Lumbini the Birthplace of Lord Buddha
Lumbini is one of the most sacred places in the world. Over many centuries people have developed visions of the place where Gautama Buddha was born. There are certain attributes and characteristics that are part of the common understanding of Lumbini. However, people have different perceptions, expectations and visions of Lumbini. They all are fragments of the overall picture of Lumbini. Bringing them all together provides a more comprehensive image of the sacred site. A story narrated in a Buddhist scripture, Udana 68–69 nicely illustrates this phenomenon. Disciples asked Lord Buddha why the wandering hermits and scholars constantly argued about so many issues and never seemed to come to any consensus. Lord Buddha then related a tale about a king, who ordered for all the blind men in the ancient city of Śrāvastī to be gathered together in front of an elephant. Each was given a specific part of the elephant to touch. Each of them perceived a different aspect of the elephant and assumed the elephant to have only the features that they personally understood: the head is like a pot, the ear is like a winnowing basket, the tusk is like a share, the trunk is like a plough, the foot a pillar, the back a mortar, the tail a pestle and the tuft of the tail a brush. However, what they did not realize is that all these physical attributes put together make the elephant. Just like the blind men’s quarrels, there have always been differences in perceptions about Lumbini, which is an entity just like the majestic elephant. Siddhartha Gautama was born in the forest or garden near the village of Lumbini. There was a pool nearby where his mother Mayadevi bathed before giving birth. The religious texts give us varying descriptions of the birthplace of Lord Buddha.There has been some debate on whether the place near the village of Lumbini, where Siddhartha Gautama was born, was a forest or a garden. The discussion here revolves around the question whether the setting was a natural clearing in the forest or whether it was an artificially created environment. Most of what we know of historical Lumbini today derives from Buddhist literature, the accounts of visitors, and the facts provided by archaeological research. In 1896, when General Khadga Shamsher and archaeologist Anton Führer visited the site, Lumbini was in a state of total abandonment, and was almost completely covered by a series of mounds surrounded by scattered ruins. Minor excavations were carried out, which were continued by Purna Chandra Mukherji in 1899. However, the site did not go through any major physical changes until Kesher Shumsher J.B. Rana conducted his archaeological research at Lumbini between 1933 and 1939, which led to re-shaping the mound to expose some of the archaeological structures, building the Maya Devi Temple upon the plinth of the saptarathashikara, and enlarging the pond with successive terraces and a brick veneer (Rijal, 1979; Atzori et al., 2006). An important part of knowledge about Lumbini is based on archaeological records. The archaeological research began with very crude methods and procedures, which improved immensely during the course of the nineteenth century. Today we do not have detailed reports on the earlier excavations that were carried out. The data from the more recent archaeological investigations provide us with a more precise understanding of the development of the site over the past two and a half millennia. During the second half of the nineteenth century, various structures were built around Lumbini such as the two monasteries, the rest houses and the Mahendra Pillar. When Japanese Architect Kenzo Tange prepared the Master Plan, which was completed in 1978, he envisioned the area around the main archaeological remains to be developed as a Sacred Garden with minimum infrastructure.
Today pilgrims and visitors come to Lumbini from all over the world to experience the place where Lord Buddha was born. They come to Lumbini to express their religious and spiritual sentiments in various ways, often linked to their diverse cultures. Some come to meditate, while others come to chant or beat on drums. Some come to offer gold leaves while others offer coins, incense or milk. They all come with the expectations of peace and harmony.
After the mahāparinirvāna of Lord Buddha, Lumbini became an important site for Buddhist pilgrimage near and far, witnessing a continuous flow of people, who came with faith and devotion, seeking purification of their minds. The birthplace has yielded ample cultural deposits belonging to the fifth and sixth centuries BCE. There is however no record or evidence of visits made by any high authorities before Emperor Ashoka visited in the third century BCE. Over the following centuries numerous visitors to Lumbini recorded their observations. The records that have been salvaged and translated are from Chinese Buddhist monks who travelled to where Buddhism originated from. Here they hoped to find the true and authentic teachings to revive their faith.
