1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lumbinī

LUMBINĪ, the name of the garden or grove in which Gotama, the Buddha, was born. It is first mentioned in a very ancient Pali ballad preserved in the Sutta Nipāta (verse 583). This is the Song of Nalaka (the Buddhist Simeon), and the words put in the mouth of the angels who announce the birth to him are: “The Wisdom-child, that jewel so precious, that cannot be matched, has been born at Lumbinī, in the Sākiya land, for weal and for joy in the world of men.” The commentaries on the Jātakas (i. 52, 54), and on a parallel passage in the Majjhima (J.R.A.S., 1895, p. 767), tell us that the mother of the future Buddha was on her way from Kapilavastu (Kapilavatthu), the capital of the Sākiyas, to her mother’s home at Devadaha, the capital of the adjoining tribe, the Koliyas, to be confined there. Her pains came upon her on the way, and she turned aside into this grove, which lay not far from Devadaha, and gave birth there to her son. All later Buddhist accounts, whether Pali or Sanskrit, repeat the same story.

A collection of legends about Asoka, included in the Divyāvadāna, a work composed probably in the 1st or 2nd century A.D., tells us (pp. 389, 390) how Asoka, the Buddhist emperor, visited the traditional site of this grove, under the guidance of Upagupta. This must have been about 248 B.C. Upagupta (Tissa: see Pali) himself also mentions the site in his Kathā Vatthu (p. 559). The Chinese pilgrims, Fa Hien and Hsuan Tsang, visiting India in the 5th and 7th centuries A.D., were shown the site; and the latter (ed. Watters, ii. 15-19) mentions that he saw there an Asoka pillar, with a horse on the top, which had been split, when Hsuan Tsang saw it, by lightning. This pillar was rediscovered under the following circumstances.

The existence, a few miles beyond the Nepalese frontier, of an inscribed pillar had been known for some years when, in 1895, the discovery of another inscribed pillar at Niglīva, near by, led to the belief that this other, hitherto neglected, one must also be an Asoka pillar, and very probably the one mentioned by Hsuan Tsang. At the request of the Indian government the Nepalese government had the pillar, which was half-buried, excavated for examination; and Dr Führer, then in the employ of the Archaeological Survey, arrived soon afterwards at the spot.

The stone was split into two portions, apparently by lightning, and was inscribed with Pali characters as used in the time of Asoka. Squeezes of the inscription were sent to Europe, where various scholars discussed the meaning, which is as follows: “His Majesty, Piyadassi, came here in the 21st year of his reign and paid reverence. And on the ground that the Buddha, the Sākiya sage, was born here, he (the king) had a flawless stone cut, and put up a pillar. And further, since the Exalted One was born in it, he reduced taxation in the village of Lumbinī, and established the dues at one-eighth part (of the crop).”

The inscription, having been buried for so many centuries beneath the soil, is in perfect preservation. The letters, about an inch in height, have been clearly and deeply cut in the stone. No one of them is doubtful. But two words are new, and scholars are not agreed in their interpretation of them. These are the adjective vigaḍabhī applied to the stone, and rendered in our translation “flawless”; and secondly, the last word, rendered in our translation “one-eighth part (of the crop).” Fortunately these words are of minor importance for the historical value of this priceless document. The date, the twenty-first year after the formal coronation of Asoka, would be 248 B.C. The name Piyadassi is the official epithet always used by Asoka in his inscriptions when speaking of himself. The inscription confirms in every respect the Buddhist story, and makes it certain that, at the time when it was put up, the tradition now handed down in the books was current at the spot. Any further inference that the birth really took place there is matter of probability on which opinions will differ.

The grove is situate about 3 m. north of Bhagwanpur, the chief town of a district of the same name in the extreme south of Nepal, just over the frontier dividing Nepal from the district of Basti in British territory. It is now called Rummin-dei, i.e. the shrine of the goddess of Rummin, a name no doubt derived from the ancient name Lumbinī. There is a small shrine at the spot, containing a bas-relief representing the birth of the Buddha. But the Buddha is now forgotten there, and the bas-relief is reverenced only for the figure of the mother, who has been turned into a tutelary deity of the place. Except so far as the excavation of the pillar is concerned the site has not been explored, and four small stupas there (already noticed by Hsuan Tsang) have not been opened.

Authorities.Sutta Nipāta, ed. V. Fansböll (London Pali Text Society, 1884); Kathā Vatthu, ed. A. C. Taylor (London, 1897); Jātaka, ed. V. Fansböll, vol. i. (London, 1877); Divyāvadāna, ed. Cowell and Niel (Cambridge, 1886); G. Bühler in the Proceedings of the Vienna Academy for Jan. 1897, in Epigraphia Indica, vol. v. (London, 1898) and in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1897), p. 429. See also ibid. (1895), pp. 751 ff.; (1897) pp. 615, 644; (1898) pp. 199-203; A. Barth in the Journal des savants (Paris, 1897); R. Pischel in Sitzungsberichte der königl. preussischen Akademie for the 9th July 1903; Babu P. Mukherji, Report on a Tour of Exploration of the Antiquities in the Terai (Calcutta, 1903); V. A. Smith in Indian Antiquary (Bombay, 1905).  (T. W. R. D.)