The Greater Lumbini Area

This post is about The Greater Lumbini Area. The Greater Lumbini Area includes archeological and religious site of Rupandehi, Nawalparasi and Kapilvastu.

The Greater Lumbini Area

The Greater Lumbini Area (GLA) covers an area of 5260 sq. km. and includes Rupandehi, Nawalparasi and Kapilvastu districts in the southern plains of western Nepal. The area is home to many archaeological and religious sites relevant to Lord Sakyamuni Buddha’s life, including his birthplace Lumbini.
The Greater Lumbini Area
Besides Lumbini, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage list, the Greater Lumbini Area (GLA) includes three other important Buddhist sites; Tilaurakot, Devadaha and Ramagrama. Considering the archaeological and spiritual values, Tilaurakot and Ramagrama are enlisted as Tentative World Heritage sites by UNESCO.

Rupandehi:

Lumbini in the Rupandehi district of Nepal is the epicenter of Buddhism. In addition to Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Sakyamuni Buddha, other Buddhist heritage sites worth visiting in the Rupandehi district include Devadaha, the maternal hometown of Buddha’s mother Mayadevi and Sainamaina, an archaeological site considered to be of Buddha era. Similarly, major interesting cultural, historical and natural sites in Rupandehi district are the surrounding rural villages with rich Tharu cultures and Viraha song; historic site of Jitgadhi fort at Butwal; religious sites such as Paryowa Dham at Sainamaina and Siddhababa temple and beautiful wetlands and rivers such as Gaidahawa lake, Gajedi lake, Dano river, Telar river, etc.
The Greater Lumbini Area
There are other beautiful sites with mild climate in the Siwalik range including Nuwakot Durbar, and recreational and educational parks including Mani Mukunda Sen Botanical Garden. The major gateways to Lumbini; the immigration checkpoint at Belahiya, Sunauli and the only airport in the region, Gautam Buddha Airport (being upgraded as an international airport) are located in the Rupandehi district. Bhairahawa and Butwal are two bustling cities of the district with several business, tourism and entertainment activities. Butwal also serves as a gateway to popular mountain tourism destinations such as Tansen, Pokhara and Mustang.

Lumbini:

Situated in the foothills of the Siwalik range in the district of Rupandehi, Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha is one of the most important pilgrimage sites. Buddhist literatures mention that newly born Siddhartha took seven steps and uttered an epoch making message to the suffering humanity in the Lumbini Garden. The beautiful sal grove of Lumbini Garden was renowned for its beauty of shady grove of lush green trees and colorful flowers. Maya Devi, the queen of Sakya king Suddhodana of Kapilavastu, on the way to her maternal hometown Devadaha (ancient Koliya kingdom), was passing through the Lumbini Garden. It was the month of Vaisakha poornima (Full Moon Day of the first month of Nepali calendar) of 623 BC, while the queen was walking in the garden, took bath in the Puskarini. After bath, she proceeded to the north 25 paces, there she felt labor pain and supported herself grasping a branch of a tree and gave birth to the holy prince.
The Buddha highlighted the importance of Lumbini from his deathbed; "Ananda, This (Lumbini) place is where the Tathagata was born, this is a place, which should be visited and seen by a person of devotion and which would cause awareness and apprehension of the nature of impermanence. At this place, Ananda, who are on a pilgrimage to (this) shrine, if they should die with devotion in their heart during the course of the pilgrimage, will after (their) death and dissolution of the body be reborn in a good destination, a fortunate celestial realm" (Mahaparinirvana Sutta).

Monuments of Lumbini:

Lumbini Garden changed into a pilgrimage site soon after the Mahaparinirvana of the Lord Buddha. A monastic site evolved around the sacred spot of the Buddha's birth. The birth-spot being the most important point in the whole of the holy land of Lumbini drew attention of generous devotees who erected structures to pay homage to the great master. These constructions were of
religious nature along the religious complex and a civic settlement emerged to meet the growing need of the religious community visiting or living in the holy complex.

