Notes: Navigating between archaeological facts, legend and historical locations: Locating the Real Birthplace of Buddha

Mural painting of Padmapani, 6th century, Cave 1, Ajanta. © John Huntington

Mural painting of Padmapani (Bearer of the Lotus), 6th century, Cave 1, Ajanta. © John Huntington

Claims are being laid upon several locations as the birthplace of Buddha: Kapilavasthu in Terai; Kapileshwar vilage in Orissa (India); Lumbhini in Nepal

Until recently, Lumbhini and Kapilavasthu in Terai (a.k.a. Tarai) were believed to be the birthplace of Buddha, in recent time some scholarly opinion and new archaeological evidence now shift the position in favour of Kapileshwar village in Orissa as the real Kapilavasthu and birthplace of Buddha.

See the news article below:

Buddha’s New Birthplace Discovered
Suni Systems  | 5-24-2004
(Retrieved from www.freerepublic.com 05/24/2004)

Kapileshwar (Orissa) May 24, 2004

A team of archaeological experts from Orissa say their recent findings at the Kapileshwar village may help establish the small hamlet as the birthplace of Lord Buddha, instead of Lumbini, in Nepal. Officials at the Orissa State Museum, which conducted the excavation, said that the new findings, which included artefacts dating back to 6th century BC, supported the claims of Kapileshwar being Lord Buddha’s birthplace. Buddhism was founded in India, when Lord Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, attained supreme enlightenment under the Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya in 6th century B.C. The Orissa museum team undertook surface exploration near Mahabhoi tank where Buddha is believed to have meditated. Pottery and other artefacts belonging to the pre-Harappan era were also discovered from the site. All the artefacts have been sent to the Institute of Physics for further verification and research.
“These fossilised specimen will be tested in the Institute of Physical Laboratory, where we will be doing collaborative work, so the dateline will be determined and comparative study of potteries recovered with that of potteries recovered form other parts of the country will be conducted. Because many materials are there, literary and other evidence are there about the bath of Buddha and Kapileshwar, but solid archaeological materials like pottery with correct dateline was not available to us till date. There is an excavation, now there are archaeological material, so identification of this bath place of Buddha is getting more prominent now,” said Dr. C.B. Patel, the Superintendent of Orissa State Museum.
The team has also discovered the fossilised dung of an animal from the tank that adds to the claim of the ancient character of the site. Ruins of an ancient temple and a road linking Kapileshwar with Puri were also discovered.
Buddhism is one of the four most popular religions in the world. The religion is gaining popularity especially in the West, where followers include the likes of popular Hollywood actors like Richard Gere and Steve Seagal.
Though there are about 350 million practising Buddhists across the world, Buddhists account for less than 0.7 percent of India’s total population of over one billion. (ANI)

In “THE REAL BIRTH PLACE OF BUDDHA YESTERDAY’S KAPILAVASTU, TODAY’S KAPILESWAR”, Ajit Kumar Tripathy makes a careful and convince case arguing for Kapileswara in Orissa as the actual birthplace of Buddha from an examination of the local geographical factors of various locations from Kapileswara in Orissa to Lumbini, the historical figures and developments of the era surrounding Gautama Buddha and the places and earliest accounts and texts associated with Buddha:

“Dr. Cunningham in his “Ancient Geography of India” points out the place where from the Tarai inscription had been discovered is not at all related to the name Kapilavastu or even the name Kapila. And the noted historian Dr. Smith asserts that the place of the discovery of the Tarai inscription was never called Rummindei; it was a forged name given to it by archaeologist Dr. Fuhrer. Besides it has been proved that Buddhism had not been adopted in Nepal till the 6th century A.D. In face of all these clear-cut statements of noted scholars, it is quite sane to focus our attention on the village Kapileswara in Bhubaneswar in Orissa.

The centuries old Kapileswara village has got some similarity with the Kapilavastu in name and a region nearby called Lembai is similar to Lumbini. According to Tripitaka, Lumbini was a small estate with its capital at Kapilvastu. Till recently, as can be seen from maps of 1817 AD there was a Lembai Pragana; and Kapileswara was a part of it. Besides, the inscription of Kapileswara village corroborates the statement of Tripitaka and the Kalinga war of Asoka. The mention of the era of Buddha and the name of the scribe in the said inscription help us to take this as genuine.
Out of four places hallowed in memory of Buddha, one is his birthplace Kapilavastu.

