This post is is in continuation to the first part of our travelogue on the UNESCO World Heritage site of Lumbini in Nepal which attained fame as the birthplace of the Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. Do check out our very self-created Lumbini Map, exclusively for our readers.
SIGHTS AND PLACES TO SEE (CONTD.):
After wrapping up our visit to the West Monastic Zone, we entered the East Monastic Zone through Gate 3 and directly went to the Thai Monastery, skipping the Lumbini Park. The East Monastic Zone containing the Theravada monasteries is slightly smaller than its western counterpart and most people even prefer to finish visiting this section first.
The Thai Monastery welcomed us with a Sala so grand that we thought it was the monastery. Draped in blue and red with a number of Chofa on the roofs, the building serves as a gathering hall for the monks and also as a shelter. Ironically though, we were unable to take shelter from the torrents of rain that started pouring as soon as we entered.
We had been to many monasteries during our trip to Thailand, but none of those monasteries were as well-maintained as the Thai Monastery in Lumbini. Well-manicured lawns and neatly-trimmed trees adorned the spotless premises adding to the beauty of the white-as-mist marble. We had quite some expectation from the Ubosot (main prayer room) which had such a grand Sala and we were not the least bit disappointed. The Ubosot here is somewhat plainly decorated on the inside, but looks elegant nevertheless.
As the rain subsided, we rushed out to our car and proceeded towards the Golden Monastery of Myanmar. Other than the three prayer halls and residential quarters, there are two outstanding features here, one is the golden pagoda, Lokamuni Cula Pagoda, which is a replica of the Shwedagon Pagoda of Yangoon and the other is the temple which is a replica of the Ananda temple of Bagan. Personally though, we felt that the Ananda temple replica was more fascinating of the two. The architecture has been carefully replicated, but with the addition of a dash of green and red paints. Myanmar was not on our list of places to visit, but one look at this beauty and we almost instantly added Myanmar to our list.
Close-by are the International Nuns’ Temple of Nepal and the Cambodian Monastery. The Cambodian Monastery is under construction, with most of the structural work complete. A miniature version of the Angkor Wat decorates the entrance, in a way, dwarfing the beauty of the dainty Monastery itself. Incredible attention to detail has been paid to the little sculptures on the monastery walls and building exterior, it feels like so much has been accomplished on such a small structure.
There is not much to see at the International Nuns’ Temple; there are quarters for the nuns and a small Buddhist temple in the shape of a pagoda. The temple has been built and is being maintained by the Nepalese government.
It was nearly evening when we reached the last stop for us at the Monastery Zone, the Sri Lankan Monastery. The Sri Lankan influence is clearly visible from the presence of a ‘Vatadage‘ atop which is a statue of the Buddha. A Vatadage is a circular housing around the Buddha as a sort of protection; it is unique to ancient Sri Lankan architecture. The Vatadage also contains a Bodhi tree under which the Bronze-gilded Buddha is seated. The tree has specially been brought from Anuradhapuram in Sri Lanka to be planted here.
In front of the Vatadage are long pillars that also house another statue of the Buddha in a small enclosure, the walls of which are decorated with murals from the life story of the Buddha. Much detail has been paid to the murals that depict the scenes of Maya Devi’s dream, the achievement of enlightenment and the preaching of Buddhist ideals in Sri Lanka. Next to this enclosure are the facilities for Buddhist learning such as classrooms, a library and a conference room. The monastery premises also house residential quarters for the monks who wish to study Buddhism.
The second zone of the Lumbini is the New Lumbini Village Zone which acts as a gateway to the outer world, containing hotels and rest houses. This section is all set to expand with the addition of many hotels and rest-houses here. Additionally, it contains the Japanese-built World Peace Pagoda. This amazing white pagoda was built by the Nipponzan Myohoji Foundation of Japan in the aftermath of the Second World War that saw two Japanese cities being bombed with nuclear weapons. The pagoda has been erected according to the teaching of the Lotus Sutra. It is one of the 80 pagodas built around the world by the foundation to disseminate love and peace.
The overall height of the pagoda from the ground is 41 metres and its dome diameter is 20 metres. The structure is built completely using bricks and mortar painted white. The dome contains 4 statues of the Buddha, each in a different pose: one that he assumed at the time of his birth, one of Mahaparinirvana, one of enlightenment and one of deep meditation. The Buddha statues are made of Bronze and gilded in gold. From the top level, one can see the Eternal Flame and even faintly make out the Maya Devi temple at a distance. The Lumbini Crane Sanctuary or what it used to be is nearby and even though the water has long dried up, you may spot a couple of cranes come December. There is very good probability that you may sight cranes outside this sanctuary on the fields and you need not allocate any time from your schedule here.
