LUMBINI - The birthplace of Lord Buddha
"HIDA BUDHE JATETI LUMMINI GAME". Here verily was the Buddha born. So states the stone pillar erected to mark Emperor Ashok's visit in 249 B.C. to Lumbini, the birthplace of Siddhartha Gautama, the illustrated son of king Suddhodana of the Kapilabastu located 28 KM west of Lumbini. Emperor Ashok also placed a commemorative stone to identify the exact place where Prince Siddhartha took his first step immediately after his birth in Lumbini. Recently a group of expert archaeologists have been very successful in relocating the marker stone, the actual site of the Buddha's birthplace, which had been hidden underneath the Mayadevi Temple. It is a piece of sand conglomerate rock (70cm x 40cm), which is resting on seven courses of bricks. The holy spot of the actual birth is marked with a Nativity Sculpture and the Marker stone can be observed in the newly restored Mayadevi Temple in the Sacred Garden in Lumbini. In the words of the Buddha, there are four holy places, the sight of which should arouse a sense of urgency in faithful followers. These are Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha, Bodh Gaya where the Buddha attained Supreme enlightenment, Saranath where the Buddha delivered his first sermon on the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Paths and the law of dependent Origination to the five disciples, and finally Kusinagara where the Buddha attained Mahaparinirvana, the complete deliverance from suffering and its ultimate manifestation as the cycle of rebirth, being born again and again as per one's past Karma. The Buddha added, "And they who shall die with a believing heart, in the course of their pilgrimage, will be reborn, on the dissolution of their body, after death, in a heavenly state."
Lumbini is, therefore, the first important Buddhist pilgrimage site for all Buddhists of the world as Jerusalem is to Christians and Mecca is to Muslims. Nepal is the setting of the most sacred Buddhist historical site and deserves to be developed, maintained and declared as the Fountain of World Peace.
According to Buddhist literature, Maya Devi, the queen of King Suddhodhana, on her way to her parental home in Devadaha, was passing through Lumbini Garden and had a bath in the pond there. She walked twenty steps to the north, and raised her hand to hold the branch of a tree. Soon after queen Maya Devi gave birth to Prince Siddhartha on the full moon day of May in the year 623 B.C.
The 3rd century BC is a landmark era in the history of Lumbini. In 249 BC Emperor Ashok came to Lumbini to pay homage to the Lord Buddha for the occasion of his 20th anniversary ascending the throne as the most illustrated Maurya emperor of India. It was on this visit that he erected the Pillar with the inscription that "Here verily was the Buddha born in this Lumbini Village." In his inscription he also stated that he had installed a marker stone to identify the exact spot where Prince Siddhartha placed his first step immediately after his birth. He also visited other surrounding historic sites such as Kapilvastu and Devedaha. Until the reign of Emperor Ashok in the 3rd century BC, the Buddha's teachings were confined to the area known in those days as Jammu Mahadeep. During Ashok's reign a great expansion of Buddhism took place. He sent out Dhamma Duta Missions all over the region to preach Buddhist doctrines and teachings. On his pilgrimage to various Buddhist sites, Emperor Ashok also visited Nepal Valley, and built four Ashok stupas in the four corners of Lalitpur City to propagate Dhamma. An ancient brick was recently found in Chabahil, Kathmandu during the renovation of an ancient stupa believed to be constructed by Charumati, a daughter of Emperor Ashok, and also bears an inscription in Brahmi Script. There is much historical evidence to prove that Buddhism has been a major spiritual force in Nepal for more than 2300 years. At the beginning of the 7th century, Nepal had specifically become the most important center of Buddhism because of the Great Swoyambhu Maha Chaitya where monks and pandits were glad to come and visit. Some came from India to teach, other from Tibet to learn. Nepal is the home of a rich Buddhist cultural heritage. People in this country have preserved its spiritual tradition throughout the centuries and have produced a unique Buddhist culture and civilization through arts and printing. Just as the preservation by the people of Sri Lanka of the entire mass of Pali literature on Theravada Buddhism has contributed richly to the body of knowledge that we have on Buddhism, it is similarly the great achievement of the people of Nepal to have preserved the equally valuable original Sanskrit texts of Mahayana Buddhism. It is said that the discovery of a great number of Sanskrit Buddhist manuscripts by Sir Brian B. Hodgson (1824-42), a British Diplomat in Nepal, with the help of the great scholar Pandit Amritananda Sakya, made veritable the foundation of Buddhism in the West. Following Emperor Ashok's visit, several famous scholars visited Lumbini. The Yuch-Chin monk Seng Tsai of the Chin Dynasty (265-420 AD) was the first Chinese to visit Lumbini, between 350 and 375 AD (Mishra, 4:1996). The Famous Chinese pilgrim Bhikku Fa-Hsien came to Lumbini in 403 AD. He described Lumbini as a place of heaven on Earth and one can understand why; snow mountains amidst a splendid garden embedded with stupas and monasteries are visible almost every way one looks. The Chinese Bhikkhu Zhi Meng and his friends traveled in India from 404 AD to 424 AD. The book "The Biography of Zhi Meng" describes Zhi Meng arriving in Kapilvastu and seeing the relics of Buddha's hair andBuddha's tooth. Another famous scholar Hsuan-Tsang visited in Kapilavastu, Lumbini and Ramagrama in 636 AD. He also gave a detailed description of these places in his book "Records of the Western countries of the Tang Dynasty". He had seen the stump of the nativity tree, a chaitya, the Ashokan Pillar, Puskarini (the bathing tank), the Telar river, and warm and cold water springs. The history of Lumbini after this period is inconsistent and lacks written records. But many Chinese pilgrims may have visited Lumbini, because earlier visitors had provided detailed descriptions of the birthplace of Lord Buddha.
