Lumbini, the birthplace of Gautama Buddha, has always been a place of pilgrimage for people from all across the world. This UNESCO World Heritage site is rich with elements ranging from elaborately curated monasteries bejeweled with ornaments from all across the world to historical inscriptions and ruins of the castle where Buddha grew up; Lumbini is a treasure trove for spiritual healing and a glance into the genesis of Buddhism across Asia.
Given that this historical gem is located in the southern region of Nepal, dominated by flatlands and luscious greenery, what better way to go around Lumbini than in the back of a rickshaw? But more about this later…
Before we begin, here’s a little back story on Gautama Buddha.
Gautama Buddha, also known as Siddhartha Gautama, was a spiritual teacher and founder of Buddhism. He was born in the 5th century BCE in what is now Nepal, as the son of the King Śuddhodana. At a young age, he became disillusioned with the materialistic world and left his comfortable life to seek enlightenment.
For six years, Gautama traveled and studied with various spiritual teachers, but none of them could give him the answers he sought. Eventually, he sat down under a Bodhi tree and meditated until he achieved enlightenment. He became the Buddha, meaning “the awakened one.”
For the rest of his life, the Buddha traveled and taught his philosophy, which centered on the Four Noble Truths: the truth of suffering, the cause of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the path to the cessation of suffering. He emphasized the importance of living a moral life, cultivating mindfulness and compassion, and letting go of attachment and desire.
The Buddha’s teachings spread throughout India and eventually reached other parts of Asia, becoming one of the world’s major religions. The Buddha passed away around the age of 80, having left a legacy of wisdom and compassion that continues to inspire millions of people around the world to this day.
Lumbini – An Introduction
A common perception of Nepal is one of the hills and snow-capped mountains. However, Lumbini and its surroundings paint a different picture, one that is characterized by flat grasslands and green spaces.
Lumbini, which was awarded the UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997, is among the holiest places for Buddhism, one of the World’s great religions. Siddhartha Gautama was born in the sacred gardens in Lumbini in 623 B.C.
There are a number of structures within the archaeological conservation area, including the Maya Devi Temple remain, consisting of brick structures arranged in cross-walls dating back to the 3rd century BC to the present century, as well as a sandstone Ashoka pillar with Pali inscriptions in Brahmi.
Best time to visit Lumbini
Lumbini lies in the southern part of Nepal, with temperatures that rise to almost 40 degrees Celsius in the summer heat. The perfect time to visit this space and comfortably explore the monasteries would be April to May, October to November, or December to February, with temperatures from 12-28 degrees Celsius.
Here is a brief run-down of all the things you can do to make the most out of your next trip to the sacred land of the Buddha – Lumbini.
Tour of the monasteries
Lumbini has over 14 monasteries from countries that have a presence of Buddhism. They brought in raw materials from their own countries, building beautiful structures that each signify their cultures. Some of these stupas date back 2000 years!
The Monastic Site is divided into two sections – the Eastward section and the Western section, by a water canal that is often used by travelers to explore on boats. The eastward section is called the East Monastic Zone, where Theravada Buddhism is prevalent, and the westward zone is called the West Monastic Zone, where Vajrayana and Mahayana are predominant.
Monasteries in the Eastward section:
The Royal Thai Monastery
Perhaps one of the most popular monasteries here in Lumbini, the Royal Thai Monastery is an architectural gem. This gleaming center of attraction in the Eastern zone is built entirely with white marble, with subtle red accents across the monastery.
The peaceful ambiance fits well with the perfectly white and clean exterior, making it one of the most picturesque spaces in Lumbini.
Said to be the oldest structure among all the monasteries in Lumbini, the Myanmar monastery is built in stunning Burmese-style architecture. The impressive corn cob-shaped shikhara, styled after the temples of Bagan gives a regal look to the whole structure.
The intricate details of the Cambodian monastery make it a sight to see in Lumbini. Made in the traditional style of Angkor Wat (a famous temple structure in Cambodia), the details in the carvings are like no other.
Along with the exterior, the prayer hall inside has high ceilings filled with carvings of the life of Buddha.
