The birthplace of the Gautam Buddha, Lumbini situated in the foothills of the Siwalik range in the district of Rupandehi, Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha is one of the most important pilgrimage sites. Buddhist literatures mention that newly born Siddhartha took seven steps and uttered an epoch making message to the suffering humanity in the Lumbini Garden. The beautiful sal grove of Lumbini Garden was renowned for its beauty of shady grove of lush green trees and colorful flowers. Maya Devi, the queen of Sakya king Suddhodana of Kapilavastu, on the way to her maternal hometown Devadaha (ancient Koliya kingdom), was passing through the Lumbini Garden. It was the month of Vaisakha poornima (Full Moon Day of the first month of Nepali calendar) of 623 BC, while the queen was walking in the garden, took bath in the Puskarini. After bath, she proceeded to the north 25 paces, there she felt labor pain and supported herself grasping a branch of a tree and gave birth to the holy prince.
The Buddha highlighted the importance of Lumbini from his deathbed: “Ananda, This (Lumbini) place is where the Tathagata was born; this is a place, which should be visited and seen by a person of devotion and which would cause awareness and apprehension of the nature of impermanence. At this place, Ananda, who are on a pilgrimage to (this) shrine, if they should die with devotion in their heart during the course of the pilgrimage, will after (their) death and dissolution of the body be reborn in a good destination, a fortunate celestial realm” (Mahaparinirvana Sutta).
A SHORT HISTORY OF LUMBINI
Today devotees and visitors from all over the world come to Lumbini, the timeless place where ancient monuments glorify the birthplace of Sakyamuni Buddha and bear witness to the record of the noteworthy visits by famous dignitaries. The pilgrims deeply immerse themselves in the serene spiritual atmosphere of Lumbini.
The famous Maurya Emperor Asoka guided by his spiritual teacher Upagupta made a pilgrimage to this holy site in 249 BC. He erected a stone pillar bearing an inscription stating clearly ‘Hida Buddhe Jate Sakyamuniti’ (here Sakyamuni Buddha was born). He laid importance to the marker stone and constructed few other structures to mark the exact birthplace of the Buddha. He worshiped the nativity tree and the marker stone. He also visited other historical sites associated with the Buddha in Kapilavastu, Ramagrama and Devadaha.
Famous Chinese pilgrims- Tseng Tsai (4th cent. AD), Fa-Hsien (5th cent. AD) and Hiuen Tsang (7th cent. AD) visited Lumbini. Of them, Hiuen Tsang’s travel account gives detailed description of Lumbini. He had seen the stump of the nativity tree, a chaitya, the Asoka pillar, the holy pond Puskarini, the Telar (Oily) river and the source of warm and cool water springs.
King Ripu Malla (1312 AD) of Karnali, west Nepal, visited Lumbini and left the mark of his visit engraving ‘Om mani padme hum Ripu Malla ciranjayatu’ on the top of the pillar.
The association of Lumbini with the Buddha went slowly to oblivion and the name Lumbini gradually changed to Rummindei and then to Rupandehi (the present name of the district.
In 1896, the then General Khadga Shumsher, Governor of Palpa and Dr. Alois Fuhrer, an imminent archaeological surveyor in British India, discovered the Asoka pillar in Lumbini. After the rediscovery of the pillar and decipher of its inscription, the site drew attention of many archaeologists and historians. PC Mukherji conducted an excavation in 1899. He identified the nativity Sculpture as well as some structural remains in and around the birthplace. In 1930s, General Keshar Shumsher carried out large-scale excavation at the holy complex of Lumbini and covered up the archaeological site with a view to strengthen the MayaDeviTemple.
The then United Nations Secretary General, U. Thant’s pilgrimage of Lumbini in 1967 became a milestone in the recent history of the development of Lumbini. Deeply influenced by the sanctity of Lumbini, U. Thant discussed the matter with the then king Mahendra and suggested Nepal Government to develop Lumbini as an international pilgrimage and a tourist center. In 1970, he also helped formation of an International Committee for the Development of Lumbini consisting of 15 member nations to support Lumbini through the United Nation’s involvement. The world renowned architect Prof. Kenzo Tange of Japan was assigned the task of designing a master plan for the systematic development of Lumbini.
The department of Archaeology, Nepal (DoA) undertook the responsibilities of conducting excavation, research and conservation since 1972. After the formation of the Lumbini Development Trust (LDT) in 1985, the development activities at Lumbini including the excavation and conservation of the holy complex have been continued. In 1990s LDT, DoA and Japan Buddhist Federation excavated the Maya Devi complex.
