Over 2,600 years ago, the Buddha was born in a natural grove, where rare and beautiful flowers bloomed and one could hear the humming of five different types of bees. Queen Maya Devi was passing through this earthly paradise on the way to her parents’ house when the pangs of labor began. After bathing in a nearby pond the queen walked 25 paces, took support of a sal tree and gave birth standing up. The infant Buddha then took seven steps forward and declared that this would be his final birth.
There are many versions of this well-known story, but they all take place at the same sacred site: Lumbini, Nepal. In the time since the Buddha’s birth, individuals as well as organizations have played a role in discovering, maintaining, and developing Lumbini as a Buddhist pilgrimage site, beginning with Ashoka, the Mauryan emperor of the 3rd century B.C.E who first marked the place with one of his stone edicts. In 1967 U Thant, then secretary general of the United Nations, called international attention to the neglected site, in accordance with a wish from the Nepali government. Presently, Lumbini is undergoing a complex development process. Unlike long-established pilgrimage sites such as Varanasi, Mecca, or Lourdes, Lumbini was rediscovered only a little over a century ago.
5th Century B.C.E.
Siddhartha Gautama is born.
3rd Century B.C.E.
Emperor Ashoka erects a stone pillar, proclaiming Lumbini as the Buddha’s birthplace.
5th and 7th centuries C.E.
Two famed Chinese pilgrims, the monks Fa-hsien (Faxian) and Hsuan-Tsang (Xuanzang), make pilgrimages to Lumbini, writing down detailed travel accounts of their journeys.
Ripu Malla, the king of Jumla (now a district in modern Nepal), carves his name on the upper portion of the Ashoka pillar.
The longstanding interest of the ruling British authorities in finding
the location of the neglected site bears fruit, and Lumbini is rediscovered during explorations.
UN secretary general U Thant visits Lumbini and presses for international cooperation to develop the Buddha’s birthplace.
The renowned Japanese architect Kenzo Tange is assigned to create the “master plan” for Lumbini. It was completed in 1978.
UNESCO declares Lumbini a World Heritage Site.
Photograph of Ashokan Pillar © Ajay Pillarisetti; Photograph of U Thant courtesy UN Photo/Grunbaum; Lumbini master plan courtesy of United Nations Archive.
To watch an interview with Venerable Metteyya about Lumbini, click here.
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