Pilgrimage and Identification
The Buddhist texts Lalitavistar, Jatak Nidan katha, Divya vadana and Mahavamsa have stated Lumbini as the birth place of Lord Buddha. When Buddha was lying down on the death bed at the age of eighty in Kusinagar his disciples, monks and nuns surrounded him. On that occasion, he advised with feeling of holy reverence and awe, viz. the place where the Tathagata was born (Lumbini grove), the place where he had reached perfect enlighten (Bodha-Gaya), the place where for the first time he had proclaimed the law (Deer park near Varanasi), and the place of his final extinction (Kusinagar). Thus, Lumbini was declared as the sacred spot to the pilgrims and was visited by the scholars, nobles, Royalties and devotees from all over the world. According to Kundala Vadana of Divyavadana having led King Asoka into the Lumbini jungle, venerable Upagupta indicated with his right hand and said “Asmin Maharaja pradase bhagavan jatah”, meaning ‘Oh Great king! Here the Blessed one was born!” King Aśoka made an offer of one hundred thousand gold coins and established the first cetiya or pagoda. In the next chapter Asoka vadana of Divyavadan we find the description of the site. In the Asoka pillar of Lumbini it is inscribed that “Here Bhagwan Sakyamuni was at the Lumbini village”. It is translated by Fuhrer as to mean King Piyadasi beloved of the Gods (or dear to the Gods), having been anointed 20 years came himself and worshiped saying: ” Here Buddha Shakyamuni was born”, and he got a stone (capital) representing a horse, and the stone pillar erected. Because here the worshiped one was born, the village of Lumbini has been made free of taxes and a recipient of wealth. According to Hultzsch it mean, ‘when king, beloved of gods, had been anointed twenty years he came himself and worshiped (this spot).’ Here Buddha Shakyamuni was born. He got a stone bearing horse made at this place. Hiuen-Tsiang’s remark that the capital of the pillar contained a horse figure confirms to this interpretation. “As quoted by Rhys Davids, Buhler also says that “a stone horse was made and put on a stone pillar”. King Asoka installed the stone column with a clear legend inscribed on it that it is the spot of Lumbini where the Blessed one was born. In Lumbini a brick railing was erected at a distance of 48.76 cm. from the base of the pillar and it had dentils also. After the visit of Emperor, many monks and nuns had started visiting the place. A large number of monasteries and vihars must have been built for their stay in this sacred complex. A large number of artifacts of the Mauryan, Sunga, Kushana and Gupta periods were recovered in course of various excavations. It is thus clear that it continued to be a place of pilgrimage since the third century.
Chinese pilgrims have given a more accurate and authentic description of Lumbini. Shui-Ching-Chu describes that at Lumbini the Aśokan tree which was gripped by Mayadeví at the time of Siddhartha’s birth was still in a living condition and an image of Mayadeví was placed there where devotees used to offer puja articles. The spot where Siddhartha’s feet touched the earth first, Ashoka got the Siddhartha’s foot prints shielded with stones. His description has been ratified by the noticeable findings discovered during the joint excavation of the Department of Archaeology, Lumbini Development Trust and Japanese Buddhist Federation from 1993 to 1997. It is clearly seen that Asoka had shielded the Siddhartha’s footprints with stones in order to secure it. This significant news of the findings of the excavation was publicly declared by then Honorable Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba on February 4, 1996. According to Fa-Hien in Lumbini the queen (Mayadeví) having entered the pool to bathe, came out on the north side , and after walking twenty paces, raised her hands and grasped the branch of a tree. She brought forth the Heir Apparent facing to the east. On reaching the ground, the Heir Apparent walked seven steps, and two dragon- kings washed his body. At the time of washing the tank was used. In this context Hiuen-Tsiang had stated that there was the bathing tank of the Shakyas, the water of which was clear as a mirror and the surface of which was covered with a mixture of flowers. 