Tripathy then explains how Terai in Nepal came to be regarded as the birthplace of Buddha:

When the birthplace sculptures were destroyed, the Buddhist monks searched for a new place in the dense forests of Tarai region in Nepal and put another stupa there … . In no Buddhist literature there is any description relating to history or geography of the so-called Kapilavastu or Lumbini of Nepal. Only because the Tarai inscription was discovered there, the place attained celebrity status throughout the world.

Dr. Fuhrer discovered the Asokan stone inscription in the Nepal Tarai in 1896. The Kapileswara birth-plate, also evidently an Asokan stone inscription, was discovered 32 years later. A great deal of discussion on the Kapileswara plate appeared in the Indian Historical Quarterly (vol. V) in 1929, but no research was conducted on it. Research scholars both inside and outside Orissa and India did not examine the evidence with any seriousness and it was left at that, till Chakradhar Mahapatra conducted extensive research on the subject and brought out a book named “The Real Birth Place of Buddha” published in 1977.

Mr. Chakradhar Mahapatra argues that an Asoka-pillar existed at the then Kapilavastu and the present Kapileswar, which recorded the birth. It was destroyed in religious disturbances in Orissa. The Buddhists erected a second pillar in the then inaccessible Nepal Tarai, and engraved on it a duplicate of the original inscription. This is why, we are told, the date of the epigraph in “the Buddha era” and the name of engraver, Chundray, are not mentioned on Rumindei pillar. The duplicate plate makers were at least honest enough to remain silent on the date of the inscription and did not repeat the name, “Chundray”. It is also a fact that this pillar is devoid of the characteristic Asokan capital. It looks very much different from the standard Ashoka pillars…

In Nepal, not only the name Lumbini, but also the name Kapilavastu is rare. The statement of Dr. Cunningham in his book ‘The Ancient Geography of India’ bears testimony to this: No trace of Kapila has yet been discovered at the foot of the Himalayas. After the recognition of these areas as the birth-place of Lord Buddha, only recently (within sixty years) these names are being used in the maps and official documents. Another important
fact is that a temple of Mayadevi, Buddha’s mother, is also found at so called Lumbini. But R.R.Diwakar says that this temple must have been built later, as the building of temples was not yet in vogue during the time of Asoka.
Many historians are of opinion that the scripts found in the Tarai inscription have no similarity with the script of other inscriptions of Asoka’s time. If scholars take up the study of this Tarai inscription with all seriousness, it will be crystal clear that this inscription does not belong to the time of Asoka, nor does the pillar containing the inscription.

In the month of March 1928 a stone inscription like the one found in the Tarai region was found in Kapileswara, a village then one mile away from Bhubaneswar, the present capital of Orissa State. Now it has become a part of the city of Bhubaneswar, the part called the old town.
The Kapileswara plate, first brought to public notice by Mr. Harenchandra Chakaldar of the Calcutta University was procured about March 1928 by Mr. Birendranath Roy for his private museum at Puri from a farmer of the village of Kapileswara, situated nearly a mile to the south of the famous Lingaraj temple at Bhubaneswar. The farmer had found the inscribed stone slab set in the mud wall of his hut. This is all the information which Mr. Roy and others could gather from him.
The lingam (phallus) of the Bhaskareswara temple of Bhubaneswara was proved to be a portion of an Asokan pillar by the eminent historian Mr. Rajendralal Mitra in 1880 and then supported by Dr. N.K.Sahu and Dr. K.C.Panigrahi, two eminent historians.
The Orissan specimens of Asokan arts have no lustrous polish as exemplified by the elephant figure at Dhauli, and that they exhibit indigenous characteristics, being the products of the local school of art, executed in local stone. Even the Kapileswara stone inscription has got a number of spots, and it is not polished.
Prof. Dr.K.C.Panigrahi, who accepts the sculpture of the Lingam as an Asokan one on the supposition of its indigenous nature of workmanship, assures us that the figure was detached from the original column of Asoka by the 5th century A.D. when, according to him, it received on its body the two short lines of Brahmi inscriptions, and that the chisel marks on it indicate the attempts of breaking it into pieces by the fanatic Saivas, who transformed the Buddhist column into a Siva Lingam.

