Lumbini-Kapilvastu Day Blog

Welcome to Lumbini, Nepal – the birthplace of Buddha


Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on August 1, 2012

By Kailash Chandra Dash

The homeland of Gautam Buddha which is described in the vast Buddhist literary texts as Kapilavastu, the land  and capital city of the Sakyas is now a central point of debate regarding its location among some historians and archaeologists. It is  a subject of considerable interest from the last decade of the 19th century A.D. and now it is associated with national interest and pride. Some historians locate Kapilavastu in Piprahwa, some others locate it in Tilaurkot and still others locate it in Bhubaneswar of Odisha. I have presented the arguments against  the location of Kapilavastu in Odisha in the pages of The Himalayan Voice. Hence in this paper my focus is directed to the debate on the location of Kapilavastu either in India or in Nepal.

The location of Kapilavastu is to be studied in the context of Lumbini, the real spot of the birth of Gautam Buddha. We find the name of Lumbini Grama in the edicts of Ashoka as well as in the famous text Buddha Charita of Asvaghosh of 1st century A.D. Interestingly Buddha Charita explains Lumbini as Vananta-bhumi(a forest area), This term Lumbini is in all probability a local term whose Sanskrit equivalent was given by Asvaghosh as Vanantabhumi. This explains the fact that Lumbini-the spot where Gautam was born was a peculiar term of the areas on the Hmalayan zone. This compels us to think  that the term was associated with  ancient Nepal and not with  ancient India. The text Buddha Charita states of Kapila Janapada Nagara where Sakyas and their leader Suddhodana-the father of Gautama were living with prosperity. Thus Lumbini and Kapilavastu(the land of Kapila) were connected. The inscriptions(pillar edicts) of Ashoka refer to the birthplace of Kanakamuni Buddha and Gautam Buddha which he had visited and erected stupas in his 20th reganl year. This suggests that both the sites were included in the kingdom of Kapilavastu. Considering their present location and the reading of the edicts of Ashoka it is now clear that they were in ancient time located near the Himalayan area which is now called Nepal Tarai zone. This also explains the location of Kapilavastu in Nepal Tarai.
The Sakyas of Kapilavastu were in control of a part of Himalayan region which was attached to the Kosala kingdom in 6th-7th century A.D. Sakya was a republican state in ancient Bharat Varsha. But according to Buddhist sources like Bhaddasalajataka Kapilavastu and the Sakyas were destroyed by king Vidudabha, son of Prasenjit  of Kosala during the lifetime of Gautam Buddha. But probably the city was not completely destroyed because the  Sakyas of Kapilavastu got a part of the ashes of Buddha  after his death which were divided into eight parts-the recipients being  Ajatasatru of Magadha, Lichhavis of Vaisali, Bulis of Allakappa, A Brahmin of Vethadipa, Mallas of Kusinagara, Koliyas of Ramagrama and the Sakyas of Kapilavastu, Thus even after the destruction by the Kosalan king some parts of Kapilavastu remained. By the time of Samudragupta the Sakya clan was not prominent, but Nepal was famous then as a frontier state. Accordng to Allahabad Pillar inscription Nepal remained a frontier kingdom under Samudragupta after paying all taxes. Thus this explains the fact that the remaining portions of Kailavastu must have been a part of the frontier kingdom of Nepal during the Gupta phase. Kapilavastu could not be separated from the border areas which covered Nepal then.
The reports of the Chinese pilgrims like Fa-hien in A.D. 399 and Hiuen Tsang in A.D. 629 refer to Kapilavastu. According to Fa-hien after the city of Sravasti and going 12 yojanas to the south-east there was a town called Na-pi-ka which was the birth-place of Krakuchchanda Buddha. Going north from this place less than one yojana, there was a town where Kanakamuni Buddha was born. Going east ward from this less than a yojana, the city of Kapilavastu appeared. Fifty li to the east of this city was the royal garden of lumbini where Gautam Buddha was born. According to Hiuen Tsang proceeding from Sravasti and going south-east 500 li or so the country of Kapilavastu appeared. Taking Sravasti as a point and calculating the distance given by both the Chinese pilgrims and considering  the location of Ashokan pillar edicts at these places we find Kapilavastu in Nepal Tarai zone and not in India proper.
K.M.Srivastava identified ancient Kapilavastu with Piprahwa find. In other words on the basis of the Piprahwa seals . His famous work Buddha`s Relics from Kapilavastu (Agam kala Prakashan, Delhi, 1986) refers to some important sealings in this context. After excavation of this area some seals were found which contain inscriptions. One inscription of the seals states-Devaputravihara, Kapilavastu Bhikhu Sangha and another states-Maha Kapilavastu Bhikku Sangha. On the basis of these inscriptions Srivastava was inclined to identify Kapilavastu in Piprahwa zone thereby presenting the location of Kapilavastu in India. A careful study of these inscriptions do not support the great conclusion of Srivastava. The description of Kapialvastu Bhikkhu Sangha and  Devaputravihara indicates that both are distinct terms. It might be that Kapilavastu Bhikhu Sangha was very active in the monastery called Devaputra vihara for some years or so. It does not conclusively state that Kapilavastu Bhikhu Sangha was a part of Devaputra vihara. On the other hand that sangha called Maha Kapilavastu Bhikku Sangha or Kailavastu Bhikku Sangha  was there to perform some ritual works at Devaputra vihara. It only points out that Kapilavastu was probably located nearby or far way zone of Devaputra vihara. It does not deny the possibility that Kapilavastu was included in the area called Tilaurkot of Nepal and as Piprahwa is a nearby zone Kapilavastu Samgha-a premier Buddhist organization of Tilaurkot was active there for ritual and other works. The interpretation of the inscription supports the thesis that Kapilavastu Bhikhu Sangha was not an original part of the Devaputra Vihara; its existence beyond Devaputra vihara is more clear. On the basis of this inscription we can only conclude that the name Kapilavastu was well known then and a Buddhist sangha was active in that zone. It might have been a part of the original Kapilavastu which had then existed beyond Piprahwa.
On the  basis of the Ashokan edicts at Paderia and Nigliva and their location along with reports of Rohan L. Jayetilleke (Article in The Himalayan Voice, March 22, 2010) and Robin Coningham of Bradford University we can accept the location of Kapilavastu in Nepal Tarai zone. In this context  the view of Charles Allen in his famous text The Buddha And Dr Fuhrer ( Penguin Books, 2010) is very interesting. According to Allen the best hypothesis we are ever likely to arrive on the basis of what we know at present is that the Kapilavastu in which the prince Siddhartha grew to manhood was a settlement enclosed within a walled palisade beside the modern river Banganga, pretty much where the ruins of Tilaurakot are to-day. Hiuen Tsang saw the city in Tilaurakot.
The ancient sites currently lying neglected east of the river Banganga between Sagarwa lake and the Indian border need to be excavated for this purpose. The Ganwaria-Piprahwa complex was essentially a Buddhsit monastic site that was in full developmet from the Maurya phase to the Kushan phase. The entry of Kapilavastu Sangha in this zone was for the progress of the Buddhit site and this connection is not an important  factor to identify Piprahwa zone with ancient Kapilavastu, the land of the Sakyas and Gautam Buddha.
* The author is Reader in History, Binayak Acharya Government College, Brahmapur – 6, Odisha, India   Emal:     
@The Himalayan Voice

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