May 8, 2013

LUMBINI , THE BIRTH LAND OF THE BUDDHA, FROM MAGAR HISTORICAL LINGUISTIC STANDPOINT

[The Lumbini Ashokan Pillar standing by the ‘Maya Devi Temple’ in Lumbini Garden speaks the fact. The writing on the pillar,- ‘hida bhagabvam jateti Lummnigame’ – exclusively provides a proof that the Buddha was born in present Nepal’s Lumbini some 2600 years ago. It is therefore worth the time discussing lexical importance of  – ‘Lummini+game’ i.e. ‘Lumbini’ also. What has also been claimed is that Lumbini is other form of ‘Lhum + beni’. with an aspirated ‘l’ of which ‘Lhum’ means ‘a vast land or flat land’ and ‘beni’ means ‘confluence of two rivers’ in Magar Kura - a language spoken by the Magars of mid-hills of Nepal[1]. Lumbini is on a vast land or ‘Tarai’ of western Nepal. And also, there seem to have been some sizable waters around Lumbini in  those days. Such as some springs at Lumbini and the Telar River flowing south east of it. They should have made a confluence near Lumbini.[2]]

By B. K. Rana
Introduction:
This short note  was prepared for a talk in front of some inquisitive researchers, currently studying social change and development in the Himalayan country of Nepal. The Nepalese Hindu monarchy was abolished in 2008[3] and the marginal indigenous people  – the IPs, who mostly profess Buddhism or worship nature, wanted secularism in the country.  The current Interim Constitution of 2008, article 4 (1) specifically states that Nepal is a secular country. Since it is an Interim Constitution, secularism therefore, has faced challenges or in other words  it is not quite in practice. The atmosphere in the country appears hostile against  the Buddhist and other religious minorities as intimidation and persecution continue unhindered.

After the 1990 people’s movement for democracy the Nepalese IPs assert Buddhism being their religious way of life and hence identity also. The Magar community, one of the largest groups of people in Nepal and by far the largest among the IPs in the country is in a ‘state of religious reawakening’ or returning back to Buddhism. I shall , in this note, discuss few lexical entries in the Pali Canon and ‘naming’ of the ancient Lumbini garden, the birth land of the Buddha, in a lexicographic context, however would also deal with some introductory remarks as well. The proper name word: ‘Lumbini’ is not Sanskrit[4] nor has it come from any other Indo-European languages. What could be the root of this word ? Could it have come from Magar language of central Nepal  or any other local languages in the area ? If yes, what could have been the relationship of Lumbini to the Magar people and rest other indigenous peoples or IPs in the ancient times ?

Nepalese IPs Assert They Are Buddhists:

Most of the Indigenous peoples or the IPs of Nepal assert to be enumerated in the population census as the Buddhists as concerns their religious identity. They collectively form the biggest block of 37.38% of the total population of the country. Then they are followed by Brahman plus Kshatriyas and others, the so-called 'Upallo Jat' or 'upper class people' altogether, 36.56%, who secured 89.9% gazetted governmental civil service positions (Subba et al. 2002 – 74). These civil service government officers are the sole operators or in other words consumers of nearly  90% Nepal’s national resources. This opened up avenues for disagreements that culminated in the Maoists’ 10 years ‘peoples war’ and discontent from other social groups also. The Dalits or the 'Shudras or paani nachalne' or the water untouchables are 21.79 % , Muslims and other make up 4.27% of Nepalese population. The IPs and Dalits plus other disadvantaged groups  constituted 63.44% of Nepali population in 2001[5].

The Magars are the largest ethnic group or indigenous people of Nepal by 7.14 % of the total population standing third only after Kshatriyas 15.80 % and Brahmans 12.74% (National Population Census Report 2001). Since they are marginalized along with other IPs and Dalits in the country, the Magars also find discriminated against, through the passage of history for political reasons. They also believe, some of them being later converted to Hinduism. This is the reason why they ‘labor hard’ these days to be identified as others than  the Hindus in the national population censuses. However, few Magars, very small in size,  resist it[6]. Did  the ancestors of  Magars really follow Buddhism ? Or in case the Magars went back to Buddhism, would that really matter for Nepal ?[7] What social impact on the Himalayan region would it have  ? Will it have some impact on other IPs across  the border of Nepal, such as Uttranchal, Himanchal etc. in the west and Darjeeling , Sikkim and Assam  provinces in the eastern India also?

