Monday, December 9, 2013

Archeology: New finds may push Buddha's birth

Subodh Varma (TNN, Nov. 26, 2013); Dhr. Seven (ed.), Mara Schaeffer, Wisdom Quarterly
Maya's auspicious dream: Queen Maya, the Buddha's mother, dreamed of conception.
Team of archeologists excavate at site of modern Maya Devi Temple, Nepal (Antiquity)
Salabhanjika (Hoysala sculpture, Belur)
NEW DELHI, India - Remains of a tree shrine found buried below the Maya Devi Temple in modern Lumbini, Nepal, may push back the date of the Buddha's birth to the sixth century BCE.
The temple is located on what traditionally was thought to be the birth place of the Buddha. His mother, Queen Maya, gave birth to Siddhartha while holding on to a tree branch. [This accords with the legendary Indian motif of a Sal tree dryad or salabhanjika.]

Excavations within the Maya Devi Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage site, uncovered the remains of a previously unknown sixth century BCE timber structure under a series of brick temples.
Laid out on the same design as those above it, the timber structure contains an open space in the center that links to the story of the Buddha's birth.
Queen Maha Maya, Siddhartha's mother
This is the first archeological material linking the life of the Buddha -- and thus the first flowering of Buddhism -- to a specific century.
Until now, the earliest archeological evidence of Buddhist structures at Nepal's Lumbini dated no earlier than the third century BCE, the time of the patronage of the Indian Emperor Asoka, who promoted the spread of Buddhism west from present-day Afghanistan east to Bangladesh [likely the extent of India in his day, centuries after the life of the historical Buddha, the "Shakyan Sage" or Shakyamuni].
"Very little is known about the life of the Buddha, except through textual sources and oral tradition," said archaeologist Professor Robin Coningham of Durham University, UK, who co-led the investigation.
"Now, for the first time, we have an archaeological sequence at Lumbini that shows a building there as early as the sixth century BC."
The exact date of the Buddha's birth is yet to be established. In Nepal, the year 623 BCE is favored, while in other traditions more recent dates, around 400 BCE, are accepted.

The first clear date linking Lumbini with the Buddha is 249 BCE, when Emperor Ashoka installed a pillar marking it as a sacred place. Lost and overgrown in the jungles of lower Nepal [Terai] in the medieval period, ancient Lumbini was [allegedly] rediscovered in 1896 and identified as the birthplace of the Buddha on account of the presence of a third century BCE sandstone pillar.
The pillar, which still stands, bears an inscription documenting a visit by Emperor Asoka to the site of the Buddha's birth as well as the site's name (as determined by Asoka's men), Lumbini.

The international team of archeologists, led by R.A.E. Coningham and Kosh Prasad Acharya of the Pashupati Area Development Trust in Nepal, say the discovery contributes to a greater understanding of the early development of Buddhism as well as the spiritual importance of Lumbini in Nepal [rather than its more likely location in the area of Seistan Baluchistan near modern Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran.

Their peer-reviewed findings are reported in the December 2013 issue of the international journal Antiquity. The research is partly supported by the National Geographic Society. More

The earliest Buddhist shrine: excavating the birthplace of the Buddha, Lumbini (Nepal)
Birth of Siddhartha, future Buddha
Key locations identified with the lives of important religious founders have often been extensively remodelled in later periods, entraining the destruction of many of the earlier remains. Recent UNESCO-sponsored work at the major Buddhist centre of Lumbini in Nepal has sought to overcome these limitations, providing direct archaeological evidence of the nature of an early Buddhist shrine and a secure chronology. The excavations revealed a sequence of early structures preceding the major rebuilding by Asoka during the third century BC. The sequence of durable brick architecture supplanting non-durable timber was foreseen by British prehistorian Stuart Piggott when he was stationed in India over 70 years ago. Lumbini provides a rare and valuable insight into the structure and character of the earliest Buddhist shrines.
AUTHORS: R.A.E. Coningham [1], K.P. Acharya [2], K.M. Strickland [3], C.E. Davis1, M.J. Manuel [1], I.A. Simpson [4], K. Gilliland [4], J. Tremblay [1], T.C. Kinnaird [5], and D.C.W. Sanderson [5].
1. Department of Archaeology, Durham University, South Road, Durham DH1 3LE, UK
2. Pashupati Area Development Trust, Kathmandu, Nepal
3. Orkney College, Univ. of the Highlands and Islands, E. Road, Kirkwall, Orkney KW15 1LX, UK
4. School of Biological and Environmental Sciences, Univ. of Stirling, Stirling FK9 4LA, UK
5. Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre, East Kilbride G75 OQF, UKPRESS 
NOTE: This article is EMBARGOED until 17:00 GMT (12:00 EST) on Monday 25 November 2013. To participate in the National Geographic telephone press briefing at 15:00 GMT (10:00 EST) on 25 November, please contact Barbara Moffet at

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