Maya Devi Temple

The Maya Devi Temple shrine is the heart of all monuments at this holy site. The complex also bears the testimony of several layers of construction over the centuries. The main object of worship here is the Nativity Sculpture. The restored Maya Devi Temple was reopened on May 16, 2003 on 2547th birth anniversary of the Buddha. The government of Nepal, and LDT jointly restored the temple. The ground floor consists of the remains of the foundations of the early Maya Devi Temple that dates back to 5th century BC. The sanctum sanctorum is the birth spot of the lord Buddha in the temple.

The Marker Stone

This stone conglomerate located deeply buried in the sanctum sanctorum pinpoints the exact birth spot of the Buddha, which was discovered after a meticulous excavation of the old Maya Devi Temple in 1996. The Marker Stone was found in the same distance and direction as mentioned by Hiuen Tsang, the Chinese traveler in his travel account. The size of the marker stone is 70cmx40cmx10cm.

The Nativity Sculpture

The image of Maya Devi, also known as the Nativity Sculpture dates back to 4th CE, which depicts the nativity scene, Maya Devi, holding a branch of a tree with her right hand for support. in the time of her delivery. Next to her Gautami Prajapati, her younger sister, in supporting posture is standing. The newly born prince Siddhartha is standing upright on a lotus pedestal, with two celestial figures receiving him.

The Asokan Pillar

The historical pillar was erected by Emperor Asoka in 249 BC bears the first epigraphic evidence with reference to the birthplace of Lord Buddha. It is the most noteworthy monument and an authentic historic document of birthplace of Lord Buddha in Lumbini. The inscription engraved by Emperor Asoka is still intact and testifies the authenticity of the birthplace. The text written in Brahmi script and Pali language is translated as follows:
King Piyadasi (Asoka), the beloved of the Gods, in the twentieth year of reign, himself made a royal visit. Sakyamuni Buddha was born here, therefore, the (birth Spot) marker stone was worshipped and a stone pillar was erected. The lord having been born here, the tax of the Lumbini village was reduced to the eighth part (only).

The Puskarini, The Holy Pond

Close by the Asoka pillar on the southern side lies the holy pond, Puskarini where Maya Devi bathed just before giving birth to prince Siddhartha and the infant prince is believed to have given first purification bath. The pond has terraced steps and is riveted by beautifully layered bricks.

Master Plan of Lumbini:

In 1978, the Master Plan designed by Prof. Tange was finalized and approved by the Government of Nepal and United Nations. In 1985, the Lumbini Development Trust Act came into existence and Lumbini Development Trust (LDT) was formed accordingly. Now the Trust is responsible for the implementation of the master plan and for the overall development of Lumbini, and other Buddhist sites of Kapilavastu, Devadaha and Ramagrama.

Concept of the Mater Plan

The master plan covers an area of 1×3 sq. miles, comprising three zones of a square mile each. The three zones are linked with walkways and a canal, these are:
(a) Sacred Garden
(b) Monastic zone
(c) New Lumbini village
The focus of Tange's design is the sacred Garden located in the southern part. The ultimate objective of the design here is to create an atmosphere of spirituality, peace, universal brotherhood and nonviolence consistent with the time and Buddha's message to the world. The Sacred Garden shelters the ancient monuments at the center in a freshly restored atmosphere of serene and lush forest and water body surrounding the complex.
The Monastic Zone is situated in the middle with a forest area between the Sacred Garden and the New Lumbini Village. The zone is divided into two Monastic enclaves by a Centre Canal. There are 13 plots of land in the East Monastic Zone and 29 in the West Monastic Enclave, having 42 plots in total each allotted for the construction of new monasteries of Theravada and Mahayana schools of Buddhism.
The cultural center lies between the Monastic Zone and the New Lumbini Village. A research centre, a library, an auditorium and a museum provide information to the visitors and research and study facilities to the students and researchers.
The northern part of the master plan area is being developed as the New Lumbini Village. It is also a gateway to the outer world, where the visitors can find comfortable hotels and restaurants offering necessary facilities. The World Peace Pagoda of Japan and the Crane Sanctuary are located here.

