” Hida Bhagavam Jateti Lumini Game” (The Lord Buddha was born here in Lumbini Village). The full text of the inscription in English reads: “Twenty years after the coronation, Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi (Ashok) visited this place and worshiped because here, Lord Buddha, sage of Sakyas was born”. – B. K. Rana 2
Lumbini, the present southwestern Nepalese Tarai, is one of the holiest Buddhist pilgrimages on earth. Lumbini presents herself as a land of eternal peace and serenity. In fact it is a fountain of love, compassion, nonviolence and world peace also. The importance of this holiest pilgrimage is profound because Buddha was born here some 2600 years ago.
The young pregnant princess Maya Devi was on her way from Kapilvastu to Devadaha 3, her father’s home, as the time had come to deliver 4 baby Siddhartha Gautama – the future Buddha. The ‘Pradimoksha Van’ – Lumbini Garden – so enchanting was it, she virtually could not resist! She thought to stroll around the garden and take a bath also in ‘Pushkarini’ pond down there since the destination was not that far away. After the bath, she felt some pain in her stomach. She went into labour before reaching Devadaha! And a baby boy was born to become – the Enlightened One – the Buddha, the prince of peace, love and compassion. It was on the full moon day, Friday, Vaisakha of 623 B.C. 5
As soon as the baby boy had entered the world, ‘he walked seven steps northwards on lotus petals; raised his right hand forefinger and spoke, “Aggohamamsi Lokassa” 6. At least two celestial figures began pouring water in his worship. In joy, lotuses were thrown down from the heaven also’. This is what the Buddhist texts read and the Buddhists believe in.
Emperor Ashok, having caused a huge bloodshed and loss of lives in the 12 year Kalinga War 7, eventually embraced Buddhism to spread Buddha’s message of nonviolence, compassion and love towards all living beings on the land. Hoping to find peace in mind, he paid a visit to this holiest site in the 20th year of his coronation in 249 B. C. He offered worship to the holy land and ordered exemption of 1/8th on produce tax from the people of Lumbini Village. Such portion used to be a considerable relief to the people of the land at that time.
To commemorate his visit, the emperor erected a stone column engraving a short edict which even today reads: Hida Budhe Jateti Luminigamme – ‘Budddha was born here in Lumbini Village’ so it will be – Ubalike Kate Athabhagiya cha – waived 1/8th of tax on produce henceforward. The Ashokan visit to Lumbini revived waning Buddhism prompting more construction works of monasteries and the like around the birth place from the 3rd century B.C. to 6th century A. D. – recent Lumbini excavations reveal.
Although, not trained in archaeology or epigraphy but having deep interest in the subject and visited Lumbini scores of times and seen through eyes the inscription on the Ashokan Pillar beside the present Maya Devi Temple and other archaeological sites such as Devadaha, Niglihawa and Gotihawa etc. here in this sort write-up, I intend to discuss the profound importance of the Lumbini Ashokan Inscription in determining where the Buddha – the Light of Asia – was born.
Discovery of Ashokan Inscriptions:
Dr. Anton A. Fuhrer discovered Lumbini Ashokan Pillar on December 1, 1896. He saw the pillar ‘standing nine feet above the ground’. And which he later excavated and found the Ashokan inscription ’10 feet below the surface and 6 feet above the base’ 9. The inscription definitively reads Buddha being born in Lumbini of present Nepal. However, there are some researchers out there who doubt it and opine Lumbini ‘a Fuhrer-forged name’ of the village. Whatever be the case, the Ashokan inscription on the pillar standing in the Lumbini Garden can not be debated for its originality.
A similar type of Ashokan inscription was also discovered in Kapileswara, Orissa in 1928. Naturally, this new Ashokan inscription caused a kind of sensation among archaeologists around the world. Thus a controversy on the Buddha’s birth place began. The Kapilesawara inscription gave birth to a new controversy on the Buddha birth place which has not yet ceased even though a century has passed.
A few researchers, particularly from Orissa, India hold a ‘nationalistic view’ regarding the Buddha birth place which may seem natural on their part but such a view appears more partisan than of any academic credence. The Kapileswara inscription is the sole object brought forward in this case; which eminent epigraphists and anthropologists have not received and shared seriously, but rather termed it – ‘not genuine’ or a ‘spurious copy of the record’.
