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Buddhist Spectrum

Nepal - birthplace of the Thathagatha

When Buddhists go to temples they utter three formulas of adoration. One of these deals with the Buddha himself, with his personal qualities as teacher, sage, guide, philosopher and friend of mankind. Worship consists not in prayer but in the hope that by striving to practise those qualities in our own lives. For the devoted and dedicated pilgrims the prime sacred site is the birthplace of the supremely enlightened Buddha. His father was King Suddhodana who was the ruler of the Sakyans and his Mother was Queen Mahamaya who belonged to the Koliya dynasty. Their main city was Devadaha. Her father was King Anjana.

Lumbini

It was the custom of the Sakyas and the Koliyas for a wife to go to her parents home for the birth of her first child. Following the accepted tradition King Suddhodana arranged for Queen Mahamaya to travel to her parents' home in Devadaha, when the birth of the child was due. Queen Mahamaya was conducted in a splendid procession to Devadaha.

Her attendants and the retinue were there for her protection. On her way to Devadaha she sensed her oncoming labour pains. Her retinue took her along to the Lumbini park now Nepal for the impending child birth.

The pleasure park of Lumbini is reputed for its Sala groves. Queen Mahamaya gave birth to the child under a Sala tree cared for by the ladies in her retinue. Tradition has it that the infant prince took seven steps towards the North immediately after he was born. He uttered a joyous cry and said; 'I am the greatest in the world, I am the highest in the world, I am the noblest in the world, this is my last birth, from here there is no rebirth for me.

His exclamation may have been a forecast of the transformation he would bring about later as mankind's most Supreme communicator. The birth of the infant prince took place in Lumbini Nepal on the full moon day of Vesak.

Lumbini in Nepal is the first place associated with the life of the great master Sakyamuni Gautama his Janmaboomi where he was gifted to the universe. Buddha himself has mentioned in Maha parinibbanasutta, that Lumbini Nepal is one of the four sacred sites of Buddhist worship not to be missed by any devotee.

Located close by Lumbini Nepal had been a beautiful pleasure park maintained by the Sakyas as well as Koliyas. After Buddha's time Lumbini in Nepal was called Rummindel.

A detailed account in Buddhist literature describes Lumbini as a Pradimoksha - vana filled with fully grown Sal trees and vivid flower trees with Bees and birds not second to Indias paradise in heaven. The teaching of the Buddha is paccattam Veditabbo - it must be realised by each man himself. It is also Opanaiko - it has a definite goal.

The Buddha which he set for himself and for everyman is the discovery of truth. He defined truth as that which is as it is. When we understand truth then we see things as they really are, then we possess knowledge of what is - not as what we like it to be, not as other people say things are but really at it is.

This reality has to be appreciated by each man for himself. Today the pleasure park at Lumbini is in Nepal about 20 km from India Nepal border. Visas are issued at the order to enter Nepal. There is constantly a considerable crowding of vehicles at the border as the in and out traffic has to be checked at the border. Cycle rickshaws are available from the main road to the entrance of Lumbini park.

It is said that Sutta Nipata the Pali Tripitaka and attakatha refer to Lumbini as a fascinating park of natural beauty. Well known Chinese pilgrims Huian Isang and Fa Hsien described; 'Lumbini (In Nepal) where the Lord was born is a place of heaven on earth and one could see the snowy mountains amidst a splendid garden embedded with stupas and monasteries.

Thanks to emperor Asoka he traced the sacred spot and marked it with a monument to commemorate the sacred site. The Asoka pillar marks the spot where the infant prince Siddhartha was born. In this pillar edict set up in 249 BC Emperor Asoka proclaimed that since the Buddha was born here the village of Lumbini was exempted from tax payment.

Archaeologists have revealed the original spot where the infant prince was born. The masonry from the ancient 3rd century BC layers can be seen at the new temple that has been built around it.

The pleasure of the princes birth was marred by the passing away of Queen Mahamaya just 7 days after the birth of her son. Since then the prince was nursed by his step mother Prajapati Gotami. The sacred sites at Lumbini Nepal stand today to tell us the most significant unforgettable incidents of the Buddhist era in the presence of our own eyes.

The sacred temple premises bear testimony to the Buddhas birth serenity and calmness that followed. The legend says that deities Brahma and Vishnu were there to receive the new born. To the South of the Mayadevi temple there is the famous bathing pond where queen Maya is said to have taken a bath before delivery and Sakyamuni is said to have been given a divine shower by the deities.

Ladies venerate the statue of Mayadevi to fulfill their wishes of having children. Devotees never fail to touch it for blessings so much so that it has become smaller in certain places. There are small stupas and the Asoka Sthamba in the vicinity.

A large religious establishment grew in and around Lumbini in Nepal, with many viharas busy with monks and with chaityas and stupas built by the rich and powerful.

