Spiritually Enchanting Lumbini
Nirvana is not too far when you visit Lumbini – the birthplace of Gautama Buddha. Nestled in the lap of the Himalayas, Lumbini is a serene pilgrimage site located close to the Indian border, in Nepal
Regarded as trekker's paradise, Nepal is also known for its high peaks in the Himalayan ranges enhanced by its rustic landscapes. What makes this country more enchanting are it's diverse cultural beliefs, heritage. Being the birthplace of Lord Buddha, Nepal is bestowed with spiritual tourism.
Spirituality undoubtedly adds a new dimension to travel. It not just empowers your inner self but also helps in uniting man and nature. Spiritual heritage are not just a matter of pride for the Nepalese people, but also one of the prominent potential contributors to the nation's economy. In that regard, spiritual tourism is the thrust of various initiatives by the Nepal Tourism board. Many travelers all across the globe has now listed Nepal in their travel bucket list.
Though Nepal is primarily a Hindu nation, here exists the best possible amalgamation of Hinduism and Buddhism. What could be better than the birth place of Lord Buddha for anyone looking to pursue a spiritual life.
Lumbini, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the place where the story of Lord Buddha - the founder of Buddhism - begins. It is believed that Buddha was born in 623 BC, while his mother was traveling to her parental home.
Lumbini, also known as Pradimoksha Vana, is located in the southern part of Nepal in Rupandehi district and is the major pilgrimage destination which attracts a huge number of global Buddhist tourists. Lumbini is bordered by a large monastic zone where only monasteries can be built. It is separated into an eastern and western monastic zone – the eastern zone has the Theravadin monasteries whereas the western zone has Mahayana and Vajrayana monasteries.
In Sanskrit, Lumbini means lovely and holds a very prominent place for spiritual travelers all across the globe. It is one of the four Buddhist piligrimage sites based on major events in the life of Gautam Buddha. The others are Bodh Gaya (enlightment), Sarnath (first sermon) and Kushinagar (Mahaparinirvana or simply death) – all located in India's territory. It is also considered as an important Hindu pilgrimage site as Buddha is considered as one of the incarnations of Lord Vishnu.
The holy site of Lumbini has ruins of ancient monasteries, a sacred Bodhi tree, an ancient holy bathing pond (the Puskarini), the Ashokan pillar and the Maya Devi Temple – the supposed place of Buddha's birth.
The Maya Devi Temple is the main temple at Lumbini, a site traditionally considered the birthplace of Gautama Buddha. The temple stands adjacent to a sacred pool (known as Puskarni) and a sacred garden. The archaeological remains at the site were previously dated to the third-century BCE brick buildings constructed by Ashoka. In November 2013, an international team of archaeologists digging under the temple discovered the remains of an ancient tree shrine dated before 550 BCE. The researchers speculated that the site is the earliest evidence of Buddhist structures and the first archaeological evidence of Gautama Buddha's life. It is set on the exact spot where, according to Buddhist scriptures, the mother of Buddha walked 20 paces, faced east and grabbed the branch of a tree, before giving birth to Siddhartha Gautama.
The temple is surrounded by ancient structures (possibly old temples) and monasteries. Long lines of colourful prayer flags are strung between trees, which carry prayers and mantras heavenward as they flap in the breeze. The top of the temple also has a small square similar to those on Stupas in Kathmandu.
The holy Pushkarini Pond just outside the temple is another important
part of history. It was at this pond that Maya Devi took bath before the birth to Siddhartha, whom gods of the three worlds i.e. Brahma, Vishnu & Shiva came to receive. Just after the birth, it is believed that Buddha walked seven steps and at each of his steps, lotus flowers bloomed miraculously.
Ashoka's pillar, near the temple is another important landmark in the history of Lumbini and Buddhism. This pillar was amongst some structures which led to the rediscovery of the holy site in 1895, when a German archaeologist named Alois Führer unearthed these structures built by Ashoka. Chinese pilgrim, Fa Xian, has also made similar observations. The pillar is now protected by a small fence and is also decorated with prayer flags and banners from the faithful.
The Maya Devi Temple is surrounded by stupas of varying sizes, but are now in a ruined state. The stupas have large square and circular bases. I found these set of 16 stupa bases very interesting. According to the locals, these are Votive stupas, built by devotees when their wishes come true.
Groups of saffron-robed monks congregate under the Bodhi tree to offer prayers. Devotees walk around the tree with incense sticks at the Buddha shrine chanting bhajaans. The ambiance here is full of spiritual energy and a visitor would find it difficult to disassociate from the ambiance.
Spiritual feelings fully engulfed me as I sat observing those devotee's faces. It is said in Buddhism as well as Hinduism that it is the devotion of a devotee that turns the stone into a deity.
Buddhism seems to be an interesting religion if compared with other mainstream faiths ` in the world. As I started talking to a few monks I found out that there is a big difference between other religions and Buddhism, as it is based around a human and not a god. For others, the faith is around the deities, but with Buddhism, it's not about worshipping an omnipotent and omniscient god. It is much more about a way of living which comes from Buddha himself.
Moving on from the temple area, I walked along a long water filled canal separating the western and eastern zones, with a series of brick arch bridges joining the two sides. About twenty-five international Buddhist monasteries and Buddhism meditation centers are located on both sides of the canal. On the western side of the canal are temples belonging to Mahayana Buddhist countries – Korea, China, Germany, Canada, Austria, Vietnam, Ladakh and Nepal. On the eastern side are the temples of countries belonging to Theravada Buddhism – Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia. Glimpses of Vajrayana Buddhism are also found.
Each monastery is distinct as they are built by Buddhists from different countries. All of them display a wonderful collection of different architectural styles, capturing the whole world. One of the most impressive buildings is the Myanmar Golden Temple that is designed to look like the famous Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. World Peace Pagoda is another prominent building.
But after visiting a few monasteries I was bored and disoriented. Everything was about Buddha and Maya Devi. All I was admiring after sometime was the marvellous architecture. As I sat and had conversations with monks and other pilgrims, I found my mind adapting to the new teachings of Buddha
Lumbini is the place where Lord Buddha enjoyed luxury as Prince Siddharth before heading towards his path of enlightenment. This is the only place where a religion has been mapped precisely to the real-world landscape.