The Linga formed out of a piece of the original Asoka pillar was named Bhaskareswara, another name of Buddha meaning the Sun God certainly it had connection with Buddha, because of the fact that Buddha is frequently designated as ‘Arkabandhu’ and ‘Adityabandhu’ meaning of friend of Sun God.. As the lingam was converted from the broken pillar containing Buddha’s mortal remains, the name Bhaskareswara was given to the lingam. Even the name Bhubaneswara is derived from one of the names of Lord Buddha.

A group of people of Kalinga during the lifetime of Buddha had accepted Buddhism, because the first two Buddhists, Tapusa and Bhallika were inhabitants of Kalinga, and Buddha had come to Kalinga twice after his enlightenment. But after the death of Buddha when the emperor of Kalinga Brahmadutta made Buddhism the religion of the state, Buddhism got spread in every part of Kalinga, but unfortunately taking advantage of the
death of Brahmadutta, the kings of Nanda dynasty of Magadha attacked Kalinga and occupied some parts, and partially destroyed, many Buddhist monuments.
As mentioned in the book of Mr. Mohapatra, when all the sculpture of Kapilavastu, the birth place of Buddha, were destroyed, some of the most devout Buddhists led by Bhikshu SANKASA in 5th century AD thought over as to how to keep the memory of Buddha intact.

The seal scribed with “OM DEVAPUTRA BIHAR KAPILAVASTU BHIKSHU SANKASA” alleged to have been recovered from that place relates to 5th century. Because the BHIKSHUS kept it concealed in such an inaccessible place after the original birthplace was damaged. That could never have been the palace of Sudhodana surrounded by the paddy fields. Retaining the text in a copy, they had handed over the original plate to the faithful Mallas and went away to Nepal. The said original plate contained 90 letters. So following the principle of truth they also kept 90 letters in this latter version of the birth plate. But they dropped the name of the scribe and the date, because they would have been far from the truth, the cardinal principle of Buddhism.

In course of time it so happened that Buddhism became completely extinct in the real birthplace of Buddha. Likewise the followers also could not take the image of Konakamana. They took an exact copy of the inscription installed in the Konakamana stupa, and placed it building a pillar in the Himalayan Tarai area. As the image and pillar of Konakamana were situated in the seashore, likewise they constructed the pillar on the bank of a great tank. The present Konark was the site of the Konakamana stupa and the Ashokan inscription.
After a long interval they also shifted the image of Mayadevi and placed it in that secret far off place in Tarai region of Nepal. Then after some time they perhaps took away the remnant of bones and sacred ashes of Buddha from the ruined stupa at Kapileswara and after constructing a new stupa put those bones and ashes there.

The two edicts of Asoka i.e. (i) The Kapileswara inscription referring to the birth of Buddha and (ii) the Konakamana inscription prove undoubtedly that Buddha was a historical person.

In the end we must give serious attention to the fact that Lumbini never existed in Kapilavastu, rather according to the old Buddhist literature Kapilavastu, was the capital of Lumbini. But the stone-pillar, which Asok got erected in the birthplace of Buddha, the name of Kapilavastu never occurs. Because Sakyamuni was born in Lumbini (Asoka refers to Buddha as Sakyamuni), Asoka gave up the idea of realizing land revenue from the residents of Lumbini and he offered his worship at the place where Buddha was born.
During the time of Goutam Buddha, Bramhadutta was the Emperor of Kalinga. Buddha was the son of a small estate owner a Jamidar as can be seen from the book “Bhagaban Buddha” by Dharmananda Kosambi. Suddhodana, his father, was the proprietor of a small estate in the vast kingdom of emperor of Kalinga. After the death of Buddha his left molar tooth was given to the then Emperor of Kalinga and not to any other King.

