Is Buddhism a religion or a way of life?
This question has hounded me for long. And, finally, I decided to find the answer.
Whether you are religious or not, you cannot remain unfazed by the beauty of the Buddhist temples, monasteries, stupas and Pagodas found almost everywhere in the world – from India to Indonesia, Thailand to South Korea, Tibet to Japan. There’s no dearth of Buddhist shrines, especially in Asia. But none of these places holds the symbolic and historical value of Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha located in the foothills of southern Nepal.
What Mecca is to Muslims or Jerusalem to Christians, Lumbini is to 488 million Buddhists worldwide. A World Heritage Site since 1997, it attracts travellers and worshippers from around the globe for various reasons – one of the four major pilgrimage sites for Buddhists, a place to find inner peace, world-renowned UNESCO
In my case, my visit was primarily driven by the search of spirituality and to attend the first ever Buddhism Travel Mart (BITM). No cocktail of words can exactly comprehend the inner harmony I experienced at the birthplace of spirituality. It was quite a journey to experience the calm environs of Lumbini after the frenzied hullaballoo of Kathmandu and the fun-filled jungle adventure of the Chitwan National Park. While the distance from Chitwan National Park to Lumbini is only four hours, we took a lot of time because en-route we made many mini stops.
Amid the scenic locale of Devchuli and Barchuli hills of Nawalparasi district in central Nepal lies Sashwat temple that was originally established as a platform for Hinduism but later expanded to include more faiths. As I walked through the old temple, I couldn’t stop myself from being in awe of artists who created such intricate carvings and details on its pillars. And, it’s not just the pillars that are attention worthy.
Spread over 12 acres of land, this Dham houses Ekambareshwor, a Shiva temple, surrounded by a pond which has holy water from famous shrines such as Badrinath, Kedarnath, Haridwar, Muktinath and Pashupatinath.
Shashwat Dham is primarily a place for worshippers of Hinduism, but soon it will have a Buddhist
Being a nature lover, I loved visiting the 12-acres lush green grounds and the icing on the cake is no entrance fee to enter the grounds. If someone would ask me what is the best time to visit the place, I would say at night, when temple is lit up.
Apart from the temple, the Dham has the Vaidik Karmakanda Gurukul, Sri Sri Centre for Meditation and Yogic Sciences, a heritage store, an organic and pure vegetarian restaurant, manuscript resource centre, museum, spiritual souvenir store and organic farm.
This is a stupa—another word for large, spherical structure. The Ramagrama stupa is a Buddhist pilgrimage site which holds relics significant to the Buddhist Faith. In fact, it’s the only stupa still containing relics from Gautama Buddha, also known as the Lord Buddha. What’s interesting about it is that it is located underground, only marked by a sign. You don’t see much, but the history and trivia behind it is what makes the place fascinating.
Birthplace of Buddha
The birthplace of Buddha, also known as the gardens of Lumbini, was our third stop during the event. The Lord Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama was born a prince and lived a privileged life before he set off to live a simple and minimalistic life, and finally achieving enlightenment. In present times, it is a Buddhist pilgrimage area and is said to be one of the holiest places in the world.
The main temple in Lumbini is the Maya Devi temple. Other important structures in the area include the Shakya Tank, the Ashoka Pillar, and the monasteries and memorials where the remains of important Buddhist figures are laid to rest. There is also the Holy Pond, where birth rituals were performed upon the infant Lord Buddha, and it is where he took his very first bath as well.
In order to preserve all of the archeological items in the area, there are boundaries in place that allow visitors to observe, but not come too close.
Important points to note:
- Vehicles aren’t allowed inside Lumbini in order to preserve its sanctity and silence, so you will have to get around on foot.
- Keep at least three hours for just this place
Maya Devi Temple
The sacred heart of Lumbini, Maya Devi Temple marks the spot where Queen Maya Devi gave birth to Siddhartha Gautama in around 563BC. After walking inside the brick compound, I strolled in the adjoining holy garden decked with several important features like the pillar of Ashoka, ancient ruins of stupas, and maroon- and saffron-robed monks congregating under a sprawling Bodhi (pipal) tree decorated with colourful prayer flags.
Important points to note:
- Visitors are not allowed to wear shoes inside the temple premise.
- 200 Rupees extra to be paid in addition to the 500 Rupees Lumbini entrance fee.
- Pictures are not allowed to be taken inside the temple.
As the day was coming to an end and I started walking from the Maya Devi Temple to the Lumbini Museum, I crossed numerous temples and stupas constructed by numerous nations from around the world in Buddha’s honour. My heart was full and eyes were awestruck marvelling at Thailand’s ornate white marble Royal Thai Buddhist Monastery, Myanmar’s eye-catching Golden Temple, Vietnam’s pagoda-style Phat Quoc Tu Temple with dragons on the roof, and Germany’s Lotus Stupa with its colourful frescos of Buddha’s teachings.
By the time I reached the museum, I felt I’d taken a spiritual walk around the globe. One single day had expanded my horizon, broadened my knowledge and made me more compassionate and tolerant towards others.
This amazing experience was all made possible thanks to BITM 2019, which gave us a chance to see all of the terrific Buddhist monasteries and pilgrimage locations that the country has. In addition to showing the religious and spiritual side of Nepal, the event was also aimed at promoting the tourism goals and plans of Nepal for the year 2020.
Hope this experience on visiting Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha, inspires you to visit it soon. Also, I would urge you to check out the following articles:
- The Everest Base Camp Trek
- How to deal with Acute Mountain Sickness
- Nepal’s Women of Steel
- Into the Wild: Chitwan National Park, Nepal
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Travel See Write was invited by the Nepal Tourism Board to attend #BITM conference in 2019 and #HTMNepal in 2017. Karla Ramos from Karla Around the World represented TSW in 2019 and Archana in 2017. Everything expressed above is based on their personal experiences in the country. Images used are shot by them. Please do not copy anything without written permission.