We have saved the most important of the places at Lumbini for the last, perhaps because we wanted to showcase the so many other things that Lumbini offered. And so, here we are, or rather there we were in the Sacred Zone at the Maya Devi Temple. We had entered through Gate 5 and as we were not allowed to take our car inside, we resorted to walking. The Sacred Zone is the focus of the masterplan for Lumbini that was designed by the architect Professor Tange. The aim is to create an environment of peace and spirituality and at the same time also provide a fresh environment that promotes tourism. At the centre of the Sacred Zone lies the temple surrounded by a circular water body. The temple is around a kilometre from the gate and you could absolutely use one of the many rickshaws lined up. Do note that there is a separate entrance ticket for the temple and the entrance booth is not very close to the temple. This temple is unique in that it celebrates the Buddha’s mother rather than the Buddha himself.
Notable historians such as Seng Tsai and Fa-Hsien from the fourth century, Hsuan-Tsang from the seventh century have made references to the temples and stupas here. The place was known as Pradimoksha Vana or Lumbini Gama during ancient times. It was, however, neglected for a few centuries until the excavation of the Ashok Pillar in 1896.
As legend goes, Maya Devi had stopped to rest at Lumbini on the way to Devadaha and given birth to the Buddha at Lumbini after bathing in the waters of the Puskarna pond. It is said that when the Buddha was born, he took seven steps towards the east and uttered a message to humanity. The Nativity sculpture inside the Maya Devi Temple depicts this scene of birth as do so many other sculptures and paintings at Lumbini.
Tip: It is not possible to click any photos inside the Maya Devi temple as you have to turn your phone off as you enter.
There are rows of small stupas outside the temple that may have been built as votive offerings, dating back to the second century BC. They are scattered around the temple premises amidst grass that seemed to be growing everywhere, both around and on the stupas itself. Excavations have revealed that there are multiple layers of temple construction and the one with the burnt bricks was commissioned by King Ashok when he visited Lumbini. We entered the dimly-lit temple and began walking along the wooden floored path built around the Structural Ruins inside the temple. These ruins date back from the sixth century BC to fifth century AD. Devotees can be seen flinging coins at these ruins for good luck. The wooden path leads to the Marker Stone which supposedly marks the exact spot of the Buddha’s birth where many ardent devotees can be seen praying. The path then leads to the Nativity Sculpture and then out the exit. The newly-born Buddha can be seen standing upright on a lotus pedestal with his mother Maya Devi looking at him. Maya Devi is seen holding the branch of a Sal tree assisted by her sister, Prajapati.
We exited to the southern backyard of the temple containing the Puskarna Pond and a few more stupas. It was saddening to see many people climbing the stupas despite the many signs warning them away; we sincerely wish there were fines levied on such people. We proceeded along the edges of the pond to a small temple under a tree surrounded by colourful prayer flags. Prayer flags seemed to be in abundance here and their fluttering noise was the only thing that we heard as we basked in the silence here. The benches under the trees are great spots for meditation and we recommend you take some time out here to meditate.
The western side of the backyard contains the Ashok Pillar built by the Mauryan emperor, Ashok, in 249 BC. This pillar contains the first epigraphic evidence to the birthplace of the Buddha and was responsible for the identification of this place as Lumbini by archaeologists in 1896. The pillar is nearly 10 metre tall and is made of sandstone with a polish typical of Mauryan sandstone. It is said that the pillar also had a lotus bracket and a crowning figure, both of which are missing now.
The last spot that we cover in this post is the Eternal Flame which lies in the Sacred Zone. The Eternal Flame, the Peace Pagoda and Maya Devi Temple lie on a straight line and on a good day, one can view the each of the other 2 places. You can visit this place by the steamer service too or simply walk from the Maya Devi Temple. Over here, once can also find the iconic Bodhisatva statue gilded in gold that was inaugurated as a part of the Visit Lumbini celebrations in 2012. This statue captures the Buddha in the pose that he assumed when he took his first seven steps.
We have thus covered almost all of the monuments at Lumbini per se. But, a trip to Lumbini is rather incomplete without a visit to at least two of the neighbouring places such as Tilaurakot, Kudan, Gotihawa, Niglihawa, Sisahaniya, Sagarhawa, Araurakot, Devadaha and Ramagrama. The most famous of these is of course Tilaurakot where the Prince Sidhartha is said to have lived before he set off on his journey. Most people prefer to stop at Lumbini on their way to the Chitwan National Park which is famed for its one-horned rhinos. We did the same too and you could expect us to write about these places too.
You could visit this site for information on Myanmar Golden Monastery.