Regarding the geography of Buddha’s birthplace as evinced from historical sources and traditions,  Tripathy writes:

It is written in the Mahapadan Sutta of Mahavaga that Lumbini was an Estate of Buddha’s father. His capital was Kapilavastu. Ashok constructed the pillar in Kapilvastu where Buddha’s birth rites were performed. Had Kapilavastu been a city of some standing, Ashok would have named it in the inscription on the stupa. Compared to the vast Indian Empire of Ashoka, Lumbini was a very small estate and Kapilavastu of those days was its headquarters without much of urban characteristics to be called a town (nagara). But the forest area where Buddha was actually born became famous later as Bhubaneswar which is actually one of the other names of Buddha. Till 1940s the present new capital of Orissa was actually a dense ‘sal’ forest.

After renouncing the world Buddha went out aimlessly and reached Rajagriha, the capital of Magadha. In ‘Suttanipata’ Buddha himself has said that Toshala was a part of Lumbini region. When Bimbisara, the Emperor of Magadha, saw Buddha, he was astonished looking at the most handsome ascetic and asked his whereabouts.
In Niravana Katha Jataka edited by Bhadanta Ananda Kausalyana it is mentioned that it took 60 days for Buddha to travel from Rajagriha to Kapilavastu to cover a distance of 60 yojanas i.e. 675 kms. at the daily average rate of 1 yojana which is 11 kms.
Kapileswara (Kapilvastu of Orissa) is at a distance of 650 kms. from Rajagriha straight while the so called Kapilvastu region of Tarai area is only a distance of only 300 kms. from Rajagriha.
The same Hemavantagiri as mentioned by Buddha later on was known as Swarnakuta. Swarna and Hema both stand for gold. This hilly region also included the forest area of Chandaka which was named after Chhandaka, the Charioteer of Buddha.
Khandagiri, Dhauligiri and Udyagiri hills belonged to this area. They were all in the Capital of Toshala and Kapilvastu was situated in the foot of the Hamavanta. The Dhauli rock edict of Ashoka was specifically addressed to the people and Administrators of Toshali, and not Kalinga an empire, which contained the state of Toshali and the region of Lumbini.

Translated it reads –

“there is O’ king, a country on the slop of the Hemagiri, rich in wealth and heroes, who dwell among the Tosalas i.e. straight from here the rich the
prosperous Tosali which lies in the foot of Hemavanta, is my residence”.

These holy words of Buddha are quoted in Pabbajja Sutta in Suttanipata published by Palli Publication Board. Thus according to Buddha Himself he belonged to Toshala.

Kapilavastu of Toshala, (later known as Toshali) which is presently Kapileswara of Bhubaneswar is situated to the south of Rajagriha and both of them stand almost on the same meridian. Rajgiri is on 85° 30’E and Bhubaneswara is on 85° 45’E but Kapilavastu of Nepal and Rajagriha, capital of Magadha by no means located in a straight line. If straight location is taken from the stand point of latitude, Rajagriha is situated on latitude 25° North while Kapilavastu of Tarai region is located on the latitude 27°30’N.

Dharmananda Kosambi in his book “Bhagawan Buddha” has written that the Sakyas and Buddha belonged to Aditya clan who were of solar origin. Sakyas belonged to the Aditya clan. As quoted in Suttanipata, Buddha himself has said the following: –

“Adichcha nama gottena Sakiya nama jatiya
Tamhakula pabbajitomhi na kame abhipatthayam”

Translated into English, it means that “I am a descendant of the Sun, Aditya by clan and Sakya by birth. From that family I have gone out, having no longing for sexual desires.”

This explanation he has given to Bimbisara, the then Emperor of Magadha. It is very amazing to note that still Aditya clan can be seen Orissa among the Kshyatriyas. The feudatory king of Narasinghpur ex-princely state of Orissa in Cuttack district and Kshatriyas of Kujanga in
Jagatsinghpur district belong to the Aditya clan, known in the history as solar kings. The Vaneswara valley site of Narasinghpur (now a Block and Tahasil in Cuttack district) contains images of Prajnaparamita, Tara, Buddhadeva, Padmapani Avalokiteswara etc. Many parts of Narasinghpur estate are full of Buddhist sculptures. Remnants of a pillar with images of Buddha can be seen in Bhattarika temple on Mahanadi near Badamba.