24 or 25 paces to the north of this there was fallen Asoka flower tree on the birth place of Bodhisattva. To the east from this place there was a stupa built by Asoka-raja on the spot where the two dragons bathed the body of the prince. Bodhisattva walked without assistance in the direction of the four quarters, seven spaces in each direction, and said, “I am the only Lord in heaven and earth; from this time forth my births are finished”. To the east of this stupa were two fountains of pure water, by the side of which two stupas were built. To the south of this was a stupa, where Sakra, the Lord of Devas, received Bodhisattva in his arms. Close to the site there were four stupas to denote the place where the four heavenly kings received Bodhisattva in their arms. When Bodhisattva was born they wrapped him in a golden coloured cotton vestment, and brought him to his mother, and placed him on a golden slab (bench). They said,” The queen may rejoice indeed at having given birth to such a fortunate child!” If the Devas rejoiced at the event how much more could the men. By the side of these stupas there is a great stone pillar, on the top of which was the figure of a horse built by Asoka. It was broken off in the middle and fell to the ground due to the contrivance (thunder stroke) of a wicked dragon. By the side of it is a little oil river flowing to the south-east, where Mayadevi had brought forth her child to wash and to purify herself . After Hiuen-Tsiang many other pilgrims had visited this place from time to time. One of them was Wu-Kung who came in 764 AD. Due to the absence of records very little is known about the condition of the area. The monumental and habitation structures, stone sculptures, terracotta human and animal figurines, fragments of pottery belonging to the Mauryan, Sunga, Kushana, Gupta, Vardhan and Sena-Pāla periods, found here prove that Lumbini was well-populated till the earlymedieval period and was frequently visited by the monks, nuns and other devotees from time to time. The names of Jitari Malla (1287-89 AD) and Ripu Malla (1312 AD) were engraved on the stone columns (pillars) at Nigalihawa and Lumbini garden. It consists of the words, “Om mani padme hum, shree Ripumallaschiran jayatu, 1234”. The former portion is a Mahayani Buddhist prayer and the later portion means “prince Ripu Malla, be victorious for long 1234”. The year 1234 in the Saka era, corresponding to 1312 AD. Bhuwan Lal Pradhan has claimed that Sikandar Lodi (1489-1517 AD) and Aurangzeb (1668-1707AD) were mainly responsible for the destruction of cultural heritage and property of the Lumbini- Kapilvastu region. During the reign of Mukunda Sen I (1540-1575 AD), Mukunda Sena II (1750-82 AD) and Mahadatta Sena (1782- 93 AD) in Palpa the previous religious condition in the region could not be retained. The site was lost in the dense forest until the discovery of General Rana, Governor of Palpa.
From the last decade of the eighteenth century British scholars in India got interested in the rich cultural potentiality of the region. Sir William Jones and others formed the ‘Asiatic Society’ in 1784. Under the aegis of this organization scholars like James Prinsep, A. Cunningham and others put a great effort to expose the ancient cultural and archaeological potentiality on the region. Archaeological Survey of India started the search of the possible location of Lumbini. First of all Lassen had suggested that a part of Gorakhapur in India might be ancient Kapilvastu. Cunningham purposed Nagar khas with ancient Kapilvastu and Carllyle identified it with Bhuiladiha. He had proposed Lumbini between Shepour and Burhapara in Uttar Pradesa. During this period when Ranas were ruling in Nepal foreign research scholars were not allowed to explore the cultural and archaeological sites in the Nepalese Terai. In March 1895, Fuhrer was sent to take photos of the inscription on an Asoka pillar supposed to have been found at Bairat near Nepalguńj. At that time he did not find the Asoka pillar, but only two broken pieces of an inscribed Asoka pillar were found on the bank of Nigali sagar at Taulihawa. On the information of the local people, the Nepalese team had already started digging under the aegis of General Khadga Shamsher. Several meters of earth around the pillar were dug, and there remained only 91.43 cm. from the base to be dug out. This Asoka pillar must have been seen by many of the Nepalese inhabitants of the Terai before Major Singh saw it in 1893, and before Khadga Shamsher was encouraged to do excavation by Fϋhrer on December 1, 1896. At the end of November 1896, Fuhrer had gone to Niglihawa to supervise the contemplated excavations there. By a lucky chance he had gone to meet Rana at Bhagavanpur, near the village of Paderiya, in General’s camp. Close to the camp, near the debris of four stupas, stood a slightly mutilated pillar rising about 3.04 m. above the ground. The pillar inscription pointed out the birth place of Lord Buddha and Lumbini garden as described in the Buddhist literature and Chinese accounts. Surmounted horse capital, as described by Hiuen Tsiang, may undoubtedly be buried under the surrounding ruins according his version. When Fuhrer saw the pillar on the first December, 1896, only a small portion, about 3.64 m. high, was above the ground and was covered with pilgrim’s records. The importance of the Reminded pillar inscription for understanding the history of Ancient India in general and the sacred history of the Buddhism in particular were published on 23rd December 1896.
