Author Topic: Earliest 'shrine' uncovered at Buddha's birthplace  (Read 10032 times)


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Earliest 'shrine' uncovered at Buddha's birthplace
« on: November 26, 2013, 05:12:33 AM »
A marvellous archaeological discovery at Lord Buddha's birthplace in Lumbini, Nepal. 

Lumbini, the birth place of Siddhartha Gautama, who later become the Buddha is located in the south-western Nepali plains 300km from Kathmandu and is very close to India's border.  Designated a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1997.  It is surrounded by large zone in which only monasteries can be built and no commercial premises. The site has a number of ancient ruins of monasteries, a sacred Bo Tree and a bathing pool.  This is a Buddhist holy power place, a Buddhist mecca.

Archaeologists digging at Buddha's birthplace have uncovered remains of the earliest ever "Buddhist shrine".

They unearthed a 6th Century BC timber structure buried within the Maya Devi Temple at Lumbini in Nepal.
The shrine appears to have housed a tree. This links to the Buddha nativity story - his mother gave birth to him while holding on to a tree branch.

Its discovery may settle the dispute over the birth date of the Buddha, they report in the journal Antiquity.

Every year thousands of Buddhists make a holy pilgrimage to Lumbini - long identified as the birthplace of Siddhartha Gautama, who became the Buddha.

Yet despite the many texts chronicling his life and teachings, it is still uncertain when he lived.
Estimates for his birth stretch as far back as 623 BC, but many scholars believed 390-340 BC a more realistic timeframe.

Until now, the earliest evidence of Buddhist structures at Lumbini dated no earlier than the 3rd Century BC, in the era of the emperor Ashoka.

To investigate, archaeologists began excavating at the heart of the temple - alongside meditating monks, nuns and pilgrims.

They unearthed a wooden structure with a central void which had no roof. Brick temples built later above the timber were also arranged around this central space.
To date the buildings, fragments of charcoal and grains of sand were tested using a combination of radiocarbon and optically stimulated luminescence techniques.

"Now, for the first time, we have an archaeological sequence at Lumbini that shows a building there as early as the 6th century BC," said archaeologist Prof Robin Coningham of Durham University, who co-led the international team, supported by the National Geographic Society.

"This is the earliest evidence of a Buddhist shrine anywhere in the world.

"It sheds light on a very long debate, which has led to differences in teachings and traditions of Buddhism.
"The narrative of Lumbini's establishment as a pilgrimage site under Ashokan patronage must be modified since it is clear that the site had already undergone embellishment for centuries."
The dig also detected signs of ancient tree roots in the wooden building's central void - suggesting it was a tree shrine.

Tradition records that Queen Maya Devi gave birth to the Buddha while grasping the branch of a tree within the Lumbini Garden.

The discovery could aid conservation efforts at the holy site - which has been neglected despite its Unesco World Heritage status.

"These discoveries are very important to better understand the birthplace of the Buddha," said Ram Kumar Shrestha, Nepal's minister of culture, tourism and civil aviation.

"The government of Nepal will spare no effort to preserve this significant site."

Archaeologists hope their discovery will aid conservation efforts at the site

By James Morgan
Science reporter, BBC News


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Re: Earliest 'shrine' uncovered at Buddha's birthplace
« Reply #1 on: November 29, 2013, 02:03:10 PM »
This is a very significant discovery because with the present scientific methods of determining the date of the shrine, the birth of Lord Buddha can be established more accurately. At present the date of birth of the Buddha is 623 BC and his parinirvana is 543 BC. The archaeological findings include ruins of a monasteries made of timber, a bodhi tree and a bathing pool. These are evidence of how monastics lived at the time of the Buddha. This site will attract many pilgrims in the future as the birthplace of the Buddha is very sacred and extremely holy. People will come here to pray and meditate.

Lumbini is one of the four important holy pilgrimage places mentioned by the Buddha during his lifetime. The Buddha taught the value of pilgrimage to his disciples, saying: “Bhikshu, after my passing away, if all the sons and daughters of good family and the faithful, so long as they live, go to the four holy places, they should go and remember: here at Lumbini the enlightened one was born; here at Bodhgaya he attained enlightenment; here at Sarnath he turned twelfth wheels of Dharma; and here at Kushinagar he entered parinirvana.”

