October 5, 2014

LUMBINI ON TRIAL: ARE THERE ANY UNTOLD STORIES ABOUT THE BUDDHA BIRTHPLACE ?

[Here is a post today  against, in what traditionalist believe, on Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha by a British author, Terence Phelps, who is also one of the contributors to The Himalayan Voice and is involved in Buddhological studies for over 35 years already, as he once wrote so to us also. He holds a totally different view on the Buddha birthplace site, determined according to what Xuanzang (Chinese: 玄奘; Hsüan-tsang; 602 – 664) wrote in his travelogue. The Himalayan Voice does welcome every other view on any Himalayan issues but does in no way back up 'nationalism' in any academic discourses whatever. We have already discussed with the author in 2010 and hold different view than what he has in his paper below. And, one more question again: was the Lumbini pillar transported from some other site to the present location then ? But, it does not seem to be the case very frankly. - The Blogger]




By Terence Phelps
There is compelling evidence to show that the site of Lumbini, the Buddha’s birthplace, is a colossal fraud. The details of its discovery in 1896 reveal an extraordinary tale of deception and intrigue, which is now told for the first time.

At present, controversy continues to surround the location of Kapilavastu, the Buddha’s native town, with both India and Nepal promoting bids for this historically significant site. The Indian claim is based on the finds made at Piprahwa, in Basti District, Uttar Pradesh; the Nepalese, by that of Tilaurakot and its surrounding sites, in the Western Tarai of Nepal. It is my intention in this paper, however, to demonstrate that neither of these claims can be considered as acceptable, and to show that equal doubt attaches to the site of Lumbini also. I further propose to nominate what I consider to be the correct locations for these and other major Buddhist sites, and to give detailed evidence in support of these proposals.

An old French saying declares that to know a river you should know its source, and any attempt to assess the reliability of the present identifications should begin by taking a close look at the circumstances surrounding their discovery. Chief among the participants in those events - and in my view central to them all - was the notorious figure of Dr Alois Anton Fuhrer, a German archaeologist employed by the (British) Government of the North-Western Provinces and Oudh between 1885-98, and co-discoverer of the present Lumbini site.

Modern Indologists, while aware of Fuhrer’s unsavoury reputation, have neglected to conduct any really close scrutiny of his activities, fondly believing that these have long since been satisfactorily catalogued and assessed, and that Fuhrer may be safely consigned to oblivion in consequence. Unfortunately, this is far from being the case. Fuhrer drove a coach and horses through critical areas of Indological research, and his deceptions continue to have far-reaching consequences for world history to this day. He was a prolific plagiarist and forger (who worked, alarmingly, on the first two volumes of the Epigraphia Indica) 1 and I have good reason to believe that his deceptions were sometimes condoned, even exploited, by the Government of the day, for imperial reasons of their own. Following Fuhrer’s resignation in 1898, the Secretary to the Lieutenant-Governor of the North-Western Provinces remarked, in a letter to central Government, that ‘His Honor fears it must be admitted that no statement made by Dr Fuhrer on archaeological subjects, at all events, can be accepted until independently verified’. 2. Unfortunately this verification was by no means as rigorous as one might perhaps have wished, as we shall shortly see.

Fuhrer’s Early Years

Fuhrer was appointed to the position of Curator at the Lucknow Provincial Museum in 1885, and became Archaeological Surveyor to the Government of the North-Western Provinces and Oudh shortly thereafter. In 1889 he challenged the identification for the site of Kapilavastu (then thought to be Bhuila Dih in Basti District) an event which should be borne in mind whilst reviewing later developments in his career. 3

Fuhrer’s first venture into fraudulent activity appears to have occurred in 1892. In his Progress Report for that season, he copied inscriptions from Buhler’s articles on Sanchi and Mathura, reworked them, and wrote the resultant forgeries into the report of his own excavations at the site of Ramnagar. 4. This wholesale deception appears to have passed completely unnoticed during this period, including, apparently, by Buhler himself, with whom Fuhrer was then in correspondence. He also incised Brahmi inscriptions on to stone exhibits in the Lucknow Museum at this time, forgeries which should also be noted in the light of subsequent events. 5

