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Buddha’s birth and Mayadevi death were not normal

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on August 7, 2014

-Dr Kavitaram Shrestha  

ततः प्रसन्नश्च बभूव पुष्यस्तस्याश्च देव्याव्रतसंस्कृतायाःKavitaram

पाश्र्वात्सुतो लोकहिताय जज्ञे निर्वेदनं चैव निरामयं च । ९ ।

ऊरोर्यथौर्वस्य पृथोश्च हस्तान्मान्धातुरिन्द्रप्रतिस्य मूघ्र्न ।

कक्षीवतश्चैव भुजांसदेशात्तथाविधं तस्य बभूव जन्म । १० ।

— बुद्धचरित, प्रथम सर्ग[1] 

3This stanza of a Sanskrit poem in Devnagari script, talks about the event of the birth of Bodhisatwa (prince Siddharth, who became Buddha later). The actual meaning of this text is: 


“The pushy nakshtra (auspicious timing/incidence of the heavenly bodies) began. At this auspicious occasion Bodhisatwa was born for the welfare of the world from the parshw (a side of the body) of the queen (Mayadevi), who had purified herself performing a holy fasting on that day (dedicating the full moon). She did not suffer any pain. He was born celestially (without using the birth canal) like how the deities Aurva was born from thigh, Prithu from hand, Mandhatra legendary like Indra from head and Kakshivat from armpit. ” 

With this context we understand that the birth of Bodhisatwa and his mother Maya Devi’s death was not normal at all. 5

This stanza, extracted from the 2000 years old epic Buddhacharit says that Bodhisatwa was born from parshw (side) of Mayadevi’s body miraculously, without using the natural birth canal. Given the fact that Buddha was a person who did not believe any supernatural phenomena and firmed a pragmatic dharma (religion) revolting against the superstitious dharmas, this context of his supernatural birth does not sound quite pertinent. This epic was written by Ashwagosh in the beginning of the early second century CE,[2] which is almost 700 years later from the birth of Buddha[3], This was the time when Mahayaninsm in Buddhism was already in its height glorifying the saga of Budha as a supernatural god. So for a text, dedicated to the celestial Buddha, it was but evident to be blended with supernatural miracles. In fact this epic itself is the oldest document that shows Buddha as a celestial deity in Buddhism. Whatsoever it is with supernatural context, I believe in a pragmatic way that there is still a very important factual clue in this stanza from which we can draw a sensible contour about how Siddhartha was born in reality. 

Once we take the supernatural context out of it, there remains a fact that Bodhisatwa’s birth was6 not at all a normal one. It sounds completely like a horrible accident. But the scripture do not reveal any kind of sorrowful accident claiming otherwise the mother suffering no pain at all during labor. The fact that the mother did not die on the spot that day, indicates that it could not be a case of fatal womb explosion. On the other hand she is told dead in 7 days later right in the garden of Lumbini[4]. Had her womb been exploded she would not have lived that long. 

At the same time the fact that she died right in the very place of Lumbini, indicates that her position must have been hopelessly very close to the death, after the awful delivery. No treatment would have been thought to be worth to save her. Thus, the king waited there in the same site of accident for her apparent death. It is something how the death lingered for 7 days long.  All these denote that Mayadevi, though the cause of her death was not stated anywhere in any text, must have died of a very complicated natural birth. 

Normally full-term delivery of a child occurs within 286 days. In extreme cases the post-term7 delivery could go up to 294 days[5]. Mayadevi’s pregnancy was already 10 lunar months, starting from Ashaad Purnima (full moon of July) to the day of Baishakh Purnima (full moon of May). The total period add up to 295 days plus 8 hours, at the rate of 29 days 12 hours 44 minutes 3 seconds of a lunar month[6]. This means Mayadevi’s prolonged pregnancy was already overdue, exceeding 32 hours. When a pregnancy exceeds the upper limit of 42 weeks (294 days), the risk of complications for both mother and fetus increase significantly[7]. Though the story does not say anything about the labor it is evident that it must have been started by the 294th days. The obstetric science says if the labor exceeds 18 hours, it becomes fatal to both mother and child.[8] So it is definite that the delayed period of 32 hours was quite fatal. 1

What could be the reason of such a prolonged fatal labor? There are a number of articulated reasons why prolonged labor may occur, such as:[9]

  • It is more common in first time mothers;
  • It is more common with older mothers, over 35 years;
  • Most mothers get tensed in unfamiliar surroundings, causing slowing down of the progress of contractions and hinder the delivery.
  • Most common formidable cause could be the position of the baby’s head. If the baby’s head is not tucked into its chest his chin can halt the progression through the birth canal.
  • The baby could be bigger for the mother’s pelvis.
  • The presentation of the baby could be in breech position. 

