Friday, October 23, 2009

Lumbini

Lumbini was identified in the late 1800's as the birthplace of Buddha
and now there is strong archaeological evidence to support this. There
are also many nearby sites that are important to understanding the
life and teaching of Gautama Buddha. Most have not yet been
investigated by archaeologists.

The key points of interest at Lumbini are the Asoka pillar, the
Mayadevi Temple, the Sacred Pond and several Buddhist temples.

In the third century BCE, Emperor Asoka was a great and powerful king
who ruled all of north India. After a devastating battle at Kalinga,
he became a strong proponent of Buddhism and over the years, went on
several pilgrimages to visit Buddhist sacred sites. His patronage was
a strong stimulus to the spread of Buddhism.

In 269 BCE, he visited the birthplace of the Buddha and erected a
stone pillar to mark the site. He had the following words inscribed:

"King Piyadasi [Asoka] the beloved of Devas in the twentieth year of
the coronation himself made a royal visit; Buddha Sakyamuni having
been born here, a stone railing was built and a stone pillar erected.
The Bhagavan having been born here, Lumbini Village was tax-reduced
and entitled to the eighth part only".

The inscription was in the Brahmi language. For many years, the
commonly accepted translation of one phrase was "stone railing", even
though there was no evidence of a railing. However, in 1996, after
careful excavation of the Mahadevi Temple, an important discovery was
made-- a special marker stone was unearthed at the base of the temple
which marks the exact spot at which the Buddha was born. Now the
consensus seems to be that the phrase was actually referring to the
marker stone, not a railing.

The Mayadevi Temple also contains a stone Nativity Scene of Lord
Buddha's birth. Exposed for hundreds of years, the Nativity Scene has
been worn smooth by being touched by innumerable pilgrims and
worshipers. Today the temple is surrounded by a new building that
protects the temple excavation and the nativity scene has been raised
up to be out of reach of passersby.. The recently discovered Marker
Stone is protected by a glass enclosure.

According to legend, the Sacred Pond is where Mayadevi took a bath
just before giving birth.

In 1978, a master plan was completed for the development of Lumbini.
It set aside areas for the construction of temples by governments and
Buddhist organizations. A few temples have been completed, but most
are still under construction or postponed. It appears that development
has been hampered by the lack of roads, bridges and other
infrastructure. There is potential for large and beautiful gardens
once construction is completed.

It had been fourteen years since we had visited Lumbini with our
children and we saw many changes. We were also struck by how much
additional work must be done to make this place attractive for
pilgrims.

Among the best sources of information are the two books written by the
archaeologist, Basanta Bidari: Lumbini: A haven of Sacred Refuge
(2002) and Kapilavastu: The World of Siddhartha (2007). Much of the
information in our blog posts about Lumbini and Kapilavastu come from
Mr. Bidari's two books.

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