The Nigliva Discovery

In 1893, Fuhrer reported that Jaskaran Singh, a wealthy landowner from Balrampur, had found an inscribed Asokan pillar at Bairat, a deserted spot near the Indo-Nepalese border.6.Two years later, Fuhrer ‘left for Balrampur...to look up the Asoka pillar’ which Singh had reported, but ‘it turned out that the information furnished by Major Jaskaran Singh was unfortunately misleading as to the exact position of this pillar’, and ‘after experiencing many difficulties’, Fuhrer found a pillar near the Nepalese village of Nigliva (see map). 7. An Asokan inscription was reportedly discovered by Fuhrer on a broken piece of this pillar, the main shaft of which lay close by. Though the local villagers supposedly told him that ‘other inscriptions were hidden beneath the soil’ in which this stump was partly buried, Fuhrer was refused permission to excavate, and he was thus ‘compelled to content myself with taking impressions and paper moulds of the lines visible above ground’. Permission to excavate was granted two months later, but as this was ‘without any results whatsoever’, it is evident that the inscription was that of ‘the lines visible above ground’ on Fuhrer's arrival. . This is most important, as we shall shortly see.

The inscription referred to Asoka’s enlargement of the stupa of the ‘previous Buddha’, Konagamana, which according to Fuhrer was situated close by, ‘amidst vast brick ruins stretching far away in the direction of the southern gate of Kapilavastu’. Fuhrer gave extensive details of this ancient and impressive structure, declaring that it was ‘undoubtedly one of the oldest Buddhist monuments in India’, and stating that ‘on all sides of this interesting monument are ruined monasteries, fallen columns, and broken sculptures’. 9

All this was pure moonshine however, as later surveys soon revealed. The stupa didn’t exist, and it was found that Fuhrer had copied its elaborate details (including those ‘ruined monasteries, fallen columns, and broken sculptures’) from Alexander Cunningham’s book ‘Bhilsa Topes’. 10. Moreover, Fuhrer’s statement that this Asokan inscription was ‘visible above ground’ on his arrival raises further grave doubts. For in a later report by Drs Hoey and Waddell, it emerged that in 1893 – i. e. two years before Fuhrer’s visit - Hoey had commissioned the local Governor, Khadga Shamsher, to take rubbings of the pillar inscriptions in this area, ‘but these were not of Asoka lettering’. Fuhrer also lied when he claimed that the inscribed portion of this pillar was ‘resting on a masonry foundation’, the precise measurements of which he also gave; this didn’t exist either, this broken piece being merely stuck into the ground at the site. Following an investigation of Fuhrer’s claims in 1899, Dr Hoey declared that Fuhrer had ‘lied and lied on a grand scale’ about his alleged Nepalese discoveries, adding that ‘one is appalled at the audacity of invention here displayed’. 11

Finally, according to the Divyavadana, Asoka was conducted to Lumbini for the first time by his spiritual preceptor, Upagupta, who pointed out to the king the spot where the Buddha was born. Though the Lumbini pillar inscription states that this visit occurred during the twentieth year of Asoka’s reign, the nearby Nigliva pillar inscription states that Asoka had ‘increased for the second time the stupa of Buddha Konagamana’ when he had been reigning for only fourteen years. 12. This is absurd. Why would Asoka decide to enlarge the Konagamana stupa - and for the second time - six years before he had even set foot in the Lumbini area?

