KATHMANDU: New excavations within the Maya Devi Temple of Buddha’s birthplace in Lumbini, Nepal, have revealed evidence of a series of shrines extending the history of the site to a much earlier date than previously known, according to UNESCO.
“For the first time in South Asia, excavations have revealed a pre-Ashokan temple of brick, which itself was built over an earlier one of timber,” said Professor Robin Coningham of Durham University in UK, who co-directed a team of Nepali and international experts together with Kosh Prasad Acharya, at a press conference here in the Capital on Sunday.
The Maya Devi Temple houses the Marker Stone and the Nativity Sculpture, installed in ancient times to denote that Lord Buddha was born in the place.
Until now, the earliest Buddhist temples had been attributed to Indian Emperor Ashoka, who in the 3rd century BC spread Buddhism across the region, as evidenced by his pillar and brick built temple in Lumbini.
The birthplace of Buddha is UNESCO World Heritage property since 1997.
Coningham also said that even older remains of a village dating back to as early as 1300 BC were found a few hundred metres south of Lord Buddha’s birthplace, pushing the date of the settlement of the region back by a thousand years.
The team worked with the framework of a UNESCO project funded by the Government of Japan through the Japanese Funds in Trust for the Preservation of the World Cultural Heritage to UNESCO, UNESCO said in a statement.
The first phase of the project was completed this month in Lumbini which lies in Rupandehi district of Nepal.
What stakeholders say?
“These two discoveries (1300 BC village and pre-Ashokan shrines) are great steps which help us to better understand the origins of Lord Buddha’s life and the spiritual importance of Lumbini,” said Acharya Karma Sango Sherpa, the vice-chair the Lumbini Development Trust that looks after the preservation and management of the site.
“We have now very robust proof that Lumbini’s history extends far before the visit of Emperor Ashoka. The Government of Nepal will step-up its efforts to preserve the outstanding universal value of the site,” said Sushil Ghimire, Secretary of the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation.
“I am pleased that the project that the UNESCO Office in Kathmandu has implemented in close cooperation with the Lumbini Development Trust and the Department of Archaeology has resulted in such important discoveries,” the UNESCO statement quoted Axel Plathe, Head of the UNESCO Office in Kathmandu and UNESCO Representative to Nepal, as saying.
“Japan is honoured to have been able to contribute to the success of this flagship project,” said Ambassador of Japan to Nepal Kunio Takahashi.
According to UNESCO, the project has produced a number of other significant results. "It has enhanced the conservation of the three most emblematic monuments of Lord Buddha’s birthplace, namely the Marker Stone, the Nativity Sculpture and the Ashoka Pillar," the statement said, "It has established an operational plan for the implementation of the Kenzo Tange Master Plan for the Sacred Garden and confirmed the continuous relevance of the Pla It has established a
comprehensive management framework for the property. And it has increased the capacity of national experts and institutions to manage the site."
The project has demonstrated that the preservation and management of the World Heritage property of Lumbini cannot be isolated from the management of the rich cultural landscape of the greater Lumbini area, UNESCO said.
"Therefore a second phase of the project extending the scope of justcompleted project, is expected to begin shortly."