Some Important Sites Around Lumbini:

Tilaurakot:

The ancient capital of Sakya kingdom (Kapilavastu) is located about 27 km west of Lumbini Tilaurakot houses the vestiges of ancient Sakya palace where Siddhartha lived his early 29 years as a prince. The ramparts of a moat and a fortification wall with its western and eastern gates surround the remains of the citadel including ancient structural remains in the central part of the mound. The eastern gate is known as Mahabhiniskramana Dwara, through which Siddhartha took the great renunciation at the age of 29 in search of supreme knowledge.

Kudan:

The ancient Nyagrodharama, where king Suddhodana met Lord Buddha, first time after his renunciation lies about 3 km south of Taulihawa. This is the site where Prajapati, Gautami, his second mother offered robe and Yasodhara, his wife invited him for a meal in the palace. Rahula, his son was ordained by Sariputra, his most revered disciple, at the age 8 here. The Buddha preached five important sutras and told the story of his search for supreme knowledge here during his stay with 300 his disciples at Kudan.

Gotihawa:

About 5 km southwest of Taulihawa is Gotihawa. It is the site for Asoka Pillar where Krakuchhanda Buddha attained nirvana. Gotihawa is one of the major pilgrimage sites for Buddhists from all over the world. This holy site. sanctified by the birth of the Buddha has been marked by the construction of a stupa. An Asoka pillar erected here by Emperor Asoka in 249 B.C. ascertains it as the birth spot of Krakuchhanda Buddha. However, the upper part of the pillar is missing.

Sagarhawa:

About 12 km north of Taulihawa lies the forest of Sagarhawa, with a long lake known as Lumbusagar. In this site, the Sakyas were massacred by King Virudhaka out of vengeance. The entire area of this site was littered with the blood of thousands of Sakyas. Later, in the memory of the noble Sakyas, hundreds of stupas were built here by their descendants. Dr. A. Fuhrer excavated and explored these stupas and antiquities in 1897-1898.

Niglihawa:

Niglihawa lies about 8 km northeast of Taulihawa. It is the birthplace of Kanakmuni, the early Buddha of Bhadrakalpa. The site shelters an Asoka pillar erected by Emperor Asoka in 249 BC. The pillar is broken into two pieces, the lower part bearing inscription in the ground and the upper part lying on the surface. The Asoka inscription engraved in Brahmi script and Pali language testifies the site as the birth spot of the Buddha.

Araurakot:

About 3 km northwest of Niglihawa lies a rectangular fortified area popularly known as Araurakot, which is believed to be the natal town of Kanakmuni Buddha. The rectangular fortification wall is magnificent even in its ruins.

Sisahaniya:

Sisahaniya is believed to be the site where the Sakyas built a stupa enshrining the precious corporeal relic of the Buddha that they had obtained as one eighth of their share. The Sakyas after building a relic stupa of Lord Buddha at Sisahaniya and worshipped there for a long time. The relic was taken away later. Today, we can see remnants of ancient potteries, burnt bricks and brickbats and even Sakya punch marked coins lying scattered on the surface of the site.

Devdaha:

Devadaha is the famous ancient capital of Koliya kingdom, the maternal hometown of queen Maya Devi, Prajapati and princess Yasodhara. The site is situated at about 57 km northeast of Lumbini and is well connected by the Mahendra Highway. We can observe many archaeological and historical sites extended in a large area. The potential ancient sites of Devadaha include Kumarvarti, Khayardada, Bairimai-Kanyamai, Bhagawanipur/Devidamar, Kotahimai, the Rohini River, the Telar River etc. More facts on ancient Koliyan civilization will reveal after full-fledged excavations in future.

