The city was also called Visálá. Vesali is identified with the present village of Basrah in Vaishali District. The location of Vaishali is at the following coordinates: .
Numerous references to Vaishali are found in texts pertaining to both Jainism and Buddhism, which have preserved much information on Vaishali and the other Maha Janapadas. Based on the information found in these texts, Vaishali was established as a republic by the 6th century BC, prior to the birth of Gautama Buddha in 563, making it the world's first republic.
In the republic of Vaishali, Lord Mahavira was born. Gautama Buddha delivered his last sermon at Vaishali and announced his Parinirvana there. Vaishali is also renowned as the land of Ambapali (also spelled as Amrapali), the great Indian courtesan, who appears in many folktales, as well as in Buddhist literature. Ambapali became a disciple of Buddha.
A kilometre away is Abhishek Pushkarini, the coronation tank. The sacred waters of the tank anointed the elected representatives of Vaishali. Next to it stands the Japanese temple and the Vishwa Shanti Stupa (World Peace Pagoda) built by the Nipponzan Myohoji sect of Japan. A small part of the Buddha's relics found in Vaishali have been enshrined in the foundation and in the chhatra of the Stupa. Near the coronation tank is Stupa 1 or the Relic Stupa. Here the Lichchavis reverentially encased one of the eight portions of the Master's relics, which they received after the Mahaparinirvana. After his last discourse the Awakened One set out for Kushinagar, but the Licchavis kept following him. Buddha gave them his alms bowl but they still refused to return. The Master created an illusion of a river in spate which compelled them to go back. This site can be identified with Deora in modern Kesariya village, where Ashoka later built a stupa. Ananda, the favourite disciple of the Buddha, attained Nirvana in the midst of the Ganga outside Vaishali.
It is not possible to know how many visits were paid by the Buddha to Vesáli, but the books would lead us to infer that they were several. Various Vinaya rules are mentioned as having been laid down at Vesáli. The visit mentioned in the last context seems to have been a long one; it was on this occasion that the Buddha ordered the monks to turn their bowls upon the Licchavi Vaddha. Also other Vinaya rules were laid down at Vesáli.
It was during a stay in Vesáli, whither he had gone from Kapilavatthu, that Mahapajapati Gotami followed the Buddha with five hundred other Sakyan women, and, with the help of Ananda's intervention, obtained permission for women to enter the Order under certain conditions.
The books describe at some length the Buddha's last visit to Vesali on his way to Kusinara. On the last day of this visit, after his meal, he went with Ananda to Cápála cetiya for his siesta, and, in the course of their conversation, he spoke to Ananda of the beauties of Vesáli: of the Udena cetiya, the Gotamaka cetiya, the Sattambaka cetiya, the Bahuputta cetiya, and the Sárandada cetiya, where a Kapinayha-cetiya is also mentioned. All these were once shrines dedicated to various local deities, but after the Buddha's visit to Vesáli, they were converted into places of Buddhist worship. Other monasteries are also mentioned, in or near Vesáli (for example Pátikáráma, Válikáráma).
The Buddha generally stayed at the Kutagarasala during his visits to Vesáli, but it appears that he sometimes lived at these different shrines . During his last visit to the Cápála cetiya he decided to die within three months, and informed Mára and, later, Ananda, of his decision. The next day he left Vesáli for Bhandagama, after taking one last look at the city, "turning his whole body round, like an elephant. The rainy season which preceded this, the Buddha spent at Beluvagama, a suburb of Vesáli, while the monks stayed in and around Vesáli. On the day before he entered into the vassa, Ambapáli invited the Buddha and the monks to a meal, at the conclusion of which she gave her Ambavana for the use of the Order .
Among important suttas preached at Vesáli are the Maháli, Mahásíhanáda, Cúla Saccaka, Mahá Saccaka, Tevijja, Vacchagotta, Sunakkhatta and Ratana.
After the Buddha's death a portion of his relics was enshrined in the City.
One hundred years later Vesáli was again the scene of interest for Buddhists, on account of the "Ten Points" raised by the Vajjiputtaká, (q.v.), and the Second Buddhist Council held in connection with this dispute at the Valikarama.
Vesáli was a stronghold of the last jain Tirthankar Mahavira aka Niganthas, and it is said that of the forty two rainy seasons of the latter part of Mahavira's ascetic life, he passed twelve at Vesáli. Vesáli was also the residence of Kandaramasuka and Pátikaputta. Among eminent followers of the Buddha who lived in Vesáli, special mention is made of Ugga (chief of those who gave pleasant gifts), Pingiyani, Karanapali, Siha, Vasettha, and various Licchavis.
The Buddha's presence in Vesáli was a source of discomfort to the Niganthas, and we find mention of various devices resorted to by them to prevent their followers from coming under the influence of the Buddha.
Kutagarasala Vihara is the monastery where Buddha most frequently stayed while visiting Vaishali. It is located 3 kilometres from the relic Stupa, and on its ground can be found the Ananda Stupa, with an Asokan pillar in very good condition (perhaps the only complete Asokan pillar left standing), and an ancient pond.
A few hundred metres from the Relic Stupa is Abhishek Pushkarini, the coronation tank. The sacred waters of the tank anointed the elected representatives of Vaishali.
Next to the coronation tank stands the Japanese temple and the Vshwa Shanti Stupa (World Peace Pagoda) built by the Nipponzan Myohoji sect of Japan. A small part of the Buddha's relics found in Vaishali have been enshrined in the foundation and in the chhatra of the Stupa.