Whole of these causes are surprisingly resemble to this case of Mayadevi. It was her first time2 delivery. She was 45 years old[10]. She was travelling through a forest, away from home facilities and cares. Moreover, it is also said that there was an astounding earthquake at the time of her delivery.[11] The stanza also reveals that she was on a holy fasting in commemoration of the full moon on that day. She must have been weak for that reason as well. These all situations must have aggravated her tension enormously contributing hindrances not only to the natural contraction of the womb but also to the mother’s ability to push down. The suspicion of the size of the baby being a hindrance for the delivery could be a little feebler as there is no such articulated evidence, but still we can figure out positively on the basis of the physique of Buddha, as he is described by Dirgha Nikaya and Majjhim Nikaya, as tall man with broad chest, thick hairs, long hands hanging down below the knees etc.[12] Many of the signs do match with the post-term infants, surprisingly.[13] [14]  I believe for all above for this case. At the most I am in the strong opinion that the big baby was coming out with breech presentation with one footing ahead. With such presentation another leg, hands, buttock and even head can be twisted and trapped or stuck inside in or above the pelvic. The reason why I hypothized so is that the scriptures say- the baby walked seven steps right upon his birth.[15] No earthly human child can walk like that. It could only be an indication of the breech birth with the feet first in reality. 

Now at this point we can also come down to interpret the mystery of the parshw, where the Bodhisatwa had emerged from. The side way of the birth canal for a baby to come out, would be the only rectum, if mothers’ womb was not burst or ruptured externally. Yes, no birth occurs from rectum but if birth canal is torn and merged with the anal canal it looks like baby came out through the rectum, which eventually has been spoken out as the parshw.

We can figure out how the dreadful situation would have been there for the aching weak mother with prolonged labour, having no easy ground to rest at a bushy situation shaken with an unexpected earthquake. Why Mayadavi is portrayed in a standing position hanging on a tree branch while giving the birth, also looked meaningful to me.  It fairly denotes that there was no easy situation for a birth to give in a normal position. There might have been even malicious accidents of bumping her womb in hard grounds or tree trunks. We can imagine that Mayadevi might have a laborious struggle to stand up for easiness, which might have contributed the stuck baby with breech footing, to collapse down rupturing all of the internal muscles on its way. Such rupture is called fourth degree tear.[16] Obstetric science says breech presentation with footing ahead in delivery can cause a horrible fourth degree tear including the tearing of vaginal tissue, perineal skin, and perineal muscles going even deeper into the anal canal as well as into the rectum. There must have been outwardly a horrible big hole, which surely did not look like a natural path for a baby to come out. This big hole must have been thus, interpreted as the baby coming out through parshw, a side way.

With such horrible delivery Mayadevi must have lost huge amount of blood, leading to death. It is said postpartum haemorrhage cause anaemia in an amazingly short span of time. It is amazing how she managed to live for 7 days; especially because it was an accident in a jungle situation without subsequent cares. In fact, even today though equipped with modern medical facilities, forth degree tear causes a lot of deaths among prenatal mothers. It is the most common cause of prenatal maternal death in the developed world and is a major cause of maternal morbidity worldwide.[17]

The question arises why this story was not told ever in any scriptures? I am in an opinion that such supernatural context was not mingled for few hundred years definitely as Buddha himself was the preacher of the objectivity. However, because of the coexistence with the customary Vedic societies the supernatural beliefs entered in Buddhism, with the initiation of Mahayana sect[18]. It so was developed about 500 years after the Buddha’s time. On those days no historical records were kept and the information was carried down through the oral tradition. In this process lots of new phenomena might have been added and real facts been omitted or carried out with misinterpretations and exaggerations. In about five hundred years, Buddha was already a supernatural god with Mahayana sect. This epic Budhacharit, we are dealing with, was written 700 years later from Buddha’s time, during when his celestial fame was already in a super height. So the poet used his imagination in his best to portrait the righteous holiness of Buddha, omitting all unpleasant and sorrowful texture that would sound earthly or humanistic. 