The Orissan scholars argue that Buddha was born in Kapileswara village near the present Bhuvaneshawra in Orissa; not in Lumbini of Nepal. Those who hold this view basically have the following while making their points:
a) Kapileswara Ashokan Inscription discovered in 1928 10,
b) ‘Lembai Pragana’ seen in the maps of 1817 and,
c) Kapileswara in Bhubaneswar, Orissa.
i) Raising a question of authenticity on the present Lumbini Ashokan inscription, Prof. Nabin K. Sahu, a historian from Orissa published a book in 1959 and wrote ‘Buddha was born in Orissa’ 11. Then another book came out to the public eye which reads: ‘the real birth place of Buddha is Kapileswara; not Lumbini of Nepal’. This is apparently a book more for fun-reading than any academic excellence 12. The writer also goes deep into cultural level and finds the Buddha marrying his maternal uncle’s daughter – Yashodhara.
He says, ‘this culture is living in Orissa even today’ 13. Such culture is also living even today among Nepal’s Magar people who live near the hills of Lumbini 14. There are some other cultural issues the writer brings forward with which I prefer not discussing in this short write-up. The Buddha-era culture is living with the Magars of Nepal but a question pops out: Can such a culture last more than 2600 years in some particular community of people?
ii) The ‘Lembai Pragana’ seen in Orissan maps of 1817 has been brought forward in support of the Orissa Buddha birth place claim. The Orissa scholars seem to have found Nepal’s Ashokan ‘Lumbini’ as the corrupt form of ‘Lembai’ of Orissan Kapilesawara or vice versa. These two toponyms look similar but phonetically they are not. They do not have the same philological value either. [Please see – Lumbini Lexical Analysis – below]
iii) The Orissa scholars do not accept present Nepal’s Kapilvastu as the place where the Buddha grew up and where King Shuddodhan ruled from. Their belief strengthens even more when western scholars, like Alexander Cunnigham [1814 – 1893], believe such historic spot near Bhulia in Basti district of North West Indian province. They brush aside Max Muller who disagrees with Cunnigham terming the latter’s view ‘clearly wrong’ 15. Max Muller holds the view that present Nepal’s Kapilvastu is the kingdom that Buddha renounced.
Some scholars have misquoted Cunningham as saying the Lumbini inscription is “not at all related to the name Kapilavastu nor the word Kapil also” 16. It is a perplexing remark made against the English scholar because he was already dead in 1893 before the discovery of Lumbini inscription. The Lumbini was discovered in 1896. Of course there can be an agreement that Sir Cunnigham does not seem to have a clear view on whether the Buddha was born in present Nepal’s Kapilvastu or Lumbini as he writes the Buddha was born in Kapila (Kapilvastu); proceeds forward in another page and again writes the lord was born in Lumbini. But his description offers a clear picture of present Kapilvastu where the Buddha spent his childhood and youth age as well.
While discussing the territory of Sravasti, Cunnigham discusses some of the western regions of present Nepal also. He quotes Hwen Tsang’s travelogue that Sravasti was in between Karnali River in the west and the mountain Dhaulagiri and Faizabad in the east. The Karnali River, one of the major rivers in western Nepal, flows south, even today, towards River Ganga in Uttar Pradesh, India. Mt. Dhaulagiri is one of the eight-thousanders in western Nepal. From Sravasti both Fa-Hian and Hwen Tsang proceeded towards Kapilvastu in the south east direction [both measure 13 yojanas or 91 miles and 500 li or 83 miles respectively] 17. Although the description is hazier, it can point to the right location of present Kapilvastu.
Moving back to the Kapileswara inscription in discussion, Prof. Dines Chandra Sircar, a distinguished epigraphist of India, degrades it as ‘a recent forgery’ and ‘spurious nature of record’. He has discussed it at length in his book and even ridiculed Prof. Vincent A. Smith [1843 – 1920] for publishing a ‘retouched facsimile of the record’ in his history books prescribed for school and university level students of India.
Prof. Sircar adds further up, “The same facsimile became widely known in Eastern India with its reproduction in Hari Parsad Sastri’s ‘History of India’ (in Bengali) meant for school children and later in some text books of the kind. There can hardly be any doubt that the people responsible for the Kapilesawra inscription copied it from the same facsimile not much earlier than 1928.” 18
On the Kapileswara Ashokan inscription, U. C. Mohanty has quoted Prof. Nirmal Kumar Bose, a renowned anthropologist of India as saying, “In order to clarify this issue I asked Maharana to explain this deviation at the end. Maharana narrated that while he was carving the inscription, at the last line there was some shortage of space. When Maharana pointed this difficulty to Biren Babu he suggested to him to cover the empty space with some chisel marks so that the line could not be completed.”
