British Archeologists confirm Lumbini as Buddha’s birthplace
Posted by worldamity on April 22, 2010
British Archeologists say, indeed, Buddha was born in Nepal.
Finally, British archeologists have determind that Lord Buddha was, indeed, born in Tilaurakot of Lumbini in Nepal. In a 13-foot-deep trench beneath a swatch of gentle woodland, Bradford’s Robin Coningham and Armin Schmidt over the past three years have unearthed artifacts demonstrating that the site was inhabited during the Buddha’s lifetime and perhaps even earlier. The key, Coningham said, was pieces of ceramic painted greyware, used in South Asia between the 9th and 6th centuries B.C. “The site is clearly right at the center of the Buddhist holy land,” Coningham said in an interview. “It’s the only fortified site, it’s the only urban site around and there are no rivals in the region.” But wait, for although Nepal has charged that the earlier Indian work was politically motivated, India will likely say the same now, writes Guy Gugliotta of the Washington Post. Full story follows: (Story Courtesy of Washington Post, April 23/01)
By Guy Gugliotta
He was born in a tiny town called Lumbini, in what is now southern Nepal. He could both walk and speak at birth. He told his mother that he had come to relieve the world of all suffering.
He was called Siddhartha — “he who has attained his goals” — and lived in the city of Kapilavastu until he was 29, when he left home to seek his destiny as the Buddha — “the Enlightened One” — founder of one of the world’s great religions.
For decades Nepal and India have argued over the location of ancient Kapilavastu, with each nation claiming the city for its own. Now, two archaeologists from England’s University of Bradford have presented new evidence that Kapilavastu is modern Tilaurakot, a Nepalese town about 130 miles west of Kathmandu.
In a 13-foot-deep trench beneath a swatch of gentle woodland, Bradford’s Robin Coningham and Armin Schmidt over the past three years have unearthed artifacts demonstrating that the site was inhabited during the Buddha’s lifetime and perhaps even earlier.
The key, Coningham said, was pieces of ceramic painted greyware, used in South Asia between the 9th and 6th centuries B.C. The Buddha is generally recognized to have lived between the 7th and 5th centuries B.C.
“The site is clearly right at the center of the Buddhist holy land,” Coningham said in an interview. “It’s the only fortified site, it’s the only urban site around and there are no rivals in the region.”
In fact, however, there has been a rival for 30 years — the Indian town of Pipprahawa, about 600 yards south of the Nepal border and four miles from Tilaurakot. There, in 1972, archaeologists digging beneath a Buddhist monument, known as a stupa, found a casket containing human remains and coins bearing the legend: “Here is the vihara [monastery] of the monk of Kapilavastu.”
At that time, Tilaurakot’s reputation was in eclipse, because Indian archaeologists had failed to find artifacts contemporary with the Buddha there, and therefore deemed the site too modern to be Kapilavastu.
The Bradford discoveries, resulting from deeper and more extensive digging, will bring Tilaurakot firmly back into the competition. But they are not likely to settle an argument in which nationalism and the quest for tourist dollars ultimately play as large a role as science.
For although Nepal has charged that the earlier Indian work was politically motivated, India will likely say the same now, because the Bradford excavation was financed through the Nepalese government by the United Nations’ World Heritage preservation program.
Coningham said that his team, led by Nepal’s chief archaeologist, Kosh Acharya, will recommend that Tilaurakot be put on the World Heritage list, but would have done so anyway, because the site “represents the best preserved provincial urban hinterland in South Asia.”
Pipprahawa, by contrast, is “clearly a monastic site,” he added, and suggested that the inscribed coins could have been sent from another monastery, either as a gift or as relics from a “mother monastery” to one of several satellites.
Still, although the weight of evidence may have shifted in Tilaurakot’s direction, it has not tipped the balance. “There are all sorts of problems like this, whenever you start dealing with prehistoric sites,” said Nancy Wilkie, a Carleton College archaeologist and president of the Archaeological Institute of America. “Even finding greyware, and even with a radiocarbon date — all it will prove is that there is another site that is a potential candidate.”
The search for Kapilavastu began in the late 1800s after archaeologists unearthed a stone pillar erected in Lumbini in 249 B.C. by the Indian Emperor Ashoka to commemorate the Buddha’s birthplace.
European scholars subsequently surveyed the region in an attempt to match its contemporary geography with early accounts of the Buddha’s life, and with the journeys of the Chinese monks who traveled to Kapilavastu in the 4th and 7th centuries A.D.
The westerners found little help on site, because Buddhism had all but disappeared from an area that had become “a buffer zone between the Nepali state and the[British] Raj,” Coningham said. “It was very much a wilderness. There were tigers there.”
And although the monks’ stories differed, the scholars nevertheless concluded that Tilaurakot was Kapilavastu, in part because it was an urban site in a rural area. The Buddha’s father, Shuddhodana Gautama, was a warrior chieftain wealthy enough to move his son among three luxurious palaces during his upbringing.
Bradford’s Schmidt described Tilaurakot today as a section of “lovely green” wooded lowland about 500 yards long and 250 yards wide. “It is surrounded by a shallow moat and covered with trees, with rice paddies all around,” Schmidt said.
There is an intact gate on the western side of the site and fired brick walls, he added, but all of this is from a “later phase” of occupation. The inhabitants of the Buddha’s time built their structures of wood.
When the Buddha died, perhaps in 483 B.C., no central religious authority was established. Instead, the Buddha’s disciples radiated across South Asia to spread his teachings, said Boston College theologist John J. Makransky, and “the whole history of Buddhism has been one of diversity.”
Ashoka was instrumental in the early spread of Buddhism, but its prominence in countries ranging from Tibet to China, Indonesia, Vietnam and Japan was cemented by pilgrims and monks traveling to the Far East along the “Silk Road,” during the first millennium A.D.
It was also during this period, between 200 A.D. and 400 A.D., when followers in what is now the Afghan city of Bamian sculpted the two giant Buddhas that were destroyed last month by the Muslim fundamentalist Taliban government.
Buddhism in southern Nepal and India was all but wiped out in the 12th century when Muslims sacked the monasteries across the holy land. Although a partial recovery has occurred in India in the past century, the theological tradition — and its archaeological embodiment — are largely subject to the interpretation of foreigners.
“In most countries, the mythological importance of [Kapilavastu] has been replaced by that of their own sites,” said Makransky, who is a Buddhist. But defining Kapilavastu’s location “will have significance” for world Buddhists, because “to the degree that people agree that it is here or there, it confers legitimacy on the mythology.”
Thus far, there is little indication that the dispute is over. India has long conducted tours to Pipprahawa, and last year Coningham said at least 1,500 pilgrims visited the dig at Tilaurakot during the six weeks he was working there, among them several monks who scooped handfuls of clay to take with them.
“It’s very different when you’re dealing with sites that aren’t purely of academic interest,” Coningham said. “They are alive: People are interested in them not merely for their ceramic sequences, but for their significance. It made me a lot more aware.”