A town in Kosala. It was regarded in the Buddha's time as one of the six great cities of India, the others being Campā, Rājagaha, Sāvatthi, Kosambī and Benares (D.ii.146). It was probably the older capital of Kosala, and is mentioned as such in the Nandiyamiga Jātaka. J.iii.270; cf. Mtu.i.348, 349, 350, where it is called the capital of King Sujāta of the Sākiyan race. See also the Kumbha Jātaka (J.ii.13), where Sāketa is mentioned as one of the places into which alcohol was introduced quite soon after its discovery by Sura and Varuna. According to the Mahānārada Kassapa Jātaka (J.vi.228), it was the birthplace of Bijaka, aeons ago. In this context it is called Sāketā. According to a tradition, recorded in the Mahāvastu, Sāketa was the city from which Sākiyan princes were exiled when they founded Kapilavatthu. E. J. Thomas accepts this view (op. cit., 16f.).
The Dhammapada Commentary (DhA.i.386), however, states that the city was founded in the Buddha's time by Dhanañjaya, father of Visākhā, when, at the special invitation of Pasenadi, he went from Rājagaha to live in Kosala. On the way to Sāvatthi with Pasenadi, Dhañanjaya pitched his camp for the night, and learning from the king that the site of the camp was in Kosalan territory and seven leagues from Sāvatthi, Dhanañjaya obtained the king's permission to found a city there. And because the site was first inhabited in the evening (sāyam), the city came to be called Sāketa. The Divyāvadāna (211) has another explanation of the name, in connection with the coronation of Mandhātā (Svayam āgatam svayam āgatam Sāketa Sāketam iti sañjnā samvrttā).
The reference is probably to a new settlement established by Dhanañjaya in the old city.
We also learn from the Visuddhimagga (p.390; but see below) that the distance from Sāketa to Sāvatthi was seven leagues (yojanas), and there we are told that when the Buddha, at the invitation of Cūla Subhaddā, went from Sāvatthi to Sāketa, he resolved that the citizens of the two cities should be able to see each other. In the older books (E.g., Vin.i.253) however, the distance is given as six leagues. The town lay on the direct route between Sāvatthi and Patitthāna, and is mentioned (SN.vss.1011 1013) as the first stopping place out of Sāvatthi. The distance between the two places could be covered in one day, with seven relays of horses (M.i.149), but the books contain several references (E.g., Vin.i.88, 89, 270; iii.212; iv. 63, 120) to the dangers of the journey when undertaken on foot. The road was infested with robbers, and the king had to maintain soldiers to protect travellers.
Midway between Sāketa and Sāvatthi was Toranavatthu, and it is said (S.iv.374 ff) that, when Pasenadi went from the capital to Sāketa, he spent a night in Toranavatthu, where be visited Khemā Therī who lived there. Between Sāketa and Sāvatthi was a broad river which could be crossed only by boat (Vin.iv.65, 228). Near Sāketa was the Añjanavana, where the Buddha sometimes stayed during his visits to Sāketa and where he had several discussions - e.g., with Kakudha (S.i.54), Mendasira (q.v.), and Kundaliya (S.v.73; see also Kālaka Sutta and Jarā Sutta and Sāketa Sutta).
On other occasions he stayed at the Kālakārāma (A.ii.24) gifted to the Order by Kālaka (q.v.), and the Tikantakivana (A.iii.169), both of which were evidently near the city.
Mention is also made (E.g., S.v.174, 298 f.; for Sāriputta, see also Vin.i.289) of Sāriputta, Moggallāna and Anuruddha staying together in Sāketa; Bhaddākāpilāni (Vin.iv.292) also stayed there, so did Ananda. Once when Ananda was staying in the Migadāya in the Anjanavana, a nun, described as Jatilagāhikā (probably a follower of the Jatilas), visited him and questioned him regarding concentration. A.iv.427.
Among others who lived in Sāketa were Jambugāmikaputta, Gavampati, Mendasira, Uttara, Madhuvāsettha and his son Mahānāga, and Visākhā. Bhūta Thera was born in a suburb of Sāketa.
Buddhaghosa says (SNA.ii.532 f.; cf. DhA.iii.317f. and Saketa Jātaka) that there lived at Sāketa a brahmin and his wife who, in five hundred lives, had been the parents of the Buddha. When the Buddha visited Sāketa they met him, and, owing to their fondness for him, came to be called Buddhapitā and Buddhamātā, their family being called Buddhakula.
According to some accounts (E.g., AA.ii.482; but see Cūla-Subhaddā), Anāthapindika’s daughter, Cūla-Subhaddā, was married to the son of Kālaka, a setthi of Sāketa. Kālaka was a follower of the Niganthas, but he allowed Subhaddā to invite the Buddha to a meal. She did this by scattering eight handfuls of jasmine-flowers into the air from her balcony. The Buddha read her thoughts, and went to Sāketa the next day with five hundred arahants. At Sakka's request, Vessavana (Vissakamma?) provided gabled chambers in which the Buddha and his monks travelled by air to Sāketa. At the end of the meal, the Buddha preached to Kālakasetthi, who became a sotāpanna, and gave the Kālakārāma for the use of the monks.
The Vinaya (Vin.i.270f) mentions another setthi of Sāketa. His wife had suffered for seven years from a disease of the head, and even skilled physicians failed to cure her. Jīvaka, on his way to Rājagaha, after finishing his studies in Takkasilā, visited Sāketa, heard of her illness, and offered to cure her. At first the setthi was sceptic, but in the end allowed Jīvaka to attend on his wife. Jīvaka cured her by the administration of ghee through the nose, and, as reward, received sixteen thousand kahāpanas from her and her various kinsmen.
Sāketa, is supposed to be identical with Ayojjhā (CAGI. 405), but as both cities are mentioned in the Buddha's time, they are probably distinct. Rhys Davids thinks that possibly they adjoined each other "like London and Westminster" (Bud. India, p. 39. See also Sāketa Sutta, Sāketa Jātaka, Sāketapañha). The site of Sāketa has been identified with the ruins of Sujān Kot, on the Sai River, in the Unao district of the modern province of Oudh. The river referred to is probably the Sarayū, which flows into the Gharghara, a tributary of the Ganges.