What is Lumbini?

Brendan McGuigan

Lumbini is the presumed location where the Buddha Siddhartha Gautama was born to Queen Mayadevi, in modern-day Nepal. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has been since 1997. It is arguably the most sacred site in Buddhism, and as such is an important pilgrimage for Buddhists of all schools.

Lumbini is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Nepal.
Lumbini is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Nepal.

The Sakyamuni Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, was born to a noble family. He was the son of King Suddhodana and Queen Mayadevi. Tradition states that the Queen was unable to become pregnant for twenty years, until she had a vision of a Boddhisatva. She awoke pregnant, and carried the Buddha for ten cycles of the moon. On the way home to her father’s kingdom, she stopped in the park of Lumbini. While there she gave birth to her son, the to-be-Buddha.

Buddha is believed to have been born in Lumbini.
Buddha is believed to have been born in Lumbini.

The site at Lumbini has been a very holy place in Buddhism since around the 5th century BCE. Many pilgrims have visited the site, and one, the Emperor Ashoka, erected a mighty pillar commemorating the Buddha’s birth on the site. There are a number of points of archeological and spiritual interest. The ruins of a monastery are on site, and are popular to tourists. A large pool where Queen Mayadevi is said to have bathed still exists, and is known as the Sacred Pool, an important destination for devotees. The exact birthplace of the Lord Buddha is also specifically marked, giving a focal point for pilgrims.

In recent years a number of nations have funded the building of temples in the area. The entire region is classed such that no structures other than temples may be built. Various Buddhist nations have come forward to build their own temples at Lumbini in honor of their devotion to Lord Buddha. Each country tries to outdo the others, and each has its own distinct architectural style and color set, making for a fascinating and eclectic group of shrines.

Lumbini is one of the four sacred places of Buddhism, as the place of Lord Buddha’s birth. The others include the site of the enlightenment, at Boddhagaya in India, the site of the first sermon, in Varanasi, India, and the site of the final death of the physical body, in Kushinagar, India. As the only of the four sacred sites in Nepal, Lumbini is particularly important to Nepalese culture and tourism.

The site at Lumbini is always busy, year round. Millions of pilgrims visit each year, and from dawn until after dusk the air is filled with the sound of devotees chanting and praying. The energy at Lumbini is perhaps less subdued than Western visitors may expect of a holy site — very different than, for example, the Sistine Chapel — but there is a powerful spirituality underlying everything in the area.

For those interested in seeing a site of great importance to one of the world’s great religions, a trip to Lumbini is very recommended. For practitioners of Buddhism, particularly, a trip to Lumbini is almost required for any in the region of northern India or Nepal. Although the ruins are not extensive, the resonance of the place makes it stand out among the World Heritage Sites.

The ruins of a monastery at Lumbini, making it popular with tourists.
The ruins of a monastery at Lumbini, making it popular with tourists.

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