Freyr Aesiragnorak

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Re: Earliest 'shrine' uncovered at Buddha's birthplace
« Reply #2 on: December 01, 2013, 04:28:56 AM »
How fortunate for us practicing Buddhists that these archaeologists have discovered things so crucial to our religion. At first I once I’d read the article, I thought to myself “so what? We should be concentrating on the practices taught by the Buddha.” But then I remembered teachings I’d been given in the past relating to imprints that visiting holy sites can leave on the mindstream, especially when connected to the lives of beings who had become Buddhas.

Now I’m berating myself over ever having that thought. May I generate the merit to be able to travel and make prayers at this holy site, connecting with the energies of the one Thus Gone.   

diamond girl

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Re: Earliest 'shrine' uncovered at Buddha's birthplace
« Reply #3 on: December 01, 2013, 09:56:12 AM »
How intriguing that even today, we are discovering new things about our history! I would love to visit Lumbini one day - the fact that Prince Siddharta Gautama who became the Buddha was born here with miraculous signs must indicate that there is something special about this area and perhaps if i visit, I will receive some blessings! I hope so anyway!


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Re: Earliest 'shrine' uncovered at Buddha's birthplace
« Reply #4 on: December 01, 2013, 11:12:13 AM »
This uncovering of the earliest ever Buddhist shrine has a monumental impact on the Buddhist world. The unearthing of a sixth century B.C. Buddhist structure buried in the Maya Devi Temple sheds light on the actual date of birth of Lord Buddha. \In fact,this discovery settles the long dispute over Buddha's actual date of birth.

Before this discovery, the earliest one was that of a Buddhist structure at Lumbini dated not earlier than the 3rd Century seems to have placed en erroneous date to Buddha's birth.

Furthermore, this shrine appears to be a tree shrine. The shrine appears to have housed a tree. This validates the story of how Queen Maya had given birth to Prince Siddharta, while holding on to  a tree. 

Archaeological findings, like this, using recognized tests, establishes, without a shadow of doubt, important events in  Buddhist history.




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Re: Earliest 'shrine' uncovered at Buddha's birthplace
« Reply #5 on: December 01, 2013, 11:41:22 AM »
I think this is beautiful,an amazing discovery and it helps generate interest in Buddhism and that is a wonderful thing.A very interesting archaeological find.It proves absolutely nothing of the existence of the supernatural,only that the origins of the belief goes back a very long way which is consistent with what we already know.


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Re: Earliest 'shrine' uncovered at Buddha's birthplace
« Reply #6 on: December 01, 2013, 03:42:01 PM »
What a great news. Rejoice for this. this is proved to the world that the accurate of the scripture that recored the Buddha's life story and teachings. This will attract more people to practice dharma.


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Re: Earliest 'shrine' uncovered at Buddha's birthplace
« Reply #7 on: December 01, 2013, 03:59:10 PM »
It is amazing how more real concrete evidence manifest in the current times to continue to show us the Buddha Dharma, to increase our faith and to assist us in our learning of the path .


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Re: Earliest 'shrine' uncovered at Buddha's birthplace
« Reply #8 on: December 01, 2013, 05:06:21 PM »
Another sacred place being discovered! With the technology improving everyday, it makes it easier to search or locate many things.  I am sure that there are many more sacred places are yet to be found and hopefully soon. I never got the chance to visit Lumbini when I was in Nepal.

Lumbini where Buddha was born, is a place which should be visited and seen by a person of devotion and which should cause awareness and apprehension of the nature of impermanence.'

The birthplace of the Gautama Buddha, Lumbini, is the Mecca of every Buddhist, being one of the four holy places of Buddhism. It is said in the Parinibbana Sutta that Buddha himself identified four places of future pilgrimage: the sites of his birth, enlightenment, first discourse, and death.


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Re: Earliest 'shrine' uncovered at Buddha's birthplace
« Reply #9 on: December 01, 2013, 05:55:17 PM »
Thanks for sharing, I read this on Fox News too... it's big news for Buddhists, all major news channels reported on this historical finding.

Great to hear that Nepal will be putting all their effort to preserve such holy land... unlike the one in Pakistan (apparently they are now turning it to a pilgrimage site for Buddhists as the tourism profit will help their country's economy... but prior to that, they were quite determined to demolish everything, which they did to a certain extent)


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Re: Earliest 'shrine' uncovered at Buddha's birthplace
« Reply #10 on: December 01, 2013, 06:52:45 PM »
What a wonderful discovery!  Evidence prove of the existence of this great spiritual teacher, Buddha Shakyamuni.I'm so fortunate to have stay connected to the Dharma and to be able practice it.


