Lumbini: Birthplace of Lord Buddha

Lumbini: Birthplace of Lord Buddha
Photo by ashok acharya / Unsplash

Location

Introduction

Nestled in the heart of the Terai region, Lumbini is renowned as the birthplace of Siddhartha Gautam, also known as Lord Buddha. This sacred site is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is adorned with ancient stupas dating back 2000 years and various monasteries constructed by past dynasties. The veracity of Lord Buddha's birth is confirmed by an inscription on a pillar erected by Emperor Asoka in 249 BC. People from across the globe visit this tranquil location in search of inner peace, to study ancient scriptures, meditate, practice yoga, or simply to learn more about Buddhism. The area is adorned with prayer flags inscribed with blessings and incantations, enhancing its peaceful ambience.

History

Legend has it that Queen Mayadevi, the mother of Siddhartha Gautam was en route to her home in Devdaha, carried in a palanquin when she experienced labour pains in Lumbini. She gave birth to Siddhartha while standing and holding onto the branch of a “Sal” tree, but sadly passed away seven days later. His aunt, Prajapati, then raised Siddhartha. It is believed that immediately after his birth, Prince Siddhartha took seven steps to the north, surveyed his surroundings, and proclaimed that he would not be reborn again, indicating his future. He was subsequently bathed for purification in the same pond where his mother had bathed. Prince Siddhartha attained enlightenment and became Lord Buddha 35 years later.

Architecture

Renowned post-war Japanese architect Kenzō Tange, known for designing the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, was commissioned to create a master plan for Lumbini. Despite numerous challenges over the years, Tange's expansive Lumbini rectangle can now be seen on Google Earth, preserving the natural beauty and peacefulness of this sacred site. The Lumbini Garden spans 2.56 square kilometres and consists of three zones, each covering one square mile, connected by walkways and a canal. At the north end, the canal is navigated by simple outboard motor boats. These three zones comprise The Sacred Garden, The Monastic Zone, and The Cultural Centre and New Lumbini Village

"The Sacred Garden'' is the central area of Lumbini, housing the birthplace of Buddha and other significant archaeological and spiritual monuments. These include the Mayadevi Temple, the Ashoka Pillar, the Marker Stone, the Nativity Sculpture, the Sacred Pond, as well as the remains of Buddhist stupas and Vihars. The Mayadevi Temple, in particular, is revered as the most sacred site in the Lumbini Garden, as archaeologists have pinpointed this as a precise location of Lord Buddha's birth.

The Monastic Zone” covers an area of 1 square mile and is divided into two sections: the East Monastic Zone representing the Theravada school of Buddhism, and the West Monastic Zone representing the Mahayana and Vajrayana Schools. These zones feature respective monasteries on either side of a lengthy pedestrian walkway and canal. This area, revered as a sacred pilgrimage site, is home to numerous Buddhist stupas and monasteries established by various countries, each showcasing unique historical, cultural, and spiritual designs.

"The Cultural Center and New Lumbini Village" include the Lumbini Museum, Lumbini International Research Institute, the World Peace Pagoda of Japan, the Lumbini Crane Sanctuary, and various administrative offices. Within the archaeological conservation area, there are several structures, such as the Shakya Tank, the Maya Devi Temple with its brick structures dating from the 3rd century BC to the present, and the sandstone Ashoka pillar bearing a Pali inscription in Brahmi script. Additionally, there are excavated remains of Buddhist viharas (monasteries) from the 3rd century BC to the 5th century AD, and Buddhist stupas (memorial shrines) from the 3rd century BC to the 15th century AD. The site is being developed into a Buddhist pilgrimage centre, with a specific emphasis on preserving the archaeological remains linked to the birth of Lord Buddha.

How to get there?

There are three modes of transportation to reach Lumbini.

  1. By Flight

There are regular flights between Kathmandu and Bhairahawa, also known as Siddhartha Nagar, which is 22 km or about a half-hour drive from Lumbini.

  1. By Road

It is a 10-hour drive from Kathmandu to Lumbini. There are tourist or local buses, Jeeps or microbuses which run early in the morning from Kathmandu. 

  1. By Train from India

Travel by train to Gorakhpur and then take a bus to Sunauli, where you can find a connecting bus to Lumbini.

When to visit?