Lumbini Lexical Analysis:

The Lumbini Ashokan Pillar standing by the ‘Maya Devi Temple’ in Lumbini Garden speaks the fact. The writing on the pillar,- ‘hida bhagabvam jateti Lummnigame’ – exclusively provides a proof that the Buddha was born in present Nepal’s Lumbini some 2600 years ago. It is therefore worth the time discussing lexical importance of  – ‘Lummini+game’ i.e. ‘Lumbini’ also. What has also been claimed is that Lumbini is other form of ‘Lhum + beni’. with an aspirated ‘l’ of which ‘Lhum’ means ‘a vast land or flat land’ and ‘beni’ means ‘confluence of two rivers’ in Magar Kura - a language spoken by the Magars of mid-hills of Nepal[8]. Lumbini is on a vast land or ‘Tarai’ of western Nepal. And also, there seem to have been some sizable waters around Lumbini in  those days. Such as some springs at Lumbini and the Telar River flowing south east of it. They should have made a confluence near Lumbini.[9]

Faxian transcribes ‘Lumbini’ as ‘Lun-min or Lun-ming’ with two distinctive nasal variations whereas Xuanzang ‘sinotizes’ it as ‘La-fa-ni’. These two Faxian and Xuanzang variations are due to their reception of a different family lexis. Such difference normally occurs among the speakers of different language families. Here  ‘Lumbini’ has either become ‘Lun-min’ or ‘Lun-ming’ or ‘La-fa-ni’ in Sino-Tibetan, which is very understandable. This is natural and there should be no specific meanings attached to them. But some scholars find  Xuanzang (Hiuen Tsiang)’s ‘La-fa-ni’ corresponding with ‘La-va-ni’ of Sanskrit, which means ‘a beautiful woman’. Phonetically, ‘La-fa-ni’ and ‘La-va-ni’ bear same voiceless and voiced i.e pharyngeal fricative features. ‘La-fa-ni’ more in the sense is a ‘folk-etymological toponymy’ of ‘Lumbini’  which could have been something like ‘Lam-ba-ni’ referring to later Chinese Buddhist lexicography. This lexicography looks somewhat funnier. The lexes ‘Lafani’ and ‘Lavani’ here seem to be  referring to Buddha’s grandmother who might have been a beautiful woman.

Without any definitive morphological analysis so to say, Nepali scholars have Lumbini  identified as a Sanskrit word, however, others have not done so. The word Lumbini comes in Lalitvistar,78.19; 79:11, 16, 81.8. and whose meaning is given as ‘of the grove where Shakymuni was born’. But ‘ni or  ‘nie’ of ‘Lumbiniya’ or ‘Lumbini’ is attributed to a non-existent adjective of ‘Lumbiniya. Whereas ‘Lumba’ is defined as class of deities : Mahasama (Edgerton,  1970- 462)

Some scholars believe ‘Anjan, the king of Devadaha made a beautiful garden and named it ‘Lumbini’ after his Queen Lavani. The queen was Buddha’s grandmother from his mother’s side’. Not much information is available on the Queen Mother Lavani, however, she could give a famous name to the garden where the Buddha was born. If we agreed on  the Queen Mother Lavani receiving a Sanskrit name from Lavanya meaning ‘beautiful’  Lafani  could be reconstructed as Lavani but may not Lambani in Chinese language. Etymologically, ‘Lumbini’ or Lumbinidevi, Rummindei, Rupandevi and Rupandehi all bear the same distinctive feature.