MAJOR ATTRACTIONS OF LUMBINI
If you have had the opportunity to visit Nepal, you are sure to have certain images in your head that remind you of your journey to the Himalayan kingdom- it could be the snow-capped mountains, the terraced fields, splashing rivers, pagoda styled temples, and finally Gautam Buddha. It is hard not to associate every Gautam Buddha picture, idol, stupa or mentions with Nepal as it is the birthplace of the most famous preacher of peace in the world. A number of devotees as well as historically inclined tourists visit Nepal every year for the very purpose of witnessing the birthplace of Lord Buddha- Lumbini.
Situated in the Terai belt of the nation, Lumbini happens to be one of the famous tourist destinations, a Mecca for the devotees and believers all over the world. Lumbini is located in the district of Kapilvastu, near the Indian border. Blessed with the various sites, instruments and shrines of various stages of Buddha’s life, Lumbini offers a variety of attractions related to the different occurrences in Buddha’s life. Lumbini is believed to be the place where Queen Maya Devi gave birth to the baby Buddha, Siddhartha Gautam. While there are various inscriptions, bricks and other evidences of Lumbini being the birthplace and a place of worship for the people for centuries, it was rediscovered by Nepali archaeologists in 1896. The archaeologists discovered the Ashokan pillar which confirmed the linkage of Lumbini with Buddha.
UNESCO enlisted the birthplace as a world heritage site due to its importance to the Hindu and Buddhist religious community as well as the history and culture of the entire world. The Lumbini heritage site covers 4.8km in length and 1.3 km in width and is stated as a monastic zone where only monasteries can be built. Building of any recreational structure in the area is prohibited and is separated into the Eastern zone (with Theravadin monasteries) and the Western zone (Mahayana and Vajrayana monasteries). The major attractions of Lumbini are as follows
MAYA DEVI TEMPLE
The most noted and the important temple in the premise enshrines the traditional location of Buddha’s birth. The Maya Devi temple is one of the major attractions of Lumbini. The later temple is a white building that protects the exact spot of Buddha’s birth, denoted by a marker stone. The Bodhi tree is apparently the tree where Maya Devi rested in the shade while she was travelling. It was there that she went into labor and took a ritual dip in the nearby pond, which is believed to be the place where Buddha took his first bath too.
It is believed that this pillar was built during 249 BC, when Emperor Ashoka of India visited the then flourishing village of Lumbini. He built four stupas and a pillar with a horse idol at the top and an inscription that describes his visit and the importance of Lumbini as the birthplace of Lord Buddha. The pillar is surrounded by a small fence, decorated with colorful prayer flags and also has bowls to light incense sticks and meditate. This pillar holds a historical significance and it is considered to be one of the major attractions of Lumbini.
MYANMAR GOLDEN TEMPLE
One of the oldest structures on the premises with three prayer halls is the Myanmar golden temple. Right inside the temple premises is the Lokamani Pula pagoda, another Burmese style pagoda that resembles the Shwe-dagon pagoda of Yangon.
WORLD PEACE PAGODA
This pagoda was built by the Japanese at the cost of US $ 1 million, just outside the main area. The pagoda has the statue of Lord Buddha in the position he took when he was born. It is a gleaming white structure with a golden statue. It is one of the rising attractions of Lumbini.
DHARMA SWAMI MAHARAJA BUDDHA VIHAR
This Tibetan styled Gompa outside the complex was built by His Eminence Chogya Trichen Ringboche and Raja of Mustang where Tara Puja is conducted every day by the 60 monks who reside there.
It is a complex of pagodas, prayer rooms and meditation cells. The other temples and monasteries include the Korean temple, others built by Vietnam, Thailand, Mongolia, Germany, Sri Lanka and other countries.
Lumbini Museum on the northern end of the premise is dedicated to the life of Gautam Buddha and houses the photos and artifacts from Buddhist sites all over the world.
With all these attractions of Lumbini, the destination is visited by thousand of Buddhists and Hindu devotees from all around the world along with historians and tourists interested in Buddhist religion and culture. Apart from the structures, Lumbini area is also famous for the wide array of bird species found in its farmland and reservoirs that include the Sarus crane, Indian spotted eagle, gyps, owls and other endangered animals too. People interested in trekking can also take the Lumbini circuit tour to visit the 64 scattered archaeological sites in the area. The trip to the villages in the surrounding areas also lets one to experience and understand the lifestyles of the diverse ethnic people as one goes to the villages and indulges in the everyday lives, culture and customs of the warm and friendly people. The trip to Lumbini is a complete package-combining nature with the culture and religion and warm hospitality of the people making it a truly peaceful and spiritual experience.