King Ripu Malla (1312 AD) of Karnali, West Nepal also came to Lumbini. He engraved his name on top of the Ashokan Pillar with the Buddhist Mantra "Om mani padme hum" It is also believed that Lumbini and Kapilavastu must have been part of the Karnali Malla kingdom up to the time of Ripu Malla. During the time of Ripu Malla, Lumbini and Kapilavastu were widely known as the birthplace and homeland of Lord Buddha.
After Ripu Malla, the association of Lumbini with the Buddha wentslowly faded into oblivion. Historian Bhuban Lal Pradhan believes that the rulers of the period from the 14th century to the 19th century did not pay proper attention to the development of the holy site. He has given a long historical sketch of the region and put forward the opinion that Sikandar Lodi (1489-1517 AD) and Aurangzeb (1668-1701 AD) were mainly responsible for the desertion of the Lumbini and Kapilavastu regions and their cultural heritage. Even Mukund Sena (1782-93 AD), who ruled the region from Palpa, could do nothing to recover the religious glory of the site and the result was that the site was lost in the dense forest that grew over it. (Pradhan, 30-32:1979). Later the name of Lumbini gradually changed to Rummindei and then to Rupandehi, the present name of the district.
After lying underground for five centuries, the Ashokan Pillar was rediscovered by General Khadga Shamsher Rana, the governor of Palpa at that time and archaeologist Dr. A.Fuhrer on December, 1896. The exciting discoveries drew the attention of many archeologists to Lumbini. Since then several excavations have been conducted and a large number of ancient relics have been brought to light which reveal that Lumbini has been an important place of Buddhist pilgrimage since the time of the Mauryas. The remains of the Surya, Kushuwa, Gupta and Pala periods elucidates this theory of Lumbini's importance till the 14th century AD. P.C. Mukherji conducted an excavation in 1899 and successfully identified the nativity sculpture as well as some of the structural remains in and around the birth place which determined the exact location of Kapilavastu.
