Arjun Pradhan and Amrit Sthapit
Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha is situated in southern Nepal. It is a matter of pride for all Nepalese that the Buddha was born into this world about 2600 years ago. Famous dignitaries like Emperor Ashoka (3rd century BC) from Pataliputra, India, King Ripu Malla from the Khasa kingdom of far west Nepal (14th century), Fa-hien (5th century) and Hiuen Tsang (7th century) from China made pilgrimage to this holy site and left their marks behind. This holy site remained deserted for a long time until it was discovered and brought to light. One hundred and two years ago on December 1, 1896, the famous Ashokan Stone Pillar was discovered in a neglected state at the Lumbini Garden, the site where the Buddha was born. Later exploration and excavation on the site have yielded valuable archaeological remains dating back to 3rd century BC. The most significant of all findings is the Marker Stone showing the exact birth-spot of the Buddha. In recognition of the archaeological and historical sanctity of this site, Lumbini was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1997.
Lumbini is situated about 300 km in south west of Kathmandu and 22 km away from present Siddharthanagar (Bhairahawa) Municipality. It is 27 km east from the ruins of King Suddhodhana’s palace in Kapilavastu, Tilaurakot.
In the past, when people visited Lumbini the most obvious sites were the Ashokan pillar, pond, Mayadevi shrine and archaeological ruins around it. Seeing those ruins in the middle of the open fields really make people think of law of impermanence as the Buddha’s message. However in present Lumbini one can see more than these ruins. It has transformed to be one of the Buddhist Centre of the world. The proposed Master Plan for the development of Lumbini which was finalised and approved by the United Nations and the government of Nepal in 1978 is taking its shape slowly, although it has been a few decades since it was started. Because of these recent developments, one can imagine how Lumbini is going to look in future according to the vision of the famous Japanese architect Professor Kenzo Tange. There are a lot to see and do when you visit Lumbini now.
The Master Plan covers an area of three square miles on north south and encompasses three zones each covering one square mile (2.56 sq. Kms.). The three zones are united by a 1.474-meter long walkway and a canal. The zones are: a) the Sacred Garden Zone b) the Monastic Zone and c) the New Lumbini Village.
The heart of the 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 non-violence consistent with the time and Buddha’s message to the world. The Sacred Garden shelters the ancient monuments at the centre in a freshly restored atmosphere of serene and lush forest all around the complex. In keeping with the goal of the protecting sites of archaeological significance, no new construction is permitted in the sacred area surrounded by a pond and the circular levee.
The Monastic Zone is situated in the forest area north of the Sacred Garden. Divided by a canal, there are East and West Monastic Enclaves having 42 plots each allotted for new monasteries of Theravada and Mahayana traditions of Buddhism. Nearby, across the central link bridge, a research centre, a library, an auditorium and a museum provide facilities for research and study on Buddhism.
The Northern part of the site is being developed as the New Lumbini Village which is also a gateway to the outer world where the visitors can find comfortable lodges and restaurants offering high standard facilities.
Sites to visit in Lumbini
1) The Sacred Garden Zone: It is in incomplete stage at the moment. The main archaeological site, where the Mayadevi Shrine was located is being excavated. So far archaeologists have found many items from there of which two are very significant: Marker stone of the Buddha’s birth spot and an oldest terracotta image of the Buddha when he was about to leave palace in search of Enlightenment. These archaeological items are kept in the temporary archaeological office at the site.
Apart from buildings and ruins there are annual festivals which are worth to partake when it takes place. Obviously, the most important festival in Lumbini is on the day of the birth of the Buddha—the Vesak full moon day which, as per English calendar, is around April or May. The next important date is in the month of December-January when Lamas from all over the country as well as overseas, go there to recollect the qualities of the Buddha. This festival continues for 10-12 days. The highlight of this festival is the last day called the ceremony of burning oil lamps which is worth seeing. Also, people from surrounding villages come to the ‘Mela’ which is celebrated at the end of the second week of April every year. This mela continues for two days. The highlight of this mela: women from surrounding villages come to Mayadevi Shrine to completely shave off their children's hair and lay it in front of Ashoka Pillar.
2) The Monastic Zone: This is divided into two zones:
2.1. East Monastic Zone which is dedicated for the construction of Theravada monasteries from different countries.
2.2. West Monastic Zone which is dedicated for the construction of Mahayana traditional monasteries from all over the world. So far many monasteries representing different countries have been completed or on its way to completion.
