and found it like a wilderness. The Asoka inscriptions of the Lumbinī pillar and the Niglīva pillar are helpful in determining the site. Some identify the modern village of Piprāwā - famous for the vases found there - with Kapilavatthu (E.g., Fleet, J.R.A.S.1906, p.180; CAGI.711f). Others, including Rhys Davids, say there were two cities, one ancient and the other modern, founded after Vidūdabha's conquest, and the ancient one they call Tilaura Kot. But the theory of two Kapilavatthu is rejected by some scholars. J.R.A.S.1906, pp.453, 563. See also the article by Mukherji on Kapilavastu in ERE.