Nepal is known in the world for many unique characteristics — snow-capped mountains, golden temples, series of festivals and romantic natural beauty. Above all, it is remembered for a small white rectangular structure, not so much eye catching. It is the sacred place, from where the 2500 years old history of Buddhism has begun. Yes, this is Lumbini, the birthplace of the Bhagawan Buddha.
Obviously, this sacred garden is to be centre for attraction and devotion for hundreds of millions of Buddhists around the world. They all have one wish in their lives — to have at least one occasion in their life with they will touch the sublime ground of Lumbini with their heart and be indebted to unparalleled philosophy of the Buddha. This is the reason that Lumbini is now listed as one of the World Heritage Sites, by UNESCO. Lumbini was made a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1997.
However, we know that Lumbini garden is not only the place which makes the whole region important for the Buddhist world. There are dozens of such sites, sacred places, which has similar value for all Buddhists, Buddhist scholars, archaeologists, sociologists, cultural experts as well as common visitors, who have even the slightest interest in Buddhism and evolution of Buddhist philosophy in the world.
Here we try to take you around those areas, which hare untouched, shadowed, unexplored till the date.
Just around 280 kilometers west from the capital Kathmandu, Lumbini is one of the four biggest shrines of the world. It is in fact, a Mecca for the Buddhists and other peace-lovers all over the world. It is believed to be the place where, in 623 BCE, Queen Mayadevi gave birth to prince Siddhartha, who later was known to the world as the Bhagawan Buddha, the awakened one. Among others, the Ashokan pillar, erected here by the Indian Emperor Ashoka, who ruled from 272 to 231 BC, confirmed the history of the birth of the Buddha some 22 hundred years ago. This is the oldest and greatest proof that the Buddha was born here. It clearly states — “here, the Buddha was born”.
Apart from the sacred garden, the area, covered by the masterplan to develop the Lumbini region houses around three dozen artistic, beautiful temples and monasteries, made from the benevolence of people of different countries. You will be surprised, the way of following Buddhism may vary from country to country, but, as it has to be, the Buddha is one. Major temples you can find there are, among others, are Chinese, Korean, Thai, Burmese, Cambodian and of course Nepali too. And, we cannot also forget the towering World Peace Temple, made as a mission to spread all over the world by the Buddhists from Japan.
We can talk about Lumbini and the temples here for hours. But while exploring the significance of this place and enjoying the beauty of the monasteries, we are going to miss so many beautiful and equally important sites, which have abundant values for the Buddhist pilgrims as well as other travelers. Let’s go to those areas and learn something about them briefly.
Buddha was not only born in Nepal but he also spent his 29 years of his worldly life as Prince Siddhartha here. His father, King Suddhodana ruled his state, the Shakya Kingdom of Kapilvastu, from the palace which is now around 22 kilometers from Lumbini. This is now a small developing town called Tilaurakot. A taxi can take you to the place where once stood the grand palace of King Suddhodhana.
A known Indian archaeologist P. C. Mukherji, in 1899 AD conducted exploration of the antiquities of Kapilvastu and pointed out for the first time that there could be the ruins of the 2500 years old palace of King Suddhodhana, where the saintly prince Siddhartha grew. Explorations to find discover more mysteries of the history were made by many national and international experts have been done and so it is going on now. A team of archaeologists, led by Prof. Robin Cunningham is going still going on and coming up with some exciting facts.
The major attraction of Kapilvastu today are remains of the palace — southern gate, , eastern gate, , central wall, the fort wall, pond to the north-east side. Outside the palace complex, one can find the twin Stupa, where the remains of king Suddhodana and Queen Gotamai were buried and the Kanthaka Stupa, where the horse, which took prince Siddharta out of the palace was buried, are found.
It was not like the prince Siddhartha left Kapilvastu and did not came back. After being enlightened, in invitation of King Suddhodana, he came to Kapilvastu, met his beloved family gave his discourse to them. This is the place, Nigrodharama, which is now known as Kudan.
Now we can see ancient some stupas and remains of monasteries in Kudan. One Stupa is known as Rahula Stupa where the Buddha’s disciple Sariputra ordained Prince Siddhartha’s son Rahula. You can see a Hindu temple built over the dome now. Another second commemorates the Buddha’s giving discourcse to his father. The memorials of Prajapati Goutai offering robe to the Buddha and Yashodhara’s inviting the Buddha for meal are also marked there. Indeed this could be a sublime place for ordination and doing meditation, which will remind us of those great historical events, which are related to the Buddha’s life in Nepal.
Buddhists believe that the Shakyamuni Buddha, who was born 2500 years ago in the garden of Lumbini was not the first one, nor is he going to be last one. They say that there have been several Buddhas on the earth who, in their times, got enlightened and gave light to the people. Pāli Canon of Buddhavamsa has mentioned names of the primitive Buddhas.
Gotihawa, a small village around 4 kilometers southeast of Kapilavastu, is a shrine, almost as important as Lumbini itself. This is the place where Krakuchhanda Buddha was born, received enlightenment and and attained nirvana. His mother’s name was Khemavati and this place was also named after her, according to Theravada literature.