All the programs are running under the aegis of the Lumbini Development Trust in the sacred complex of Lumbini. The area is 770 hectares of land as mentioned in the master plan. The area is divided into New Lumbini village, International Monastery Area and Sacred Garden. New Lumbini Village is developing as a community center providing facilities of comfortable lodges, restaurants and other facilities. International Monastery Zone is developing as a sacred complex to the pilgrims and devotees. In this complex forty-two plots of lands are set a side (Tange, 1978). Different nations, Institutions and organizations can erect shrines in various sectors and in different styles under the permission of the project. In the complex the monasteries of Japan, South- Korea, Myanmar, France, Vietnam, Nepal and India are under construction. In this process, International Research Institute, Museum and Auditorium have been operating and providing facilities for meeting, seminar and study. The circular sacred garden contains the Asoka pillar, Mayadevi temple, sacred pond, ruined structures of stupas and vihars and other objects within barbed area. In the complex ornamental flower and hedge plantation has been done by Japanese Overseas Co-operation Volunteers (JOCV) to create a reverent atmosphere conducive to remembering and exercising Lord Buddha’s Universal message of peace and harmony. Mayadevi temple is under construction by the Japanese Buddhist Federation according to the mutual understanding among DOA, LDT and JBF on the basis of restoration contract letter.
Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha, is a sacred complex for the peace loving people all over the world. Buddha had advised to His disciples that all of you had visited four sites, belonged to the life of Buddha, including Lumbini. In course of pilgrimage the Buddhist sites; Asoka had visited Lumbini with His spiritual teacher Upagupta in the third century BC. He had erected a monolithic pillar with engraving inscription in Brahmi script. He has mentioned that Lumbinigame is the birthplace of Shakyamuni and stone pillar indicates the exact point of birth. Asoka pillar is even standing at the south corner of Mayadevi temple. It is the real evidence to identify the exact point of Buddha’s birth spot. The Buddhist texts Lalitavistar, Jatak Nidan katha, Divya vadana and Mahavamsa have stated Lumbini as the birth place of Lord Buddha. Chinese pilgrims have given a more accurate and authentic description of Lumbini. ShuiChing-Chu describes that at Lumbini the Asoka tree which was gripped by Mayadeví at the time of Siddhartha’s birth was still in a living condition and an image of Mayadeví was placed there where devotees used to offer puja articles. According to Fa-Hien in Lumbini the queen (Mayadeví) having entered the pool to bathe, came out on the north side , and after walking twenty paces, raised her hands and grasped the branch of a tree. In this context Hiuen-Tsiang had stated that there was the bathing tank of the Shakyas, the water of which was clear as a mirror and the surface of which was covered with a mixture of flowers. After Hiuen-Tsiang many other pilgrims had visited this place from time to time. One of them was Wu-Kung who came in 764 AD. Due to the absence of records very little is known about the condition of the area.
The monumental and habitation structures, stone sculptures, terracotta human and animal figurines, fragments of pottery belonging to the Mauryan, Sunga, Kushana, Gupta, Vardhan and Sena-Pāla periods, found here prove that Lumbini was well-populated till the early-medieval period and was frequently visited by the monks, nuns and other devotees from time to time. Structural remains of Mayadevi temple, Asoka monolithic pillar, Brahmi inscription, ancient stupas, vihars, marker-stone (conglomerate stone), and nativity sculpture of Buddha, Puskarini tank and fragments of pottery are the archaeological findings, which are real evidences to identify Lumbini as the birthplace of Buddha. Due to the establishment of out standing universal value of the sacred site, it has listed as the world property list in 1997. Eminent scholars of India and Nepal have identified the birthplace of Buddha with Lumbini, which is situated in Rupandehi district, Lumbini zone, and the western terai region of Nepal. Prof. Dr. Dayanath Tripathi, scholar of Indian Advanced Studies Shimal; Prof.Dr. K.N.Dikshit, Deputy Director of Archaeology Department of India, Prof. Dr. Narain, Banaras Hindu University; Prof.Dr. B.D. Mishra, Allahabad University; Prof. Dr. Ram Niwas Pandey, Tribhuwan University Nepal; Prof.Dr. Tulsi Ram Vaidya, Former Vice Chancellor of Lumbini Bauddha University; Prof.Dr. Triratna Manandhar, Vice Chancellor of Lumbini Bauddha University, Prof.Dr. Prem Kumar Khatry of Tribhuwan University Nepal; UNO Representatives, UNESCO Representatives etc have identified Lumbini as the birthplace of Buddha. With the support of UNO, UNDP and other international agencies, Lumbini Development Master Plan has implimented by the interest of the concerned countries as well as agencies. Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, India, Korea, China, Vietnam, France, Germany, Japan, Austria and various Nepalese groups have been involved to complete their proposed plans as mentioned in contract letter. Undoubtedly Lumbini has established as the birthplace of Buddha.