Monasteries in the Westward section :
The monastery is a stunning example of traditional Singaporean architecture and is renowned for its beautiful gardens, intricate carvings, and a stunning array of lights that illuminates the temple at night, giving it its nickname ‘Temple of Thousand Lights’. The temple is designed to represent the harmony and unity of different cultures, with its intricate carvings showcasing influences from not just Singapore, but also Nepal, Thailand, and Sri Lanka.
The French monastery, which lies right opposite the German monastery, is a very different experience from the others in the area. Built-in a simple style with monochromatic colors, it both blends in and stands out in the Western Zone.
The inside of the French monastery is covered with red marble and granite, which gives a very serene and calming experience.
The German monastery, built by the Tara foundation, is a remarkable piece of architecture in the Western zone. Partly covered by glass, the exterior is covered with intricate designs. The garden surrounding the monastery has sculptures depicting various parts of Buddha’s life.
The prayer hall indoors is a massive setting filled with scriptures and souvenirs from across the world. The high ceilings are adorned with carvings depicting various Buddhist scriptures and illustrations.
While there are many more monasteries on the premises, (some still under construction), they might be subject to closure or maintenance since the covid-19 lockdowns.
Maya Devi temple with Buddha’s footprints
The Maya Devi temple is the heart of Lumbini, housing ruins of the castle where Gautamn Buddha grew up. Not only do they have a Nativity sculpture depicting how the birth of Siddhartha Gautam took place, but they have also pinpointed the exact birth spot where the Buddha took his first steps. The reason why this spot has so much significance is because it is told that Siddhartha Gautama took his first steps right after he was born.
People from across the world are known to visit Maya Devi temple to witness this marvel, and pray around the now preserved perfect foot step.
During his visit to Lumbini in 249 B.C., Emperor Asoka built a platform using burnt bricks to safeguard the Marker Stone and the Nativity Tree under which Mayadevi had given birth to Prince Siddhartha. The present-day Maya Devi Temple was rebuilt in 2003 by Lumbini Development Trust.
The Ashoka pillar was erected in the 3rd century and holds some of the oldest inscriptions in Nepal. Ashoka ruled over most of present-day India as head of the Mauryan Empire and erected a pillar on the premises of the Maya Devi temple, indicating the exact spot of the birth of Buddha.
Written in Brahmi script, the pillar’s inscription is said to be the oldest in Nepal and reads: “King Piyadasi (Ashoka), the beloved of Devas, in the 29th year of the coronation, made a visit to Lumbini and paid his homage. Realizing the Buddha was born here, a stone railing was built and a stone pillar erected. Because the Lord was born here, the Emperor had the people of Lumbini village freed from some tax and entitled them to the eighth part only.”
As present-day India was founded and expanded through violent and bloody conquest by Ashoka and his predecessors, it is said that Emperor Ashoka decided to convert to Buddhism and dedicate his life to non-violence.
This 6-meter tall pink sandstone structure was rediscovered and restored by Nepalese archaeologists in 1896.
The Eternal Flame is located on the southern end of the canal. This is a very popular attraction in Lumbini as it was created in 1986 to celebrate the international year of Peace. The flame was bought from the United States of America (USA) to promote peace and harmony among the nations as well as the global community.
Rickshaw tour across Lumbini
Rickshaws are one of the most commonly used modes of transport in Lumbini and its surrounding areas. Not only are these vehicles cheap and convenient, but also have a very eco-friendly approach to transportation.
Most of the monasteries and heritage sites in Lumbini can seem quite far from each other to travel solely on foot. For the best experience of Lumbini and its heritage sites, I’d recommend booking a rickshaw for the entire day. Their local knowledge and experience with travelers will help with finding the best routes for travel between sites. This also helps you connect and actually talk to locals, learning more about the culture and history of the place.
And what’s even better is that a rickshaw is cheaper and more environmentally friendly than hiring a car.
Meditating with the monks
Meditate in the spot where Buddha was born with other monks as you soak in the peace and calm of Lumbini. To learn more about various sacred spaces in Lumbini, check out our blog post on Mediation spaces in Lumbini.
Explore the local areas of Lumbini
Lumbini is much more than the monasteries and temples, as there are vast lands with local residents too. To get a different perspective of what life is like in the Southern part of Nepal, away from the Mountains Lumbini is the perfect place to be.
Boating on the central canal
You can enjoy a peaceful day boating in the central canal that leads you directly to the Maya Devi temple – a great way to travel across the sacred lands of Lumbini.