Nestled in the Himalayas near the Indian border, the beautiful town of Lumbini is the birthplace of Lord Buddha. It is located in present-day Rummindei, in the Terai region of Southern Nepal, not far from the Indian-Nepalese border. Lumbini is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has a plethora of ancient stupas dating back to 2000 years and monasteries that were built by past dynasties. People come here from all over the world to this abode of Buddhism to study scriptures, meditate, practise yoga, trek, learn more about Buddhism and find inner peace. 'Lumbini' literally means 'The Lovely' in Sanskrit, and true to its name it stands! The entire site is decked up with prayer flags that have blessings and incantations upon them, which have been put up by thousands of tourists. Each of the monasteries here is architecturally distinctive, with beautiful façades and paintings. China, Japan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Germany, France and other countries have their monasteries here in Lumbini. Lumbini is today one of the four main pilgrimage places in Buddhism and is also an important place of pilgrimage for those Hindus who consider the Buddha one of the many manifestations of the god Vishnu. The place is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Buddhist sources say that the mother of the Buddha, Maya, was travelling from her home in Kapilavastu to her parent’s home to give birth when she suddenly went into a labour at Lumbini. A number of myths surround this particular scene: Maya gave birth painlessly, while standing between twin Sala trees; when the child was born he immediately spoke and said “this is my final rebirth”, he then took seven steps to the four cardinal points (beginning with the north) and a lotus flower sprang forth with each step; both mother and child were washed by the divinities. This last account is the origin of “bathing the infant Buddha”, a ceremony which takes place in several Buddhist communities when celebrating the Buddha’s birth. As it happens in all legends of different buddhas, Maya died seven days after the birth of the child. Mahaprajapati, Maya’s younger sister, would become Siddhartha’s foster mother.
Lumbini has been identified thanks to the Indian Emperor Ashoka, who visited the area in 248 BCE and erected a pillar with an inscription commemorating the birth of Siddhartha. He also built a wall around the village and ordered the building of four stupas to mark the spot. It is not absolutely certain that Siddhartha was actually born in Lumbini, but at least we know for certain that this was widely believed by the Buddhist community at the time of Ashoka and even earlier.
A Chinese pilgrim named Faxian (Fa-Hien, 337-c.422 CE) reports his visit to Lumini in 403 CE. In his work known as “A record of the Buddhistic kingdoms”, Faxian wrote:
Fifty le east from the city [Kapilavastu] was a garden, named Lumbini, where the queen [Maya] entered the pond and bathed. Having come forth from the pond on the northern bank, after (walking) twenty paces, she lifted up her hand, laid hold of a branch of a tree, and, with her face to the east, gave birth to the heir-apparent. When he fell to the ground, he (immediately) walked seven paces. Two dragon-kings [appeared] and washed his body. At the place where they did so, there was immediately formed a well, and from it, as well as from the above pond, where [Maya] bathed, the monks [even] now constantly take the water, and drink it. (Faxian, Chapter 22)
About two hundred years later, Xuanzang (Hsüan-tsang, 602-664 CE), another Chinese pilgrim who also visited Lumbini, described a number of structures in the area including some monasteries and Ashoka's pillar, shattered by lightning and lying on the ground. The site was not as popular during this particular time as it once was, but it was not entirely forgotten either. During the the 9th century CE, the area became controlled by the Muslims and later by the Hindus: During this process, the Buddhist structures were destroyed and the memory of Lumbini was lost.
A German archaeologist named Alois Führer rediscovered Lumbini in 1895 CE. Führer unearthed some of the structures built by Ashoka as well as a temple which included scenes of the Buddha’s life. During the 20th century CE, a number of excavations were carried out and many Buddhist structures were rediscovered. The area has been almost entirely restored during the last few decades. One of the main structures in Lumbini is the Mayadevi temple. The temple area covers the actual place where the Buddha was born, which is indicated by the marker stone, which was discovered in 1996 CE when the temple was excavated. The temple stands adjacent to the Holy Pond where the Buddha and his mother took their first bath.
The most important attraction of Lumbini is the holy temple of Maya Devi which is known as the birthplace of Gautam Buddha. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The temple has a stone sculpture of Maya Devi in labour pain. The image shows her holding the branch of a tree while Buddha is getting birth. The temple is very popular among the women having some or other fertility problem. The archaeological remains of this place date back to the time of Emperor Ashoka, around 3rd century BCE. Gautam Buddha was said to have been born in 563 BC. The temple was designed by Japanese architect Kenzo Tange in 1978 and the work is still under process which comprises of landscaped lakes and a number of monasteries being built by various architects from all over the world.