***

“…an American anthropologist says it is time Orissa got its due as one of the most prominent centres of Buddhism in the world.

“The numerous Buddhist sites in Orissa, the antiquities and sculptures found there reflect many centuries of Buddhist tradition in the State. It is full of rich Buddhist heritage. Orissa has so far been overlooked as a hub of Buddhism,” says James M. Freeman, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Anthropology at San Jose State University, California.

Prof. Freeman together with his filmmaker son Karsten Freeman and an Indian professor in the University of California, Annapurna Devi Pandey, shot a documentary film in Kapileswar and about 10 districts of Orissa capturing the Buddhist culture and tradition in the State.

Prof. Freeman is now on a personal visit to the country, his third trip. His bond with Kapileswar dates back to 1962 when he lived and worked in the village as part of his research project.

Birthplace
It was Dr. Pandey, who hails from Cuttack, who told him in 2005 about the villagers’ conviction that Kapileswar was the Buddha’s birthplace. This prompted him to go there once again.

“There was this new sudden excitement about the Buddha that I noticed there. The State Government was carrying out many excavations there and lots of local archaeologists and scholars were taking an interest in Kapileswar. The Head of the Orissa State Museum, C. B. Patel, made these claims based on the findings of a research team led by him that examined rocks, inscriptions and other materials found during excavations. He also highlighted the works of historian Chakradhar Mohapatra who was among the first ones to talk about this issue and gave conclusive evidence of Kapileswara being the original birthplace of Buddha in his book ‘The Real Birthplace of Buddha’,” says Dr. Pandey.

Mohapatra, claims Prof. Freeman, had also written about a stone pillar inscription of King Asoka discovered in Kapileswar in 1928 – which he claims is missing now — that points to Buddha’s birthplace being in Orissa.

“I went to the Ashutosh Museum in Kolkata where the stone inscription was said to have been kept. People there said they had not heard of any such stone inscription ever. That prompted us to begin our documentary. But when we began visiting sites in Orissa, we realised that there was a much bigger story,” claims Prof. Freeman.

Material remains
There were large domes, monasteries, sculptures and other objects of archaeological importance at these places. We visited at least a hundred Buddhist sites. We found Buddhist communities living there for generations. They are not converts but traditional Buddhists who have been living amicably with the Hindus for all these years. In Narsinghpur alone, there are about 10,000 Buddhist families. The Buddhist culture in Orissa is thriving, which not many people know of. Somehow Orissa has not been connected to the Buddha’s life as it ought to have been done,” he rues.”

 

Scholars claim Buddha was born in Orissa
By Jatindra Dash, Indo-Asian News Service

Bhubaneswar, (IANS) Was Lord Buddha born in Orissa? Not Lumbini in Nepal, as has always been believed?

A vociferous school of thought that is firmly of the view that the founder of Buddhism was born in Orissa spoke up at a two-day seminar on Jayadev and Buddha.

The scholars gave several reasons to back their claims.

Presenting circumstantial evidence, Satyakam Sengupta of Kalkata’s Rabindra Bharati University said Buddha’s teachings were in Pali and not in Prakrit or Sanskrit languages.

And Pali was prevalent in Orissa then while it was never used in Nepal, he said.

Also, about 3,000 edicts, including those of Asoka and the remains of stupas, are being found in Orissa, which has to its credit ancient Buddhists sites like Ratnagiri and Udaygiri.

In contrast, there are hardly any sites in Nepal to indicate that Buddhism was widespread there, Sengupta said.

Kalinga, as Orissa was known in that period, formed an important geographical link between northern and southern India and maintained close trade and cultural ties with Myanmar, Sri Lanka and other Indian Ocean islands.

The turning point in Buddhist history came with Emperor Asoka’s conquest of Kalinga in 261 BC. The emperor, who later converted to Buddhism, is said to have sent his children to Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, to propagate Buddhism.

A stone pillar inscription of Asoka discovered at Orissa’s Kapileswar village located just outside Bhubanesewar in 1928, and now in Kolkata’s Ashutosh Museum, points to the Buddha’s birthplace as Orissa, said Chandrabhanu Patel of the Orissa State Museum.

Patel headed a team of 15 researchers last year to decipher the inscription and first claimed Orissa as Buddha’s birthplace.