SOME IMPORTANT SITES AROUND LUMBINI:
The eastern gate of the palace reminds us about Siddhartha’s renunciation for the search of supreme knowledge. He renounced the palace at the age 29 quietly at mid night from this Mahaviniskramana dwara. The eastern gate is known as Mahabhiniskramana Dwara, through which Siddhartha took the great renunciation at the age of 29. It is also known as Mangala Dwara (auspicious gate) in the Buddhist literatures. Tilaurakot: The ancient capital of Sakya kingdom (Kapilavastu) is located about 27 km west of Lumbini. Tilaurakot houses the vestiges of ancient Sakya palace where Siddhartha lived his early 29 years as a prince. The ramparts of a moat and a fortification wall with its western and eastern gates surround the remains of the citadel including ancient structural remains in the central part of the mound.
Niglihawa lies about 8 km northeast of Taulihawa. It is the birthplace of Kanakmuni, the early Buddha of Bhadrakalpa. The site shelters an Asoka pillar erected by Emperor Asoka in 249 BC. The pillar is broken into two pieces, the lower part bearing inscription submerged in the ground and the upper part lying on the surface. The Asoka inscription engraved in Brahmi script and Pali language testifies the site as the birth spot of the Buddha. It is said that the shower of gold rained in Jambudwipa on the day he was born of father, Yajyadutta, and mother Uttara here.
About 3 km northwest of Niglihawa lies a rectangular fortified area popularly known as Araurakot, which is believed to be the natal town of Kanakmuni Buddha. The rectangular fortification wall is magnificent even in its ruins.
About 12 km north of Taulihawa lies the forest of Sagarhawa, with a long lake known as Lumbusagar. In this site, the Sakyas were massacred by King Virudhaka out of vengeance. The entire area of this site was littered with the blood of the Sakyas. Thousands of Sakyas were killed in the massacre.Later, in the memory of the noble Sakyas, hundreds of stupas were built here by their descendants. Dr. A. Fuhrer excavated and explored these stupas in 1897-1898. The Sakyas could fight against the invading army of Virudhaka, however did not go for bloodshed. They observed their vows of non-violence until their death. They chose to sacrifice their lives than to break the vow of non-violence.
About 5 km southwest of Taulihawa is Gotihawa. It is the site for Asoka Pillar where Krakuchhanda Buddha attained nirvana. Gotihawa is one of the major pilgrimage sites for Buddhists from all over the world. This holy site, sanctified by the birth of the Buddha has been marked by the construction of a stupa. An Asoka pillar erected here by Emperor Asoka in 249 B.C. ascertains it as the birth spot of Krakuchhanda Buddha. However, the upper part of the pillar is missing.
The ancient Nyagrodharama, where king Suddhodana met Lord Buddha, first time after his renunciation lies about 3 km south of Taulihawa. This is the site where Prajapati, Gautami, his second mother offered robe and Yasodhara, his wife invited him for a meal in the palace. Rahula, his son was ordained by Sariputra, his most revered disciple, at the age 8 here. The Buddha preached five important sutras and told the story of his search for supreme knowledge here during his stay with 300 his disciples at Kudan.
Sisahaniya is believed to be the site where the Sakyas built a stupa enshrining the precious corporeal relic of the Buddha that they had obtained as one eighth of their share. The Sakyas after building a relic stupa of Lord Buddha at Sisahaniya and worshipped there for a long time. The relic was taken away later. Today, we can see remnants of ancient potteries, burnt bricks and brickbats and even Sakya punch marked coins lying scattered on the surface of the site.
Devadaha is the famous ancient capital of Koliya kingdom, the maternal hometown of queen Maya Devi, Prajapati and princess Yasodhara. The site is situated at about 57 km northeast of Lumbini and is well connected by the Mahendra Highway. We can observe many archaeological and historical sites extended in a large area. The potential ancient sites of Devadaha include Kumarvarti, Khayardada, Bairimai-Kanyamai, Bhagawanipur/Devidamar, Kotahimai, the RohiniRiver, the Telar River etc. More facts on ancient Koliyan civilization will reveal after full-fledged excavations in future.
The Koliyas obtained one of the eight parts of the Buddha’s relic which they enshrined here and built a magnificent stupa and worshipped for a long time. Buddhist literary sources mention that Emperor Asoka wanted to open and obtain the Buddha’s relic to build eighty four thousand minors stupas throughout his vast empire. However, the emperor did not touch the precious relic out of the request made by Dragon king and people of Ramagrama. This surviving single original relic stupa standing 7 meters high on the bank of the JharahiRiver is the most important stupa of its kind in the whole of the world.