Ānanda was one of many principal disciples and a devout attendant of the Buddha. Amongst the Buddha's many disciples, Ānanda had the most retentive memory and most of the suttas in the Sutta Pitaka are attributed to his recollection of the Buddha's teachings during the First Buddhist Council. For that, he was known as the Guardian of the Dharma.
According to the Buddha every Buddha in the past and to come will have two chief disciples and one attendant during his ministry. In the case of Gautama Buddha the pair of disciples were Sariputta and Mahamoggallana and the attendant Ānanda.
In MN 90, Kannakatthala Sutta, Ananda is identified with the meaning of his name:
Ānanda was the first cousin of the Buddha by their fathers, and was devoted to him. In the twentieth year of the Buddha's ministry, he became the Buddha's personal attendant, accompanying him on most of his wanderings and taking the part of interlocutor in many of the recorded dialogues. He is the subject of a special panegyric delivered by the Buddha just before the Buddha's Parinibbana (the Mahaparinibbana Sutta (Digha Nikaya 16)); it is a panegyric for a man who is kindly, unselfish, popular, and thoughtful toward others.
In the long list of the disciples given in the Anguttara Nikaya (i. xiv.) where each of them is declared to be the chief in some quality, Ānanda is mentioned five times (more often than any other). He was named chief in conduct, in service to others, and in power of memory. The Buddha sometimes asked him to substitute for him as teacher and then later stated that he himself would not have presented the teachings in any other way.
Despite his long association with and close proximity to the Buddha, Ananda was only a stream-winner prior to the Buddha’s death. However, Buddha said that the purity of his heart was so great that, "Should Ananda die without being fully liberated; he would be king of the gods seven times because of the purity of his heart, or be king of the Indian subcontinent seven times. But Udayi, Ananda will experience final liberation in this very life." (AN 3.80)
Prior to the First Buddhist Council, it was proposed that Ananda not be permitted to attend on the grounds that he was not yet an arahant. According to legend, this prompted Ananda to focus his efforts on the attainment of nibbana and he was able to reach the specified level of attainment before the calling of the conclave.
In contrast to most of the figures depicted in the Pāli Canon, Ananda is presented as an imperfect, if sympathetic, figure. He mourns the deaths of both Sariputta, with whom he enjoyed a close friendship, and the Buddha. A verse of the Theragatha reveals his loneliness and isolation following the parinirvana of the Buddha.