Lumbini’s Latest Discovery: the Birth Spot of the Buddha
Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on December 23, 2011
Ven. Bhikshu Sudarshan Mahasthavir
Lumbini (Lummini) 2 is the birthplace of Sakyamuni Buddha. At the age of 29, the Buddha-to-be (Bodhisattva) renounced in Kapilavastu (present-day Tilaurakot), and at the age of 35, he became the Buddha. For forty-five years the Buddha wandered teaching the Dhamma. At the age of 80, he arrived at Upavattana where between two Sal trees (Yamakasal), he lay down in the Mahaparinibban position with his head pointing to the north. The Venerable Ananda, the Buddha’s personal secretary (upatthapaka) for twenty-five years, asked the Buddha: “Generally, at the end of every rains-retreat (vassavasa), venerable monks from everywhere come to have an audience with you and I always enable them to have this opportunity. What will happen after the Tathagata’s (Buddha) demise (mahaparinibbana)?”
The Buddha answered: “Persons of devotion will continue to visit and see the four holy places: the place where Tathagata was born; the place where he attained enlightenment; the place where he turned the wheel of Dhamma; and the place where he passed away (or attained anupadise mahaparinibbana).” In fact, the actual meaning of making the pilgrimage to these four places was to have an audience with the Buddha and to attempt to acquire mental serenity.
In the Mahaparinibbana Sutta3 the exact names of the four holy places are not mentioned, but in other sources of the Pali Tipitaka, such as the Suttanipata,4 Buddhavamsa5, Thera-padana 6 in the Jataka commentaries,7 in ancient Sanskrit literature such as the Lalitavistara,8 or the Buddhacaritta 9 epic, there are detailed descriptions of Lumbini (as well as mentions of the names of the other three holy places). Moreover, there is an inscription in the Mauryan Brahmi script which attests to the fact that Lumbini is the birthplace of Sakyamuni Buddha. Obviously, Lumbini’s epigraphic evidence is of enormous significance, since in the other holy places no Mauryan inscriptions giving such names of Sambodhi Mandap, Isipatana Migadava or Kusinara have been discovered.
In Lumbini, there are five lines of Brahmi script engraved on the pillar erected by King Asoka (249-250 B.C.). In the second line there are two compound words hidabudhejate sakyamuniti, which translate as “Here Sakyamuni Buddha was born.” Also, the two first words in the fourth line are hidabhagavamjateti lumminigame, which translate as “As the Bhaga-vam 10 was born here, so in Lumbini village…”
This Mauryan inscription definitively puts an end to all previous guesses, disputes and debates on the subject of the Buddha’s birth spot. It also establishes that the Buddha was a historical person in contrast to the beliefs that the Buddha was a deity descended from the sun, etc.
This Asokan pillar must have been seen by many of the Nepalese inhabitants of the Terai before Major Jaskarana Singh11 saw it in 1893 A.D., and before General Khadga Shamsher was encouraged to do further excavation by Dr Alois A. Fuhrer on December 1, 1896. It was then that the significance of the pillar was made known outside Nepal.
This inscription is the earliest paleographic evidence for the Nepali name, Sakyamuni Buddha, and for the name of the place, Lumbini. Furthermore, in relation to the compound lumminigame ?(in Lumbini village) of the Asokan inscription, archaeological excavations carried out by His Majesty’s Government of Nepal have led to the discovery of the site of Lumbini on the southern side of the pillar (where, at the present, the Lumbini police station stands).
According to the Kunalavadana ?of Dibyavadana, having led King Asoka into the Lumbini jungle, the Venerable Upagupta pointed with his right hand and said: “Oh, Great King, Here the Buddha (bhagavam) was born (asmin maharaja paradese bhagavan jatah)!” 12 Thereafter, King Asoka made an offering of one hundred thousand gold coins and established the first pagoda (cetiya).13 This fact is also briefly noted in another chapter of the Dibyavadana, the Ashokavadana. From the fact of the village’s existence it might be that even the cetiya was erected in Lumbini by those local inhabitants who were already skilled in the establishment of villages.
In addition, the description given in the account entitled Shui-Ching-Chu 14 dating from before the fourth century recorded that in Lumbini: (1) the Asoka tree which had been planted over and over using the old trunk that had been grasped by Mayadevi during Siddhartha’s birth was still alive; (2) a statue of the Mayadevi grasping the Asoka tree and giving birth to the prince Siddhartha which was made out of lapis lazuli was placed beneath this tree; (3) devotees offered sweet-smelling flowers at the spot marking the place where Siddhartha’s feet first touched the earth; and (4) King Asoka had shielded the imprint of Siddhartha’s feet with lapis lazuli on both sides, and had them covered over with one long slab of lapis lazuli.
