The Birthplace of the Buddha,
The World Heritage Site, Rupandehi, NEPAL"After I am no more, O Ananda! Men of belief will visit the place with faith, Curiosity and devotion…… Lumbini, the place where I was born. The path to ultimate peace is spiritual discipline" -The Buddha
INTRODUCTIONSituated 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 LumbiniGarden. 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 LumbiniGarden. 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 LUMBINIToday 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.
MONUMENTS OF LUMBINI:LumbiniGarden changed into a pilgrimage site soon after the Mahaparinirvana of the Lord Buddha. A monastic site evolved around the sacred spot of the Buddha's birth. The birth-spot being the most important point in the whole of the holy land of Lumbini drew attention of generous devotees who erected structures to pay homage to the great master. These constructions were of religious nature along the religious complex and a civic settlement emerged to meet the growing need of the religious community visiting or living in the holy complex.
THE MAYADEVI TEMPLEThe MayaDeviTemple shrine is the heart of all monuments at this holy site. The complex also bears the testimony of several layers of construction over the centuries. The main object of worship here is the Nativity Sculpture. The restored MayaDeviTemple was reopened on May 16, 2003 on 2547th birth anniversary of the Buddha. The government of Nepal, and LDT jointly restored the temple. The ground floor consists of the remains of the foundations of the early MayaDeviTemple that dates back to 3rd century BC. The sanctum sanctorum is the birth spot of the lord Buddha in the temple.
THE MARKER STONEThis stone conglomerate located deeply buried in the sanctum sanctorum pinpoints the exact birth spot of the Buddha, which was discovered after a meticulous excavation of the old MayaDeviTemple in 1996. The Marker Stone was found in the same distance and direction as mentioned by Hiuen Tsang, the Chinese traveler in his travel account. The size of the marker stone is 70cmx40cmx10cm.
THE PUSKARINI, THE HOLY POND
MASTER PLAN OF LUMBINIIn 1978, the Master Plan designed by Prof. Tange was finalized and approved by the Government of Nepal and United Nations. In the meantime, Government of Nepal was directly involved in the planning and development of Lumbini through formation of Lumbini Development Committee. The committee acquired necessary land, relocated the villages and commenced the development of basic infrastructures including forestation program in the planned area. The master plan thus changed the face of Lumbini. In 1985, the Lumbini Development Trust Act came into existence and Lumbini Development Trust (LDT) was formed accordingly. Now the Trust is responsible for the implementation of the master plan and for the overall development of Lumbini, and other Buddhist sites of Kapilavastu, Devadaha and Ramagrama.
CONCEPT OF THE MASTER PLANThe master plan covers an area of 1×3 sq. miles, comprising three zones of a square mile each. The three zones are linked with walkways and a canal, these are׃
a) Sacred GardenThe focus of Tange's design is the sacred Garden located in the southern part. The ultimate objective of the design here is to create an atmosphere of spirituality, peace, universal brotherhood and nonviolence consistent with the time and Buddha's message to the world. The SacredGarden shelters the ancient monuments at the center in a freshly restored atmosphere of serene and lush forest and water body surrounding the complex.
b) Monastic zoneThe Monastic Zone is situated in the middle with a forest area between the SacredGarden and the NewLumbiniVillage. The zone is divided into two Monastic enclaves by a CentreCanal. There are 13 plots of land in the East Monastic Zone and 29 in the West Monastic Enclave, having 42 plots in total each allotted for the construction of new monasteries of Theravada and Mahayana schools of Buddhism.
c) New Lumbini villageThe cultural center lies between the Monastic Zone and the NewLumbiniVillage. A research centre, a library, an auditorium and a museum provide information to the visitors and research and study facilities to the students and researchers. The cultural center lies between the Monastic Zone and the NewLumbiniVillage. A research centre, a library, an auditorium and a museum provide information to the visitors and research and study facilities to the students and researchers. The northern part of the master plan area is being developed as the NewLumbiniVillage. It is also a gateway to the outer world, where the visitors can find comfortable hotels and restaurants offering necessary facilities. The World Peace Pagoda of Japan and the Crane Sanctuary are located here.
Nepalese and international Monasteries/ Vihars representing vernacular architecture and culture of different Buddhist countries and Buddhist traditions fascinate the visitors to Lumbini. The Royal Thai Monastery (Thailand) , Monastery of Mahabodhi Society of Kolkatta, Myanmar Monastery (Myanmar), International Nuns' Temple (Nepal), Dhamma Janani Meditation Center (Nepal), Sri Lankan Monastery(Sri Lanka), Cambodian Monastery (Cambodia) are worth visiting monasteries in the east monastic zone.The Great Lotus Stupa (Tara Foundation, Germany), Drigung Kagyud Meditation Centre (India), Sokyo Temple (Japan), Linhson Monastery (France), Chinese Monastery (China), Korean Mahabodhi Society Monastery (South Korea), Vietnam Phat Quoc Tu (Vietnam), Geden International (Austria), Manang Monastery (Nepal), Dharmodaya Sabha Monastery (Nepal), Panditarama Meditation Center (Myanmar) in the West Monastic Zone attract a large number of pilgrims and visitors in Lumbini. Lumbini Museum, Lumbini International Research Institute, World Peace Pagoda (Japan), Eternal Peace Flame, Peace Bell, and Crane Sanctuary add to the beauty and serenity of Lumbini.
NATURAL BIODIVERSITY:Lumbini, being the birthplace of the Buddha is a timeless place to spread peace, harmony and solace in the world. It does not promote only contemplative value and spirituality but also attracts many naturalists, botanists and zoologists with its richness. One can find wide verities of shrubs, herbs, flowers and plants here. There are more than 250 bird species including the world tallest flying bird Sarus Crane and threatened animals like python, Blue Bull (boselaphus tragocamelus), Bengal fox, wild cat etc in Lumbini.
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: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.