The birthplace of Lord Sakyamuni Buddha in Lumbini, one of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, is the abode of peace and an ultimate pilgrimage to the Buddhist devotees and peace lovers from around the world.Lord Sakyamuni Buddha was born here in 623 BC and preached the universal message of peace and compassion; therefore, it is regarded one of the most sacred places for people who believe in Buddhism. Buddhist pilgrims, peace lovers and general visitors from around the world visit Lumbini to pay homage to Lord Sakyamuni Buddha and observe the sanctity and shrines that are related to Lord Sakyamuni Buddha, Buddhism and Peace.
Prince Siddhartha was born in Lumbini Garden while his mother Mayadevi was on her way from Kapilavastu to her maternal home in Devadaha. He was born on the full moon under a sal tree in the month of Baishakh of Nepali calendar or in 623 BC of Gregorian calendar. Immidiately after the birth, The future Lord Sakyamuni Buddha took seven steps to the north, looked around and announced’…this is my last birth; henceforth, there will be no rebirth for me’ in the Lumbini garden. He was given the purification bath in the Pushkarini pond. Queen Mayadevi passed away after seven days of the birth of Prince Siddhartha and his stepmother Prajapati Gautami raised the prince.
Today, the Mayadevi Temple, dedicated to the mother of Lord Sakyamuni Buddha is the most revered holy shrine for the Buddhist pilgrims. Visitors can see the Asoka Pillar bearing the testimony of the birth of Prince Siddharth just next to the temple in the Sacred Garden of Lumbini. Puskanrini pond where the newly born prince was given the first purification bath lies neary the Mayadevi Temple. (Please kindly refer to Box-1 in Chapter 1 for more information on the birth of Prince Siddhartha).
Situated in the plains of Rupandehi district in Nepal, Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Sakyamuni Buddha, is one of the most important Buddhist pilgrimage sites in the world. Legend has it that Mayadevi, the queen of Sakya king Suddhodhana of Kapilavastu, was passing through the Lumbini Garden on her way to the maternal hometown of Devadaha (ancient Koliya kingdom). The queen took bath in the Puskarini (Sacred Pond) and after taking 25 paces to the north she felt labor pain, supported herself grasping a branch of a tree and gave birth to the holy prince on Baisakha Purnima (full moon of the first month according to Nepali calendar) of 623 BC. Buddhist scriptures and early literature state that the newly born Prince Siddhartha took seven divine steps to the north and announced an epoch making message to the suffering humanity in the Lumbini Garden:“ I am the foremost of all creatures to cross the riddle of the ocean of human existence, this is my last birth and here after, I will not be born again ”.
Buddhist scriptures ention that the Boddhisttva descends From Tushita Heaven and enters queen Mayadevi’s womb and dwells calmly there for ten months. The queen had a dream in which a great white elephant entered her side with a lotus in its trunk. The Brahmins and hermits, who were invited to interpret the dream, prophesied that the prince would either be a world conqueror or a world renouncer. As was the tradition then, her father invited her to his palace in Devadaha to deliver the child. Mayadevi, the queen of Sakya king Suddhodhan of Ancient Kapilvastu was on her way to see her father, King Suprabuddha Grihapati of Koliya kingdom. Accompanied by her royal courtiers, she was passing the verdant Lumbini grove that was adorned with sal trees, laden with fruits and flowers and hummed with bees and birdsongs. Delighted with the emblematic ambience of the garden, she stretched out her hand to hold branch of a sal tree from her palanquin. And, standing, still holding the branch, she delivered the Prince Siddhartha! It was Baishakha Purnima (full moon) of 623 BC. The prince issued himself from his mother’s side standing and stretching out his hands and feet, like a young and refulgent sun descending from the sky. The child was like a gem in a fine cloth piece; stainless and unspoiled, free from all the impurities the ordinary mortal beings are smeared with during the birth. Nonetheless, showers of pure water poured down from heaven, honoring the advent of the Awakened One and refreshing the queen and her prince. The future Lord Sakyamuni Buddha took seven steps to the north, looked around all ten directions of the Lumbini garden and announced’…this is my last birth; henceforth, there will be no rebirth for me’. The early scriptures were not written until more than three centuries after the Buddha's death but passed down the generation as oral narratives. Today, authentic information on historical Lumbini (also called Lumbini upavana or Lumbini vatika) and the nativity events have been derived from the textual narratives of Buddhist scriptures, accounts of celebrity travellers and archaeological evidences in the form of religious structures and anthropological vestiges. All these evidences allude to the fact that Lord Sakyamuni Buddha was born in Lumbini, Nepal in the 6th century BC.(There are several nativity stories related to the birth of Prince Siddhartha, which have been passed down the generations as narratives, therefore, may be embellished and elaborated).
Archaeological evidences, historical references, travel accounts of the well-known pilgrims and travelers including the eminent Chinese pilgrims and the holy Buddhist scriptures testify Lumbini as the birthplace of Lord Sakyamuni Buddha.