Categories of monuments in Lumbini
In a publication by Basanta Bidari in 2002, a plan of the site was provided in which the monuments of the site were labelled. This plan separates structures into stupas, monasteries (viharas), and buildings, and assigns each structure a number. For the purposes of this publication, we will adopt these assignments. This helps us avoid the problems raised by previous studies, such as those by
Rijal, Mishra and the JBF, which described monument size, shape, decoration, orientation, and distance and direction of one from another. The problem being that as new structures have also been uncovered, reconstructed, or even created on a regular basis on site, the earlier descriptions are unhelpful and the confusion caused by this has meant that the history of several stupas is now in question because it is not clear which structure is being described. Furthermore, the fact that none of the excavation reports have provided a complete record of finds, contexts, site plans, or even an explanation of all work carried out has not helped this matter. Finally, differences in definitions of the types of structures has lead to the situation that it is sometimes unclear precisely what the excavator believes the described monument to be, or how this compares with previous authors’ explanations. Rijal, for example, describes many monuments as chaityas, whereas Mishra labels them as temples. To avoid such confusion, a brief outline of the types of structures at Lumbini, and a definition of the terms as used hereafter.
Viharas, or monasteries, are the living and meditation places of monks and nuns and are usually organized as a group of cells or rooms surrounding a central courtyard. Mitra first mentioned the vihara at Lumbini in 1962, when she discovered a quadrangular brick monastery with an array of cells on four sides near the south-east corner of the bathing pool. The same structure was fully uncovered by Mishra in the 1980s and subsequently three other viharas were discovered in the same area, with various phases of construction dating from the Mauryan period to the Gupta period.
A stupa is the most distinct and resilient of Buddhist monuments and can be defined as a mound of brick, stone or earth that enshrines a relic or marks a sacred place. There are typically four different categories of stupas – those containing the corporeal relics of the Buddha (saririka), his disciples and saints; those containing objects of use, such as the Buddha’s begging bowl (paribhogika); those commemorating incidents from the Buddha’s life or places visited by him (uddesika) and finally votive stupas, which are built by pilgrims and monks as a way of obtaining merit.
In Lumbini there are numerous stupas, which have been built from the Mauryan period onward to the modern period. Most of the monuments appear to have been votive, built by pilgrims and monks
for centuries; although one stupa (S-6) has been identified as belonging to the first category of saririka stupas. As stupas are very distinct structures from the other monuments in Lumbini, there has been relatively little confusion regarding their identification over the years. However, it is worth noting that a stupa can also be referred to as a chaitya, as this term may simply mean‘shrine’.
Although many of those working in Lumbini have made references to the presence of chaityas, the application of this last category of Buddhist monuments is complex as a chaitya may refer to a sacred place, sometimes associated with a relic or event. Indeed, some scholars have referred to a stupa as a chaitya but have also called a temple a chaitya as well. For example,
the shrine, which was built over the Marker Stone in the second period of construction of the Mayadevi Temple, has been described by some scholars as a chaitya, but so has the temple itself. Within the varied excavation reports from Lumbini, chaitya seems to have become a catch-all word for any monument that has not been identified as a stupa or vihara.
A number of wells were excavated at both the village site and within the Sacred Garden. Unfortunately, there is almost no information available on the excavations at the village mound, but Rijal does mention the presence of a terracotta ring-well in the earliest phases of the site, as well as a Kushan period well close to the modern LDT Nursery. In 1993, when the water of the
Sacred Pond was drained, two artesian wells were discovered in the north-east and south-east corners of the pond. Unfortunately, no additional detailed information was provided on this discovery, but it has been suggested that this may be indicative of Lumbini’s role as a waypoint in the ancient trade routes which passed through the Terai (Bidari, 2004, p. 111).
four different categories of stupas – those containing the corporeal relics of the Buddha (saririka), his disciples and saints; those containing objects of use, such as the Buddha’s begging bowl (paribhogika); those commemorating incidents from the Buddha’s life or places visited by him (uddesika) and finally votive stupas, which are built by pilgrims and monks as a way of obtaining merit.
In Lumbini there are numerous stupas, which have been built from the Mauryan period onwards to the modern period. Most of the monuments appear to have been votive, built by pilgrims and monks for centuries; although one stupa (S-6) has been identified as belonging to the first category of saririka stupas. As stupas are very distinct structures from the other monuments in Lumbini, there has been relatively little confusion regarding their identification over the years. However, it is worth noting that a stupa can also be referred to as a chaitya, as this term may simply mean ‘shrine’.
