The Unopened Eighth Stupa
-Dominic Kuan Hwee Chua – a BA student from Singapore
This little hill about an hour’s drive from Lumbini is at the top of my list of favourite places in Nepal (and quite possibly the whole world).
The hill is actually a massive stupa that stands some 10 metres high and spans 23.5 metres in diameter. It’s been known to archaeologists since 1896 but still remains one of Nepal’s best kept secrets. Referencing the pilgrimage diaries of Fa Xian (5th C. CE) and Xuanzang (7th C. CE – yes, the same Xuanzang who inspired the Journey to the West story cycle!), the Nepali archaeologist B K Rijal identified the stupa as Ramagrama – one of the original 8 stupas that housed Shakyamuni Buddha’s earthly remains.
According to Buddhist tradition, 7 of these stupas were opened by King Asoka, who had their relics redistributed across a vast number of stupas throughout South Asia. When he approached the stupa at Ramagrama, however, he was prevented from opening it by a guardian naga. If these traditions as well as the stupa’s identification is correct, the Ramagrama stupa represents the largest set of the Buddha’s corporeal relics that exists in the world!
Interestingly, the field around the stupa was known to farmers as the ‘unlucky field’, since no crops would grow on it. Geophysical surveys conducted in 1997, 1999 and 2018 have identified one or more monasteries buried below the surface that date back to the period between Ashoka’s time and the Gupta era, lending further credence to the possibility that this is indeed ancient Ramagrama.
The tree that has grown up on the stupa’s southwest flank is also fascinating because it’s a hybrid tree made of 4 different species – pipal (ficus religiosa), banyan (ficus bengalensis), pakad (ficus virens), and kadam/karma/burflower (neolamarckia cadamba)! Somehow the different species have entwined themselves into a single tree – truly an apt symbol for the different Buddhist traditions that have sprung from the fertile soil of this region.
I would definitely encourage you to make it part of your Lumbini itinerary. One of our fellow RYI students, Gilad Yakir, is the in-house expert on Ramagrama as he’s made the focus of his MA thesis – he would be the person to consult for more information on this topic.