During an. archaeological excavation in 1885, Dr. A. Furher unearthed the Ashokan pillar, the only evidence of Lord Buddha’s birth in Lumbini. In 1899, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) assigned P.C. Mukherjee to study the archaeological findings in Lumbini. The ASI also deputed Mrs. Mitra in 1962 to analyse the nature and history of the bricks, lying to the west of the Ashokan pillar. Field Marshal Keshar Shumsher unearthed antiques in Lumbini during extensive excavations in 1933 and in 1939. Unfortunately, his findings were not published. In 1970, the Archaeological Department of Nepal launched an excavation to delineate the area of Lumbini village during King Ashoka’s rule (249 B.C.). The team unearthed a clay wall, a circular crematorium with a human skull, and an iron scythe from the sixth century B.C.
The 1967 visit to Lumbini by U Thant, then Secretary General of the United Nations, gave impetus to the idea of developing Lumbini which is now materializing. After U Thant’s visit, the International Committee for Lumbini Development was formed under the chairmanship of Nepal’s permanent representative to the UN. The Master Plan for Lumbini, followed by the Lumbini Development Trust, was developed by the well known Japanese architect Prof. Keno Tange.
Archaeologists argue that a number of places remain to be excavated near the Mayadevi temple because some antiquities have been observed on the surface. To garner support for more archaeological work, they cite the finding of a well some 500 metres west of the Ashokan pillar. The well was apparently constructed during Kushan rule in the first century A.D.. The bricks used for constructing the well are enormous: some up to two feet long, eight inches wide and ten inches high. Most important, each layer of bricks is engraved with different symbols [note some symbols] A further clue to the underground structures is the uneven growth of two mango trees planted on November 8, 1979, by the former president of Sri Lanka, J.R. Jayavardhane, and his wife, The trees were planted in the VIP afforestation area, about 50 meters north of the Mayadevi temple. Although of the same species and in identical conditions, one tree is growing more slowly than the other, leading archaeologists to speculate that the downward growth of the roots may be impeded by an underground structure.
The development of Lumbini should parallel the development of Tilaurakot at Kapilavastu, 28 km west of Lumbini, where the remains of the palace of King Suddhodhana (Lord.
Buddha’s father) were discovered. The concerned HMG department, however, has not shown interest in. studying the area in detail. Fortunately, the Lumbini Development Trust has deputed six local watchmen at Tilaurakot, although the trust has no linkage with Kapilavastu. At Tilaurakot, ruins of the eastern and western gates of King Suddhodhana’s palace, a courtyard, a crematorium, and two stupa-like structures have been found. It is believed that Prince Siddhartha exited from the eastern gate (Mahabhinishkaram Dwar) when he started out in search of supreme enlightenment.
Similarly, appropriate measures need to be taken to preserve the damaged Ashokan pillars of Niglihawa and Kotihawa, 33 km north-west and west of Lumbini. The open border with India makes further excavation somewhat risky because of the ease with which the findings could be smuggled out of the country. According to one archaeologist, it would be better to leave things underground to remain as hidden treasures.
A PIPAL PROBLEM
As seen in photographs, Lumbini lies in the shadow of a huge Pipal tree (Populus delroides) to the east of the temple. The tree poses a problem because its roots have grown so extensive that it threatens the Mayadevi temple’s destruction. As the roots have caused the near-collapse of the main eastern entrance, pilgrims have been compelled to use the northern entrance.Likewise, thick roots at the west of the temple may soon harm the Ashokan pillars.
The only solution remaining is to cut down the tree. This also poses problems. Local people would never let the tree be cut down since: a) People believe that the Mayadevi temple has always been under a Pipal tree. b) They believe that Mayadevi gave birth to Siddhartha Gautam while leaning against this particular tree, as seen in the nativity posture of Mayadevi in the temple. c) The Buddhist community worships it because Lord Buddha attained enlightenment sitting under a Pipal tree in Bodhgaya in India. d) The Hindu community also worships the Pipal-tree as a form of Vishnu. In addition, the local community worships Mayadevi as Rupadevi (Beautiful Goddess), and on a full-moon in April (Chaitra Purnima), some 50,000 Hindu pilgrims gather here for a mela. The district in which Lumbini lies is named after Mayadevi-Rupandehi.
Ganga Prasad Pandey, 51, the Hindu priest who has served at the Mayadevi temple for the last 40 years, said that it would be wiser to protect the temple than the tree. The tree, he said, could always be replanted.
SACRED BUT POLLUTED
The sacred pond of Shakya Puskarini (Shakya pond) to the north of Mayadevi temple, in which Prince Siddhartha was bathed after his birth, hardly seems to be sacred anymore. It is murky and full of algae. Swans and ducks have full reign. Devotees who come from various parts of the world to collect the Jal (Sacred water) from the pond have second thoughts as the pollution stares at them.
The eternal Peace Flame that was brought from the United Nations Headquarters in 1986 in the International Peace Year went out during the recent fuel crisis resulting from the Indo-Nepal dispute on trade and transit. When gas became unavailable, an oil lamp was substituted, which burns about half a litre of mustard oil every four days.
The old monasteries, about 50 meters east of the Mayadevi temple, are to be removed because of the design of the sacred garden in the Master Plan for Lumbini. The Buddhists seem unwilling to demolish these existing monasteries. A Buddhist from Bhairahawa, Nidan Shakya, asked: “How can we -the Buddhists- ignore the gods in the monasteries to whom we have earlier paid our hearty homage and respect? Such destruction is against our tradition and social norms.”
Sichendra Bista is a reporter for UNI in Nepal.