Lumbini is 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 literature mentions 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 the bath, she proceeded to the north 25 paces, where 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 is 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 Sakyamuni’ (here Sakyamuni Buddha was born).
He laid importance on the marker stone and constructed a 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 a 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 the 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 the 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 strengthening the Maya Devi temple.
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 develop Lumbini as an international pilgrimage and a tourist center. In 1970, he also helped the 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 the 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 the 1990s LDT, DoA and Japan Buddhist Federation excavated the Maya Devi complex.
MONUMENTS OF LUMBINI:
Lumbini garden 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 the attention of generous devotees who erected structures to pay homage to the great master.
These constructions were of religious nature along with 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 MAYA DEVI TEMPLE
The 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 the 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 the 3rd century BC. The sanctum sanctorum is the birth spot of the Lord Buddha in the temple.
THE MARKER STONE
This 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 NATIVITY SCULPTURE
The image of Maya Devi, also known as the Nativity Sculpture dates back to 4th CE, which depicts the nativity scene, Maya Devi, holding a branch of a tree with her right hand for support in the time of her delivery. Next to her Gautami Prajapati, her younger sister, in supporting posture is standing. The newly born Prince Siddhartha is standing upright on a lotus pedestal, with two celestial figures receiving him.
THE PUSKARINI, THE HOLLY POND
Close by the Asoka pillar on the southern side lies the holy pond, Puskarini where Maya Devi bathed just before giving birth to Prince Siddhartha and the infant prince is believed to have given first purification bath. The pond has terraced steps and is riveted by beautifully layered bricks.
THE ASOKAN PILLAR
The historical pillar was erected by Emperor Asoka in 249 BC bears the first epigraphic evidence with reference to the birthplace of Lord Buddha. It is the most noteworthy monument and an authentic historical document of the birthplace of Lord Buddha in Lumbini.
The inscription engraved by Emperor Asoka is still intact and testifies the authenticity of the birthplace. The text written in Brahmi script and Pali language is translated as follows:
King Piyadasi (Asoka), the beloved of the Gods, in the twentieth year of reign, himself made a royal visit. Sakyamuni Buddha was born here, therefore, the (birth Spot) marker stone was worshipped and a stone pillar was erected. The lord having been born here, the tax of the Lumbini village was reduced to the eighth part (only).
A MASTER PLAN OF LUMBINI
In 1978, the Master Plan designed by Prof. Tange was finalized and approved by the Government of Nepal and the United Nations. In the meantime, the Government of Nepal was directly involved in the planning and development of Lumbini through the formation of the Lumbini Development Committee.
The committee acquired necessary land, relocated the villages, and commenced the development of basic infrastructures including forestation programs 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 PLAN
The 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?
The 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 sacred garden shelters the ancient monuments at the center in a freshly restored atmosphere of serene and lush forest and water bodies surrounding the complex.
The 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 village
The cultural center lies between the Monastic Zone and the NewLumbiniVillage. A research center, 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.
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’s tallest flying bird Sarus Crane and threatened animals like python, Blue Bull (Boselaphus tragocamelus), Bengal fox, wild cat, etc Lumbini.
LUMBINI VILLAGE TOUR:
A walk through the villages surrounding the Lumbini Master Plan, interacting with local people, buying their authentic handicrafts, sculpture products, and observing their traditional rituals will bring one closer to understanding the diversity of Terai cultures in Nepal.
The visitors have the option of choosing a village tour to Ekala, Khudabagar, Madhubani, Tenuhawa, Ama, and Bhagawanpur on foot, rickshaw, bicycle, bullock cart, or in a taxi.