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Re: Earliest 'shrine' uncovered at Buddha's birthplace
« Reply #11 on: December 17, 2013, 12:32:15 PM »
There will be many exciting events and benefits following the wonderful discovery of this world's earliest Buddhist shrine.

The discovery of the world's earliest Buddhist temple, marking the birthplace of the Buddha south of the Himalayas in Nepal, could give a powerful push in the drive to lift nearby villagers out of  crushing poverty.

Visits by some of the world's 500 million Buddhists to this holy site near Nepal's border with India could help the region create a framework for sustainable development linked to these pilgrimages, said scholars involved in the discovery.

Archaeologists recently revealed they had uncovered a wooden structure, surrounded by an open-air courtyard, that dated from 2,550 years ago and was situated directly beneath a brick temple built three centuries later to venerate the birth of the Buddha. 

The uncovering of the long-buried shrine and courtyard, believed to have hosted the tree under which the Buddha was born, provides the clearest evidence ever of when Prince Siddhartha Gautama walked the Earth and began outlining his pathway toward enlightenment and Nirvana.

The earliest Buddhist chronicles all record that Queen Maya Devi gave birth to the Buddha in the mystical Lumbini Garden, but none provides a clear-cut date for the event.

British archaeologist Robin Coningham, who led the international team that excavated the structure, said in an interview that there is a good reason for conflicting chronologies of the Buddha's birth and life: "Writing in South Asia didn't really spread until about 300 BC." That means details of the Buddha's life and teachings were passed down orally for centuries before being written down.

British archaeologist Robin Coningham [National Geographic]
That led to present-day estimates on the Buddha's birth that have varied between 800 BC and 400 BC, he said.

But now, the discovery of the earliest shrine at Lumbini, and the use of leading-edge dating technologies to calculate its age, have led Coningham and his team to determine the temple was built around 550 BC.

"Ritual activity [at the shrine] could have commenced either during or shortly after the life of the Buddha," Coningham and nine other scholars state in an article published in the December issue of the British journal Antiquity. 

Remarkable find

Unveiling evidence confirming key details of the Buddha's nativity narrative and timing might ultimately be rated as one of the century's most remarkable archaeological finds.

Barbara Moffet, a spokesperson at the National Geographic Society, which helped support the excavation of what could be the world's very first Buddhist shrine, said, "It's not every day that we discover something that opens a window on the birth of a major world religion."

The Washington, DC-based group filmed key discoveries made during the unearthing of the shrine, and will broadcast a documentary, "Buried Secrets of the Buddha" in February on National Geographic Channel.

Coningham, a professor at Durham University in the United Kingdom, said as archaeologists from Britain and Nepal set out to explore the ancient shrine at the center of Lumbini's Sacred Garden, an unending stream of Buddhist monks and nuns from around the world circumambulated the site, chanting prayers over the emerging temple.

He spent three years excavating the Lumbini shrine, which had been buried beneath an entire sequence of later temples, working alongside some of Nepal's leading archaeologists, headed by Kosh Prasad Acharya, former Director General of the Department of Archaeology in Nepal.

Finding new pieces in the puzzle of the origins of Buddhism 25 centuries ago via this simple wooden temple marks "a really important finding in the study of Buddhist archaeology," said archaeologist Keir Strickland, who co-authored the study, "The earliest Buddhist shrine: excavating the birthplace of the Buddha, Lumbini (Nepal)."

Professor Coningham said he hopes the reemergence of this temple will benefit not only Buddhist scholars and followers across the globe, but also the present-day compatriots of the Buddha – villagers who toil the fields amid the amazing topography of Nepal and the punishing poverty born of living in such a remote location.

"In the area around Lumbini," he said, "more than half the population lives on less than one and one-half dollars per day."

The International Monetary Fund estimated Nepal's per capita GDP at US$522 in 2010, and only 9 percent of its 30 million citizens are now plugged into the Internet, according to the Internet World Stats website.

Sacred sites

Painting new details on the mosaic of the Buddha's origins could give momentum to a UNESCO plan, being financed by the Japanese government, to simultaneously promote further archaeological explorations around Lumbini, conserve sacred sites that are being uncovered, and liberate nearby villagers from the shackles of impoverishment.

"It should be possible to balance sustainable pilgrimage with sustainable conservation" as part of a master plan that benefits the region as a whole, Coningham explained.

Hundreds of thousands of Buddhist monks, nuns, and tourists now make the pilgrimage to Lumbini's mandala-like matrix of sacred sites every year, and that figure could rise rapidly over the next decade as the area raises its global profile.