According to the travel account writen by Fa-Hsien (5 century), 15 the tree which was grasped by Mayadevi stood 20 paces north of the pond where she took her bath. However, Hiuen Tsiang (7 century) 16 noted that a decayed Asoka tree stood 24/25 steps north from the Shakyapauskarani pond of Lavani or Lumbini. Although Hiuen Tsiang mentions the Asokan pillar and the horse capital on its top, nothing is said about an inscription. Probably, at the time of his visit, the part of the pillar which was inscribed was buried underground. Otherwise Hiuen Tsiang would have surely described the Lumbini inscription just as he noted the Asokan pillar at Kusinara which records the Buddha’s demise.
Thus, among the travel documents written by visitors to Lumbini, the account given in the Shui-Ching-Chu is significant as it supports the findings made during the joint excavation carried out by the Lumbini Development Trust, His Majesty’s Government’s Archaeological Department, and the Japanese Buddhist Federation.
On February 4, 1996 the Honourable Sher Bahadur Deuba, the Prime Minister of Nepal, officially announced that the joint excavation carried out by Nepalese and Japanese archaeologists under the advice and guidance of an international team of experts had led to the re-discovery of the sacred spot where the Sakyamuni Buddha first touched the earth in Lumbini. This official government announcement had been preceded a year earlier by a report in the Japanese daily Asahi made on July 26, 1995.
Babu Krishna Rijal, 17 the chief archaeologist associated with this excavation, states that “the recent excavation at the base of sanctum sanctorum of Mayadevi temple in Lumbini has revealed the rough block of sand conglomerate stone which is of unusual in size and put within a boxchamber by Asoka Maurya in 3rd century B.C.” Kosh Prasad Acharya,18 the chief archaeological officer of Department of Archaeology of Nepal states that it is “a piece of rock (conglomerate?) has been put here in the centre of this chamber. Seven layers of bricks are put to make [a] platform for this piece of rock”. Professor Satoru Uesaka, 19 the chief Japanese archaeologist who is directly associated with the excavation, declares in his report that it is “a piece of natural rock (a hard conglomerate with the dimensions of 70cm x 40cm x 10cm with axis running in the south to north direction and containing a lot of pebbles) it (sic) found at the center at the top of the discovered level. This rock is likely a landmark stone.” According to the decision made by the 2nd Archaeological Expert’s Meeting held at Lumbini on 16 March 1995, Professor Ahmad Hasan Dani, a prominent Pakistani archaeologist, and Professor Krishna Deva, another prominent Indian archaeologist congratulated the Excavating team for “their greatest (sic) historic discovery of the exact spot of Lord Buddha’s birth as mentioned in Asokan Pillar set up by Asoka who visited Lumbini in 249 B.C.” Confirming the significance of the discovery, Dani further states: “the recent excavations are very important because they could discover the exact location of the place of Buddha’s birth in Lumbini”.
In this connection, I am of the opinion that, because of this archaeological discovery, there can be an end to the disputes and debates which have existed for nearly century, from the work done by Pischel20 (1903) to that of Norman21 (1994), on the Asokan term silavigadabhica kalapita found in the Lumbini inscription.
1 Ven. Bhikshu Sudarshan is Vice-President of All Nepal Bhikkhu Association and lecturer at Tribhvan University. A reputed scholar on Lumbini 2 As in Asokan pillar 3 Digha Nikaya 1989: 153-4 4 Sutta Nipata 1990:140 5 Buddhavamsa 1959:330 6 Sutta Pitaka 1959:152 7 Jatakaatthakatha 1951:40-41 8 Lalitavistara 1992:178, 180-1 9 Buddhacaritta 1972:2 10 Bhagavam is in the sense of annihilator of greed, hatred and delusion 11 Deo 1968:1 12 Dibyavadana 1959:248 13 Dibyavadana 1959:251 “caityam ca pratisthapya raja prakantah” 14 Petech 1950:35-36 15 Beal 1981:l 16 Beal 1981:II:24 17 Rijal n.d.:2 18 Rijal n.d.:2 19 Rijal n.d.:6 20 Pischel 1903:724-34 [I-II] 21 Norman 1994:227-37
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