Important Archeological and Religious Monuments of Devdaha 

Bhawanipur/Devidamar:

It is believed to be the ancient Devdaha, the capital of the Koliya Kingdom. The site has a temple dedicated to Queen Mayadevi and other significant religious and archeological sites, including a long stone column (some consider an Ashoka Pillar), a stone image of Sun God, ancient brick, etc.

Khayardada:

Khayardada is believed to have been the main city of the ancient Koliya Kingdom. Three mounds can be distinctly seen here, and there are pieces of burnt bricks, potteries, and various objects scattered everywhere within a radius of two kilometers. It is believed that Prince Siddhartha lived in that palace and bathed in Mangal Puskarini Daha(pond) while at maternal uncle's home.

Kanyamai:

Kanyamai temple is believed to be built in the memory of Queen Prajapati Gautami, the stepmother of Lord Sakyamuni Buddha. Major images found in the temple include a standing stone image of Lokeshwore holding a lotus flower in one hand, (the other hand is broken off), and many stone idols. Ancient potteries are still visible in the nearby mound.

Bairimai:

It is believed that the temple of Bairimai was built to pay homage to Mayadevi, the mother of Lord Sakyamuni Buddha. Local people believe that the word Bairimai was derived from Badimai, meaning Big Mother or Elder Sister referring to Mayadevi, the eldest princess of Koliya Kingdom.
It is believed that both Mayadevi and Prajapati, One gave birth to Siddhartha and the other cared for him, were so revered by the people of Devdaha that they were bestowed upon a statue of the goddess over the passage of time.

Kapilvastu:

Ancient Kapilavastu or the present-day Kapilvastu district is the hometown of Prince Siddhartha. It is also the birthplace of two earlier Buddhas, who descended to the mortal world, attained enlightenment and entered nirvana before Lord Sakyamuni Buddha. Krakuchhanda Buddha was born in Gotihawa whereas Kanakamuni Buddha was born in Niglihawa. 

The Greater Lumbini Area

Hence, the Greater Lumbini Area may be called as the Land of Buddhas or the Birthplaces of three Buddhas. Kapilvastu district is an open museum as it alone houses more than 130 important archaeological sites, directly or indirectly related to the life of Lord Sakyamuni Buddha and Buddhism. Important Buddhist heritage sites worth visiting in the Kapilavastu district include Tilaurakot, Kudan, Gotihawa, Niglihawa, Araurakot, Sagarhawa and Sisaniya, each sacred site bearing its own distinct religious and spiritual value. Other interesting sites for visitors in Kapilavastu include Bikuli Kot, Jagadishpur Reservoir (listed as a RAMSAR site), Touleshwor Nath temple, Ramghat, Laxman Ghat, Kapila Dham, Shringi Rishi Ashram, Kailash Ashram, Shivagadhi, etc. Gorusinghe of Kapilavastu district is the gateway to other popular sites; Supa Deurali Narapani hill station, Khanchi Kot, Argha Kot, etc. 

Nawalparasi: 

The present-day Nawalparasi district is part of the ancient Koliya Kingdom, the maternal hometown of Queen Mayadevi, the beloved mother of Lord Sakyamuni Buddha. Nawalparasi district consists of Ramagrama Stupa, one of the most sacred relic stupas of Lord Sakyamuni Buddha. Also listed as one of the Tentative World Heritage sites by UNESCO, the Stupa is believed to contain the only body relics of Lord Sakyamuni Buddha in the entire world. Another important site related to the life of Lord Sakyamuni Buddha is Panditpur, which has been claimed, by some archaeologists, to be the palace site of the ancient Koliya Kingdom. Daunne hill, which is a very popular highway retreat for lunch and snacks among travelers on the East-West Highway, also houses some monasteries and temples. A recent book published by a Japanese author mentions Daunne as the meditation center of queen Mayadevi. Triveni Dham, located 23km to the east from Parasi Bazaar of Nawalparasi district, is another important site from a religious, archaeological and tourism point of view. 
The Greater Lumbini Area

