Suddhodana (meaning “he who grows pure rice,”) was a ruler of the Shakya, who lived in an oligarchic republic on the Indian subcontinent, with their capital at Kapilavastu. He was also the father of Siddhartha Gautama, who later became The Buddha.
In later interpretations of the life of the Buddha, Suddhodana was often referred to as a king. But that status cannot be fixed with confidence and is debated by modern scholars.
Family of Śuddhodana
Sudhdhodhana king’s earliest predecessor was King Maha Sammatha, the first king of the Kalpa. Suddhodana’s father was Sihahanu and his mother was Kaccanā.
Suddhodana’s chief consort was Maha Maya, with whom he had Siddhartha Gautama (who later became known as Shakyamuni, the “Sage of the Shakyas”, or the Buddha).
Maya died shortly after Siddhartha was born. Suddhodana next elevated to chief consort Maya’s sister Mahapajapati Gotami, with whom he had a second son Nanda and a daughter Sundarī Nandā. Both children became Buddhist monastics.
Yasodhara‘s father was traditionally said to be Suppabuddha, but by some accounts it was Dandapani.
Biography of Śuddhodana
Questions of royal status
Most recent research on the matter denies the idea that Suddhodana was a monarch. Many notable scholars state that the Shakya republic was not a monarchy but rather an oligarchy. An oligarchy, ruled by an elite council of the warrior and ministerial class that chose its leader or rājā.
While the rājā may have held significant authority in the Shakya country, he did not rule autocratically. Questions of significance were discussed in the governing council and decisions were made by consensus.
Besides, by the time of Siddharta’s birth, the Shakya republic had become a vassal state of the larger Kingdom of Kosala. The head of Shakya’s oligarchic council, the rājā, would only assume and stay in office with the approval of the King of Kosala.
The earliest Buddhist texts available to us do not know Uddhodana or his family as royals. In later texts, there may have been a distortion of the Pali word rājā, which can mean alternatively a king, prince, ruler, or governor.
Suddhodana grieved his son’s departure and spent considerable effort trying to locate him. Seven years later, after word of his enlightenment reached Suddhodana, he sent nine delegates to invite Siddhartha back to the Shakya land. The Buddha preached to the emissaries and their followers, who joined the Sangha.
Suddhodana then sent a close friend of Siddhartha, Kaludayi, to invite him to return. Kaludayi also chose to become a monk but kept his word to invite the Buddha back to his home. The Buddha accepted his father’s invitation and returned to visit his home. During this visit, he preached the dharma to Suddhodana.
Four years later, when the Buddha heard of Suddhodana’s approaching death, he once again returned to his home and preached further to Suddhodana at his deathbed. Finally, he gained Arahantship.