Gautama Buddha, the forests and the sarus cranes
Literature mentions that Lumbini was a beautiful, pleasurable or recreational garden (known as Lumbini Kannan, Lumbini Vatika, Lumbini Upavana, Lumbini Pradimokshavana, Lumbini Chittalatavana, etc.). The garden was collectively maintained by both the Sakyas and the Koliyas during the lifetime of Lord Buddha. Siddhartha Gautama was born in a forest clearing or garden. He spent six years wandering the forests before he became enlightened under a Bodhi Tree in Bodhgaya. He then spent the rest of his life, some 45 years, wandering in the forests. He gave his first sermon in the Deer Park at Sarnath. King Bimbisara offered a bamboo groove to Lord Buddha to establish the first forest monastery. Even when residences were offered to Lord Buddha and his followers in Rajgriha, they spent the three months long rain retreat in the forests. Throughout his travels, he stayed in various mango groves such as Pavarikambavana in Nalanda. The mango groves of Amrapli, Cunda and Jivaka are mentioned. In Kushinara, he passed away attaining mahāparinirvāna between a pair of sal trees. Lord Buddha also had many encounters with animals. A symbolically important story is when Prince Siddhartha saved the sarus crane which was shot down by his cousin Devdutta. The sarus cranes, the world’stallest flying birds, are sacred to the people of the Indo-Gangetic plains. They still inhabit the wetlands around Lumbini and are being looked after by the Lumbini Crane Conservation Centre.
Buddhism and nature
There are different approaches within Buddhism on how to respond to nature. As Lambert Schmithausen, a professor of Buddhist Studies explains, there are two contradictory evaluations between the ‘Pro-Civilization Strand’ and the ‘Hermit Strand’. The ‘Pro-Civilization Strand’ sees nature as something disagreeable and possibly full of danger. Human superiority is stressed and the city would be considered the ideal. On the other hand, the ‘Hermit Strand’ spends time in solitude in the wild. Here the positive value of animals and plants is understood and the notion that the ecosystem needs to be not only preserved but also restored if necessary is advocated. This strand of thought, together with the Buddhist ethos of not killing any living being and of compassion and benevolence, can be seen as the basis for various ecological movements. The concept of Buddha-nature began with the understanding that all sentient beings have a latent Buddha-hood. This understanding was further expanded especially in Far Eastern Buddhism to include plants, rocks, streams, mountains and the entire environment. This meant that non-sentient objects also have Buddha-nature and therefore need to be cared for.
The habitat inside the Lumbini Garden is mainly composed of grassland (58.8 per cent), forest plantation (40 per cent) and open water bodies (1.5 per cent). The dominant grass species includes imperatacylindrica, saccharummunja , phragmites and vetiver. Along the two major rivers, Harhawa and Telar, there are many water bodies (ponds) in the depressed land. The major wetland plants include vallisneria, hydrilla, potemogeton(submerged), nymphea, trapa, eichornia (floating species) and scirpus, eleochris, zizania, typha, polygonum, leersia, ipomea, oryzarufipogon as emergent species. Lord Buddha’s life is directly related with trees. He was born under the Sal tree, he meditated under the Pipal tree, he attained enlightenment under a tree, first preached under a tree and the mahāparinirvāna took place
under a tree. In ancient texts he is said to have slept under the Neem tree when he was ill. The Lumbini area could be a significant place to develop as a natural garden, and an arboretum, which could become a conservation and demonstration area. Trees species that are native to the Terai and related to the culture should be represented here. The ponds surrounding the Sacred Garden could have wetland plants to add beauty to the landscape and attract wetland birds. The Holy lotus (Nelumbonucifera) is the flower that emerged under every step Lord Buddha took after his birth. The lotus flower has a high regard in Buddhism. Different species should dot the surface of ponds at the sacred site. The slopes of the circular levee should have a carpet of green grasses to prevent soil erosion. The establishment of a floating garden would attract birds and mammals.
With the recreation of the wetlands and of the natural habitats inside the one by three mile Lumbini Project Area (LPA), birds and animals have been attracted, where nesting sites have been identified. The sites are being monitored and managed by the Lumbini Crane Conservation Centre, and are located in the following areas:
• Swamp areas beside the Vietnam Monastery and the Tara Monastery;
• North of the World Peace Stupa (Lumbini Crane Sanctuary);
• East of the World Peace Stupa (Lumbini Crane Sanctuary);
• Circular pond between Hokke Hotel and the Sri Lankan Pilgrims House.