It is the confluence of three holy rivers; Sapta Gandaki, Sona and Tamasa. There are several Hindu temples, Gajendramokchha Dham, and the Balmiki Ashram. Located inside the Chitwan National Park, the Balmiki Ashram bears several archaeological ruins related to Balmiki Rishi (the author of holy book Ramayana), Sita (the consort of Lord Rama), and her two sons; Lava and Kush. The adjoining districts Palpa, Gulmi and Arghakhanchi, which are located in the northern hilly region, are also equally potential for tourism. Popular sites in these districts include the typical Newari settlements (including Sakyas) in Tansen, Shreenagar hill, Ranimahal, Ridi-Ruru Kshetra, Resunga, Supa Deurali, Arghakot-Khanchikot, Narapani hill station and several temples. Likewise, Chitwan National Park, Banke National Park, Bardia National Park, Sworgadwari and Pokhara are the popular tourist hubs that can be combined in a tour while visiting the sites in the Greater Lumbini Area. 

Ramgrama Stupa

The Koliyas obtained one of the eight parts of the Buddha's relic which they enshrined here and built a magnificent stupa and worshipped for a long time. Buddhist literary sources mention that Emperor Asoka wanted to open and obtain the Buddha's relic to build eighty four thousand minors stupas throughout his vast empire. However, the emperor did not touch the precious relic out of the request made by Dragon king and people of Ramagrama. This surviving single original relic stupa standing 7 meters high on the bank of the Jharahi River is the most important stupa of its kind in the whole of the world.
Ramagrama is on the tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage Status, and has attracted archaeological interest since 1896. The most striking feature of the site is its massive stupa, which is ten metres high and 23.5 metres in diameter. Referencing the itineraries of the Chinese pilgrims, Faxian (5th century CE) and Xuanzang (7th century CE), B.K. Rijial of Nepal's Department of Archaeology identified the stupa as Ramagrama, one of the original eight stupas that housed the cremated remains of Lord Buddha. Tradition records that the other 7 stupas were reopened during the Mauryan period and their relics redistributed. It is believed that when Asoka went to open the stupa at Ramagrama, he was prevented from doing so by its guardian snake or naga.
1. Ramgram Stupa. Photo by Susmita Paudel
Xuanzang carefully recorded this tradition as well as the presence of the stupa, a pillar and a temple, now at the centre of an island formed by an old oxbow of the Jharahi River and a modern canal. Geophysical surveys of subsurface archaeological features were conducted in 1997, 1999 and 2018. These identified the presence of several quadrangular brick monasteries to the east and north of the stupa. Some of these structures were excavated by Sukra Sagar Shrestha of the DoA between 1999 and 2004. His research confirmed the site’s Occupation between the Mauryan and Gupta periods.

Ramagrama Stupa is one amongst the eight original relic stupas built over the corporeal remains of the Buddha. Inscribed on UNESCO Tentative World Heritage property in 1996, Ramagrama is a site of great archaeological and pilgrimage importance as it is believed to contain the only relic stupa of Sakyamuni Buddha not opened by Emperor Asoka in the 3rd century BC.