Mohanty further quotes Prof. Bose as saying “when this discovery was announced, the Government made some local enquiries through the Collector of Puri. But Biren Roy was shrewed enough to bribe a Brahmin of Kapileswar with a ten rupee note and this Brahmin deposed before the Revenue Officer that the inscription had been discovered from a broken wall of his house while it was being reconstructed 19.”
Lumbini Lexical Analysis:
The Lumbini Ashokan Pillar standing by the ‘Maya Devi Temple’ in Lumbini Garden speaks the fact. The writing on the pillar,- ‘hida bhagabvam jateti Lummnigame’ – exclusively provides a proof that the Buddha was born in present Nepal’s Lumbini some 2600 years ago. It is therefore worthwhile discussing the lexical importance of – ‘Lummini+game’ i.e. ‘Lumbini’ also.
Fa-Hian transcribes ‘Lumbini’ as ‘Lun-min or Lun-ming’ with two distinctive nasal variations whereas Hwen Tsang ‘sinotizes’ it as ‘La-fa-ni’. These two Fa-Hian and Hwen Tsang variations are due to their reception of a different family lexis. Such difference normally occurs among the speakers of different language families. Here the Indo- European ‘Lumbini’ has either become ‘Lun-min’ or ‘Lunming’ or ‘La-fa-ni’ in Sino-Tibetan, which is very understandable. This is natural and there should be no specific meanings attached to them. But some scholars find Hwen Tsang’s ‘La-fa-ni’ corresponding with ‘La-va-ni’ of Sanskrit, which means ‘a beautiful woman’. Phonetically, ‘La-fa-ni’ and ‘La-va-ni’ bear same voiceless and voiced i.e pharyngeal fricative features. ‘La-fa-ni’ more in the sense is a ‘folk-etymological toponymy’ of ‘Lumbini’ which could have been something like ‘Lam-ba-ni’ referring to later Chinese Buddhist lexicography 20. This lexicography looks somewhat funnier. The lexes ‘Lafani’ and ‘Lavani’ here seem to be referring to Buddha’s grand mother who might have been a beautiful woman.
Some scholars believe ‘Anjan, the king of Devadaha 21 made a beautiful garden and named it ‘Lumbini’ after his Queen Lumbini. The queen was Buddha’s grandmother from his mother’s side’. Not much information is available on the Queen Mother Lavani, however, she could give a famous name to the garden where the Buddha was born 22. Etymologically, ‘Lumbini’ or Lumbinidevi, Rummindei, Rupandevi and Rupandehi all bear the same distinctive feature.
What has also been claimed is that Lumbini is another form of ‘Lhum + beni’ 23 with an aspirated ‘l’ of which ‘Lhum’ means ‘a vast land’ and ‘beni’ means ‘confluence of two rivers’. Lumbini is on a vast land or ‘Tarai’ of western Nepal. And also, there seem to have been some sizable waters around Lumbini in those days. Such as some springs at Lumbini and the Telar River 24 flowing south east of it. They should have made a confluence near Lumbini.
Lumbini Fuhrer Forged Name?
In some cases, Lumbini and Anton Fuhrer stand complementary to each other. Fuhrer discovered the Ashokan pillar and read the engraved letter ‘hid bhagavam jateti Luminigame’. And knew the place was called Lumbini. He discovered the right spot where Buddha was born. But some scholars both inside and outside Orissa cast doubt over the landmark Fuhrer discovery. Some have named it ‘Fuhrer archaeological scandal’ also. The present site is not what Fa-Hian or Hwen Tsang have described in their travel stories or written in other Buddhist scriptures – they add. They even say that Fuhrer confessed his forgery in writing also.