The Bodhi Tree in Lumbini is located in the premises of the Maya Devi Temple complex right next to the shrine on the banks of the serene Maya Devi Pond. Buddhist monks often sit under the tree meditating and chanting spiritual scripts. The tree is an age-old Peepal tree or Ficus Religiosa clad in colourful prayer flags. It is related to the ancient fig tree and is characterised by heart-shaped leaves. The heart shape refers to the time when Buddha achieved enlightenment. The Bodhi tree is kept clean and is decorated with colourful prayer flags. Locals believe that wishes made while tying a colourful prayer flag are often granted. The entire journey of Buddha's life is often associated with the tree - right from the time he abdicated his throne, became an ascetic, achieved enlightenment and taught about his observations till his death. The Bodhi Tree is, therefore, considered immensely significant in Buddhism.
The Ashoka Pillar in Lumbini is one of the 3rd Century stone pillars built under the reign of Emperor Ashoka. It was erected as a mark of respect by Ashoka after he visited Lord Buddha's place of birth and decided to accept Buddhism. These facts make the pillar a significantly important attraction in the country. It bears the oldest inscription compared to the rest of the Ashoka Pillars, thus marking that it was the first-ever such structure built. The pillar is located inside the serene Maya Devi Temple complex and is quite a stimulating structure to visit because of its interesting and motivating history. This 6-metre tall pink sandstone structure was rediscovered by Nepalese archaeologists in 1896.
Located right in front of the Maya Devi Temple in Lumbini, Maya Devi Pond is a square-shaped structure with steps all around to ascend to the water level. Also known as Puskarini, this is where Gautama Buddha's mother - Maya Devi - used to bathe. In fact, Lord Buddha's first bathing was done in this pond. A grand temple now takes the location where Buddha was born, and the Maya Devi pond is located right in front of the shrine. On special occasions, the steps around the pond are illuminated with oil lamps after sundown to worship the sacred place.
Located inside the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Sacred Garden Area, Lumbini Museum displays about 12000 artifacts including religious manuscripts, metal sculptures, Terra cottas, coins from Maurya and Khusana dynasty and stamps from all over the world depicting Lumbini. Lumbini International Research Institute (LIRI), located opposite the Lumbini Museum, provides research facilities for the study of Buddhism and religion in general. This museum was built in the 1970s and is now reimagined by architect Kris Yao from Taiwan and his team.
The Lumbini Garden was the Buddha’s birthplace. In Sanskrit, Lumbini means ‘the lovely’. The Lumbini Garden covers an area of 2.56 sq km and encompasses three zones each covering one square mile connected with walkways and a canal. The area has a sub-tropical climate with hot summers, very wet monsoon and pleasant winters. Winter is the best time to visit.
Kapilvastu, near Lumbini, is a prime archeological site. Though very little remains of what was once a flourishing town, the place is a must visit. The place has the ruins of the palace where Lord Buddha spent his formative years. The archaeological works that had been done in this area had to pass through various roadblocks including financial constraint. The archaeologists had dug out as many as 14 different layers of human habitation in this area. The oldest among these dates back to 8th century before Christ. The place is a must for archaeological and historical buffs.
Japan Peace Stupa, also known as World Peace Pagoda is an early 21st Century monument - a symbol of peace and a famous tourist attraction in Lumbini. Located outside the main compound, the structure is a glorious stupa with traditional pagoda style architecture. Constructed by Japanese Buddhist at a cost of US $1 million, the monument is coloured white with a golden Buddha statue. The majestic structure has a dome in the centre that can be reached by climbing one of the two flights of stairs leading to it. On the second level, there's a corridor encircling the dome. The Symbol of Peace is open all days of the week for one and all to visit, explore, learn and get inspired to walk the path of non-violence and to live life in unity, which is a necessity in the world today.
Myanmar Golden Temple in Lumbini is the oldest structure of the city. Built in Burmese style of architecture, the temple is dedicated to Lord Buddha. The impressive corncob-shaped shikhara, styled after the temples of Bagan gives a regal look to the whole structure. It is an impressive structure with three prayer halls, with one of them topped with a corncob-shaped tower that has been styled after the shrines of Bagan. The Lokamani Pula Pagoda is a gold stupa located within the temple grounds that resembles the Burmese style of architecture and together with the Myanmar Temple creates a fascinating spectacle