The Lumbini Discovery

Having reportedly heard of ‘another edict pillar of Asoka’ in May 1895, Fuhrer once again left for Nepal in December 1896 ‘to explore the whole neighbourhood of Taulihawa as far as Bhagvanpur’, where this second pillar was said to exist. 13. It should be noted that there was, at this time, no reason for Fuhrer to suppose that this pillar -– the present Lumbini pillar – was an ‘edict pillar of Asoka’. V. A. Smith had obtained rubbings from it ‘a dozen years’ earlier, and having found only ‘mediaeval scribblings’ on its exposed portion had ‘thought nothing further of the matter’. 14

The site was supposedly called ‘Rummindei’, this being considered to be a later variant of the name ‘Lumbini’. 15. But as E. J. Thomas observed:

‘According to Fuhrer, “this deserted site is still locally called Rummindei” (Monograph, p. 28). This statement was generally accepted before Fuhrer’s imaginativeness was discovered, and is still incautiously repeated. Yet he admitted that it was not the name used by the present Nepalese officials. “It is a curious fact (he says) that the true meaning of this ancient Buddhistic name has long been forgotten, as the present Nepalese officials believe the word to signify the sthan of Rupa-devi”. V. A. Smith said “the name Rummindei, of which a variant form Rupadei (sic) is known to the hill-men, is that of the shrine near the top of the mound of ruins”. This gives no further evidence for Fuhrer’s assertion, and it appears that neither the Nepalese officials nor the hill-men called it Rummindei’.  16

Whilst the Indian Survey map of 1915 lists the spot as ‘Roman-devi’, it should be noted that another ‘Roman-dei’ exists about 30 miles WSW of the Nepalese site, near the Indian town of Chandapar. 17.  Today, the site is situated in the ‘Rupandehi District’ of Nepal.

The Lumbini Pillar Inscription

Whatever the event, in December 1896 Fuhrer met up at this Nepalese ‘Rummindei’ with the local Governor, General Khadga Shamsher, ‘a man with intrigue in his bones’, 18 who having assassinated one Prime Minister of Nepal and plotted against two others, was finally exiled to British India shortly thereafter. 19. Following Fuhrer’s arrival, the subsequent excavations around the pillar reportedly disclosed an Asokan inscription about a metre below ground, and level with the top of a surrounding brick enclosure.

The credit for the discovery of this inscription later prompted an official enquiry, since Fuhrer had supposedly left the site just before any excavations had begun, leaving the Governor and his ‘sappers’ to do the digging. In his official letter on the matter, Fuhrer stated that he had advised the Governor ‘that an inscription would be found if a search was made below the surface of the mound’ on which the pillar was situated. 20. Since there was no previous historical reference to such an inscription, one wonders at Fuhrer’s remarkable prescience on this occasion. However, since this inscription provides the sole basis for the identification of this place with Lumbini, I propose to deal with it before passing on to other features at this site.

The appearance of this inscription in 1896 marked its first recorded appearance in history. The Chinese pilgrims, Fa-hsien and Yuan-chuang, make no mention of it in their accounts of the Lumbini site (though Yuan-chuang does give a detailed description of a pillar) and as Thomas Watters observed:

‘We have no records of any other pilgrims visiting this place, or of any great Buddhists residing at it, or of any human life, except that mentioned by the two pilgrims, between the Buddha’s time and the present.  21

An unpublished manuscript of Watters was published by the Royal Asiatic Society (UK) following his death in 1901. In this publication, the following statement is found with reference to the Lumbini site:

‘Yuan-chuang, as we have seen, mentions a stone pillar, but he does not say anything about an inscription on it. The Fang-chih, however, tells us that the pillar recorded the circumstances of Buddha's birth’. 22

