Lumbini became a place of pilgrimage as early as the 3rd century, when the Mauryan emperor Ashoka visited and erected his famous commemorative pillar at the nativity site of the Mayadevi Garden. Then Chinese monks travelled here and wrote about it in their chronicles. Today, more than 120,000 devotees visit Lumbini every year from all over the world.
Seulki Lee, a Korean journalist working with Nepali Times, shares her insights and experiences of the birthplace of the enlightened.
Before visiting Lumbini, I had been warned that the birthplace of the Buddha was a neglected backwater.
Contrary to expectations, a visit to Lumbini this week as preparations were underway for Buddha Jayanti was a pleasant surprise. The place is lush with sal and simal trees and teeming with birdlife.
The Lumbini Development Trust, after being in limbo for decades, has tried to more or less follow the master plan for its development laid out by Japanese architect Kenzo Tange in the 1970s.
The forested buffer zone now has at least 12 temples and monasteries from Asian Buddhist countries.
As a Korean deeply influenced by Buddhism both in cultural and curricular upbringing, there were two aspects of Lumbini that made an impression on me. One was the peaceful environment with thick forests which almost recreates the world of the Tarai at the time of the Buddha’s birth two-and-half millennia ago.
The other was the surprising sight of a golden figure of the Little Buddha outside the museum complex in which he points to the sky with the forefinger of his right hand and down to the ground with his left.
As the story goes, the infant Siddhartha took seven steps in the four cardinal directions as soon as he was born, then pointing to heaven with his right hand and to the earth with his left, proclaimed: “In the Heavens above and on the Earth below, all that exists in the Three Worlds in suffering, but I will bring comfort.”
The archaeological excavation where Maya Devi gave birth to Siddhartha is housed in a white temple.
Visitors can look down on the nativity site from a gallery.
As in life, in Lumbini you see what you look for. There is neglect and crass commercialism, but looking deeper, a visitor can gain true spiritual reawakening. As the Buddha himself said: “You only lose what you cling to.”
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