A powerful tribe of India in the time of the Buddha. They were certainly khattiyas, for on that ground they claimed a share of the Buddha’s relics. DN.ii.165
Their capital was Vesāli, and they formed a part of the Vajjian confederacy, being often referred to as the Vajjīs. They were beautiful to look at and wore brilliantly coloured garments, riding in brightly painted carriages.DN.ii.96 AN.iii.219 The Buddha once compared them to the gods of Tāvatiṃsā. DN.ii.96
Though this would seem to indicate that they were very prosperous and rich, they do not appear to have lived in luxury and idleness. They are, on the contrary, spoken of SN.ii.267f. as sleeping on straw couches, being strenuous and diligent and zealous in their service. They also practised seven conditions of welfare, which the Buddha claimed to have taught them at the Sārandada cetiya. DN.ii.73f.
The young men among the Licchavis were evidently fond of archery, for mention is made AN.iii.76 of large numbers of them roving about in the Mahāvana, with bows and arrows, the strings set, and surrounded by hounds. They were a martial people and fond of “sport,” but we find one of their Elders, Mahānāma complaining AN.iii.76 of them to the Buddha— “The Licchavi youths are quick tempered, rough and greedy fellows; such presents as are sent by the members of their tribe sugar cane, jujubes, sweet cakes, sweetmeats, etc. they loot and eat; they slap the women and girls of their tribe on the back.” Violation of chastity was considered a serious offence among the Licchavis, and the assembly would even give its consent to a husband’s request that his unfaithful wife should be murdered. Vin.iv.225
According to the Buddhist books, the Licchavis were devout followers of the Buddha and held him in the highest esteem. Five hundred Licchavis once gave a garment each to Piṅgiyāni, because he recited a verse in praise of the Buddha. AN.iii.239 Even careless boys, referred to above as wandering about with hounds and bows and arrows, would lay aside their arms when they saw the Buddha seated under a tree and would surround him with clasped hands, eager to hear him. AN.iii.76 There were numerous shrines in Vesāli itself, several of which are mentioned by name: Cāpāla, Sattambaka, Bahuputta, Gotama, Sārandada and Udena. It is, however, apparent from the Buddhist books themselves that Vesāli was also a stronghold of the Jains. The Buddha visited Vesāli at least three times, and is frequently mentioned as staying in Kūṭāgārasālā in Mahāvana. There the Licchavis visited him in large numbers, sometimes AN.v.133f. disturbing the calm of the spot and obliging resident monks to seek peace in Gosiṅgasālavana near by. Once, five hundred Licchavis invited the Buddha to a discussion held by them at the Sārandada-cetiya regarding the five kinds of treasures. The Buddha went and gave his opinion. AN.iii.167f.
But not all the Licchavis were followers of the Buddha. When Saccaka the Nigaṇṭha visited the Buddha at Mahāvana, he was accompanied by five hundred Licchavis, who did not all salute the Buddha as their teacher, but showed him only such respect as was due to an honoured stranger. MN.i.229 Several eminent Licchavis are specially mentioned by name as having visited and consulted the Buddha; among whom are Mahānāma, Sīha, Bhaddiya, Sāḷha, Abhaya, Panditakumāra, Nandaka, Mahāli and Ugga. Several Licchavis, both men and women, joined the Order—e.g., the famous courtesan Ambapālī, Jentī, Sīha and Vāsitthī, and, among monks, Añjanavaniya, Vajjiputta and Sambhūta.
The Licchavis were greatly admired for their system of government. It was a republic (gaṇa, saṅghā), all the leading members of which were called rājā. They held full and frequent assemblies at which problems affecting either the whole republic or individual members were fully discussed. The Buddha enjoins on the monks the observance of the same habits as practised by the Licchavis. These are given at. DN.ii.76f. Vin.i.56
In their political relationships with their neighbours, the Licchavis seem to have been on friendly terms with Bimbisāra, king of Māgadha, and with Pasenadi, king of Kosala. MN.ii.101
After the death of Bimbisāra, Ajātasattu, in his desire for the expansion of Māgadha, resolved to destroy the Licchavis. In order to discover what the Buddha thought of his chances of success, he sent to him his minister Vassakāra. The Buddha predicted DN.ii.72ff. that as long as the Licchavis remained united they were proof against any foe. But we also find reference to their giving up their earlier austere habits and to their fondness for soft pillows, long sleep and other luxuries. SN.ii.268