A town in Kosala. It was regarded in the Buddhas time as
one of the six great cities of India, the others being Campa, Rajagaha,
Savatthi, Kosambi and Benares (D.ii.146). It was probably the older capital of
Kosala, and is mentioned as such in the Nandiyamiga Jataka. J.iii.270; cf.
Mtu.i.348, 349, 350, where it is called the capital of King Sujata of the Sakyan
race. See also the Kumbha Jataka (J.ii.13), where Saketa is mentioned as one of
the places into which alcohol was introduced quite soon after its discovery by
Sura and Varuna. According to the Mahanarada Kassapa Jataka (J.vi.228), it was
the birthplace of Bijaka, aeons ago. In this context it is called Saketa.
According to a tradition, recorded in the Mahavastu, Saketa was the city from
which Sakyan 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 Buddhas time by Dhananjaya, father of Visakha,
when, at the special invitation of Pasenadi, he went from Rajagaha to live in
Kosala. On the way to Savatthi with Pasenadi, Dhananjaya 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 Savatthi, Dhananjaya obtained the kings
permission to found a city there. And because the site was first inhabited in
the evening (sayam), the city came to be called Saketa. The Divyavadana (211)
has another explanation of the name, in connection with the coronation of
Mandhata (Svayam agatam svayam agatam Saketa Saketam iti sanjna samvrtta).
The reference is probably to a new settlement established
by Dhananjaya in the old city.
We also learn from the Visuddhimagga (p.390; but see
below) that the distance from Saketa to Savatthi was seven leagues (yojanas),
and there we are told that when the Buddha, at the invitation of Cula subhadda,
went from Savatthi to Saketa, 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
Savatthi and Patitthana, and is mentioned (SN.vss.1011 1013) as the first
stopping place out of Savatthi. 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 Saketa and Savatthi was Toranavatthu, and
it is said (S.iv.374 ff) that, when Pasenadi went from the capital to Saketa, he
spent a night in Toranavatthu, where be visited Khema Theri who lived there.