“Our scholars who read and deciphered the inscription found that it carries six lines in Prakrit and the Asokan Brahami script.

“They say that in the 20th year of his coronation, Asoka worshipped at Kapileswar because (he thought) Lord Buddha was born there,” Patel told IANS.

While historians say Buddha was born at Lumbini in Nepal, a village near Kapileswar named Lembei could well be his birthplace, Patel said. The ancient name of this village was Lumbini, he added.

The inscription says that Asoka exempted Lumbini village from all taxes in 240 BC because Buddha was born there, Patel claimed.

A broken portion of the Asoka pillar — nine feet high and 12 feet wide — was found in the Bhaskareswar temple, four km from Kapileswar.

Broken bells and replicas of Asoka’s famous four-lion emblem recovered from these areas are also currently at the state museum, he said.

Legend has it that the Buddha entered his mother’s womb as a white elephant. At Dhauli, seven km from Kapileswar, Asoka carved out the statue of an elephant along with his edict.

Patel said researchers also found four sculptures of Asoka in the premises of the Kapileswar temple representing four stages of his transformation from a king to a sage.

Patel discounted the ancient inscriptions in Nepal identifying the kingdom as Buddha’s birthplace. He said Asoka had not installed those inscriptions.

Patel claimed Buddha’s relics in gilded stone caskets were found during an excavation at Lalitgiri in Orissa’s Jajpur district in 1985.

Archaeologists had said the stone casket contained the ashes of the Buddha, who was cremated at the age of 80.

This is not the first time Orissa has made such a claim.

Historian Manmathanath Das, considered an expert on Buddhism, had earlier said: “I have studied Buddhism in depth. Although all literature available on Buddha points to Nepal as his birthplace, there is not much archaeological evidence to corroborate this.”

Historian Sachidananda Mishra has said Lumbini in Nepal was declared the Buddha’s birthplace on the basis of a stone inscription in the Terai region there. But similar stone inscriptions were discovered in Orissa in 1928.

Other scholars focus on the language of Pali as evidence that Gautama Buddha was from Orissa:

BUDDHA AND JAYDEV-BOTH ARE ORIYAS BY BIRTH
Bhubaneswar, Nov.13, 03

Like us in orissamatters.com, truth seekers elsewhere also find that both Lord Buddha and Sri Jaydev are Oriyas by birth. Eminent scholars of West Bengal Prof. Satyakam Sengupta and Ashis Kumar Chakroverty, have made this point clear on the basis of their respective research results.

Pointing out that Lord Buddha’s teachings were in Pali, Prof. Sengupta said that this was the language only of Orissa, not of Nepal. Because Buddha was an Oriya by birth, he taught in Pali, he underlined. He further observed that Buddha is traditionally worshipped, only in Orissa, as Lord Jagannath, but he is not worshipped even as a major deity in Nepal. Chakrovarty added, the ever increasing discovery of edicts and Stupas of Buddhistic origin in and around Bhubaneswar and in the golden triangle of Orissa bears the matchless evidence of Buddha being born in the land now known as Orissa. No where in India and specifically in Nepal such enormous proof of Buddhist connection with the land is located. Had Buddha not been born in Orissa, it would never have been the abode of such vast Buddhist sites, he said.

Both the noted scholars systematically razed down also the propaganda that Jaydev belonged to Bengal. The words used by Sri Jaydev are phonetically nearer to Oriya language than to Bengali, they said. Themewise also his songs reflect the philosophy then in vogue in Orissa alone, they observed.

Views expressed in a seminar was hosted by Eastern Zonal Cultural Center, Kolkata and the Utkal University of Culture, Bhubaneswar on November 11 and 12.

***

Currently, UNESCO lists Lumbini as a world heritage site and birthplace of Gautama Buddha.

Lumbini is a small place close to the administrative boundary of Kapilvastu. The most recent administrative division of districts in Nepal kept Lumbini just outside of Kapilvastu district, but it is still in Lumbini zone.

