Sacred stone solves mystery of Buddha's birthplace

TIM McGIRK

New Delhi

For centuries, pilgrims searching the Himalayan foothills for the birthplace of Lord Buddha were sent in two contrary directions: India and Nepal. But now the dispute over where the Buddha was born 2,000 years ago may have been solved.

Archaeologists have discovered a stone which marks the Buddha's birthplace under an ancient temple in south-western Nepal.

Archaeologists from Nepal, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Japan unearthed the evidence nine months ago, but the Nepali authorities delayed making the announcement until more experts had been consulted. Nepal's Prime Minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba, said: "The discovery proves that Lord Buddha was born at this sacred place."

Relics were excavated from a chamber 16ft under the Mayadevi temple in Lumbini, 200 miles south-west of Nepal's capital, Kathmandu, which archaeologists say proves that this was where Buddha was born.

Buddhism has 300 million followers around the world, mainly in Asia, who know by heart the story of how Buddha was born while his mother, Queen Mayadevi, was travelling towards her parents' home in Rangram, located in Nepal's Nawalparasi district, when she felt birth pains. Passing through Lumbini, she went into labour, bathed in a sacred pond and then walked 25 paces into a grove of trees to deliver her child. Buddhists believe that the baby sprang out and miraculously took seven steps.

Nepali officials claim that a commemorative stone was found exactly 25 steps from the pond.

Lok Darshan Bajracharya, former chairman of the Lumbini Development Trust, said: "It proves the authenticity of the descriptions given in Buddhist literature and religious texts about the exact spot where the Lord was born."

Some scholars, however, had insisted that Buddha was born across the Indian border in what is now the eastern part of Uttar Pradesh state. Buddhists believe that Buddha, or Prince Siddhartha Gautama as he was known, was destined by soothsayers to become either a great ruler or, if he were to witness great suffering, a religious leader.

His princely father wanted him to become a conqueror and tried to shield his son from life's ills. But the young prince slipped out of the palace one day and realised for the first time the reality of suffering, old age, sickness and death. Aged 29, he renounced his family and fled his palace.

As a wandering beggar, he searched far and long for the truth, and most of the places where he gave his sermons are located in what is now India.

The stone marking the Buddha's birthplace in Lumbini was found atop a layered brick platform dating back to the era of Emperor Ashoka, who visited Lumbini nearly 400 years after Queen Maya walked from the sacred pond into the forest and delivered her son.

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