At the end I have a feeling that such an awful hypothesis may not be acceptable to the fans of Buddha. But I did dare to deal it with the belief that I am following Buddha’s preaching to speak the truth. I am so confident with this hypothesis that I even inserted this event accordingly in my research based novel Mahabhinishkraman kaa Aswikrit Paailaa[19] . It is on Buddha’s life in Nepali language. However, I am fully open to all kinds of comments. If I am convinced I will rewrite my novel accordingly in its forthcoming editions.   


[1] tataþ prasannaèca babhåva puùyastasyàèca devyà vratasaüskÔtàyàþ |

pàrèvàtsuto lokahitàya jajÿe nirvedanaü caiva niràmayaü ca || 1.25 (1.9)

åroryathaurvasya pÔthoèca hastànmàüdhàturiüdrapratimasya mårdhnaþ |

kakùãvataècaiva bhujàüsadeèàttathàvidhaü tasya babhåva janma || 1.29 (1.10) 

 (At that time the constellation Puùya was auspicious, and from the side of the queen, who was purified by her vow, her son was born for the welfare of the world, without pain and without illness, 1.25 (1.9). As was Aurva’s birth from the thigh, and PÔthu’s from the hand, and MàndhàtÔ’s, who was like Indra himself, from the forehead, and Kakùãvat’s from the upper end of the arm, Þ thus too was his birth (miraculous) —  The Buddha Carita, or The Life of Buddha by Aèvaghoùa, edited and translated by Edward B. Cowel 

[2] Buddhacharita (“Acts of the Buddha” बुद्धचरितम्) is an epic poem in the Sanskrit mahakavya style on the life of Gautama Buddha by Aśvaghoṣa, composed in the early second century CE. Willemen, Charles, transl. (2009), Buddhacarita: In Praise of Buddha’s Acts, Berkeley, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, p. XIII. 

[3] The times of Gautama’s birth and death are uncertain: most historians in the early 20th century dated his lifetime as circa 563 BCE to 483 BCE – L. S. Cousins (1996), “The dating of the historical Buddha: a review article”, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (3)6(1): 57–63. 

[4] Navasutra Sangrha : Lailtbistar, (gj;”q ;ª\u|x  M nlntlj:t/_ Translated by Bajracharya, Lotus Research Center, Lalitpur, p. 433. 

[5] A postterm pregnancy is one that extends beyond 42 weeks (294 days) from the first day of the last menstrual period; as many as 10 percent of pregnancies are postterm. —

[6] The synodic month, or complete cycle of phases of the Moon as seen from Earth, averages 29.530588 mean solar days in length (i.e., 29 days 12 hours 44 minutes 3 seconds); because of perturbations in the Moon’s orbit, the lengths of all astronomical months vary slightly.

[7] Risks to the mother — Risks to the mother are related to the larger size of postterm fetuses, and include difficulties during labor, an increase in injury to the perineum (including the vagina, labia, and rectum), and an increased rate of cesarean birth with its associated risks of bleeding, infection, and injury to surrounding organs-

 Risks to feutes — The incidence of stillbirth or infant death is increased in pregnancies that continue beyond 42 weeks. 

[8] “गर्भस्थ बच्चा २८०–२९४ दिनभित्र प्रसव सुरु भएपछि १८ घण्टाको औसत अवधिभित्र शीर्षोदयमा जन्मनु पर्छ। अन्यथा यसलाई असामान्य प्रसव मात्रुपर्छ।”

(The child should be delivered with head ahead, within an average of 18 hours of labor after the completion of the pregnancy of 280-294 days. Otherwise it should be taken as a complicated delivery.) — Pandit, Dr. Vishnu Prasad; Where there is no Doctor. Page 202. 