The monitoring of the Sarus was initiated in 1988. Additionally there are about 100 flying bird species in and around a 10 km radius of the Lumbini Garden. A high count of eighty eight birds during the non-breeding season, along with twenty five nesting pairs, was recorded in 2005. Blue bull antelopes have been colonizing the Lumbini garden area since the 1990s. Within a few years, the number rose to around 200 in 1995. It is reported that farmers, whose crop was being eaten, poisoned blue bulls between 1996 and 1998. In fact, up to seventy dead animals were recorded in the Lumbini area between the months of November and December 1997. The 1997 cold wave that hit the Terai was also a cause of the deaths of these animals. Under the aegis of the former King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation, five blue bulls were relocated to the Kusum Forest of Banke in 1998. In 2005, the number of blue bulls was around fifty. Regarding other creatures, the Lumbini area has become a shelter for antelopes, which feed on the surrounding fields. Two pairs of Eurasian eagle owls regularly nest in the groves inside the garden. Similarly gray hornbills reside and nest inside the garden. The sick and old cattle that die inside the garden are cleaned by the endangered vulture, chiefly the white-rumped and slender-billed vultures. Due to the increase in refuse, the number of crows is increasing and this constitutes a threat to other songbirds. They raid nests and eat eggs and chicks. They also mob other birds, occasionally bigger than them, including the Eurasian eagle owl
Water and soil characteristics
The catchment area of the Harhawa River is 21 km. The peak flood discharge is estimated at 160 cum/sec (in the Master Plan, the estimation of the maximum rainfall in 24 hours period is assumed to be 360 mm). The river basin is flooded several times each year and each flooding lasts four to five days. The river develops a typical floodplain of 100/120 metres in width – one to two metres below the surrounding grounds along the river course.
The Telar flows east to the Sacred Garden. The name derives from the word ‘tel’, which means oil, since the water is thought to be oily in nature. This river is a landmark, mentioned by the Chinese travelers as flowing close to the birthplace of Lord Buddha. The type of soil is clayiest, permeability is very low, sodium level is high and the available phosphorus is very low. The soil is firm and the alkalinity level is high.
Lumbini lies in the sub-tropical climatic zone, which experiences all four seasons. From March to May, there is a brief spring, which is followed by a long summer season, with high temperatures (up to 42.5°C), low humidity, thunder showers and heat waves that originate from the heat of the land. Monsoon is the rainy season between mid-June and August. The maximum downpour recorded in 1999 was 223 mm of rain within 24 hours. September may remain wet because of the remaining monsoon clouds. October and November is the autumnal season, with a dry and warm climate in the daytime and cold temperatures at night. December, January and February are the winter seasons with foggy mornings and cold temperatures at night, which can drop to 5°C. Occasionally, cold spells occur throughout the Terai, with a dense layer of low fog. This fog hinders the penetration of sunlight and causes severe drops in the mean daytime temperature from 25° to 15°C. This may last for about a month and represents a threat to plants and animals and also poses a health hazard to human beings. In Nepal, an atmospheric warming trend has been recorded since 1977. The annual average temperature rise ranges from 0.06ºC to 0.12º C in the middle mountain and the Himalayan region, and of 0.03º C in the Siwalik and Terai regions. Changing weather conditions in the past have had devastating effects on the area around Lumbini. ‘It is also possible that some natural disasters, such as drought, famine, floods in the rainy season, or earthquakes caused people to abandon Lumbini’ (Bidari, 2009, p. 30). The swampy ground further deteriorated the land and brought about diseases such as malaria making the area uninhabitable for humans. This took centuries to counter by draining the swamps and eradicating the malaria using large quantities of toxic chemicals and by turning the jungles into farmland
Managing the natural resources and the environment
The people in areas adjoining Lumbini have huge aspirations and economic development expectations by taking advantage of its location. This has raised numerous environmental challenges that require mitigation and management. The airport in Bhairahawa and the adjoining villages, towns and cities could all be affected and in return, how they develop will affect Lumbini. Industries, commercial activities and even agricultural production tools and techniques must be looked at in terms of the long-term consequences on the local climate, hydrology, flora and fauna. For over two millennia, people have come to Lumbini from all over the world. This can become an incentive for conservation of the natural environment of Lumbini, as well as a threat if not managed properly. The prediction of growing numbers of these visitors mean, some forecasting will have to be made so that management can become proactive instead of reactive. Being able to influence the behaviour of the visitors will be as important as the ability to manage the resources. Lumbini also has the potential to inspire conservation globally and locally. The