April 5, 2010


[Blogger's Note: We have posted this article as the writer has, from different perspectives, discussed in it some important issues and evidence found recently in Lumbini.]

By Sudarshan Raj Tiwari[1]


The garden of Lumbini and its beauty attracted Queen Mayadevi for a rest 2500 years ago as she was on her way to maternal home from Kapilvastu. The beauty and spiritual serenity of Lumbini garden formed the backdrop to the birth of Lord Buddha and Buddhism. Since then it has remained a place of pilgrimage for Buddhists as well as others who seek peace and universal understanding. Since the acceptance of the Master Plan for the Development of Lumbini prepared by Prof. Kenzo Tange in 1978, Lumbini, the birthday of Lord Buddha, has been the scene of activities designed and executed to develop it as an international pilgrimage and tourist centre. Most of these activities, however, were located outside the central circular levee designated as the Sacred Garden in the Master Plan. This sacred garden and its conservation and reconstruction form the crux of the philosophical continuance of Lumbini as a pilgrimage site. Any misconceived approach will bring forth the wrath of world criticism at the same time leading to the destruction of a prime heritage of the world and of Nepal in particular. The current archeological excavations and its natural follow-up - the conservation activities on Mayadevi Temple - can be one such action, which depending upon how it is done, can be a matter of great irrevocable regret or a one to set the trend for all activities to come in future in this area. The Master Plan report (Tange, 1978) recognized then that.” one important decision which awaits the outcome of archaeological research is whether to keep the ‘Nativity Sculpture’ in its original location or to remove it to the museum. If it is found that the village, which will be undergoing excavation until 1980, is really the exact location of the nativity, efforts must be made to display the nativity sculpture there and not in the museum”. Here Prof. Tange already appears to have assumed that the Mayadevi temple is not where the image belongs.  

About the physical structure of the temple itself, the Master Plan goes on to recommend that “structure on the grade shall be removed and ancient foundation work and basements are to be restored”. At that time the decision had not been made as to up to ‘ which period to be finally preserved for display among multiple layers of remains extending various historical periods’ and about ‘preservation techniques such as chemical treatment to improve durability of ancient bricks, or use of new bricks as substitute for the old to restore original structure’.

The latest structure of Mayadevi temple above grade belongs to late-Rana period[2] and when and by whom was the anthropomorphic form and temple of Rumminidei, the earlier name of the Nativity sculpture, built are historically unanswered questions. Stylistic considerations could date the image to about 4th century AD. The remains of the decorative brick socle, though reconstructed, does suggest a temple structure close to the period of Kodan temples of the seventh century AD. Archaeological excavations done under the aegis of Japan Buddhist Federation (JBF) and Lumbini Development Trust (LDT) have made momentous discovery of a series of structures under the latest temple attesting the fact that the site has been of great importance throughout the history possibly starting with trace construction very soon after the life time of the Lord. The Mayadevi image and the temple, thus, are in their rightful place and earlier speculation that it might have belonged to the Lumbini village or some nearby site are proved wrong.

Although full report is yet to be made public, observations at the site indicate that the spot of ground practically below the pedestal of Nativity sculpture has been the focus of worship and central to the various stages of construction in the past. At the earliest stage exposed so far, however, the element of veneration was a square brick platform (1.22m square) of seven courses height including the no natural looking 'stone' tablet of longish shape on top, is not centric to the immediate next stage of building - the rectangular shrine. The archeologists have, based on focal location of the stone in relation to all the different structural layers spanning over 2000 years of construction and reconstruction history and the Ashokan Pillar inscriptional wording " sila vibada vicha"[3]  (which could mean at the centre of the marking stone slab”)[4]  concluded that the exact spot of the birth of Lord Buddha is directly below the center of the Mayadevi image. As Ashokan records say that his preceptor Upagupta had shown to Ashok the spot where the lord was born and also as the geological nature of the marker is clearly non-Ashokan, It can also be concluded that at the very least the stone marker and the brickwork platform below it, was existing at the time of the visit of Ashok." Go http://kailashkut.com/ and (Read more)

[1] The writer is a Professor of Architecture.
[2] The structure was put up by General Keshar Sumsher JB Rana in 1939.
[3] The full reading of the inscription is:
De va na pi ya na pi ya da si na la ji na vi sa ti va sa bhi si te na
a ta na a ga cha ma hi yi te hi da bu dhe ja te sa kya mu ni ti
si la vi ga da bhi cha ka la pi ta si la tha bhe cha u sa pa pi te
hi da bha ga vm ja te ti lu mi ni ga me u ba li ke ka te a tha bha gi ya cha.
[4] The interpretation of meaning varies. For example, D.C. Sircar ('Inscriptions of Asoka'
Publication Division, Govt. of India, 1967; pp. 69) translates as "...., because the Buddha, the sage of the Sakyas, was born here. He caused to be built a stone wall around the place and also erected this stone pillar to commemorate his visit." The nature of marking stone found and no find of stone wall refutes this translation fully.