World’s Most Revered Birthplace.
For any devout Buddhist, a trip to Lumbini in the southern terai of Nepal must rank among one of the top places to visit. I would put it on the Top Five List. We’re talking about the sacred site where more than 2500 years ago, a Shakya prince was born who then went on to become the Enlightened One, the Buddha. As the Buddha’s birthplace, Lumbini attracts hordes of pilgrims from around the world but as expected of Buddhists, there’s peace and quiet even among these large number of visitors. As Buddhism grows in popularity in the west, we can only expect more visitors from across the oceans, besides pilgrims from neighbouring countries in Asia.
Some of the sacred sites to visit are the Mayadevi Temple in the heart of Lumbini, the striking Ashoka Pillar, Lumbini Garden and the Lake Shakya Puskarini where Maya Devi is said to have taken a ritual bath before delivering the little Siddhartha into the world. Spread over 9 sq. km., the Lumbini Garden is marked by a special stone pillar known as the Ashokan Pillar, erected by the Indian Emperor Ashoka in around 245 B.C. However, the most important discovery here is a sacred marker stone that indicates the exact birthplace of the Buddha. Long queues form outside to pay homage. The Maya Devi Temple is dedicated to the mother of Lord Buddha, Maya Devi and was excavated some years ago by archeologists. Many exquisite sculptures and carvings can be seen here.
Today Lumbini is blessed with a large number of spectacular monasteries built by nations from around the globe. Each unique and exuding beauty of every kind, these monasteries have become an attraction and take a chunk of your day if you plan to visit all of them. Spread around a very large space, one would do well to hire a rickshaw to move around from one to the next. It saves time and also gives a poor man a much needed earning which I’m sure is in line with Buddhist teachings. One of the most elaborate and architecturally enthralling is the German-built monastery while the Thai one deserves special mention for its serene setting in all white. The Chinese monastery takes precedence in the ornate class. Yes, they all stand tall in their own right.
Lumbini designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is about 200 km southwest of Kathmandu. The other place of major interest near Lumbini is the ruins of the old palace at Tilaurakot where the young Prince Siddhartha spent his childhood before abandoning his princely life in search of enlightenment. Lumbini is reached by flying to Bhairahawa followed by a short drive.