[9] This often happens when a woman reaches the unfamiliar surroundings of a hospital and starts to feel anxious. When anxiety sets in, the uterus – which is a muscle – tenses up, which halts the progress of the contractions. For this reason, women are advised to stay at home for as long as possible in order to allow the labor to continue without the risk of undue anxiety or stress. — 

[10] ædxfdfofaf6 $% jif{df cfˆgf] dfOt b]jbx hfgnfUbf af6}df Joyf nflu n’lDjgLs’~hdf Ps ;fnj[Ifd’lg a’4sf] hGd eof] .Æ

(Mayadevi gave birth to Buddha, when she was 45 years old at Lumbini Garden on the way to Devdaha, her parents home) — Sharma, Chetonath; ed. Karnikar, Ghanashyam; Buddhako jeevani ra Kaaryakshatra Buddhako Samjhana Kalyanko Kamana; Mrs Deepa Tamrakar, BS 2054. page 18   

[11] yasmin prasåte giriràjakãlà vàtàhatà nauriva bhåècacàla |

sacaüdanà cotpalapadmagarbhà papàta vÔùñirgagaõàdanabhràt || 1.40 (1.21) 

(When he was born, the earth, though fastened down by (Himàlaya) the monarch of mountains, shook like a ship tossed by the wind; and from a cloudless sky there fell a shower full of lotuses and water lilies, and perfumed with sandalwood.)  — The Buddha Carita, or The Life of Buddha by Aèvaghoùa, edited and translated by Edward B. Cowel

[12] The Digha Nikaya, and Majjhima Nikāya explains the 32 towering characteristics of the physique of Buddha as: 1. Level feet; 2. Thousand-spoked wheel sign on feet; 3. Long, slender fingers 4. Pliant hands and feet; 5. Toes and fingers finely webbed; 6. Full-sized heels; 7. Arched insteps; 8. Thighs like a royal stag; 9. Hands reaching below the knees; 10. Well-retracted male organ; 11. Height and stretch of arms equal; 12. Every hair-root dark colored; 13. Body hair graceful and curly; 14. Golden-hued body; 15. Ten-foot aura around him; 16. Soft, smooth skin; 17. Soles, palms, shoulders, and crown of head well-rounded; 18. Area below armpits well-filled; 19. Lion-shaped body; 20. Body erect and upright; 21. Full, round shoulders; 22. Forty teeth; 23. Teeth white, even, and close; 24. Four canine teeth pure white; 25. Jaw like a lion; 26. Saliva that improves the taste of all food; 27. Tongue long and broad; 28. Voice deep and resonant; 29. Eyes deep blue; 30. Eyelashes like a royal bull; 31. White ūrṇā curl that emits light between eyebrows; and 32. Fleshy protuberance on the crown of the head.  — Shaw, Sarah. Buddhist Meditation: An Anthology of Texts from the Pali Canon. 2006. p. 114 

[13] A fourth degree tear can be caused by one of a number of factors, including, a large baby (over approximately 9lb’s), baby’s shoulder becoming stuck behind your pubic bone, a longer than average second stage of labor, Your first vaginal birth, An assisted birth (forceps or ventouse) — 

[14] Some postterm infants have a distinctive appearance. The arms and legs may be long and thin. The skin may appear dry and parchment-like, with peeling and sometimes meconium staining. The skin may appear loose, especially over the thighs and buttocks. Scalp hair may be longer or thicker, and the fingernails and toenails may be long. Postterm newborns are typically very alert, and may have a “wide-eyed” look. Few studies have examined long-term outcomes (eg, growth and development patterns, intelligence) of postterm infants. In general, the outcome appears similar in both postterm and term infants.–; — Epstein, Ronald. Buddhist Text Translation Society’s Buddhism A to Z. 2003. p. 200 

[15] anàkulànyabjasamudgatàni niùpeùavaütyàyatavikramàõi |

tathaiva dhãràõi padàni sapta saptarùitàràsadÔèo jagàma || 1.33 (1.14) 

(Unflurried, with the lotus sign in high relief, far striding, set down with a stamp, Þ seven such firm footsteps did he then take, Þ he who was like the constellation of the seven »ùis) — The Buddha Carita, or The Life of Buddha by Aèvaghoùa, edited and translated by Edward B. Cowel