To pave the way for the rise of the Buddha's birthplace in the world atlas of Buddhist pilgrimage sites, the Asian Development Bank has provided nearly $90 million in funding to expand Lumbini's roadways and airport.  "This is a positive move," Coningham said, for the people of Nepal, which is landlocked between the giants China and India.

Govinda Gewali, who is monitoring the project from the ADB office in Nepal, said the runway at Lumbini's Gautam Buddha Airport will be extended to accommodate international flights, which will allow more of the world's half-billion Buddhists to tour the site.

This expansion is slated for completion in June of 2017, when the airport will be able to handle 1 million international passengers per year, said Kenichi Yokoyama, the ADB's country director in Nepal.

Buddha hub

Meanwhile, Counsellor Ram Prasad Subedi at the Embassy of Nepal in Beijing said the discovery of the ancient temple at the centre of the Sacred Garden where the Buddha was born "will definitely boost Lumbini's significance and attraction as a holy place".

Nepal's government now aims to boost the number of international tourists who visit the Himalayan nation to 2 million annually by 2020, compared with 800,000 who arrived in 2012.  Part of the drive to attract more visitors is aimed at the global Buddhist community.

"In Lumbini, you can already see monasteries that have been built by Japan, China, Myanmar, and Cambodia, and so many countries support the master plan for Lumbini's development," said Subedi. "The government of Nepal wants to develop Lumbini as a centre of peace."

Lumbini's expanding glow as a pilgrimage site and as a symbol of cross-cultural understanding "is a great thing for Buddhists and people who believe in peace all over the world," he added.

UNESCO is now perfecting a blueprint to reach out to potential donors across the planet who are willing to help protect one of the world's most important religious regions while benefitting local inhabitants, said Axel Plathe, UNESCO Representative to Nepal.

The current excavations and archaeological discoveries made at Lumbini, Plathe added, "were the result of a UNESCO project that was funded by the government of Japan."

Inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List in 1997, the group described Lumbini in glowing terms: "As the birthplace of the Lord Buddha - the apostle of peace and the light of Asia - the sacred area of Lumbini is one of the holiest places of one of the world's great religions, and its remains contain important evidence about the nature of Buddhist pilgrimage centers from a very early period."

UNESCO's envoy to Nepal, who has been closely involved in overseeing the archaeological exploration of the region, said that the temple and monastery now being brought to light after being hidden for more than 2000 years are transforming age-old legends of the Buddha into modern-day facts.

Zone of peace

In a UNESCO description of the Lumbini site, Plathe said its Buddhist groves and waterways form a dreamlike sanctuary: "Sacred trees, beautiful flowers, celestial splendor, eternal tranquility - these are the elements that constitute the place where Siddhartha, the Lord Buddha, was born."

Buddhists number about 500 million [National Geographic]
UNESCO and its partners, Plathe said, aim to guide Lumbini's development into an expanding zone of peace, featuring modern schools and hospitals, that fosters an ongoing dialogue involving the world's diverse cultures and peoples.

The envoy said he hopes the new global spotlight on the site of the Buddha's birth will spark more patrons of culture and conservation around the world to help plan and finance Lumbini's future.

Coningham added that the Sacred Garden, nearby monastic zone, and outlying pilgrim's village have been attracting explorers from virtually every point on the planet.

This confluence of cultures swirls around the ancient pilgrimage site.  "The Sacred Garden is still used by local Hindus, who also go there to celebrate," he added.

Coningham, who has become over the past weeks perhaps the world's best-known archaeologist, said the team leading the exploration of the ancient temple and nearby sites is scheduled to release a comprehensive book on its findings, titled "Excavations at Lumbini," in 2014.


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Re: Earliest 'shrine' uncovered at Buddha's birthplace
« Reply #12 on: December 18, 2013, 08:13:45 AM »
It's quite hilariously entertaining to read the people of both countries, India and Nepal, claiming that Buddha was born in their country. Hopefully, with the archaeological discovery of Buddha's birthplace now declared a world heritage site, it ends arguments for both countries. India can content with the other three holy pilgrimage sites for Buddhists: Bodh Gaya (where Siddhartha Gautama attained full enlightenment), Sarnath (where Buddha first taught the dharma) and Kushinagar (where Buddha passed into parinirvana). Well, two out of three is very good.