Here if we agreed to Fuhrer being a fraud in naming ‘Lumbini’ of the spot where the pillar was standing; does it mean the present Lumbini should have had some other different name ? Is there any name documented for the place other than ‘Lumbini’ ? If so what was it ? Prof. Smith has written ‘Padaria’ was a neighbouring village of Lumbini. This suggests that he has recognized present Lumbini as the real birth place of the Buddha. But this does not suggest at all that he meant the Buddha was born in ‘Padaria’. Also this does not mean Prof. Smith has ‘challenged Fuhrer’s statement’ on the naming of Lumbini village 25. There is no mentioning, in the Lumbini Ashokan inscription, of ‘Padaria’ whatsoever. Lumbini was already there before Fuhrer discovered it. The name for the village was engraved on the pillar “Hid Bhagavam Jateti Lummini Game”. The Orissan as well as other scholars’ interpretation of what has been written in Prof. Smith’s work is totally misleading – I would rather write here.
The controversy over present Nepalese Lumbini has not ceased over almost a century. Scholars, writers, journalists from around the world write mainly from two different angles: Whether Buddha was born in Lumbini of Nepal or somewhere in India. Some people also argue Buddha was born neither in Nepal’s Lumbini nor in any part of India. A bunch of western scholars hold this view point. What is even startling is that a few other scholars have started writing Buddha was born in Iran! 26 The Lumbini Ashokan Pillar Inscription has not received a universal recognition yet.
And, not a single research paper or book has come out without any partisan line in this subject. Some scholars are found solely sticking to ‘manufactured myths’ while discussing the Buddha birth place. Myths are manufactured in leisure and mostly are unreliable. From the part of Nepalese scholars, they have even now begun discussing’ a ‘marker stone’ 27 that they hope ‘would determine the exact location !’
How could such a stone be definitive evidence that the Buddha was born exactly in that chamber there ? What on earth would researchers and scholars from around the world simply accept such publicity in media and ‘put the debate to rest’ as the prime minister had hoped for? 28 This view contradicts with that in scriptures or travelogues of different famous travelers that the Buddha was born under a tree either Ashok or Sal – we don’t know for sure. But of course, we can believe the Buddha was born in present day Nepal’s Lumbini.
Nepal, not in India:
The Buddha was born in present Nepal, not in India – clear and simple. Some Indian writers in the past willfully or otherwise supplied wrong information in history books about the Buddha birth place and put them into school, college syllabuses. Then each generation of students began receiving wrong information. Inculcated with wrong information, the new generation students later grew up and began disseminating ‘false information’ without going deep into the facts. What they were taught, they wrote. The facts on the ground did not match and the controversy began.
In short, the Orissan claim that the Ashokan Inscription was copied and a duplicate pillar was erected in Lumbini of Nepal bears no substance at all. The simple question to this claim is, who would have copied the old Asokan inscription hundreds of years later and hid it in Nepal’s Tarai to protect from those violent Sankarachayras hundreds of miles away? Why did they not dig a hole and hide it under ground somewhere in Orissa as in Kathmandu’s Budhanilkantha 29 ?
Besides Hwen Tsang and Fa-hian’s travelogues, the internal evidence of the Pali canon is clear enough: the Buddha was born in Lumbini, near Kapilavastu, which used to be one of the Bihar-area tribal Gana polities like their neighbors; the Malla, where he died, or the powerful Vrijji etc. All of them were in present Bihar or Nepalese Tarai, not in Orissa.
Majjhima Desha, Jambu Dwipa:
There can hardly be any different opinions that the importance of media in the Google age is extraordinarily great and challenging. Therefore, media people are always expected to publish or transmit correct information to the public. But as of the Buddha birth place conspiracy theory, some of those media persons have been found misquoting scholars of international name and standing.
Such a misquoted scholar has become Prof. Hermann Kulke, a renowned indologist now awarded with ‘Padma Shri’ for his outstanding contribution towards Indian History and Culture. The award is the fourth highest of civilian awards given by the Indian Government generally to recognize someone’s distinguished contribution in various spheres of activity including Arts, Education, Industry, Literature, Science, Sports, Medicine, Social Service and public life.
Prof. Kulke needed to issue a public statement following a leading daily newspaper from New Delhi, India and some other news outlets 30 misquoted him ‘backing the Orissan claim’. Refuting what had appeared in the media, Prof. Kulke posted a statement on December 21, 2004 31.
Another less heard but interesting claim so far made by another Orissan scholar is that Buddha himself had said he was born in the “Majjhima Desha of Jambu Dwipa”. He argues the ‘Majjhima Desh’ of Jambu Dwip can not be Nepal. Here the writer himself appears to be forgetting that Orrisa too, doesn’t happen to be in central India or ‘Majjhima Desh of Jambu Dwip’. Orissa is on the east edge by the Bay of Bengal in the Indian subcontinent. It is not at the center of India.
