Saturday, April 3, 2021

Lumbini- Sree Buddha’s Birthplace - Yatra Magazine (Mathrubhumi) April 2021 – English Version

 Lumbini- Sree Buddha’s Birthplace

Text and Photographs: Dr. Sukumar Canada

Yatra Magazine (Mathrubhumi) April 2021 – English Version

I was traveling to Lumbini, returning from Kathmandu which had recently suffered severe damages due to a major earthquake. Manesh, a friendly Nepali guide and driver reminded me “sir, you must come again. There are more places to see in Kathmandu. You have my number. May your travel to Lumbini and to India after that, be safe. Happy journey sir.”. The bus stand was not busy, and my tourist bus was ready for the 10-hour journey. I thought he had left the bus stand, but Manesh came running to the bus again and handed me a warm packet of peanuts. He still contacts me over Facebook, asking me when I will be coming back. Since then he had resigned from his job at the agency and started running a taxi. He now owns his own taxi car!.  

The travel through the hilly terrain from Kathmandu to Lumbini was exciting but sad. On the way, I could see several remnants of collapsed temples, houses, compound walls, and pagodas. Perhaps they never had big buildings there or all of them had vanished in the earthquake. People seem to have been accustomed to their losses and they went about minding their daily business, tending their animals, cutting, and tying up bundles of grass for their feed. After an hour, the bus stopped at an eatery by the river. It was about 10 AM and my co-passenger who knew a bit of English asked me “aren’t you having your lunch?”. Apparently, their lunchtime is around 10 AM and then they will eat only dinner at about 6.00 PM. As a vegetarian, I got a mixed rice kichadi with dal and vegetables and others were feasting on chicken and mutton. As we started again, on the bus, they put a movie of Akshay Kumar, a Bollywood hit, I had never heard of. My eyes started to doze off.

Shuddhodana, the emperor of Kapilavastu was amidst the war they were engaged in against a neighboring country, but his mind was in the palace where queen Mayadevi was pregnant with their firstborn. He had not spent even one night away from the queen ever since she came into his life. Now she is almost ready to deliver, and he wanted to be with her all the time. But the royal duty calls! He would have taken her to her father’s palace himself, as it is customary for a woman to go to receive her mother’s care for the first delivery.  However, the king was able to arrange for an experienced midwife and an older army commander to accompany the queen’s royal palanquin carried by four men. A small retinue of servant maids led by the midwife followed the litter. The king waited for the war to be over with, but she could not wait any longer. The queen would give birth in a day or so, it seemed. Every time when the four men walked over a minor water stream or tripped over a pebble, the queen’s tender white tummy trembled. “I am here momma, and I am ready to see you soon”, the baby told her. Queen Mayadevi was tired. She told her maids, “let us stop, I can’t take it any longer.”

Finishing the last climb up the slope, turning the corner of a green grass meadow, they found a village road that led to a large banyan tree by a pond full of pristine water and a few lotus flowers. Banyan tree had several roots hanging from the branches as if providing additional supports to the wide canopy that surrounded the tree trunk.  The queen got down from the litter with the midwife’s help and she supported herself on one of those roots.  She could not stand or sit properly. The maids surrounded her and formed a curtain while the men waited at a distance, keeping their vigil. As if without a tinge of pain, Mayadevi gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. Or was it that the knowledge of the birth of such a noble soul was so captivating that the body forgot to transmit any pain to her psyche? She called him Siddhartha, meaning the noble one who can fulfill all that a mother would want from her son. As per their custom, the midwife untied her blouse and exposed her brimming breasts to the full moon as if to bathe them in the moonlight and fed the baby for the first time. The full moon shone the entire sky bright as a premonition to the future of this charming, effulgent baby.

The bus had reached Lumbini a couple of minutes ago. I woke up listening to the commotion. The conductor came and told me “your taxi is waiting.” The hotel I booked had arranged for it. The next morning, I went to the Lumbini village, where Sree Buddha’s birth took place. The birth location has a special metal relief and a pillar, built by the emperor Ashoka to commemorate the identity of the holy place. Ashoka, after taking to Buddhism, visited Lumbini and decreed a reduction of taxes to one-eighth of the prevailing rates, the write-up says. There we see a museum depicting the legend leading to Budha’s birth. Besides the pristine lake, inside the Mayadevi temple made of white bricks, one can see the stone used by queen Mayadevi. Photography is not permitted there.  We still can see a large banyan tree that is from the lineage of the tree that had protected the queen and witnessed the divine birth.

There are several monasteries and Buddha’s Memorials in the Lumbini village state of Nepal. This village has been established by all the countries collectively to celebrate their connection to Buddha’s teachings. Lumbini became famous after 1896 when the Ashoka Pillar was unearthed here in the village. The Lumbini village is a United Nations heritage site. It is three miles long and one-mile-wide an enclave of monasteries and meditation centers. There are no commercial buildings here and no motor vehicles are allowed inside the village. One can move around in the village on a horse carriage or on a slow boat through a canal that separates the village into East and West monasteries.  One can see ornate gateways to several mediation centers on both sides of the canal. On the Eastside, we see the traditional Theravada Buddhist monasteries. Indian, Sri Lankan monasteries are on the Eastside. On the Westside, there are Vajrayana, and Hinayana Buddhist centers. Japan, Korea, Germany, Canada, and European countries have monasteries, ashrams, and meditation training centers here.

In front of each ashram, there are green grass lawns and artificial lakes with lotus, water lilies, and other flowers. Each country seemed to have been showing their affluence in the architecture of their buildings as well as in the landscaping. I saw a group of traditional Sri Lankan pilgrims taking part in several rituals at their temple. At the end of the long canal, there is a lamp that is never allowed to be extinguished.  I took a one-horse cart to go around the village and that was a relaxing experience. A few kids from local neighboring villages gathered around and asked me to take their photos. Also, I met a few teenage monks in training. Their English was remarkably good. I noticed with interest that these boys, who were laughing and talking, went serious as I clicked a few photos. They did allow me to take photos but didn’t smile for them.

As Hindus also consider Buddha as one of Lord Vishnu’s Avatars, Lumbini is dear to them as well.  Nowadays, several people travel to Lumbini to learn Vipassana meditation. They get accommodation at the monasteries and their courses are usually residential, charged at nominal rates. Those who travel to Lumbini as tourists can stay in Bairahava, a small city near Lumbini. To go to India from Lumbini, one has to go to Bharahava first, and then to the Sonouli border.

When my taxi reached the Sonaouli border, I was ready with my passport and the OCI card. The officer asked where I was coming from. I said, ‘from Kathmandu after visiting the Pasupathinath Temple’. Then they asked where I was going. I said, ‘to visit Kashi Vishwanatha Temple. “Har Hara Mahadev”, they said and let me go without even checking my passport. From the border city, I took an ordinary bus to Gorakhpur. That was an interesting journey, to say the least. From Gorakhpur, I went to Varanasi.

For the Buddhists, there are four holy places of importance, in connection with the Lord Buddha’s life. Lumbini is the birthplace of Buddha and Bodh Gaya where He attained the Buddhahood. Saranath is the place where Buddha gave his teachings and established the Budha Dharma. The fourth is Kushi Nagar where Buddha attained Samadhi. I had the opportunity to visit three except the Kushi Nagar. Yes, Kushi Nagar, I am coming there one of these days!

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