Our destination is Tilaurakot where they have recently excavated an ancient fortified civilisation site that is widely believed to be the site of Kapilavastu, the capital of the Sakhalin kingdom and the city in which the Sakyamuni Buddha (the fourth and current Buddha) spent the first 29 years of his life. The son of the Sakya king, Prince Siddhartha Gautama – the future Buddha – lived a life of great privilege. His parents tried to shield him from sickness, suffering and old age. Whilst travelling outside the palace the prince encountered an old man, a sick man, a decaying corpse and an ascetic. Prince Siddhartha decided to renounce his family and kingdom and to embark on a journey in pursuit of spiritual enlightenment.
The site was first (re)discovered in 1899 but in 1999 UNESCO sponsored a new archeological study of the site. Carbon dating confirmed the site’s origins dated back to the first half of the first millennium BC. Further work was sponsored in 2014, and the international team have been able to uncover a plan of the whole ancient city, plotting its road system as well as the buildings, shrines and water tanks that line its streets. Outside the city wall they have also revealed a Mauryan period monastery (3rd century BC) and evidence for a major iron-working area to the south of the city.
Recent work has shown occupation of the site back to the 8th century BC. The earliest fortifications of the city were constructed in timber, and over time the timber palisades were replaced by clay and then brick ramparts and walls. The city was laid out in a grid with gates to the north, east, south and west. Protected by the outer fortifications, the earliest houses were constructed from timber and mud with thatched roofs; later becoming more solid structures. There was a central walled complex in the heart of the city.
We are very lucky to have Rajah Kumar, a local archeologist, to show us around the site. Rajah is so enthusiastic and has been part of many of the international archeological projects here. He showed us photos of when things were uncovered and some of the finds ‘in situ’ before they were moved to the museum. We see the various gates, some of the housing areas, the central structural complex and central pond. Some of the areas are being partially restored to protect the ruins and boardwalks are being constructed around the site. The government is also buying up surrounding land.
We also walk about 10 minutes outside the complex to see the Twin Stupas that are believed to be those of Buddha’s mother and father. This is an interesting walk because we are greeted by hordes of local children who want to walk with us and hold our hands, practising their English. But gradually they start to ask for money. Rajah asks us not to give them anything because he is trying to convince the parents that it would be better for the children to go to school for their futures rather than the short term gain of begging from tourists.
We also visit the museum where many of the artefacts are being displayed. There is a very small initial museum and a newer, much larger, modern museum. Rajah (and his brother) are able to tell us the history of every single item in the museum. They are very keen to see the area be developed further to attract tourists to this amazing site.
By this stage it is extremely hot and we are all dripping with sweat so we head back to the hotel for lunch and a siesta before heading off for our late afternoon activities – visiting Buddha’s birthplace.
This is a much quicker place to get to: Buddha’s birthplace is at the opposite end of the Lumbini World Heritage site from the Peace Pagoda that we visited yesterday. We could see it down a long view to the eternal flame.
When the Sakyamuni Buddha was approaching the end of his life, he told his followers that there were four great places of pilgrimage associated with his life and spiritual journey: Lumbini, where he was born; Bodh Gaya, where he achieved enlightenment; Sarnath, where he preached his first sermon; and Kushinagar, where he would achieve his “great passing away” or Mahaparinirvana. The earliest shrine at Lumbini was constructed almost immediately after Buddha’s death. The first recorded pilgrimage was that of Asoka, the Mauryan Emperor, in 249 BC.
Today the shrine of Buddha’s birthplace is enclosed in a building with ruins inside. You walk around a ‘balcony’ and end up seeing a carving of Buddha’s mother giving birth holding a branch and a rock that has markings on it (and is dated back to the right time) – no photos allowed. Outside is Asoka’s column, a central pond, and a Bodhi tree that is well worshipped. We watch monks and pilgrims alike giving their devotions.
We visit the eternal flame and then get tuk-tuks to take us to the monastery/temple area: as part of the World Heritage activity they are aiming to get replicas of temples from all countries all together in one place. Initially I thought they were providing accommodation for pilgrims from their countries but they are functioning temples for worship recognising the importance of Buddha throughout the world. The temples are many and varied – we have a frenetic visit to see several of them before they close. I am given a lovely purple lotus flower by a tuk-tuk driver – initially I turn it down but it turns out he was happy with a smile in return.
For this and other similar tours see:
Peregrine Adventures (Comfort tours)
Geckos Adventures (for 18 to 30s)
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