Kim Hyun Jae

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Re: Earliest 'shrine' uncovered at Buddha's birthplace
« Reply #13 on: December 19, 2013, 04:57:10 PM »
The discovery of the birth place of Buddha Shakyamuni's in Lumbini is a clear archaeological evidence that he was actually born as a human, took rebirth in the human realm and achieved enlightenment in this life. Without this factual discovery, stories that Queen Maya gave birth in a garden next to the tree was only a myth. Now no one in the world can dispute the fact of Lumbini as a holy place for Buddhist pilgrims.


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Re: Earliest 'shrine' uncovered at Buddha's birthplace
« Reply #14 on: January 12, 2014, 06:02:50 AM »
How a hunch led to stunning claim on Buddha birth date:

The two archaeologists had a hunch that the Buddha's birthplace in southern Nepal held secrets that could transform how the world understood the emergence and spread of Buddhism.

Their pursuit would eventually see them excavate the sacred site of Lumbini as monks prayed nearby, leading to the stunning claim that the Buddha was born in the sixth century BC, two centuries earlier than thought.

Veteran Nepalese archaeologist Kosh Prasad Acharya had carried out excavations in Lumbini before in the early 1990s, when Nepal was still ruled by a king and a Maoist insurgency had yet to kick off.

The project ended in 1996 but Acharya remained unsatisfied with the results.

"My belief was that there was another cultural deposit below, which we had not uncovered," the 62-year-old told AFP.

He headed back to his government job in the capital Kathmandu and waited to retire, restless to return to Lumbini.

The Buddha's birthplace was lost and overgrown by jungle before its rediscovery in 1896, when the presence of a third century BC pillar bearing inscriptions allowed historians to identify it as Lumbini.

Since then, it has been designated a UNESCO world heritage site, visited by millions of Buddhists every year, with numbers expected to rise exponentially in the following decades.

Acharya had just retired from his last job, as the director general of the department of archaeology, when UNESCO asked him to co-direct an investigation of Lumbini's foundations.

The cultural organisation asked Acharya and his longtime collaborator, Robin Coningham, Britain's leading South Asian archaeologist, to head a team that would examine the site so conservators could develop it for growing numbers of visitors.

Eureka moment

"In 2010, our first year there, we were pretty much the handmaidens to the conservators," Coningham told AFP in a phone interview from his office at Britain's Durham University, which helped fund the UNESCO project.

"The Eureka moment came in 2011, when we came across a brick temple located below the existing Asokan temple, and below that a sort of void.

"It became clear then that there was much more to this excavation."

Over the next two years, archaeologists, geophysicists and hired workmen from Nepal and Britain worked on the site, digging in the presence of meditating monks and nuns.

"It was a very moving, very special experience to dig for traces while pilgrims prayed and paid homage," Acharya said.

They dug for a few weeks each year and sent the samples to laboratories for analysis.

Radiocarbon and optically stimulated luminescence techniques were used to date fragments of charcoal and grains of sand found at the site.

The archaeologists also found holes, apparently meant to secure posts, in the open void below the brick temple.

"The intact holes suggested that whoever had built the brick temple had taken care not to damage the ancient structure below, suggesting the site was always considered holy," Coningham said.

Lab tests confirmed the existence of roots within the void below the brick structure, suggesting it may have been a shrine where a tree once grew, possibly the hardwood sal tree under which many believe the Buddha was born.

The discovery, revealed in November, sparked huge excitement, but some historians have urged caution, saying the ancient tree shrine could have been built by pre-Buddhist believers.

Tree worship

"The worship of trees, often at simple altars, was a ubiquitous feature of ancient Indian religions," Julia Shaw, a lecturer in South Asian archaeology at University College London told National Geographic's online edition.

"It is also possible that what is being described represents an older tree shrine quite disconnected from the worship of the historical Buddha," Shaw added.

According to Coningham, however, if the Buddhists had appropriated the tree shrine from non-Buddhists, the site would not have survived relatively unscathed.

"Also, the inscriptions at Bodhgaya (where the Buddha achieved enlightenment) reveal a thriving culture of tree worship, which suggests continuity," he added.

Much of what is known about the Buddha's life has its origins in oral tradition. The earliest decipherable written records in the region, the inscriptions of India's Buddhist emperor Asoka, are dated about 250 BC.

Prior to this discovery, most scholars said that the Buddha -- who renounced material wealth to embrace and preach a life of non-attachment -- lived during the fourth century BC, founding a religion that now counts 500 million followers.

Buddhists in Nepal and Sri Lanka, however, have always believed that the sage was born around 623 BC, a date that now seems more accurate.

"It's one of the great puzzles, this discovery reveals the endurance of oral traditions," Coningham said. "This is one of those very rare times when tradition, belief and archaeology all come together."