Maya Devi Temple

The most important temple in Lumbini Nepal is the beautiful Maya Devi Temple dedicated to and named for the mother of the Lord Gautama Buddha. This is one of the four most sacred places in all of Buddhism, as it is the site of his birth. The other sites are: Bodhgaya where he attained enlightenment under the sacred bodhi tree; Sarnath (just north of Varanasi) where he gave his first sermon and teachings; and Kushinigar where his physical body died.

All of these sacred Buddhist sites are in India, with the exception of the temple in Lumbini Nepal that is located quite close to the Indian border. Generally, only local people visit this site independently. Even pilgrims who come to worship from other countries will often book packages that arrange for transportation at least from Kathmandu, which is about 350 miles to the northeast. There is a small airport with a relatively few number of flights only from Kathmandu. Bus and taxi transportation is unpredictable. Few regular tourists visit this area, but if you do it would pay to search carefully for a package that takes care of transport. The Lumbini Temple marks the exact spot of the Buddha's birth. It sits over a slab of stone on which his mother grasped a branch of a tree during the birth. Coincidentally, the other three sacred sites mark an occurrence in Buddha's life that also happened under a tree. The most famous of these in the western world is the bodhi tree at Bodhgaya, under which it is said he attained enlightenment.

Excavations at the Maya Devi Temple show that it also sits above the foundations of many other temples and stupas (sacred mound like structures said to contain relics of the Buddha). At least one of these is said to be a stupa erected by the great Emperor Ashoka who wandered about the hills in this region three centuries after Buddha's birth. Another of the attractions of this Lumbini temple is the Pillar of Ashoka, which is the primary artifact discovered by the German archeologist Alois Furher in 1895. Before that time, the Lumbini Temple had remained lost to civilization for almost one thousand years.

Inside the Maya Devi Temple are other ancient ruins, including sandstone sculptures carved with scenes from the Buddha's birth. Next to this temple is a sacred pool where Maya Devi is said to have bathed before the birth. The newborn Buddha also reputedly had his purification bath in this pool. The pool is fed by the Ol River, and it was on the banks of the river that Furher found what he called a "flawless stone" placed there by Ashoka to mark the exact spot of the birth. The stone is now under the current temple, and a sacred bodhi tree grows next to the pool.

Lumbini means "the lovely" in the Sanskrit language, and this temple in Lumbini Nepal is truly lovely in a very simple way, as is the custom in most Buddhist architecture. Reflected in the serene sacred pool is the reflection of the simple building made of red sandstone with portions painted red. As Buddhism is such a part of the fabric of everyday life in this region, visitors are seen everywhere sitting and standing in quiet meditation while children alternately run about in play and mimic the attitude of their elders. Prayer flags flap in the breeze, as offerings are made at the pillar.

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