In 1933-39, General Kesher Shamsher Rana carried out a large scale excavation in Lumbini and covered up the archaeological site with the intention of eventually strengthening the Maya Devi Temple. In 1956, the Dharmodaya Sabha hosted the 4th International Conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists in Kathmandu and all the delegates tothe conference from 45 countries were also taken to Lumbini. The conference was the first step in international support and effort towards the development of Lumbini. The late King Mahendra was gracious enough to support the Dharmodaya Sabha's effort to host the 4th International Conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists in Nepal, and took personal interest in providing basic facilities at Lumbini and recreating a Buddhist environment by constructing a Vihara, a guest house and a road to link the sacred place with the nearby towns. Besides, it was at the late king Mahendra's behest that His Majesty's Government provided 25 bighas of land in and around the nativity temple in Lumbini to the Dharmodaya Sabha and also entrusted the Dharmodaya Sabha with the task of preserving the four sacred things in Lumbini: The Maya Devi Temple, the Ashok Pillar, the sacred Tank and the newly constructed Theravada Buddhist Vihar and guest house. This was a milestone in the development of Lumbini and the contribution and services of the Late Venerable Dhammaloka Mahasthavir, the chief resident monk, towards this goal will always be remembered. The present developmental history of Lumbini begins with the visit of The United Nations Secretary General U Thant to Nepal in April 1967. He also visited Lumbini where he was briefed by the Venerable Anirudha Mahasthavir, who was educated in Burma, and donated money to construct a small guest house for monks visiting Lumbini. When he visited there, Lumbini was in isolation and inaccessible to ordinary tourists and visitors. He spoke with the late King Mahendra about the development of Lumbini and the immediate result was a 21 KM road from Bhairahawa to Lumbini. In May 1967, U Thant sent a three member team of engineers from the U.N. to see the site and a fifteen member nations committee was formed of which a Permanent Representative from Nepal to the U.N. was elected to chair the committee. The Committee decided to support and encourage the effort on the establishment of national committees in individual countries designed to assist the committee to the U.N. Prof. Kenzo Tange , the famous architect engineer of Japan was given an assignment to prepare the Master Plan for the development of Lumbini. Late Gen. Padma Bahadur Khatri, then Permanent Representative of Nepal to the U.N. said: " Here, I should like to make it clear that the credit for convening and initiations these international efforts for the development of Lumbini goes entirely to the Secretary General of the United Nations, U Thant, a devout Buddhist. I know of no man who better symbolizes the values which Buddhism preached and practiced, is more endowed with more dedicated to the cause of world peace, than U Thant"
In 1978, the Master Plan drawn by Prof. Tange for the development of Lumbini was finalized and approved by the UN and HMG/Nepal. The land acquired by HMG for the development of Lumbini as per the Master Plan is 1150 bighas, divided into three one mile square zones, 3 miles from North to South and 1 mile in breadth from East to West. The three zones are united by a walkway and canal. The zones are: a) the Sacred Garden b) the Monastic Zone c) the New Lumbini Village The Southern one mile sector is the Lumbini Sacred Garden. It is solely for archaeological excavation, conservation of already excavated areas and the preservation of the ruins of Buddhist monasteries, wells and stupas, the Ashok Pillar and the Maya Devi temple. No new construction is permitted in the sacred area which is surrounded by a pond and the circular levee. The ultimate objective of the design here is to create an atmosphere of spirituality, peace, universal brotherhood and non-violence consistent with the time and Buddha's message to the world. These sites of Lumbini are protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site because they represent the birthplace of the Lord Buddha and contain important evidence concerning Buddhist Pilgrimage from a very early period. The Central part of the one mile square sector is the International Monastic Zone where lands are to be distributed to different countries in lease for 99 years so as to make Lumbini an International Pilgrimage center and the Foundation of Peace. Divided by a canal, there are 13 plots in East and 29 plots in the West Monastic Zone, each allotted for new monasteries of the Theravada and Mahayana sects of Buddhism. Accordingly 27 plots have been already been allotted to different countries. Nearby, across the central link bridge, a research center, a library, an auditorium and a museum provide facilities for research and study on Buddhism. The Northern one mile square sector is made for the establishment of hotels, a Buddhist University, a hospital and offices. The great Peace Pagoda has been constructed in this area by Nipponzen Myohoji, a Buddhist Sangha and is founded by the Most. Ven. Fujji Guruji of Japan.
The implementation of the Master Plan actually started from 1980. The physical growth and development of Lumbini today grew almost entirely out of the imagination of the Japanese architect Prof. Kenzo Tange. With the implementation of the final phase of the Master Plan this ancient and most important Buddhist site will be able to attract many visitors and pilgrims for days to come. His Majesty's Government does not seem to have the adequate amount of resources required to entirely fund the development of Lumbini as per the Master Plan. HMG has provided an annual budget of Rs.3 crores. Two thirds of this amount goes to salaries and the remaining one third is allotted towards development. This is not even enough to fulfill the financial needs of one component project. There are altogether 14 Project Components that remain to be done, the total cost of which will amount to no less than US $ 60 Millions. Project Components like the sacred Garden, Roads, Water supply, Sewerage and Electrical power are still to be taken up. There are almost 1.5 billion Buddhist and Peace Loving People who areeager to visit the birthplace of Lord Buddha. It can become a major pilgrimage center of the world in this century and set the tourism industry booming if growth is well guided. Buddhism is the only religion that is most tolerant and accommodative to all. There is an urgent need to prioritize and coordinate all development activities as the need and aspiration of the Nepalese people who really think of the Lumbini area as their Diamond Mine. Our dream of a developed Lumbini will never die but will indeed prosper towards eternal World Peace and Humanity.