Lumbini is regarded to be the birthplace of the Buddha in Buddhist narratives. It was discovered in 1896 by archaeologists. One of the objects found was a 6,5 meters high pillar, erected by King Ashoka in 245 BCE, containing the following inscription:

King Piyadasi (Ashoka), beloved of devas, in the 20 year of the coronation, himself made a royal visit, Buddha Sakyamuni having been born here, a stone railing was built and a stone pillar erected to the Bhagavan having been born here, Lumbini village was taxed reduced and entitled to the eight part (only).[Lumbini 1]

According to written sources — The Nidanakatha, [Lumbini 2] the introductory to the Jataka tales, the stories of the former lives of the Buddha, narrates the story of the Buddha’s conception and birth:

Situated in southwestern Nepal, approximately 250 kilometers from Kathmandu is the sacred gardens of Lumbini where it is said that the Buddha was born either in 623 or 642 BCE, over 2600 years ago. According to Buddhist tradition, Maya Devi was on her way to her parent’s home in Devadaha one May day when she stopped to rest under a seal tree. After bathing in a nearby pool, known as Puskarni, Maya Devi – a virgin, became impregnated and immediately fell into labor and gave birth to Prince Siddharta Gautam – the future Buddha.
Lumbini was visited by Emperor Asoka in ca. 260 BCE and ca. 249 BCE. After this second visit a stone pillar was erected to commemorate the event. [Source: Wikipedia: Birthplace of Gautama Buddha]

UNESCO lists Lumbini as a world heritage site and birthplace of Gautama Buddha see “Lumbini the Birthplace of Buddha” (UNESCO website):

Siddhartha Gautama, the Lord Buddha, was born in 623 B.C. in the in the famous gardens and sacred area of Lumbini located in the Terai plains of southern Nepal. The location soon became a place of pilgrimage, as testified by the inscription on one of his commemorative pillars erected by the Mauryan Emperor Asoka (who was one of the pilgrims) in 249 BC.  The site is now being developed as a Buddhist pilgrimage centre, where the archaeological remains associated with the birth of the Lord Buddha, constituting important evidence about the nature of Buddhist pilgrimage centres from as early as the 3rd century BC.

The complex of structures within the archaeological conservation area includes the Shakya Tank; the remains within the Maya Devi Temple consisting of brick structures in a cross-wall system dating from the 3rd century BC to the present century and the sandstone Ashoka pillar with its Pali inscription in Brahmi script. Additionally there are the excavated remains of Buddhist viharas (monasteries) of the 3rd century BC to the 5th century AD and the remains of Buddhist stupas (memorial shrines) from the 3rd century BC to the 15th century AD. The site is now being developed as a Buddhist pilgrimage centre, where the archaeological remains associated with the birth of the Lord Buddha form a central feature.

The archaeological remains of the Buddhist viharas (monasteries) and stupas (memorial shrines) from the 3rd century BC to the 15th century AD, provide important evidence about the nature of Buddhist pilgrimage centres from a very early period.

***

The other contender for birthplace of Buddha is Kapilavastu in Nepal:

Archaeologists had identified the Tilaurakot archeological site in Nepal as a possible location for Kapilavastu.

Kapilavastu (Pāli: Kapilavatthu) is an important location , some 10 kilometers to the west of Gautama Buddha’s alleged birthplace Lumbini. The former is thought to contain the site of his family home and garden, belonging to an ancient Shakya kingdom where Gautama Buddha grew up.  It is widely accepted that the Lord Buddha spent the first 29 years of his life in the vicinity of Kapilavastu.

Peter Harvey, 1990 (first publication, reprint 1995):

We know that Gotama was born in the small republic of the Sakka (Skt Sākya) people, which straddles the present border with Nepal and had Kapilavatthu as its capital.

Hans Wolfgang Schumann, 1998 (a translation of the first print 1982):

Kapilavatthu, the home town of the Buddha, [where] he [lived the] first 29 years of his life, is not far from the border that now [separates] the kingdom of Nepal [from] the area of the Republic of India. The father of the Buddha [was called] Suddhodana “Who grows pure rice” and belonged to the tribe [of the] Sakiya. The Sakiya’s were Khattiya’s and thus belonged to the (then) highest caste, the martial-or better: nobility of office, which [had the task of] the administration and enforcement of the Sakiya republic. From their midst was, if necessary, [elected] the new raja, the president of the republic and president of the council. In the middle of the sixth century BC. [it] was Suddhodana [who fulfilled] the raja-office.

