History of Lumbini
One warm spring day, many years ago, a lone woman stood in the generous shade of a sal tree. Some distance away, through a screen dense with foliage, perfumed flowers and hungry bees, a group of soldiers and well dressed servants stood around a richly decorated palanquin…
Pausing in the shade to recover strength for her journey home, in the final days of her pregnancy, the beautiful woman listened to the birds close at hand, whose cheerful songs seemed inspired by the young blossoms on all the trees. Marvelling at the beauty surrounding her, the woman reached up to take in a branch of the fragrant flowers, when she felt a great commotion within in her and, while still on her feet, she gave birth to a boy. Pure water poured from above in two streams, washing mother and child, while petals fell like snowflakes from the clear blue sky. The newborn boy got to his feet and took seven confident steps forward. At each pace, where his feet should have left their trace, sprung seven lotus flowers of unknown beauty. The boy then became still, and amidst the quiet of the grove proclaimed himself foremost in the world, and that this would be his final rebirth.
The park fell silent once again, interrupted only by the songs of the birds and the buzzing of the bees about the spring blossoms. And it waited in this manner for a few hundred years. Until one day, another grand entourage was seen approaching from a distance. Arriving at the park, a grand emperor approached the sal tree with soft step and reverential gaze. Troubled by the horrors of war observed throughout his many conquests, the emperor had come to erect a monument, an inscribed stone pillar, to mark the spot where had been born a boy. This was the same boy from all those years ago, who had in subsequent years become a great teacher of peace, compassion, and much else besides.
Two thousand years pass and the park remained as it was, discovered and forgoten in turn by each successive generation or civilization.The pattern continued thus until, in 1896, it was the turn of a group of archeologists to discover once more the great pillar of that ancient emperor. By then the once verdant garden had wilted, and the bees gone elsewhere in search of fragrant blossoms further afield. And yet, the reputation of this place and what had occurred there spread amongst learned and pious individuals, such that in 1967 then UN Secretary General U Thant was inspired to visit. This visit marks the origin of the Lumbini Development Trust and the project to return the garden to its former beauty. Just as the Emperor Ashoka had done with his pillar, it was the goal of this Trust to create surroundings appropriate for the momentous event that had there occurred. This import was confirmed in 1996 when UNESCO declared Lumbini a World Heritage Site, an execptional cultural testimony of a significant stage of human history.
Lumbini for the Buddhist
At the southernmost reach of the park stand the high crenellated walls of the Maya Devi Temple, brilliantly white in the noon-day sun. Within the heart of this sanctum are found the Birth Stone, marking the precise spot where the young Siddhartha Gautama was born, and the Nativity Sculpture which illustrates the narrative of the miraculous birth. Flanking this to the south and west are the Puskarini Pond and the Ashokan Pillar, while all around are to be seen the warm red brick foundations of temples that speak to the anitquity of this place as do rings the age of a tree. To the north of the Sacred Garden, one may find a veritable World’s Fair of Buddhism, a Monastic Zone wherein representatives of Mahayana and Theravada Buddhist traditions from around the world have constructed monasteries. Lastly, at the north end of the garden the World Peace Pagoda stands proud and tall, rising out of the expansive lawns and lotus ponds, a companding presence on these pan-flat plains.
Lumbini for the Nature Lover
Providing for the natural eco-system of the park was integral to the original and subquequent development plans for Lumbini. After all, it was the lush greenery and abundant wildlife that drew Maya Devi into its fold. Lumbini Park still evokes all those same charms to the amateur botanists and bird watchers of today. Beyond the manicured lawns of the World Peace Pagoda lie dense wetlands, designated as a crane sanctuary. It is here that the patient visitor may catch a glimpse of the rare Sarus Crane (antigone antigone), the world’s tallest flying bird.
Lumbini for the Lover of History
While the most archeologically significant portion of Lumbini lies within the Sacred Garden, following the central canal separating the East and West Monastic Zones, one is led to Lumbini Museum and International Research Institute. Within the distinctive circlular forms of its architecture, the Museum is a lesson on the hagiography of Gautama Buddha, in addition to excavated artefacts and illustrated manuscript collections. The Lumbini International Research Insitute on the other hand has become a centre of scholarship within Buddhist studies, with a library of 35,000 books in a great many Asian languages.