Lumbini, the place where the Buddha was born in 623 BC, is situated in the Terai plains of southern Nepal. The nativity site is marked by a stone pillar erected by Indian lumbiniEmperor Ashoka in 249 BC to commemorate his pilgrimage to the sacred spot.
Listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, Lumbini is being developed with international support as the supreme Buddhist pilgrimage and a symbol of world peace. The Sacred Garden where the Buddha was born converges on the Ashoka pillar which carries an inscription identifying the spot as the birthplace. The serene tree-shaded lawn is dotted with brick mounds - ruins of ancient stupas and monasteries. To one side of the pillar is the Mayadevi Temple which houses a bas relief depicting the nativity. Recent excavations have turned up a stone bearing a "foot imprint" indicating the exact place of birth. The Puskarni pond where Queen Mayadevi, the Buddha's mother, had taken a bath before giving birth to him lies nearby.
TEMPLES AND MONASTERIES
As part of the global initiative to promote Lumbini, many countries have built or are building temples, monasteries or stupas near the Sacred Garden in the International Monastery Zone. The shrines, reflecting the architectural traditions of the respective countries, give Lumbini an "international feel" and enhance its message of universal friendship and brotherhood.
The Lokamani Cula Pagoda, a gleaming gold and white structure gracefully soaring into the sky in the style of the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, is one of the more impressive attractions. it is also known as the Myanmar Temple. Nearby, the International Gautami Nuns Temple is a fine replica of the Swayambhu stupa in Kathmandu. There is also a guest house for pilgrims here. The magnificent China Temple is a complex of pagodas, prayer rooms and meditation cells. Built by the Buddhist Association of China, the centerpiece at the Zhong Hua Buddhist Monastery is a huge statue of the Buddha housed in its main pagoda. The exquisitely worked sloping roofs, vivid colors and pleasant walkways add to its beauty. Across the road, the Dae Sung Suk Ga Sa Korean Temple (Tel: 071 80123) is still under construction, but its guest house has been completed. Its prayer room contains beautiful Buddha images.
The Nepal Buddha Temple and the Dharma Swami Maharaja Buddha Vihara are located inside the Sacred Garden. A number of other countries like Japan, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Thailand are also erecting temples and monasteries.
An important archeological site lying to the west of Lumbini, Tilaurakot evokes the ancient palace of King Suddhodhan, Siddhartha Gautam's father, where the Buddha spent his formative years as a Shakya prince. A must for archeology and history buffs.
The Lumbini Museum, located in the Cultural Zone, contains Mauryan and Kushana coins, religious manuscripts, terra-cotta fragments, and stone and metal sculptures. It also possesses an extensive collection of stamps from various countries depicting Lumbini and the Buddha.
Lumbini International Research Institute (LIRI), located opposite the Lumbini Museum, provides research facilities for the study of Buddhism and religion in general. Run jointly by the Lumbini Development Trust (LDT) and the Reiyukai of Japan, LIRI contains some 12,000 books on religion, philosophy, art and architecture. (Tel: 071-29475).
Kapilvastu Museum is situated 27 km west of Lumbini in the village of Tilaurakot. The museum holds coins, pottery and toys dating between the seventh century BC and fourth century AD. The museum also has a good collection of jewelry and other ornaments from that period. Open daily except Tuesdays and holidays, 10 am to 5 pm. Entrance fee is Rs. 15 (Tel: 071-60128).
GETTING THERE AND AROUND
A 45-minute flight from Kathmandu will bring you to Gautam Buddha Airport at Bhairawa, an industrial town situated 284 km to the southwest. From here, local buses leave regularly for Lumbini, 22 km away. (The bus journey takes a little under an hour.) The places to see are scattered over a wide area and you will need a car to get around. Rickshaws can be hired near the entrance to the Sacred Garden. There are daily flights and bus services from Kathmandu to Bhairawa. Visitors can stay in Bhairawa or in Lumbini.