About the Lumbini Ashoka Pillar

This Ashoka Pillar is located in Lumbini in the Rupandehi district of southern Nepal close to the Indian border. It is one of many stone pillars built by the Indian Emperor Ashoka during his reign in the 3rd century BC.

Ashokan Pillar in Lumbini

Ashokan Pillar in Lumbini

Today only 19 pillars remain that have inscriptions most of which are found in India. The one located in Lumbini, Nepal is of particular note as it is the oldest inscription found in Nepal and it also commemorates Ashoka's visit to Buddha's birthplace after he converted to Buddhism.

The pillar stands next to the Mayadevi temple (Lumbini temple) which marks the spot where the Buddha was born.

Did you know?

The Ashokan Pillar in Lumbini stands at 6 meters and is made from pink sandstone.

The pillar was lost until 1896 when a team of Nepalese archaeologists rediscovered it.

History of the Ashoka Pillar in Lumbini

What might seem like just a commemorative pillar by a long dead King actually has quite an intricate linage and historical standing.

Ashoka Maurya (304–232 BC), was an Indian Emperor who ruled nearly all of the Indian sub-continent. The link with Nepal is routed during the brutal Kalinga war where over one hundred thousand of Ashoka's troops died and one hundred and fifty thousand were Kalinga troops died.

Ashokan pillar inscription Lumbini, Nepal

Ashokan pillar inscription Lumbini, Nepal (see a larger photograph of the Ashokan Pillar Inscription)

The war was based on political & economic expansion of the Mauryan Empire which had started prior to the Mauryan dynasty when it had been conquered. When the Mayrya Dynasty began Kalinga regained independence. During Ashokan's Grandfathers reign he failed to take Kalinga. With this task before him on Ashokan's 8th year as King he set about conquering Kalinga.

The war was fought by Dhauli Hill on a great flat plain by the Daya River. Over 400,000 of Ashoka's army went against over the 60,000 Kalingan army. There result was the death of 100,000 on Ashoka's side. While Ashoka estimated over 200,000 Kaligan's died. The Kaligan numbers also included civilians and is rumored to be exaggerated . Nether-the-less war was a brutal and bloody one. So much so the Daya River was said to have turned red with blood. Over 100,000 people were deported following the war. The Kaligan war remains one of the most important in world history.

The sheer scale of the bloodshed, which Ashoka believed he was the cause of, prompted him as a non-practicing Buddhist  to devote the rest of his life to Ahimsa (non-violence) and to Dharma-Vijaya (victory through Dharma).

This was said to have occurred when a woman approached him saying:

"Your actions have taken from me my father, husband, and son. Now what will I have left to live for?"

It was then said that Ashoka fully accepted Buddhism, and vowed to never take life again.

Ashoka's Legacy

Ashoka ended the military expansion of the Mauryan empire which continued on with nearly 40 years of relative peace and prosperity. The Mauryan dynasty lasted just fifty more years after Ashoka died.

While most of the Ashoka's accomplishments would have disappeared into history credit is given to him for recording much of his life. This came in the form of many pillars and boulders with inscriptions written onto them.

Indeed it's said that Ashoka's history may not have been found if not for British historians and archaeologist in India who uncovered many important heritage sites. However most of the written history of Ashoka can be found in a small number of Buddhist writings.

Today the Edicts of Ashoka are a collection of 33 inscriptions on what are know as the Pillars of Ashoka. A collection of stone boulders and pillars from throughout Pakistan, India and Nepal with inscriptions in them from Ashoka. Thusly the King left notes of legacy throughout the region which piece together a view of his history.

Ashoka's visit to Lumbini

Ashoka was said to have visited the birthplace of The Buddha, Lumbini, around 249BC. It's not clear whether Ashokan built the pillar himself or whether the people of Lumbini built it for him after he left. However, there is an inscription and the pillar is similar to others being made of pink sandstone.

The inscription reads:

"King Piyadasi (Ashoka), beloved of devas, in the 20th year of the coronation, himself made a royal visit, Buddha Sakyamuni having been born here; a stone railing was built and a stone pillar erected to the Bhagavan having been born here, Lumbini village was taxed reduced and entitled to the eight part (only)"

Thusly, it would seem as if the pillar was indeed constructed by Ashoka to mark the historic location of The Buddha's birthplace. In turn, he also granted Lumbini a tax-free status.

The pillar itself became lost over the centuries and only in 1895 was it rediscovered by a German archaeologist named Feuhrer beside some ruins which turned out to be the foundations under what is now known as the Mayadevi temple that depict the birth of the Buddha there. In 1896, the pillar was moved by the governor of Palpa, Khadga Shumsher Rana, back to its original place beside the temple. One can only presume it had been found elsewhere in the area.

The Ashokan Pillar in Lumbini also takes the honors as being the oldest known inscription to be found in Nepal.

In 2016, the Ashokan Pillar was digitally preserved by the Digital Archaeology Foundation along with other monuments in the area.

Other Ashokan mouments in Nepal

Nepal has several Ashokan monuments, many of which can still be seen in the Kathmandu valley today.

Of the more popular ones, you can easily visit Patan, which is a good destination to visit some of the Ashokan stupas. Both in north Patan and west Patan. See my travel guide to Patan for more.

Although technically it does not have a direct reference to Ashoka, there is also a monument called the Ashok stupa in Thamel Kathmandu. Again, there is little historical reference to back up that it is an Ashokan monument and may simply be related in name only.

How to visit Lumbini & see the Ashokan Pillar

Getting there: Lumbini is located close to the border of India. Or about 6-9 hours by bus from Kathmandu. The nearest airport is in Bhairahawa which is about 40 minutes by bus from Lumbini where the Gautam Buddha International Airport (regional) is located.

For more exact direction please see the section on getting there section on the Lumbini travel guide.

Entrance fees: There are two entrance fees you'll need to pay. The first is to allow access into the Lumbini Development Zone and the second is to allow access to the Lumbini open museum where the Ashokan pillar is located.

Again, for full details on entrance prices and camera fees, do see the section on Entrance fees into Lumbini.

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