Earliest Buddhist shrine in South Asia discovered in Lumbini, Buddha’s birthplace in Nepal
Lumbini is internationally recognised as the birthplace of Lord Buddha and was inscribed as a World Heritage property in 1997 in recognition of its outstanding universal value.
Buddhist tradition records that Queen Mayadevi gave birth to the Buddha while holding on to the branch of a tree in the Lumbini Garden, midway between the kingdoms of her husband and parents, and Chinese pilgrims in the 5th and 7th centuries recorded its location. The Mayadevi Temple at Lumbini is visited by Buddhists from all over the world. During the 1990s, the Government of Nepal began its exploration and excavated foundations of Mauryan Emperor Asoka’s third-century brick shrine. The present structure was built in 2002, risking the archaeological remains within; the site was poorly maintained, the presentation inadequate and very little was known of the area’s archaeological vestiges.
In 2010, UNESCO initiated work at the Mayadevi Temple, funded by the Japanese Government and in partnership with the Government of Nepal, which included archaeological excavations, conservation of monuments, development of management plans and capacity building of experts and students.
Working with archaeologists from Durham University in the UK, Nepal’s Department of Archaeology and the Lumbini Development Trust, UNESCO undertook pioneering excavations within the Mayadevi Temple, which identified that the earliest structures date to the life period of Lord Buddha - the 6th century BCE. Archaeologists uncovered remains of a previously unknown timber structure under a series of brick temples below the third-century brick temple, containing an open space in the centre. Additionally, even older remains of a village dating back to 1300 BCE were found a few hundred metres south, pushing the date of settlement in the region back a thousand years.
This is the first archaeological material linked to the life period of the Buddha. The magazine of the Archaeological Institute of America featured the discovery among the world’s top 10 discoveries of 2014. Lumbini today is visited by over one and half million people per year, a figure that has more than doubled since 2011.
These archaeological investigations have provided new, fascinating insights into the ancient life of Lumbini and illustrated the need to protect and preserve the heritage of this internationally significant site. These are far more than technical and cultural achievements. We can harness the power of this heritage to foster sustainable development, decent jobs and livelihoods for the local communities.