Discriminated Magars Seek Relationship With The Buddha:

Some Magars also sometime labour to relate themselves with the Buddha by some genetics, however, no epigraphic and other archaeological evidence have been found so far to substantiate  it. They take linguistic and cultural aspects to  discuss it. One of the Buddha’s ancestors, Wakka had some supernatural power to ‘flash a beam of light’ while speaking to others - it is so written in Buddhist literature.[10] In Magar Kura or Magar language – ‘wakka’ plainly means ‘to vomit’ or ‘regurgitate’ or ‘cast out.’ But vomiting in Nepali is also ‘wakka’ . It can’t be said for sure Nepali, the national language of Nepal might have borrowed from Magar Kura and ‘flashing light while speaking’ also may not be scientifically proven to be true. Did the Buddha’s ancestors speak Magar Kura  also ? The most admired of the Buddha’s disciples was Ananda. The Buddha used to call him ‘Sekh’ meaning – ‘a listener’ in Magar Kura.  In Magar Kura  a banana is called ‘mocha’ and there are some instances this word being used in the Buddhist literature. In Magar Kura 'Nalan’ means 'Lotus flower'  and ‘da’ meaning – ‘put’ but I am not sure whether it has anything to do with the famous historical 'Nalanada', the ancient center of higher learning in Bihar, India, which is also called "one of the first great universities in recorded history". In the Buddhist literature 'Grahi-Vinay’  a thread is referred as sutta (Cf. Sanskrit - Sutra).  M. S. Thapa Magar finds maximum use of 'Magar vocabulary' in the Buddhist  literature. [11]  

Cultural Parallel

The Buddha had married his maternal uncle’s daughter – Yashodhara. This cross-cousin marriage tradition is still alive in the Magar community of Nepal today, however, such cultural practice can be found in Orissa also.  The Buddha’s wife Yashodhara offers here another striking feature of naming of the Magar girls of Nepal. The inflection  - Dhara, Tara and Sara etc. are still common in Nepalese Magar community. The suffix Sara in discussion  can be found in  Muslim community as Sayara and which also becomes Sara or Sarah in Christian community. In the Western world Sara or Sarah is very common female name word. But  Sara in both of these communities is  a full name, not a suffix.

There is  a mentioning of the Buddha’s shaving head off and throwing the hair away when he renounced the throne of  Kapilvastu in Lalitvistar, chapter Abhiniskraman - the great renunciation or 'leaving home' in  Page 51. The Buddha’s hair shaving has an impact in Magar tradition and culture until today. The Magars also offer worship to Chandi deity on the Buddha Purnima i.e. the Buddha birthday, offering black piece of cloth for the Buddha’s sacred hair. I myself had offered such worship while  I was a school boy. My grandfather Japhat Bahadur Rana would tell me to worship the deity.  During Samyak  Puja (worship) in the Buddhist Newar Community in Kathmandu, four Magar priests from Manakaman Temple, Gorkha must present themselves in person. They  stay at "Bharayau Baha" during the ceremony. It does well attest that the early Magars had followed Buddhism and practised Buddhist culture in their day to day life.

Conclusion:

Whether the Buddha’s ancestors spoke Magar Kura or not may be a different topic for discussion but it is true that there is a huge impact of the Buddha and Buddhism in the language and culture of the Magars of Nepal also. And again whether the Magars of Nepal identify themselves as Buddhists or Shamanists or Hindus or Christians or any others is purely a political question; the answer of which comes from individual liberty and judgment what they should follow and desire to be identified as in the national population censuses.

References:

Deeg, Max 2003: The Places Where Siddhartha Trod: Lumbini and Kapilvastu - Lumbini International Research Institute.

Edgerton, Franklin 1970: Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Grammar and Dictionary. Motilal Banarasidash, Delhi.


Ghimire, Madhav Prasad et al. 2040 : Nepali Brihat Shavdakosh – Royal Nepal Academy,  (घिमिरे , माधव प्रसाद तथा अन्य २०४०नेपाली बृहत शव्दकोष - नेपाल राजकीय प्रज्ञा प्रतिष्ठान , काठमाडौँ , नेपाल )

Macdonell, Arthur Anthony 1954: A Practical Sanskrit Dictionary - Oxford University Press.