The Fang-chih – a shortened version of Yuan-chuang’s account - does nothing of the sort, since whilst it also refers to a pillar at Lumbini, no inscription ‘recording the circumstances of Buddha’s birth’ is mentioned in this text either. 23. Watters, a great Sinologist, was referred to by V. A. Smith as ‘one of the most brilliant ornaments’ of Chinese Buddhist scholarship, and it is inconceivable that he would have made this critical mistake. Indeed, when Smith had earlier asserted that the Lumbini pillar inscription ‘set at rest all doubts as to the exact site of the traditional birthplace of Gautama Buddha’, 24  Watters had acidly retorted that ‘it would be more correct to say that the inscription, if genuine, tells us what was the spot indicated to Asoka as the birthplace of the Buddha’. 25. Note that ‘if genuine’ : this shows that Watters not only had his doubts about this inscription, but that he was prepared to voice those doubts in public. Moreover, according to Smith, ‘Mr Watters writes in a very sceptical spirit, and apparently feels doubts as to the reality of the Sakya principality in the Tarai’. 26 .From all this, it will be seen that this supposed Fang-chih ‘mistake’ of Watters was totally at variance with his ‘very sceptical spirit’ regarding these supposed Nepalese discoveries (Lumbini included) ; and I shall therefore charge that it was a posthumous interpolation into Watters’ original text by its editors, Rhys Davids, S. W. Bushell, and Smith.  If this charge is correct – and I am quite sure that it is - then the reasons behind this appalling deception can only be guessed at, I need hardly add. 27.

Fuhrer was later found to have fraudulently laid claim to the discovery of about twenty relic-caskets at sites close to Lumbini, which he declared bore Asokan, and even pre-Asokan inscriptions. 28. One of these items supposedly contained a tooth-relic of the Buddha, which Fuhrer exchanged for gifts with a Burmese monk, U Ma (the correspondence between these two makes for lamentable reading, with Fuhrer exploiting U Ma’s gullibility quite unmercifully). 29. Following an official enquiry into the matter, this tooth-relic was found to be ‘apparently that of a horse’ : Fuhrer had explained its large size to an indignant U Ma by pointing out that according to ‘your sacred writings’ the Buddha was nearly thirty feet in height!

According to Fuhrer, this ‘Buddhadanta’ had been found by a villager inside a ruined brick stupa near Tilaurakot, and was ‘enshrined in a bronze casket, bearing the following inscription in Maurya characters: “This sacred tooth-relic of Lord Buddha (is) the gift of Upagupta”’ (the mentor of Asoka). 30. Having obligingly parted with the relic, the villager had refused to part with the inscribed casket itself ‘which is still in his possession’. Fuhrer reported finding this phony Asokan inscription during the selfsame visit which saw the discovery of the Asokan inscription at LumbiniMoreover, according to Fuhrer, the Lumbini inscription includes words which were supposedly spoken by Upagupta whilst showing Asoka the Buddha’s birth-spot : ‘It would almost appear as if Asoka had engraved on this pillar the identical words which Upagupta uttered at this place’, he tells us, all wide-eyed. 31. However, what with a bogus Upagupta quote on the casket, an Upagupta quote on the pillar, and Fuhrer’s keen taste for forging Brahmi inscriptions, we may here recall that he had fraudulently incised Brahmi inscriptions on to stone four years earlier (see ‘Fuhrer's Early Years’). And indeed, this pillar inscription ‘appeared almost as if freshly cut’ when Rhys Davids examined it in 1900, 32   a view echoed by Professors N. Dutt and K. D. Bajpai, who noted that ‘it appears as if the inscription has been very recently incised’ when they examined it fifty years later.33. W. C. Peppe observed that ‘the rain falling on this pillar must have trickled over these letters and it is marvellous how well they are preserved; they stand out boldly as if they had been cut today and show no signs of the effects of climate; not a portion of the inscription is even stained’. Inscriptions on other Asokan pillars located at sites associated with the Buddha’s life and ministry - Sarnath and Kosambi, for example - contain no references to their Buddhist associations, as this pillar so conspicuously - and twice - does; and no other inscription makes reference to any erection of a particular pillar by Asoka (as this one does) either. And with the exceptions of Sarnath and Sanchi, where only broken bases of pillars have been found, the surfaces of all other inscribed Asokan pillars are almost covered with inscriptions, whereas this pillar, and the nearby Nigliva pillar, display only single meagre inscriptions of 4 -5 lines each, and as J. F. Fleet has pointed out, they are not really edicts at all. 34.