link between the birth and life of Siddhartha Gautama and the natural environment is greatly emphasized in Buddhist literature and iconography. Images of the birth of Lord Buddha show Mayadevi supporting herself on a tree. The stories and parables told of the Lord Buddha are often presented with animal protagonists. In the Jantaka tales, Buddhist ethical teachings are told by the Lord Buddha in various incarnations in human and animal form. The sarus crane, which is mentioned in the stories of young Siddhartha, still migrate through Lumbini and roost in the area. This close link between Buddhism and the environment can be an inspiration to develop closer links and respect for the environment around Lumbini. Since the eradication of malaria from the Terai there has been massive migration of hill people into the settlements in plains. Development pressures and over-extraction of natural resources is wreaking havoc on the environment. Nepal has been identified as one of the most vulnerable countries to the effects of climate change. In the past, climate change has devastated this region. Today we will have to find means of mitigating he impact through improving the understanding and amity to the environment.It is also necessary to look at the state of natural resources in the wider region of the three districts in the region, namely, Kapilvastu, Rupandehi and Nawalparasi. For example the removal and sale of gravel and sand from the rivers and watershed areas could pose an environmental challenge and threat to Lumbini and the other historical sites related to the birth and life of Lord Buddha. In the past, when mining was only for domestic use, the volume was insignificant. Now there is an unabated demand in Nepal and in India for these natural resources. Buildings, roads canals and other infrastructure have put a huge demand and offer an attractive price on gravel and sand. Agricultural practices, the crops grown, as well as the methods utilized could affect the Lumbini area as well. The ancient ways of life are part and parcel of the heritage of Lumbini.
Visions of peace and serenity
As described in the previous chapters, Lumbini is not only a pilgrimage site for Buddhists but it is also a symbolic place for people, who wish to promote peace throughout the world. The site is ideal for practitioners of meditation; fascinating for researchers and journalists; a challenge for architects and conservationists; and a source of livelihood for the local people. They all have different interests in the site, but they all expect Lumbini to be developed as a sacred place for those who believe in peace and are in search of peace.Everybody would like to see Lumbini as a peaceful and tranquil place. There is however a difference in the way how people feel peace and how they understand a place to be tranquil. Obviously, the reason for their visit to Lumbini determines their expectation. Pilgrims want Lumbini to be a holy place and are satisfied when a place for worship is made available and properly managed. Those who come to Lumbini to meditate, seek a suitable place to meditate. Visitors such as researchers, journalists and photographers would like to have more information on the historical aspect of the site with more signage and a clean environment. The following statement by one visitor expresses the opinion of many: ‘Lumbini is an open school, where every visitor, a pilgrim, meditation practitioner, tourist, researcher, or of any profession, can get satisfaction by realizing and experiencing peace.’ This testimony is one among those that were collected towards the end of 2010, when a series of interviews were carried out to develop a better understanding of what visitors expect when they come to Lumbini. The interviews aimed at identifying the components that would make the Sacred Garden the peaceful and tranquil place that the visitors expect to find when they come to Lumbini. The replies clearly indicate that the main expectation that visitors have from the Sacred Garden is that of a place for meditation, spiritual nourishment and contemplation. For all of them, Lumbini with its bearing of ancient history, knowledge and inspiration, is a holy place reflecting the importance as the place where Lord Buddha took his first steps on earth. Most visitors expressed the view that they would like Lumbini to be enhanced with the creation of a natural setting with gardens and large trees spread over the wider surrounding area in the spirit of the Kenzo Tange Master Plan. Indeed, many visitors believe that the improvement of the physical setting of the Sacred Garden will help develop Lumbini in a sustainable way. For example, establishing gardens with indigenous plants would not only enhance greenery but also help reduce pollution, provide a habitat for wild animals, offer a suitable environment for meditation practitioners, control noise and protect the Sacred Garden from industrial pollution.Many visitors also expect better information. They deplore a lack of signage systems and information boards particularly on Lord Buddha’s life. They also would like to see display boards mentioning behavioural guidelines that should be respected to maintain the Sacred Garden as a place of peace and tranquillity, for example by restricting drinking, eating and smoking. A majority of the visitors wish that the archaeological remains are adequately protected. They believe for example that it would be important to fence the most important remains without obstructing their visibility.