Monier Williams, Sir Monier 1899: A Sanskrit English Dictionary – Oxford University Press.

Rana, B. K. 2010: Nepal’s Lumbini Where The Buddha Was Born – The Himalayan Voice

Rana, B. K. 2001:'राष्ट्रिय जनगणना, मगर समाज बौद्ध धर्म' - कान्तिपुर दैनिक - सम्बत् २०५७  साल फागुन १९ गते [ National Population Census, Magar Society and Buddhism'-  Kantipur Daily- Friday March 02, 2001 ]

Subba, Chaitanya et al. 2003: राष्ट्रिय विकासमा आदिवासी /जनजाति : मूल मुद्दा, व्यवधान अवशरहरु – (Indigenous Nationalities in National Development: Major Issues,Challenges and Opportunities: Instititute for Integrated Development Studies - IIDS


Sharma, Bal Chandra 2019: Nepali Shvdakosh – Royal Nepal Academy, Kathmandu, Nepal . (शर्मा, बाल चन्द्र  २०१९नेपाली शव्दकोष - नेपाल राजकीय प्रज्ञा प्रतिष्ठान, काठमाडौँ , नेपाल )



[1] M. S. Thapa explained to me over an email message.
[2]  Tinau Khola  has also something to do with this discussion.
[3] The first sitting of Nepalese Constituent Assembly on May 28, 2008 abolished the monarchy of Nepal.
[4] But the word is listed as Sanskrit in 'Nepali Dictionary' – Bikram  Sambat 2019- PP 922  by Bal Chandra Sharma and later in 'Nepali Brihat Dictionary' – Bikram Sambat 2040- PP 1184. These both dictionaries were published by then Royal Nepal Academy, a state funded boy. In both of the dictionaries
 the editors have failed to understand whether ‘Butwal’ is a district or a  city in the district. 
[5] The government population census reports are  being contested by the IPs of Nepal. 
[6] Some Magars have been favored by the state and in return converted  themselves to  Hinduism.
[7]
Nepal:  “The 2001 census identified 80.6% of the population as Hindu and 10.7% as Buddhist (although many people labeled Hindu or Buddhist often practice a syncretic blend of Hinduism, Buddhism, or animist traditions). 4.2% of the population is Muslim and 3.6% of the population follows the indigenous Kirant Mundhum religion. Christianity is practiced by less than 0.5% of the population. [1]” Wikipedia. Independently verifiable.
India: “A vast majority of Indians associate themselves with a religion. According to the 2001 census, Hinduism accounts for 80.5% of the population of India. Islam (13.5%), Christianity (2.3%) and Sikhism (1.9%) are the other major religions followed by the people of India. This diversity of religious belief systems existing in India today is a result of, besides existence and birth of native religions, assimilation and social integration of religions brought to the region by traders, travelers, immigrants, and even invaders and conquerors.,” Wikipedia. Independently verifiable.
World: The CIA's World Factbook gives the world population as 7,021,836,029 (July 2012 est.) and the distribution of religions as Christian 33.39% (of which Roman Catholic 18.85%, Protestant 8.15%, Orthodox 4.96%, Anglican 1.26%), Muslim 22.74%, Hindu 13.8%, Buddhist 6.77%, Sikh 0.35%, Jewish 0.22%, Baha'i 0.11%, other religions 10.95%, non-religious 9.66%, atheists 2.01%. (2010 est.).[1]Wikipedia. Independently verifiable.
[8] M. S. Thapa explained over an email message.
[9]  Tinau Khola  has also something to do with this discussion.
[10] Wakka: It is said (DA.i.258) that the name Okkaka was given to the king because when he spoke light issued from his mouth like a torch (kathanakale ukka viya mukhato pabha niccharati). 
[11] Akkha Lipi ra Prachin Magar – 2048 ( Akkha script and the ancient Magars- 2048).