King Ashoka visited this place also and recognizing its significance, erected a pillar, similar to that of Lumbini. This is the evidence, made over 2000 years ago, to say that this indeed has been a holy site for the Buddhists as the birthplace of Krakuchhanda Buddha. In the course of time, unfortunately, so it has to be said, the pillar has been broken and is waiting for proper maintenance and development of the area. Apartfrom this, a relic stupa, some ancient wells and ponds are found in the excavations. Nepali and Italian experts conducted excavation in Gotihawa area in 1994–95.
Niglihawa is another site which shows how important this areas if for the Buddhists. This is the placw where Kanakmuni Buddha, another of the primitive Buddhas, was born.
King Ashoka visited the site in 249 BC and erected the Ashoka pillar that has now broken into two pieces. The Stupa, however, is still missing. The pillar boasts two different manuscripts — one in Pali language and another in Sanskrit.
Situated about 7km northeast of Taulihawa, this place is another important one for the Buddhist because Emperor Ashoka also chose this as one of his destinations when he decided to travel around all major Buddhist pilgrimage sites for further propagation of Buddhism. He visited the site in 249 BC and also erected a stone pillar here. The inscription engraved on it in Pali language states that there was a Buddhist stupa, accredited to Kanakamuni Buddha. He had it renovated and also erected a stone pillar nearby. This pillar was discovered in 1895 AD. Now, again, in a two broken incomplete pieces.
As early as in 4th and 7th centuries, well-known Buddhist travellers Fa-Hien and Hiuen-Tsang came here, describe about the pillar and the Stupa in their travel accounts.
The place, which is commonly known as Araurakot, located arund t 10km northeast of Taulihawa, is another one, which is known as related with Kanakamuni Buddha. Some literatures state that this is the place where he lived and married.
Very little has been done to excavate the details of this site. Nepal government initiated an excavation project, under leadership of archaeologist Tarananda Mishra in 1977. This project came up with a conclusion that there must have been an old ruined city. Now, it is a magnificent rectangular fortified area with the remains of ancient moat and brick fortifications. Further extensive excavation is needed to come up with detail information about the archeological evidences and religious importance of this area.
Again, a joint archaeological team of Nepali-Italian archaeologists (1996–1997) has identified nine archaeological sites including Araurakot in this area.
As Buddhist chronicles state, there was a fierce battle, which killed over 77-thousand Shakyas. Any recognizable evidence to this undated history has not been found, but it is believed that the place is today called Sagarhawa.
And archaeological excavation was conducted in 1897, led by Dr. A Fuhrer himself. It found ruins of some stupas and an ancient pond here. These monuments are located now near a pond known as Lumbu Sagar. Sagarhawa is about 12 kilometers north of Taulihawa.
Now, only a few things can be seen here now. But it carries an incredible history, which tells that the Shakyas preferred to be victim of genocide than breaking their commitment to non-violence.
Devadaha, a place, which is 57 km. east of Lumbini is related to life of the Buddha in many ways.
This was the ancient capital of Koliya Kingdom in the Buddha’s time. This is the place where Prince Siddhartha most of his childhood, after his days in in the Kapilvastu palace. Even after enlightenment, the Buddha stayed there during his tours and preached to the monks on various topics.
Pakari Tree is a unique attraction near Devadaha. It is a giant tree, which has its circumference and height. It is probably one of the biggest trees in Asia.
People believe that it has been here since the days of the Buddha. So, they consider it as a holy tree and people come to worship it. They have also associated it with several myths and beliefs. It is interesting to note that birds never nest on it and elephants never go near it.
Bhawanipur is another archaeological site near Devadaha. It is located 4 km South of East-West Highway in Devdaha Municipality. It is considered as an important part of Devdaha. Among others, a long stone column was found here, which is said to be an Ashokan Pillar. Apart from this, a temple of Mayadevi and other archaeological sites were also discovered here.
Apart from this, there also is a Devdaha Park. A big temple with a statue of Lord Buddha can be found here. And a Bodhi tree is another attraction in this garden.
This small mound of Ramagrama, or remains of an undated Stupa, is one of the unique structures of not only but the whole world, as the Buddhists believe. Unexplored yet, according to the Buddhist chronicles, this is the only stupa which still has the relic of the Buddha.
When the Buddha attained Nirvana, the Buddha’s relic was divided into eight parts. The Koliyas obtained one part of it and they enshrined it here and built a Stupa here. When the Emperor Asoka heard about it, he tried to take out relics from this stupa also, to erect build 84,000 small Stupas with the Buddha’s relic all over Indian empire. But the Nagas protected this stupa and thus, it is believed that the relics are still here in this stupa.
Lumbini is not only the birthplace of the Buddha, it is in fact a whole area which is related with the life of the Buddha. Those who intend to visit Lumbini should think about this as a pilgrim site beyond that small holy garden. And the government of Nepal should also take some firm initiatives to develop some kind of religious environment in those areas so that the pilgrims from Nepal and abroad would feel peace of mind when they visit us. They are indeed places of faith for millions of Buddhist around the world, not merely some tourist points. Instead of calling it Lumbini, it should be internationally called Greater Lumbini.