There is an additional mystery here. As noted above, Fuhrer had supposedly left the site just before the inscription was unearthed. Yet he had travelled up from Lucknow, crossed the Nepalese Tarai to Nigliva by elephant – a difficult and laborious undertaking - and then been further redirected to the ‘Rummindei’ site, where he had been officially appointed to superintend the excavations. According to Fuhrer, he finally arrived at the site, identified the pillar as Asokan, assured Khadga Shamsher that an Asokan inscription would be found after further excavation, and then, astonishingly, left before the inscription was exposed. This is absurd. Given that Fuhrer had been officially appointed to oversee these excavations anyway, are we really to believe that after several days’ arduous efforts to reach this site, and himself declaring that this world-shaking discovery was close at hand – a couple of hours’ excavation away at most – Fuhrer would then simply walk away, leaving Khadga Shamsher to expose the inscription in his absence? This is like believing that Howard Carter would choose to walk away from the opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb ; it was, after all, a defining moment not just of Indian archaeology, but of world history also. V. A. Smith stated that a nearby landowner, Duncan Ricketts, ‘had the good fortune to be present while the inscription was being unearthed. Dr Fuhrer arrived a little later’. 35. But Smith’s statement ignores Fuhrer’s earlier arrival at the site ; and since the accounts which were furnished by Fuhrer and Khadga Shamsher make no reference to Ricketts anyway, one assumes that Fuhrer had alerted him to these excavations after this mysterious departure (Ricketts lived just a few miles away). So what’s to stop Fuhrer from forging the inscription, reinterring the excavated soil (a common archaeological practice) and then notifying Ricketts of events at the site, an action which would have served to remove any subsequent awkward questions on the matter? Only this scenario, it seems to me, can explain Fuhrer’s sudden absence at this critical moment - by far the most important in his entire archaeological career - and it is obvious that skulduggery was very much at work here.

Fuhrer also refers to a ‘pilgrim's mark’ on the upper part of this pillar, and whilst providing no photograph of it, nor giving any details of its script, language, or content, he nevertheless dates it at around 700 AD. 36. According to him, since this item was visible above ground whilst the Asokan inscription lay hidden beneath the soil, this somehow explains Yuan-chuang’s failure to notice the latter during his visit to Lumbini in 635 AD. But this was yet another Fuhrer lie – there is no such ‘pilgrim’s mark’ on this pillar - and it is evident that this was merely another clumsy attempt by Fuhrer (as with the phony Nigliva stupa) to add credence to this Asokan inscription also. Why else would Fuhrer invent it?

Moreover, there are serious epigraphical problems with the pillar inscription itself. The term ‘silavigadabhi’ which occurs in this inscription appears to have baffled all attempts at translation thus far. According to Pischel, vigadabhi is ‘literally, ‘not so uncouth as a donkey'’ (a translation which Fuhrer cheerfully endorsed) though quite how this phrase might relate to the birthplace of the Buddha remains unclear. 37 More damaging still, however, is the presence of the term ‘Sakyamuni’ in this inscription. Simply put, it shouldn’t be there. ‘Sakyamuni’ is a later, Sanskritised form of this term, and thus has no place in an allegedly Asokan Brahmi inscription. Its earliest appearance occurred at least three centuries afterAsoka, when the north-western Prakrit inscriptions began to show Sanskrit influence – so-called Epigraphical Hybrid Sanskrit - and before this it was always written as ‘Sakamuni’ in both Brahmi and Kharosthi inscriptions. 38There would thus appear to be no epigraphical support for the presence of ‘Sakyamuni’ in this Asokan Brahmi inscription, and I shall charge that this exposes it as yet another Fuhrer forgery. Though it occurs in a few Pali texts, these were also written down much later, and as J. F. Fleet observed:

‘The inscriptions of India are the only sure grounds of historical results in every line of research connected with its ancient past; they regulate everything that we can learn from coins, architecture, art, literature, tradition, or any other source.  39

A similar caution has been expressed by Richard Salomon:

‘...there can be no question that in Buddhological studies as a whole the testimony of the inscriptions has not generally been given the weight it merits, and that the entire field of the history of Buddhism, which has traditionally been dominated by a strongly text-oriented approach, must be re-examined in its light.  40.

