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Sāmāvatī

One of the three chief consorts of King Udena.

She was the daughter of the millionaire Bhaddavatiya of Bhaddavatī, who was a friend of Ghosaka of Kosambī. When plague broke out in Bhaddavatī, she and her parents fled to Kosambī, and there obtained food from the alms hall provided by Ghosaka. On the first day Sāmāvatī asked for three portions, on the second two, on the third only one. For her father had died after the meal on the first day, her mother on the second. When, on the third day, she asked for only one portion, Mitta who was distributing alms, teased her, saying: “Today you know the capacity of your belly.” She asked what he meant, and when he explained his words, she told him what had happened. Mitta pitied her and adopted her as his daughter.

One day, when she arrived at the refectory, she found a great uproar going on, people rushing everywhere to get alms. She asked to be allowed to bring order into this chaos, and had a fence erected round the refectory with separate doors for entrance and exit. This put an end to the disturbances. Ghosaka, hearing no noise in the refectory as before, inquired the reason, and, finding out what Sāmāvatī had done, adopted her as his own child. Sāmāvatī’s original name was Sāmā, but after building the fence (vati) round the refectory she was called Sāmāvatī.

On a festival day Udena saw Sāmāvatī going to the river to bathe, and, falling in love with her, asked Ghosaka to send her to the palace. However, Ghosaka refused, and the king turned him and his wife out of doors and sealed up his house. When Sāmāvatī discovered this, she made Ghosaka send her to the palace, and Udena made her his chief consort. Some time afterwards Udena took Māgaṇḍiyā also as consort.

When the Buddha visited Kosambī at the request of Ghosaka, Kukkuṭa, and Pāvārika, the servant woman of Sāmāvatī, Khujjutarā, heard him teach and became a Stream-winner. She had been on her way to the gardener, Sumana, to buy flowers for Sāmāvatī, with the eight pieces of money given to her daily by the king for this purpose. On Sumana’s invitation, she had gone to hear the Buddha at his house. On other days she had spent only half the money on flowers, appropriating the rest for herself; but this day, having become a Stream-winner, she bought flowers with the whole amount and took them to Sāmāvatī, to whom she confessed her story. At Sāmāvatī’s request, Khujjuttarā repeated to her and her companions the discourse she had heard from the Buddha. After this, she visited the Buddha daily, repeating his discourse to Sāmāvatī and her friends. Having learnt that the Buddha passed along the street in which the palace stood, Sāmāvatī had holes made in the walls so that she and her friends might see the Buddha and do obeisance to him. Māgaṇḍiyā heard of this during a visit to Sāmāvatī’s quarters, and, because of her hatred for the Buddha, she determined to have Sāmāvatī punished. For details see Māgaṇḍiyā.

At first her plots miscarried, and Udena, convinced of Sāmāvatī’s goodness, gave her a boon, and she chose that the Buddha be invited to visit the palace daily and to teach her and her friends. However, the Buddha sent Ānanda instead, and they provided him with food every day and listened to the Dhamma. One day they presented him with five hundred robes given to them by the king, who, at first, was very angry; but on hearing from Ānanda that nothing given to the monks was lost, he gave another five hundred robes himself.

In the end, Māgaṇḍiyā’s plot succeeded, and Sāmāvatī and her companions were burned to death in their own house. Udena was in his park, and, on his arrival, he found them all dead. When the Buddha was asked, he said that some of the women had attained to the First Fruit of the Path, others to the second, yet others to the third. It is said that in a previous birth Sāmāvatī and her friends had belonged to the harem of the king of Bārāṇasī. One day they went bathing with the king, and, feeling cold when they came out of the water, they set fire to a tangle of grass, nearby. When the grass burned down, they found a Pacceka Buddha seated in the tangle, and fearing that they had burnt him to death, they pulled more grass, which they placed round his body, and, after pouring oil on it, set fire to it so that all traces of their crime might be destroyed. The Pacceka Buddha was absorbed in concentration (samādhi) and nothing could therefore harm him, but it was this act that brought retribution to Sāmāvatī and her companions.

The story of Sāmāvatī is included in the story cycle of Udena. For details see especially DhA.i.187‑91, 205‑225; the story also appears, with certain variations in detail, in AA.i.232‑4, 236 ff., and is given very briefly in UdA.382 f., omitting the account of the reason for Sāmāvatī’s death which is given at length in an explanation of an Udāna (Ud.vii.10) dealing with the incident. Cf. Dvy.575 f. According to the Visuddhimagga (p.380 f), Māgaṇḍiyā’s desire to kill Sāmāvatī arose from her desire to be herself chief queen.

The two Therī’s named Sāmā were friends of Sāmāvatī, and were so filled with grief over her death that they left home and joined the Order.

Sāmāvatī is reckoned among the moist eminent of the lay women who were followers of the Buddha, and was declared by him foremost among those who lived in kindliness (aggaṃ mettāvihārinaṃ) (A.i.26; cf. iv.348).

Her psychic power, in warding off the arrow shot at her by Udena, is often referred to. e.g. BuA.24; ItA.23; PSA.498; AA.ii.791.

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