Day 166: The birthplace of Buddha
Lumbini Travel Blog› entry 207 of 260 › view all entries
Lumbini is the place where, in the year 563 BC, one of the history's most revered persons was born: Prince Siddharta Gautama, aka the Buddha. Lumbini is one of the four main Buddhist pilgrimage sites (the others being Bodhgaya, Kusinagar and Sarnath - all in India).
Remember me mentioning esterday how Nepal and India looked so much alike? Well, scrap that. The countries don't look anything alike at all. When comparing Lumbini with Bodhgaya it seems like two different worlds altogether, and I mean that in a positive way. Which is somewhat strange, because Lumbini is very much an 'Indian' town.
Bodhgaya was swamped with touts and beggars, all wanting either to become my best friend or to become the prime beneficiary of my spendings.
In Bodhgaya the temples and shrines are being engulfed by the expanding town. In Lumbini the settlements of Lumbini Centre and Lumbini Bazaar (and its residents!) are kept at bay by a high fence surrounding the parkland donated to the Buddhist community by the king of Nepal in 1978, the so-called Lumbini Development Zone.
In Bodhgaya the main temple area is relatively rubbish free, but only barely, the surrounding area is a typical Indian town which resembles a garbage dump more than anything else. In Lumbini there are rubbish bins everywhere, with detailed instructions on how to use them, and severe fines are issues on the spot for littering.
In Bodhgaya it had been hard to find a little peace of mind anywhere, because of the constant bothering and pestering by touts, beggars and over-interested Indian pilgrims. In Lumbini the place is so peaceful and quiet that one can reach a spontaneous meditative state just by walking around.
On that latter note, perhaps Lumbini is a little too quiet. What I had liked about Bodhgaya was the fact that there were pilgrims and monks from all over Asia roaming the streets. In Lumbini I only encountered a handful of tourists (mostly Indians) and hardly saw any monks at all.
The centrepiece of the Lumbini Development Zone is the Maya Devi Temple. It was here that Maya Devi allegedly gave birth to Siddharta Gautama, beneath a Bodhi tree. Some 200 years later, Emperor Ashoka (the same guy whose wife chopped down the famous Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya) declared this the exact site where Buddha was born.
All around the Maya Devi Temple and its sacred pond are the ruined foundations of stupas and monasteries erected through the centuries.
Like in Bodhgaya, Buddhist communities from all over the world have built stupas, temples and monasteries, though in a much larger scale.
A long canal divides the LDZ in an Eastern and a Western half, dividing the zone into Mahayana and Theravada sects, the two different interpretations of Buddhism.
I had hired a bicycle to travel the very expansive LDZ. I started at the western side, where you can find Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, Tibetan and Nepalese monasteries, but also Austrian, German and French.
The monasteries are much more extravagant than they are in Bodhgaya, with the Chinese temple resembling a building from Beijing's Forbidden City and the yet to be completed Korean temple shaping up to become a huge five-story pagoda.
The most impressive building was the Great Drigung Kagyud Lotus Stupa, erected, surprisingly enough, by the Germans. This huge stupa sits in a beautifully tended garden full of golden statues depicting several events from Buddha's life. On the four corners of the garden stand huge prayer wheels.
The stupa itself is decorated with stunning murals, both outside and in.
At the north end of the LDZ lies a rather unimpressive Lumbini museum, showing a few Buddhist artefacts as well a hundreds of photos of Buddhist sites in.
Just outside the LDZ, in a straight line north from the Maya Devi Temple, lies the World Peace Pagoda, a shiny bright white stupa erected by Japanese Buddhist at the cost of over US$1 million.
After lunch I visited the Eastern side of the LDZ. One thing that immediately struck me was that there are far fewer countries following the Theravada school than the Mahayana school. Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, India, Sri Lanka and that's it. And the Indian Buddhist centre isn't even a monastery, while the Cambodian (with a miniature Ankor Wat above the entrance) and Sri Lankan monasteries are still being built.
Just like Bodhgaya, the most impressive building was the Royal Thai Buddhist Monastery, which is an imposing 'wat' built entirely out of white marble.
Another difference from Bodhgaya was that the monasteries in Lumbini are not as accessible. In Bodhgaya all monasteries had been open for the public (I even slept in one), but here in Lumbini this wasn't the case. Some places only allowed visitors in the main temple, or at the stupa, like the Myanmar Golden Temple, where its golden stupa is open for public, but its stunningly designed monastery is out of bounds for visitors.
The extravagant pagoda of the Vietnamese Phat Quoc Tu Temple might have been open for the public, but I couldn't reach the place as the only access route was a tiny, muddy path which was half flooded.
So in conclusion I was very happy to have visited this place. It provided a good (quiet, peaceful) counterpart to Bodhgaya.