Dr. Narad Bharadwaj
There are certain historical and cultural heritages in Nepal which are worth visiting again and again. They not only provide destination for perpetual peregrination, they also provide a channel for satisfying intellectual and spiritual curiosity. Lumbini is indisputably one of these places where history, antiquity, spirituality and reality blend together to produce a rainbow of imagination, awe and admiration.
For a dispassionate observer, Lumbini is a tumult of paradoxes. The moment you step into the holy garden of Lumbini, you encounter a panorama of existence. Warthogs ploughing the earth for edible roots at the roadside marshland, cranes waiting for fish in a meditative readiness, colourful birds hovering over the bushes, frail looking monks in deep spiritual pursuit oblivious of the biting morning cold, foreign pilgrims chanting holy Buddhist Sutras and young couples walking hand in hand casting side glance at each other seductively.
For more discerning visitors, Lumbini is a treasure trove of history, spirituality and a piece of civilisational memory waiting to be recorded, researched and disseminated. The deeper you dive into the content of Lumbini’s heritage, the more substantial form does your understanding of its significance as a shrine of peace and learning start to take in your mind. The Temple of Maya Devi forms the sanctum sanctorum of Lumbini. The white square building which stands above the original timber structure of the temple of pre-Mauryan period marks the place of the birth of Gautam Buddha. Thousands of pilgrims from home and abroad visit the shrine with a religious reverence offering donation and devotion.
Ashoka pillar stands nearby, as a powerful witness to historical turns of events. After being discovered by German archaeologist Alois Anton Führer and Khadga Shumsher in 1896, it has remained there as an irrefutable source of evidence to clinch the controversy about the birthplace of Gautam Buddha. The ancient Bodhi Tree and the fabled pond where Mayadevi is said to have taken holy dip before giving birth to Siddhartha Gautam spellbind the visitors and take them back to antiquity encapsulating them in a time warp.
A vast palatial complex lies in ruin nearby reminding the visitors about the transience of physical power. The architecture and the materials of construction are complex and awe inspiring. The whole design and configuration of the structure speaks of the high point of the civilisation flourishing in the northern reaches of the Gangetic Plains in the early first millennium. After Lumbini was granted the status of a site of the World Heritage in 1997, many other important monastic and symbolic structures have been built around the garden of Lumbini. The most eye-catching and perhaps the tallest structure is the World Peace Pagoda built by the government of Japan. Visiting the Pagoda early morning and at dusk gives you an eerie feeling of magic and mystery. The dome and the pinnacle of the Pagoda half hidden in the thin veil of mist against the background of the soft glow of morning sun makes you swim in the sea of ecstasy.
There are a number of other monasteries built by various friendly countries as their contribution to develop Lumbini as the largest peace museum of the world. Each of these monasteries carries their distinctive uniqueness and the artistic precocity. The exquisite art work and the symbolism depicted in the architecture edify the onlookers, disarm them of hypocrisy and inspire simplicity and invisibility. There is a statue of Xuan Xang at the front yard of the Chinese Monastery. It is a subtle reminder to academic visitors about the wealth of information which Faxian and Xuan Xang provided about Nepal’s early history in general and the cultural renaissance which Lumbini was undergoing in the early first millennium.
In the Lumbini garden, the Myanmar Golden Temple and Thai and Korean monastery are also eye catching. They have adorned the sacred land of Lumbini with a blend of tradition and modernity, filling its environment with an aura of creativity, purpose and peace. All the architectures built in Lumbini represent a spectrum of originality, universality and omnipresence of philosophical value of Buddhism. The monasteries dedicated by Thailand, France and Germany also stand out in distinction with their cultural peculiarity and originality of architectural subtlety. Despite their starkly different look and location, they have succeeded to transfuse a common strain of harmonisation to enable the diverse creative arts to mingle together in a continuum of variation and perfection.
Adding to the list of the monuments at the heritage site, an artificial canal has been constructed within the holy garden. The placidity of the water of the canal accentuates the echo of peace that reverberates in the pulsating heartbeats of the visitors. The brick arch that span the two sides of the canal appear to symbolise the taming of people’s thought always ready to burst forth and flow in freedom. Apart from serving as a source of life for the flora and fauna that grow in the garden in lush splendour, the canal also serves as a dividing line for two powerful streams of Buddhist thought, the Theravadi and Mahayana. Most of the monasteries dedicated to Theravadi philosophy are said to have been built on the eastern side of the canal while those dedicated to Mahayana and Vajrayana sect are located on the western side. But one hardly feels any trace of disharmonious acts of intolerance being practiced towards any of the schools of thought.
With growing publicity and popularity of Lumbini as a pilgrimage as well as tourist destination, a risk of commercialisation of the heritage site is becoming a reality. The use of vehicles inside the holy garden as a means of ferrying visitors from one historic site to another has started to show sign of smog and noise pollution in the holy garden. The peace in the surrounding is frequently punctuated by the sharp sound of motor boats that sail up and down the canal carrying visitors seeking thrill and excitement. The growing cacophony of modernity is coming as a sharp contrast to the very purpose with which the birthplace of Lord Buddha is being promoted.
In addition to this, a wide thoroughfare is being constructed to link Lumbini to Bhairahawa where an international airport is also nearing completion. With it a lively and crowded market place is developing with modern hotels and shopping complexes emerging overnight here and there.
The value of commerciality and spirituality appear to be widening their turfs for an impending battle. It is high time the authorities concerned for the planned and orderly development of Lumbini took note of the contending values so that the sanctity of heritages can be protected from encroachment in the melee of commercial competition.
(Dr. Bharadwaj is a freelance writer and holds PhD degree in ethno-history. He writes on history, foreign relations, and contemporary national and international politics.)