[16] The tear can be caused by the size of your baby as well as other factors. 1st or 2nd second degree tears are usually more minor and have no longer term associated complications. However, both third degree tears and fourth degree tears can cause significant ongoing pain and other problems. Whereas a third degree tear includes tearing to the vaginal tissue, perineal skin, and perineal muscles a fourth degree tear goes even deeper, tearing into the anal canal as well as into the rectum. –

[17] Haemorrhage after delivery, or postpartum haemorrhage (PPH), is the loss of blood following a delivery resulting in hypovolemia or otherwise causing the patient to become symptomatic due to the blood loss. Some practitioners measure PPH by a blood loss of greater than 500 ml of blood following vaginal delivery, or 1000 ml of blood following caesarean section. It is the most common cause of prenatal maternal death in the developed world and is a major cause of maternal morbidity worldwide. — Anderson JM, Etches D (March 2007). “Prevention and management of postpartum hemorrhage.” American Family Physician 75 (6): 875–82. PMID 17390600.

[18] The earliest Mahāyāna sūtras to include the very first versions of the Prajñāpāramitā series, along with texts concerning Akṣobhya Buddha, which were probably written down in the 1st century BCE in the south of India. — Akira, Hirakawa (translated and edited by Paul Groner) (1993. A History of Indian Buddhism. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass: p. 253 

[19] Mahaabhinishkrankaa Aswikrit Paila (Devanagari: महाभिनिष्क्रमणका अस्वीकृत पाइला Translation: Rejecting step of Renunciation), a research based novel on Buddha’s life, By Dr Kavitaram Shrestha; Lumbini Kapilvastu Day Campaign, Kathmandu, 2010.

3 Responses to “Buddha’s birth and Mayadevi death were not normal”

  1. maljinee said

    Hi im sri lankan
    Sri lankan buddist monk also have explained this. A womb that gave birth to a sacred person like lord buddha cannot give birth to another normal person. Lord buddha carefully chooses his parent womb before entering the womb as a baby because of this. The womb that a buddha is born in is a very sacred, pure persons’ and that womb is so sacred that it is not righteous to have a normal other baby be born in that womb which would make things similar to a buddha. I dont know if what im trying to explain, will be realised by the reader as i could thoroughly explain this with the exact words, in my language, but english. However so all the previous lord buddhas that were born went through the same story. The mother was chosen by the buddha before birth, and she gives birth and in 7 days she passes away. Then she is born in a particular heaven which i cant exactly remember the name of. And the things like the way lord buddha was born and how he walked seven steps right after birth, in my perspective cant call supernatural. Its something like god makes mother mary pregnant. Its a holy child. For an example, every lord buddhas mother will stand the same way in the same posture while giving birth. Every lord buddha has very long earlobes and very wide long feet that a normal human. So i think there are facts that occur when its regarding lord buddha. Readon could be because lord buddha has reborn in 550 lives before being buddha, to earn enough goodness (opposite of sin) to become eligible to attain enlightment. So we are far away from reaching that level. So birth of lord buddha is a sacred and different occurance. Hence i think it might be difficult to explain the occurance through medicine.

    Thanks for reading.

  2. Marie said

    Hi Ram,

    Thank you for this interesting post (and also to Maljinee for Sri Lankan perspective). It is refreshing to do away with the romanticism in Buddhism, for as you say, the Buddha was an advocate of objectivism.

    Although there are countless stories in the suttas of devas and other supernatural beings – not to mention the 31 realms for rebirth – there is no mention whatsoever of worshipping these deities. On the contrary, one should rely on one’s own ardent work to train the mind in virtue, concentration and wisdom to get final release from samsara.

    I have just one question. You say that there were no historical records at the time, only oral traditions.

    “It so was developed about 500 years after the Buddha’s time. On those days no historical records were kept and the information was carried down through the oral tradition.”

    On the contrary, as far as I understand, the Buddha’s teaching was indeed written down, and at a very early stage. It was written by The 1st Buddhist Council, which assembled right after the Buddha’s death. This council consisted of 500 arahants and, importantly, Ananda – the Buddha’s attendant during the Buddha’s 40 years of teaching. This is according to the theravada school (not the Mahayana). Any comment on this?


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