Ramgrama Stupa
2. Ramgrama Stupa. Photo by Susmita Paudel

According to the Buddhist traditions the dead body of the Buddha after attaining Mahaparinirmana was cremated by the Mallas of Kushinagar and the mortal remains were distributed among eight claimants including the Koliyas of Ramagrama. 
According to legends, When Emperor Ashoka visited the site and wished to open the stupa in order to re-distribute the relics to 84,000 small stupas throughout his vast empire, he was prevented from doing so by a Dragon King. Hence it became the only unopened stupa of the eight to contain Sakyamuni Buddha's mortal remains.
The mound structure was first discovered in 1899 by Dr. W. Hoey, a historian from the Asiatic Society
of Bengal before it was confirmed to be a stupa by S. B. Deo later in 1964. Excavation of the Stupa was conducted by Kashi Prasad Jayaswal Research Institute of Patna in the year 1958. The archaeological excavations show four distinct phases of construction during Mauran, Sunga, Kusan and Gupta period. The excavations carried out by Department of Archaeology, Nepal in 1997 have unearthed grey ware, Painted Grey Ware (PGW), and Northern Black Polished (NBP) ware. Other noteworthy discoveries of the excavations include beads, bangles, and art objects of various periods. Other important sites/monuments include sacred Jharahi Lake, Jharahi River and a Temple, built by Japanese Buddhist Organization, Bishinokai, consisting a standing image of the Buddha.
Ramgrama Stupa
3. Ramgrama Stupa. Photo by Susmita Paudel

Historical Research of Lumbini

Khadga Shamsher, the Grand Governor of Palpa, was digging the Ashoka Pillar at Lumbini (Paderia) in 1896 with the help of the locals. Archaeologists assigned by the Archaeological Survey of India Dr. Alois Anton Führer arrived on December 1 of that year. After the Ashoka Pillar inscription came to light, the sensation of finding Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha, spread all over the world.
After his return, Purnachandra Mukherjee came here and published the details in 1901. Between 1933 and 1939, Keshar Shamsher excavated around Mayadevi and Pushkarini Lake. Similarly, NR Banerjee (1966-72), Babukrishna Rijal (1975-83), Tarananda Mishra (1984-85), Japan Buddhist Association, Lumbini Development Fund, and the Department of Archeology (1993-1997) were actively explored and excavated here.
The Greater Lumbini Area

As the world's most sacred place for peace-loving human beings, the then United Nations Secretary-General U Thant's visit to Lumbini in 1967 prompted plans to turn it into a tourist and pilgrimage site. From December 10, 1967, to January 9, 1968, a three-member UN delegation gave special consultations on Lumbini development infrastructure, transportation, drinking water, electricity, housing, etc.
For its development, International Lumbini Development Committee was formed with the participation of 13 countries including Pakistan, Sri Lanka, India, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Japan, Singapore, and Nepal. Bhutan and South Korea were later added to the 15-member committee.
In 1986, the then Prince Gyanendra Shah lit the World Peace Lamp in Lumbini to commemorate the International Year of Peace. Now, this lamp is burning as a symbol of world peace. If the government can develop Lumbini in a planned manner, billions of rupees can be earned annually in Nepal through tourism.

About Lumbini Development Trust

Lumbini Development Trust was formed by the Government of Nepal as provisioned by Lumbini Development Trust Act 2042 (1985) in 1985 to implement Lumbini Master Plan, explore, excavate and conserve archaeological sites scattered in Kapilavastu, Rupandehi and Nawalparasi districts. The LDT was constituted in order to present before the people of the world and commitment of the Government of Nepal to project-goal and ideal of development of Lumbini.
Ossicles of Buddha after Mahaparinirvana 
Drona Brahman mediated and divided the remaining ossuary into eight equal parts after the last rites of Tathagata Buddha after Mahaparinirvana. The people who got the bone metal were kept in these places. These are the eight places where ossicles were distributed after Buddha's Mahaparinirvana. 
(1) King Ajatasatru, son of Baidehi of Magadha, in the royal house. 
(2) The Licchavis of Baisali in Baisali. 
(3) The Shakyas of Kapilvastu in Kapilvastu. 
(4) Allakappa's bulls in Allakappa. 
(5) The Koliyas of Ramgram in Ramgram. 
(6) The Brahmins of Bethdhip are in Bethdhip. 
(7) The Mallas of Pava in Pava. 
(8) Mallas of Kusinagar in Kusinagar.
Book: The Greater Lumbini Area Religious and Archaeological Sites.

#Last Updated: 5 August, 2022
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