For several centuries the place was in ruins, however the exact location of Siddharthas birthplace was found in December 1886 by a wandering German Archaeologist de Alois A Fuhrer who came across the stone pillar Buddhas birthplace.

Located in the plains of South Western Nepal at the foot hills of the Churia range Lumbini and its surrounding area are endowed with a rich natural setting of domesticable fauna and favourable agri environs. The region is an exquisite treasure trove of ancient artifacts and antiquities dating back to pre Christian era.

The site is described as a beautiful garden in the Buddhas time and still retains its legendary charm and beauty befitting the Buddhas Janmaboomy


How Europeans saw Sri Pada

Robert Knox says that according to Sinhalese the tallest mountain is situated south of Kandy City. People call it Himapola. The Portuguese and Europeans call it Adam's Peak or the mountain of Adam. This appears as a heap of sugar but flat on top with a stone. On this stone there appears an impression similar to a foot print of a man. But this footprint is bigger than that of a human, about two feet in length. The Sinhalese with their kith and kin climb this rock and worship the foot print. This pilgrimage season starts before the Sinhalese new year in the month of March. Several rivers originate from this mountain peak and flows towards, the west and north. The main river among the rivers is Mahaweli which flows towards the North. The Sinhalese believe that the Buddha disappeared from the earth and placed His footprint on the summit of this peak.

Crowds at Sri Pada. Picture by Lakshan Maduranga

They bring flowers, oil, camphor, incense and other offerings to worship this footprint. A king had permitted the Moors to climb this peak and collect these offerings. There are a large number of Moors on either side of the climb to collect the offerings. Dr Davy who lived in Kandy in the early eighteenth century says that the first European to climb this peak was Lt Malcot who surveyed this peak and recorded that the peak is 74 ft. long and 24 ft. broad. It is enclosed with a stone built wall of 5 ft. in height.

The peak is about 8 ft. high. The Sinhalese believe that the Buddha placed his foot print here on His first visit to Lanka. There is a crevice here about 5 ft. 3 4/3 inches by 5 ft. and 5-7 inches.

This crevice is plastered with brass plates and gem stones of low value. This is enclosed with a structure built with four stone pillars and the hood covered with a celluloid material. There are iron chains tied to the four pillars. The Buddhist believe that the Buddha on his visit to Kelaniya rested on this peak before His visit to Deegavapi. The orientalists believe that Alexander the Great visited this place accompanied by St Belicus. They cut the steps to facilitate the climb and also planted the iron bars and chains.

A Persian poet also describes the visit of Alexander the Great. Iban Batuta who was caught to rough wind in the sea landed in Puttalam in 1347 AD and came through Gampola to climb the peak, which the Sinhalese say Sri Pada Samanala or Samanthakuta. Iban Batuta specially mentions about a kind a leaches and apes who frequented the area. Iban Batuta was accompanied by four yogis, ten Brahmins and fifteen of king's attendants with food items and other necessary paraphernalia. The four yogis made an annual visit to Lanka to go on pilgrimage to Sri Pada.

One Vivian Majendi climbed the summit on January 1, 1896 and made his observations. I started the climb in January and saw thousands of pilgrims, among them were disabled been carried, young and old, among them were paralyzed, feeble and some of them died on the way. There were Sinhalese, Tamils, Moors, Indians, Chinese, Japanese, Arabs, Burmes, Africans and pilgrims from Siam. There were leaders of three main religions and kings, princes and princesses. Some are carried to the summit. I too came through a difficult terrain as others came via Maskeliya and Oosamale.

The pilgrims take this arduous route because they believe that they acquire more merits by going through hazards. All these pilgrims, specially the Buddhists tie a thread in a tree at Oosamale. This is because of the belief that the Buddha mend His robe at this place. When the climb is difficult the pilgrims cling onto the iron chain and they yell something in Sinhala.

Marcopolo who visited here in the thirteenth century too has made notes on this yelling by the Sinhalese. The bell erected here is rung by the pilgrims according to the number of visits by them. The spectacular scene to be observed from the summit is the morning sun rise.

The rays of the sun shines through the misty clouds for a distance about eighty miles and set on the sea. This is a very rare phenomenon. Various opinions exists on this natural occurrence but the most logical and scientific analysis is by Hon Ralph Abacrombi in his article to the 'Philosophy' magazine of January 1887.

The dew drops are pushed to the height of over seven hundred feet by the South West monsoons from the Mahaweli valley making this spectacular and mesmerizing scene. It is no mircle but a natural happening. We chose the 31st of December for this trip so that we could be on the summit on the 1st January. We stayed overnight at Maskeliya Rest House and started the journey at 10 pm and arrived the peak at 5.10 am. We soon descended as it was so cold and my legs were shivering. I believe in the saying that the descend is arduous than the ascend.

 

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