The Asoka Pillar, erected by Emperor Asoka in 249 BC with inscriptions on it, is the most reliable attestation that Lord Sakyamuni Buddha was born here in Lumbini.
In 1896 AD, General Khadga Shamsher Jung Bahadur Rana, the governor of Palpa and Dr. Alois Fuhrer, an eminent archaeological surveyor in British India, discovered the Asoka pillar, re-establishing Lumbini as the birthplace of Lord Sakymuni Buddha. After rediscovery of the pillar and interpretation of inscriptions on it, the site drew huge attention of many archaeologists and historians from around the world. Another surveyor PC Mukherji conducted an excavation in 1899 AD and identified the Nativity Sculpture as well as some structural remains in and around the Lord Sakyamuni Buddha's birthplace.
Subsequent excavations carried out by Lumbini Development Trust (LDT), Department of Archaeology (DoA) and Japan Buddhist Federation (JBF) between 1992-1995 in the Mayadevi complex have recovered the Marker Stone, important archaeological remains, shrines and ruins of ancient Mayadevi Temple. These archaeological findings have further reinforced Lumbini as the birthplace of Lord Sakyamuni Buddha as already testified by the inscription on the Asoka pillar.
Today, Buddhist devotees, peace lovers and general visitors from all over the world visit Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Sakyamuni Buddha. It bears the records of historical visits by famous pilgrims and dignitaries. The pilgrims and visitors deeply immerse themselves in the serene and spiritual atmosphere of Lumbini. Lumbini is one of the four sacred sites that Lord Sakyamuni Buddha had later advised his disciples and followers to visit. According to the Buddhist scriptures, Lord Sakyamuni Buddha highlighted the importance of Lumbini from his deathbed as follows:“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).
The visit of famous Mauryan Emperor Asoka in 249 BC was the milestone in the history of Lumbini. Guided by his spiritual teacher Upagupta,Asoka made a pilgrimage to this holy shrine and erected a stone pillar bearing an inscription ‘Hida Buddhe Jate Sakyamuniti’ (here Sakyamuni Buddha was born). He worshiped the nativity tree and the Marker Stone. He also visited other historical sites associated with Lord Sakyamuni Buddha and the earlier Buddhas in Kapilavastu, Ramagrama and Devadaha. Subsequent to his famous visit, construction of stupas, monasteries and other religious structures begun in and around Lumbini. Eminent Chinese pilgrims- Tseng Tsai (4th century AD), Fa-Hsien (5th centuryAD) and Hiuen Tsang (7th centuryAD) visited Lumbini and describe the birthplace of Lord Sakyamuni Buddha in their travel accounts. Among them, Hiuen Tsang’s travel account is the most prominent one and gives detailed descriptions of Lumbini. He describes the stump of the nativity tree, a chaitya, the Asoka pillar, the holy Puskarini pond, the Telar (oily) river and the source of warm and cool water springs.
King Ripu Malla (1312 AD) of Karnali, mid-west Nepal, visited Lumbini and left the mark of his visit engraving ‘Om mani padme hum Ripu Malla chiranjayatu’ on the top of the pillar. After his visit Lumbini was forgotten, neglected and shrouded in a thick bushes and forest. The association of Lumbini with Lord Sakymuni Buddha faded slowly into oblivion (for almost 600 years) and the name Lumbini gradually changed to Rummindei and then to Rupendehi, the present name of the district where Lumbini is located.
Appreciating its Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) for the greater benefit of entire humanity and its archaeological, religious and spiritual significance, UNESCO enlisted Lumbini as a World Heritage Property in 1997.
The Outstanding Universal Value of Lumbini was appreciated by UNESCO on the basis of OUV criterion (iii) and (vi) as follows:
“As the birthplace of the Lord Buddha, testified by the inscription on the Asoka Pillar, the sacred area in Lumbini is one of the most holy and significant places for one of the world’s great religions” (Criterion iii).
“The archaeological remains of the Buddhist viharas (monasteries) and stupas (memorial shrines) from the 3rd century BC to the 15th century AD, provide important evidence about the nature of Buddhist pilgrimage centres from a very early period” (Criterion vi).
Many Buddhist and non-Buddhist countries have been building Buddhist monasteries in the Monastic Zone of Lumbini for more than last 30 years. So far, 32 Buddhist establishments (monasteries and meditation centers), belonging to Theravada and Mahayana schools of Buddhism, have been built in the monastic enclaves of Lumbini.
Every monastery in Lumbini has its own unique cultural traditions and ascetical as well as asthetical features that enhance the sacred ambience of Lumbini and entice a wide range of visitors towards this site of holy pilgrimage. These Buddhist establishments organise daily, occoasional and annual religious and spiritual events and programs throughout the year.
These monasteries offer visitors an extraordinary opportunity to acquire knowledge on different schools and sects of Buddhism being practiced in the various part of the world. For this very reason, Lumbini is being developed into a global centre for Buddhism encompassing and respecting multiple religious sects and systems of beleif.