The writer quotes, “Edward J. Thomas 32 had clearly said that the Jatakas and Lalita Vistara described the words of Buddha himself in this connection” of his birth in the Middle Province of India. 33
Here the “Pali Majjhima-desa is a small area in Malla country near Lumbini” 34 – not in Orissa. It is called ‘Madhyadesha or modern Madesh”. Nepal’s Tarai is also known as ‘Madhesh’ which may look identical to Madhya Pradesh of India, but not any particular place in Orissa.
On the growing list, the Orissan scholars have also dragged down a noted Oxford historian Prof. Vincent A. Smith to the Lumbini – Fuhrer controversy. They claim Prof. Smith did not accept Dr. Fuhrer’s naming of ‘Lumbini’ as the spot where the Ashokan pillar was standing.
This is also a wrong interpretation of what the historian has written. Posting the top-part-broken, half-excavated photo of the pillar in his book Prof. Smith writes, “The Rummindei ruins lie 4 miles inside the Nepalese border, and a little to the west of the Tilar river” 35. I am at a loss to understand why the Orissan scholars have required dragging this scholar into the controversy?
The other interesting point brought in this conspiracy theory is that ‘no Buddhism was adopted in Nepal until the 6th Century A. D. So the Lumbini Ashokan inscription bears no truth.’ This is also another bewildering remark the Orissan scholars have made so far in this connection.
What can be said here is that King Ashok had visited Nepal (Kathmandu valley) sometime after his pilgrimage to Lumbini and constructed four stupas in four different corners of the valley. He gave his daughter Charumati to Devpal – prince of Nepal. Charumati lived in Chabahil near Pashupati Temple. After the death of her husband Devapal, Charumati built a town and named it – ‘Devpatan’ – in memory of the dead husband. Later she became a nun herself and spread Buddhism in the valley.
So, where was Buddha born? The straight answer to this question is absolutely ‘yes, in present Nepal’s Lumbini’. The Lumbini Ashokan inscription is the evidence. Alongside the Lumbini garden; are Bodha Gaya in Bihar, Kushinagar, [Kshauvati in Jatak Katha, the Capital City of Malla] in Utter Pradesh and Sarnath, also in Utter Pradesh. These are the other Buddhist holiest places in the Indian Subcontinent closely related to life and death of the Buddha. Bodh Gaya and Kushinagar are near Nepal border whereas Saranath [also called Isipatana in Pali Canon, is near Vanaras] in Uttar Pradesh. Being in the proximity of Lumbini, these holiest sites also offer themselves as another proof that Buddha was born here in Nepal’s Lumbini. If the Buddha were born in Orissa or somewhere else, these kinds of holy sites would have also certainly been near Orissa or somewhere else by some different names.
The Buddha came to this world, obtained enlightenment, preached his ‘dharma’ and died in those four different holy places. Except for those four different places, he does not seem to have visited some other places in his life. So there should be no question at all whether the Buddha was born in Orissa or had ever visited it. It is therefore relevant to put here the widely acclaimed native Orrisa historian Prof. Karuna Sagar Behera’s view in this connection.
Prof. Behera said, “The Buddha was neither born in Orissa nor visited the place during his lifetime.” 36, But he added that Orrisa contributed immensely to the growth and development of Buddhism in the Indian sub-continent. Keeping in view, the paramount historical and religious importance, of these four holiest Buddhist pilgrimages, concerned governments should always endeavour to preserve them and develop for tourism and education also. These governments should also keep close eyes on school curricula exclusively on matters relating to the birth place of the Buddha so that coming generations would receive correct information and no chances would be left wide open for any kind of antagonism between the peoples of these two neighbouring countries.
Additionally at the end, there were no boundaries that we have today in between Nepal and India when the Buddha was born. We do not know for sure whether these two countrynames ever existed then. Here is a quote from George Curzon, former Viceroy of India but earlier a geographer who trekked through the Pamirs and wrote a book about it: “The idea of a demarcated frontier is itself an essentially modern conception which finds little or no place in the ancient world.” 37
And, Prof. Michael Witzel 38 of Harvard University says, “Between 1816 and 1864, the Buddha was born, at Lumbini (Rummindei), in British India. Before and after that date: in Nepal”.