Due to its location in the lowlands of Nepal's Terai plains, Lumbini experiences a subtropical climate characterized by hot summers and heavy monsoon rains. Therefore, the best time to visit is during the winter months, from November to March. Accommodation options in the area are limited, so it is advisable to make reservations well ahead of your visit. 

 Places to visit around Lumbini 

gold temple
Photo by Meghraj Neupane / Unsplash

Various monasteries and temples from different countries are constructed in Lumbini, reflecting diverse architectural styles and traditions. These include the Chinese Monastery, Royal Thai Monastery, German Monastery, Sri Lankan Temple, South Korean Temple, Austrian Monastery, French Monastery, Cambodian Monastery, Singapore Monastery, Canadian Temple, Vietnamese Temple, Urgen Dorjee Choling Center, Golden Temple of Myanmar, Indian Temple, and Japanese Stupa. Each monument is built in a traditional style unique to their respective countries, making them a compelling destination for visitors. 

Tilaurakot in Kapilvastu was an ancient city that served as the capital of the Shakya kingdom, where Gautam Buddha's parents, King Suddhodana and Queen Maya Devi, resided. Prince Siddhartha Gautam spent the first 29 years of his life here. The site features archaeological remains of the palace and is located approximately 59 km from Lumbini. Today, it is an intriguing archaeological museum where visitors can explore wooded paths, retracing the footsteps of Siddhartha Gautam as a young boy. The excavated and mapped areas offer clear explanations of what ancient Kapilvastu would have looked like.

In Ramgram, there is an ancient stupa dating back to the period immediately after Buddha's death. This stupa is one of the eight stupas where Buddha's relics were enshrined. 

brown and black fire pit
Photo by kabita Darlami / Unsplash

The Maya Devi Temple serves as the primary spiritual center in Lumbini, marking the birthplace of Siddhartha Gautam. Adjacent to the temple, you can find the Ashoka Pillar, ancient stupas' ruins, a Bodhi tree adorned with Buddhist prayer flags, and a sacred pond. Additionally, an eternal peace flame, established in 1986 to commemorate the International Year of Peace, symbolizes the ongoing effort to promote peace and harmony worldwide.

The Lumbini Crane Sanctuary is renowned for its diverse bird species, including the Sarus crane and Indian spotted eagle, along with other endangered animals. The area offers trekking opportunities, such as the Lumbini circuit tour, which covers 64 scattered archaeological sites. 

Visiting surrounding villages provides insight into the lifestyles of diverse ethnic groups, offering a glimpse into their culture and customs. Nearby, one can find two more Ashoka pillars marking the birthplaces of previous Buddhas, and in Kundan, three stupas are built where Buddha had significant encounters with his father, wife and son after his enlightenment.

a large white building sitting on top of a hill
Photo by Gaurav Sharma / Unsplash

Bardia National Park, the largest national park in the Terai, boasts pristine wilderness, Sal forests, and diverse flora and fauna along the Karnali River. Rani Mahal, a palace in Palpa built in 1893, is another notable site near the Indian border. It can be conveniently combined with a journey through India's Uttar Pradesh State to Buddhist pilgrimage sites like Kushinagar, where Buddha died, Sarnath, where Buddha gave his first teaching, and the sacred city of Varanasi.

Buddhist Festival in Lumbini

Buddha Jayanti, or Buddha Purnima, is a significant Buddhist festival celebrated in Lumbini. Tibetan Buddhists, Newar Buddhists, and Buddhists from other countries gather to show kindness to animals, such as releasing caged birds. They also meditate and perform various Buddhist rituals, similar to those practiced in Tibet. On this day, Nepali people eat rice pudding and abstain from consuming meat or alcoholic drinks. Besides Lumbini, Nepali people also participate in events at other Buddhist pilgrimage sites in Nepal, such as the Swayambhunath and Boudhanath Temples.

Conclusion 

Lumbini attracts visitors seeking its peaceful ambience and spiritual energy, regardless of their religious beliefs. It's not just where Buddha's teachings originated, but also where countless individuals have contemplated life's purpose. Lumbini serves as a site for meditation, contemplation, and deep respect, offering insights into the evolution and interpretation of Buddhism worldwide. A journey to Lumbini combines nature, culture, religion, and the warm hospitality of its people, creating a truly tranquil and spiritual experience. Returning to Lumbini, one can conclude their trip by spending a quiet hour at the temple, reading about Buddhism, meditating, or simply absorbing the surroundings. In terms of travel experiences, this can be incredibly profound.