The Location of the Lumbini Pillar

The pillar at the present Lumbini site is in the ‘wrong’ place; that is, it is in a very different position, relative to the so-called ‘Sacred Pool’, from that given by Yuan-chuang (and the pillar rests upon a support-stone, it should be noted here). 41. According to this pilgrim, a decayed ‘Asoka-flower’ tree lay twenty-five paces to the north of the pool at Lumbini, marking the birth-spot of the Buddha. To the east of this lay an Asokan stupa, marking the spot where ‘two dragons’ bathed the newly-born prince. To the east of this were two more stupas, close to two springs; to the south of these was another stupa; close to this were four more stupas; and close to these was the stone pillar itself, broken in half and lying near to a little ‘river of oil’. A little elementary geometry will disclose that the pillar thus lay - apparently at some distance - to either the east or to the south-east of the pool. At the present site, however, the pillar (on its support-stone, remember) stands a mere 75 metres or so to the north-north-west of the pool, a position diametrically opposed to that given by Yuan-chuang in his carefully detailed account.

The Mayadevi Temple

In 1994, I photographed an official notice at the present Lumbini site (see Fig. 1 ) the text of which ran as follows:

‘The famous Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang says :- “Lumbini is on the bank of the River Telar where an Asokan pillar (with a split in the centre), the Mayadevi Temple, the Sacred Tank, and a few stupas are situated”.’

Yuan-chuang, alas, makes no such statement, and like Fa-Hsien, his account makes no mention whatsoever of any ‘Mayadevi Temple’ at Lumbini. He is also, as we have seen, quite specific about the stupas at the site, and of their significance, and his account mentions only a ‘little river of oil’ and not the River Telar (which runs about a kilometre away from the present site anyway). As for the ‘Mayadevi Temple’ itself, I can find nothing to connect this structure with Lumbini, let alone with anything Buddhist. Neither of the Chinese pilgrims make any reference to such a ‘temple’ at Lumbini, and the present structure is an entirely modern affair anyway, beneath which lay the remains of an earlier edifice exposed by P.C. Mukherji in 1899. 42. The ornately-carved bricks which formed part of this earlier structure were absolutely identical to those found in remains at the nearby Sivaite sites of Sagarwa and Kodan, these being dated by Debala Mitra at ‘not earlier than the eighth century AD’. 43.

Similarly, the sandstone image in this ‘temple’ (see Fig. 2) supposedly of Mayadevi giving birth to the Buddha, appears equally dubious on a close examination of its discovery. The figures on it are so defaced as to be unrecognisable (see Fig. 5) and it originally formed part of the remains of various broken statues which Mukherji found during his visit to the site in 1899. These consisted of various Hindu deities such as Varahi, Durga, Parvati, Ganesh, etc - nothing Buddhist - and it is noted that the supposed image of Mayadevi bears a striking resemblance to figures of yakshis and devatas also (see Figs. 2-4 ). 44 Moreover, it is by no means certain that the all-important top piece of this alleged ‘Mayadevi’ figure, with its raised arm holding a tree-branch, was originally associated with the torso either. This critical feature was absent when Hoey first saw the image in 1897, being later added by Mukherji from among the broken pieces mentioned above. During a further visit, P.C. Landon noted that among various examples of Mukherji's careless assembly of these pieces was one showing a head of Ganesh placed on ‘the headless body of a female deity’ (see Fig. 6). 45.  Whatever the event, all of these items - the so-called ‘Mayadevi’ figure included - were associated with the earlier structure found by Mukherji, and are therefore of mediaeval Hindu provenance. There is thus nothing Buddhist about the ‘Mayadevi Temple’ at all, and it was never a place of Buddhist worship either.

( Read full paper here > Lumbini On Trial: The Untold Story)