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Lumbini and Buddha’s Nativity

Today is Buddha Purnima.It marks the birth anniversary of Gautam Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. 
It was on this day that Gautam Buddha was born in 623 BC. It is believed that this was also the day he attained enlightenment. 
 It is believed that when Gautama was 29 years old, he ventured outside the comforts of his luxurious palace and witnessed the sufferings of the people for the first time. The event had a profound impact on him and he renounced his palace life in search of truth. Six years later, he became enlightened.

In 2013, archaeologists uncovered evidence of the oldest Buddhist shrine dating to around 550 BC. An international archaeology team dug beneath existing brick structures at the Lumbini pilgrimage centre and discovered older wooden structures. It is believed that Lumbini is the place where the Buddha’s mother, Maya Devi, grasped a tree and gave birth to the historical figure.

Pioneering excavations within the Sacred Garden of Lumbini, Nepal, a UNESCO World Heritage site long identified as the birthplace of the Buddha, uncovered the remains of a previously unknown timber structure under a series of brick temples. Laid out on the same design as those above it, the timber structure contains an open space in the center that links to the nativity story of the Buddha himself.

“Very little is known about the life of the Buddha, except through textual sources and oral tradition,” said archaeologist Professor Robin Coningham of Durham University, U.K., who co-led the investigation. Some scholars, he said, have maintained that the Buddha was born in the third century B.C. “We thought ‘why not go back to archaeology to try to answer some of the questions about his birth, “Coningham said. “Now, for the first time, we have an archaeological sequence at Lumbini that shows a building there as early as the sixth century B.C.”

The archaeological investigation was funded by the Government of Japan in partnership with the Government of Nepal under a UNESCO project aimed at strengthening the conservation and management of Lumbini The research was also supported by Durham and Stirling Universities in the UK and the National Geographic Society’s Global Exploration Fund.

Lumbini is one of the key sites associated with the life of the Buddha; others are Bodh Gaya, where he became a Buddha or enlightened one; Sarnath, where he first preached; and Kusinagara, where he passed away. At his passing at the age of 80, the Buddha is recorded as having recommended that all Buddhists visit “Lumbini.” The shrine was still popular in the middle of the first millennium A.D. and was recorded by Chinese pilgrims as having a shrine beside a tree. 

Pilgrims meditate at the wall below the nativity scene within the Maya Devi Temple at Lumbini, Nepal.  

The temple at Lumbini remains a living shrine; the archaeologists worked alongside meditating monks, nuns and pilgrims.

Writing in the international journal Antiquity, Professor Robin Coningham, who led the international team along with Kosh Prasad Acharya – one of Nepal’s top archeologists, state: “The sequence (of archaeological remains) at Lumbini is a microcosm for the development of Buddhism from a localized cult to a global religion.”

Lost and overgrown in the jungles of Nepal in the Medieval period, ancient Lumbini was rediscovered in 1896  and identified as the birthplace of the Buddha on account of the presence of a third-century B.C. sandstone pillar. The pillar bears an inscription documenting a visit by Emperor Asoka to the site of the Buddha’s birth as well as the site’s name — Lumbini.

Despite the rediscovery of the key Buddhist sites, their earliest levels were buried deep or destroyed by later construction, leaving evidence of the very earliest stages of Buddhism inaccessible to archaeological investigation, until now.           

Half a billion people around the world are Buddhists, and by 2020, some 22 million Buddhist pilgrims are expected in South Asia; many hundreds of thousands make a pilgrimage to Lumbini each year.

While people are advised to remain indoors during the COVID-19 lockdown, they can read and send the following quotes of Buddha to their near and dear ones on Buddha Purnima.

  • It is better to conquer yourself than to win thousand battles. Then the victory is yours. It cannot be taken from you.
  • As you walk and eat and travel, be where you are. Otherwise you will miss most of your life.
  • Every human being is the author of his own health or disease.
  • Meditation brings wisdom; lack of meditation leaves ignorance. Know well what leads you forward and what holds you back, and choose the path that leads to wisdom.
  • Your body is precious. It is our vehicle for awakening. Treat it with care.
  • Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace.
  • Set your heart on doing good. Do it over and over again and you will be filled with joy.
  • Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.
  • If you light a lamp for somebody, it will also brighten your path.
  • All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.
  • To understand everything is to forgive everything.
  • In the end these things matter most: How well did you love? How fully did you live? How deeply did you let go?

( Image: Archaeologists Robin Coningham (left) and Kosh Prasad Acharya direct excavations within the Maya Devi Temple, uncovering a series of ancient temples contemporary with the Buddha)

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