Maurice Walsh, 1995:

He belonged to the Sakya clan dwelling on the edge of the Himalayas, his actual birthplace being a few miles north of the present-day Indian border, in Nepal. His father was in fact an elected chief of the clan rather than the king he was later made out to be, though his title was raja – a term which only partly corresponds to our word ‘king’. Some of the states of North India at that time were kingdoms and others republics, and the Sakyan republic was subject to the powerful king of neighbouring Kosala, which lay to the south.

Peter Harvey also writes:

In the early Buddhist texts, there is no continuous life of the Buddha, as these concentrated on his teachings. Only later, between 200 BC and 200 AD, did a growing interest in the Buddha’s person lead to various schools producing continuous ‘biographies’, which drew on scattered accounts in the existing Sutta and Vinaya collections, and floating oral traditions. These ‘biographies’ include the sarvastivadins’ Lalitavistara, the Theravadins’ Nidanakatha, and Asvaghosa’s poem, the Buddhacarita. The details of these are in general agreement, but while they must clearly be based around historical facts, they also contain legendary and mythological embellisgments, and it is often not possible to sort out one from the other. While the bare historical basis of the traditional biography will never be known, as it stands it gives a great insight into Buddhism by enabling as to see what the meaning of the Buddha’s life is to the Buddhists: what lessons it is held to contain.

Read more about the tradition of making Buddhist pilgrimages to India and the Jatakas mural paintings of the Ajanta Caves “Buddhist Pilgrimage Sites: India” (Victoria & Albert Museum website)

 

Another contender for Buddha’s birthplace is Piprahwa, 110 km north of Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, which  Indian guidebooks and some historians consider to be the real Kapilavastu, as one travel guidebook account had it:

“South of Lumbini, but in Uttar Pradesh, identified through recent excavations, with Kapilavastu, the capital of the Sakya clan and the seat of Suddhodana’s capital. […] The ancient city, now in ruins, from where Buddhism started, abounds in several stupas. Stone caskets containing relics believed to be that of Buddha, have been recovered from the main stupa…

There is a host of evidence to prove today that Piprahwa is the Kapilvastu of Buddha’s times. The geographical conditions of Kapilvastu as described in Buddhist epics are similar to those in Piprahwa. The ‘Asthi-patra’ found in 1897-98 A.D., clearly matches the engravings in Piprahwa. The 1971 excavations in Piprahwa revealed clinching evidence in terms of relics of the Buddha period. The discovery of an earthen pot which had Kapilvastu engraved on it confirmed Piprahwa’s ancient legacy. Some coins of the same period were also excavated. Piprahwa lies between two important Buddhist destinations – Lumbini (birthplace of Buddha in Nepal) and Srawasti (where Buddha spent 27 monsoons).”

 

Piprahwa has however been denounced as a hoax in Lumbini on Trial: The Untold Story and in The Piprahwa Deceptions: Set-ups and Showdown by T. A. Phelps.

Sources & References:

Tripathy, Ajit Kumar (year unknown), THE REAL BIRTH PLACE OF BUDDHA. YESTERDAY’S KAPILAVASTU, TODAY’S KAPILESWAR. In: The Orissa historical research journal, Volume 47 OHRJ, Vol. XLVII, No. 1

Harvey, Peter (1995), An introduction to Buddhism. Teachings, history and practices, Cambridge University Press

Mahāpātra, Cakradhara (1977), The real birth place of Buddha, Grantha Mandir

Schumann, Hans Wolfgang (1998), De historische Boeddha, Rottersam, Netherlands: Asoka

Buddhist Pilgrimage Sites: India (Victoria & Albert museum website)

One thought on “Notes: Navigating between archaeological facts, legend and historical locations: Locating the Real Birthplace of Buddha

  1. The real places of birth,omniscience,vassas,nirvana and the other places connected to Lord Mahavira and the Buddha have been searched out with 99%accuracy,in the book ,”The revelation of truths about Mahavira ,Buddha and Gandhi–A saga of forgotten history and misplaced geography.”

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