More than twenty five thousand years ago, a woman named Maya Devi was travelling from her husband’s place to her father’s home in order to birth her child, for such is the custom. On the way was the beautiful garden of Lumbini. Tired, she decided to rest here under a big shady Sal tree when she went into an unexpected labor and gave birth to Siddhartha Gautama, the child who grew up to be Lord Buddha.
Today, Lumbini is a place of great historical, religious and archeological importance. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the birth place of Buddha, a sacred ground visited by thousands of pilgrims. But, it is not only for the religiously motivated. There are many attractions that make it a great tourist destination. Following are the things to see in and around Lumbini.
Maya Devi Temple
In the holy ground itself, a temple known as Maya Devi has been erected to mark the birthplace. Inside it are the excavated ruins of succession of temples built over what could be the oldest Buddhist shrine- a tree shrine. One can walk around in an elevated board to see it. There is also a sandstone carving of Maya Devi holding a Sal tree branch while delivering Buddha and Hindu gods Indra and Brahma watching over from the heavens. This is because Hindus worship mother Maya as a goddess incarnate. Then, just below this piece is a marker stone, a purported exact spot of Lord Buddha’s birth.
Lumbini as a birthplace of Buddha was identified on the basis of records made by Chinese pilgrim Faxian and the Ashokan Pillar discovered in 1896 by Nepali archeologists. The pink sandstone pillar now stands at its original site in front of the temple. Finding of what appears to be Bodhigara (tree shrine) beneath the existing brick structures at Maya Devi Temple has further strengthened this belief.
Other than the temple and the Ashokan Pillar is the pond Puskarini where Maya Devi took a ritual bath before delivering baby Buddha. Siddhartha too had his first bath here and it is therefore significant to Buddhists and Hindus alike.
Monastries and Viharas
Outside the sacred complex, there are monasteries built by China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and Thailand in their respective styles. Another important monument, Dharmaswami Maharaja Buddha Vihara, was established by Chogya Trichen Rinpoche and the king of Mustang, Nepal. Art and architecture of these buildings are splendid. Not far away is a gleaming white World Peace Pagoda made by Japanese Buddhists. Near the base of this stupa is the grave of a Japanese monk murdered during the construction.
Other places of interest are the many villages with the excavated ruins where different life episodes of Buddha took place. Like:
Kapilvastu, his father’s kingdom, boasts of mounds of old stupas and monasteries. There is also the east gate from where prince Siddhartha exited the palace in search of answers.
Devdaha, the maternal home of his mother, step mother Prajapati and his wife Yasodhara is also where he spent his early childhood.
Ramagrama; the 7m high Ramagrama stupa here contains one of eight relics of Lord Buddha.
Gotihawa and Niglihawa are two other places with Ashokan Pillars. The upper portion of the pillar in Gotihawa is broken and lost. Only the lower half remains. The one in Niglihawa too is broken into two pieces, but both are there in the site.
Sagarhawa has a huge rectangular water pool named Lumbusagar. The ancient water body ruins excavated here was identified by Dr. Aslois A. Fuhrer as the “Palace of the massacre of the Shakyas” and can still be found there.
Aroarakot and Kudan are other villages that boast of mounds of ruins and water bodies.
Lumbini is one of the ancient cities of Nepal. Along with Kathmandu and Pokhara tour, tour to Lumbini can be found in a common package. It should take two days max for sightseeing around Lumbini.