Kathmandu, Apr 7 : Dismissing reports that the adjoining Indian state of Uttar Pradesh was building a replica of Lumbini, the Nepali city where Gautam Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, was born, Nepal said its status as the holy birthplace would be consolidated by a conservation project that kicked off with the help of Japan and Unesco.
“In 1997, Unesco declared Nepal’s Lumbini a World Heritage Site, affirming the fact that the Buddha was born in Nepal,” said Mod Raj Dottel, secretary at Nepal’s culture ministry.
“India was among the nearly 200 countries that endorsed the Unesco declaration. How can the Buddha be born in two different places? Nepal’s Lumbini is the only place on earth that is the holy birthplace,” he said.
Archaeologists say that the most compelling evidence that the Buddha was born in a ruling dynasty of southern Nepal is the stone pillar and marker stone erected at the birth place by Indian emperor Ashoka, who visited Lumbini in 249 BC.
Engraved on the pillar is an inscription in Brahmi that says: “King Piyadasi (Ashoka), beloved of the gods, himself made a royal visit in the 20th year of his coronation to Buddha Sakyamuni’s birthplace; he built a stone railing...and a stone pillar and reduced the tax on Lumbini village...”
The emperor also erected a stone at the spot believed to be the exact place where Maya Devi, the queen of Nepali king Shuddhodana, gave birth to the Buddha, born Prince Siddharth, after bathing in a nearby pond.
The third historical evidence is the nativity image sculpted on the orders of Nepali king Ripu Malla, who came on a pilgrimage to Lumbini in 1312 AD.
The image, restored since it was made, shows the queen holding to a tree with one hand while next to her stands a newborn infant upright on a lotus petal.
For centuries, pilgrims flocking to Lumbini have also been worshipping the pillar, the stone and the nativity scultpture, bathing them in milk, water and other offerings.
Possibly due to humidity in the Terai plains, where the temperature is considerably higher, and human activities, the pillar and stone have become encrusted in a layer and turning green, says Constantini Meucci, the Italian expert who is leading the conservation drive at Lumbini to clean the three major artefacts.
The three-year project is being funded by the Japanese government.
Though the Buddha is regarded as having been born in 623 BC, other dates have also been put forward, ranging from 560 to 624 BC.
Unesco is hoping that parallel archaeological explorations may be able to throw more light on the birth date.
Lumbini, now a major pilgrimage site teeming with monasteries, is located in Rupandehi district in southern Nepal, near the Indian border. The town of Tilaurakot, about 25 km west, is regarded as the capital of Kapilavastu, the kingdom of the Buddha’s dynasty.
However, there is a controversy with some reports saying Piprahawa, in Uttar Pradesh, could be the ancient capital.
With a district in Uttar Pradesh being called Siddharthnagar and reports about the state government building replicas of Lumbini and Tilaurakot at the place, there has been public concern in Nepal that it would mislead pilgrims and tourists into thinking the Buddha was born in India.