2.1. East Monastic Zone: Entering through the main entrance at Lumbini village zone the first monastery one will come across is the Thai monastery. The construction of this monastery was started in 1997 by Thai government. It is constructed on 5 acres of land. The grand monastic wall and some buildings have been entirely designed and built according to typical Thai architecture.
Next to the Thai temple is another Theravadin temple built by Mahabodhi Society of India. It was started in 1996 on 1.5 acres of land. These temples will be bordered by canal which has not been built yet.
Next group of temples are the plot reserved by Bangal Buddhist Association for construction of their Theravadin temple which has not began yet. Adjacent to it is the most grand and beautiful Theravada temple belongings to Myanmar government. They started the work in 1993 and have mostly completed so far. This temple is also built on 5 acres of land. A magnificent replica of Burmese Swedagoan pagoda and other replicas of Burmese historical buildings are the must for any visitor. It is always crowded with pilgrims and tourists nowadays.
At the end of this zone is Nepalese temple built by International Bhikshuni Association. This is built on 1.5 acres of land and is nearing completion.
In the 1st December 1998 Sri Lankan government also commenced the construction of Sri Lankan temple in this zone. Besides these temples there is also a Vipassana meditation centre which is also under construction.
2.2. West Monastic Zone: On the West side to Lumbini canal is West Monastic Zone. This zone is set aside for about 15 Mahayana monasteries of which many are under construction. One of the majestic monasteries in this zone is the Chinese monastery built by Chinese government on 6.25 acres of land which was completed in September 1998. The buildings were constructed in a typical Chinese architectural style with the estimated budget of about 4 million pound. This has already become an important site of Lumbini for pilgrims to visit.
The first monastery to be built in this zone is Vietnamese monastery on 6.25 acres of land. The traditional Vietnamese architectural buildings and pagoda which is 25 metre high is magnificent and picturesque. It is near its completion.
Another grand temple belongs to Korean Buddhists which lies in front of the Chinese temple. A Korean designed guesthouse is already in completion and the main shrine hall is under construction. Apart from these completed temples there are other plots of land which have already been reserved for French Buddhist temple, German Buddhist temple, and Tibetan Gompas.
3) The new Lumbini Village Zone: This zone is purely allocated for the material world i.e. for residence, education, and social activities. It is in the northern part of Lumbini and it is a gateway to Lumbini just before entering into the spiritual and sacred lands. Within the New Lumbini Village zone there are provision for museum, libraries, International Buddhist Research Institute, hotels, guesthouses, hospital and tourist centres. This is the starting point for all pilgrims entering Lumbini to start their spiritual journey.
From five stars hotels to simple pilgrims? guesthouses are already in service. However, library, research centre and museum are still on its way to the operation although the buildings were completed a long time ago.
Also within this zone the highest World Peace Pagoda of Asia is under construction by Japanese Buddhists. This is the place where a hideous crime of murdering Japanese Buddhist monk, Navatame took place in 1997. However, since the murder took place, it has become another place for pilgrims and tourists to visit and see the spot with their own eyes. In fact, this World Peace Pagoda is an additional to the original Master Plan.
Lumbini is not only sacred and sanctuary for all Buddhists and peace lovers but with its rich fruit trees, greenlands and wet lands it became a sanctuary for many birds, fishes and animals. Within this garden there are many types of endangered birds living happily. Many wild antelope (Nilgai) often passes through the garden and it is very pleasant to see fishes jumping up and down in the canals and ponds. Lumbini is indeed a sacred place and a source of peace for mind and body. It is indeed a fountain of World Peace. Whoever visit there and reflect on the reality of the world according to the Buddha’s teachings will achieve peace physically and spiritually as Buddha himself had mentioned (in Dighanikaya) before his death: ‘Lumbini should be (visited and) seen by a person of devotion, and which would cause awareness and apprehension of the nature of impermanence...’
Lumbini is becoming the Buddhist centre where one can see and witness most Buddhist cultures of the world. Since the Buddha was born 2600 years ago at Lumbini, his teachings have reached far and wide, all over the world. Now such glory is going back to its founder’s land, its place of origin. Just by visiting Lumbini in Nepal, one will be able to see different Buddhist architectures and culture from all over the world. One will have a chance to comprehend how his teachings have affected all walks of life in different parts of the world. Most importantly one will have a golden opportunity to understand and practice all different traditions of Buddhism to suit an individual. Lumbini today reflects a whole spectrum of the development of Buddhism from its inception to present time doctrinally and culturally.
Back to top