Lumbini is where The Buddha was born. Thusly making it one of the most important religious sites in the world much like Jerusalem to Christians and Mecca to Muslims.
The birthplace of the Buddha is what most people know about Lumbini. Which is because there's not much there and it's a bit out of the way in terms of travel. Buddhism isn't everybody's cup of tea either. One also tends to upset a lot of folks if you start listing dates and events because a lot "experts" have differing views. More over Buddhism lore can get a little complicated in its own right.
So on this page is the history of Lumbini written in a way that the most visitors can digest and in turn get more out of their visit to Lumbini!
As you know, Buddha was born here sometime around 623 BCE. The story of his birth is quite nice to know before you visit as you'll know what you are looking at when you visit!
Buddha's birth in Lumbini
The Buddha's parents where Hindu royals King Śuddhodana & Queen Mayadevi whose family name was Gautama. Mayadevi left her home to follow tradition and give birth in her fathers land. However she gave birth along the way in ... Lumbini.
Mayadevi is said to have bathed in what is now known as Mayadevi pool before giving birth. She is then said to have given birth under a Sal tree while standing and holding a branch to Siddhartha Gautama who would later become known as The Buddha.
Today inside the Lumbini Temple or Mayadevi temple you can see ruins of a temple that was built over the birth site. Indeed the exact spot of The Buddha's birthplace is even marked out. Here's a large photo of inside Maya Devi Temple.
Sadly some historical records show that Mayadevi died shortly after giving birth (seven days). Siddhartha is then said to have returned to his fathers land of Kapilavastu (near Uttar Pradesh, Northern India) and was raised by Maya Devi's younger sister.
There's some controversy over the saying "Buddha was born in Nepal". Technically Siddhartha was born in Nepal and achieved enlightenment in India. However this is largely a Nepal / India issue and does not effect tourists..
In 403 CE a Chinese pilgrim named Faxian Hien also visited the area and noted that queen Maya had stopped in Lumbini to give birth to an heir (Faxian, Chapter 22).
Later circa 630 CE another chinese pilgrim Xuanzang Hsüan visited Lumbini and noted that many of the monasteries had been hit by lightning and in ruins. The site was yet to achieve much recognition and received little upkeep.
During the 9th century CE Muslim invaders destroyed much of the area as did Hindu invaders later.
It was not until 1895 CE that a German archaeologist named Alois Führer rediscovered Lumbini. The Ashokan Pillar was one of the first re-discoveries along with a temple depicting the early years of the Buddha’s life.
Lumbini is broken up into a main complex called the Lumbini Development Zone & the Lumbini Museum which is within in it. The Lumbini Development Zone contains many Buddhist Monasteries and temples which you can visit. Inside the museum grounds you can visit the places mentioned during Buddha's birth.
Primarily you can go inside the Mayadevi temple and walk around what looks like an archeological dig. There may be one or more temples that were built over the birth site including the current one. Inside in one area is a see through panel in the ground which supposedly marks the exact birthplace.
Outside the temple is the Mayadevi pond where The Buddha's mother is said to have bathed. There's been some reconstruction and no bathing is allowed today.
Just passed the pond are some large Bodhi Trees covered in colorful prayer flags. There are also some old brick foundations of ancient temples nearby.
Beside the Mayadevi temple is one more interesting monument. The Ashokan Pillar. This was placed here by the Emperor Ashoka upon his visit to Lumbini in 249 CE. He had converted to Buddhism after a particularly bloody and world famous war. The Ashokan pillar is one of many dotted around India telling his legacy with inscriptions. The inscription in Lumbini gives the town a tax-free status. Read more about the Ashokan pillar here.
The Ashoka pillar was also the first object to be rediscovered in the are In 1895 by archaeologists. Further excavations then reveal a brick temple that showed depictions of The Buddha's birth. The restored temple that you see today was opened on the 16th May, 2003.
Meanwhile in the surrounding Lumbini Development Zone new Buddhist Monasteries are being built continuously from all corners of the world.
As is the case with visiting Lumbini someone may ask you a little more about what happened to Siddhartha Gautama (The Buddha)? Here is a very brief history of his life.
Siddhartha stayed as the crown prince in his fathers kingdom and is said to have had and an arranged marriage at 16 before having a son. At the age of 29 Siddhartha left his palace to meet his subjects despite his fathers attempts at sheltering him. Along the way Siddhartha met an old man. He was told that all people grew old sick and poor people. This sadden him and he took more trips to investigate further.
On one visit he saw an ill man, a decaying corpse and an ascetic (person who abstains from worldly pleasure in an attempt to seek religious or spiritual goals). These sights depresses him so Siddhartha left his palace to take on the life of a mendicant (person who begs for charitable donations).
Siddhartha began to strive deeper into meditative teachings. But was still not happy. He then began trying to find enlightenment through deprivation of worldly possessions, including food and by practicing self-mortification. At one stage only living on a nut or leaf for a day. After nearly drowning a childhood memory helped him reach a certain level of understanding that allowed him to concentrate more.
After finding a middle ground between self-mortification and concentration he met a girl that mistook him for a spirit due to his emancipated condition and granted her a wish. Siddhartha then sat under a Pipal tree (Bodhi Tree) and vowed not to move until he found the answer he was looking for.
After 49 days at the age of 35 he is said to have found enlightenment and thusly became known and The Buddha (The Enlightened One).
In the 45 years that followed The Buddha brought his teachings across Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and southern Nepal. It is said that there were several assassination attempts on the Buddha's life.
At the age of 80 the Buddha announce that he would soon reach Parinirvana (final deathless state). Indeed shortly after eating a meal given to him of either pork or truffles The Buddha became ill. His finally words were supposedly
"All composite things pass away. Strive for your own liberation with diligence."
The Buddha entered Parinirvana in Kuśināra (Kushinagar, India). His body was cremated and it's said that several relics were placed in monuments or stupas. On of which is believed to be a finger bone that's kept in the stupa at Boudhanath.
As mentioned at the start this is not meant to be a guide of historical accuracies or in depth discussion. It's meant to be a guide to hopefully make your visit to Lumbini that bit more interesting. Or at least give you, the traveler, an overview of the sites significance!
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