The First Two Monasteries at Lumbini in Modern Times
–Dominic Chua, BA student from Singapore
A visit to the Rajkiya Buddhavihara, Lumbini, in January 2023
As I have been spending quite a bit of time immersed in the history of Lumbini, I thought I would devote this blog post to sharing some of the more interesting details that I’ve learnt about Lumbini’s rediscovery and its subsequent development, including a point of connection between Lumbini and Boudhanath. Please enjoy!
One of the key points in Lumbini’s rediscovery was the finding of the two pieces of an Ashokan pillar marking the birthplace of Buddha Kanakamuni near the village of Niglihawa in 1895. This discovery prompted the British Archaeological Survey to send first Dr Alois Führer and then P C Mukherji to verify the site of the pillar and the whereabouts of other Buddhist sites in the area. A year later, the Lumbini pillar was found by General Khadga Shumsher and its unearthing witnessed by Dr. Fuhrer, and then on their joint basis, Tilaraukot was identified as Kapilvastu.
The rediscovery of the sites would see pilgrims flow back almost immediately, with Anagarika Dharmapala and the prince of Thailand visiting in 1898-99.
While most presentations of Lumbini’s history then typically skip forward to U Thant’s visit in 1967, the Indian-Nepali dimension of the story is interesting and bears telling. It was Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s proposal of a Lumbini Park scheme in 1955 as part of the preparations for the 2,500th Buddha Jayanati which led to King Mahendra’s sponsorship of a Theravada monastery – the Rajakiya Buddhavihara – which thus became the first monastery to be built at Lumbini in modern times!
Newar Buddhists, particularly converts to Theravada, were then very much involved in making Lumbini flourish again as a pilgrimage site. One of the last Newar traders to visit Lhasa, Das Ratna Tuladhar (1891-1977) was ordained as Bhikkhu Dhammalok in 1933, and in his 40s and 50s devoted himself to developing Lumbini and Kapilavastu.
His son Bhikkhu Aniruddha (1915-2003) would inherit his deep devotion to improving Lumbini. Having studied in Sri Lanka and Myanmar, Bhikkhu Aniruddha was able to speak directly with U Thant in Burmese about the need to develop the still much-neglected sacred birthplace. Their conversation, continued through a series of letters available in the UN archives, contributed to the eventual drawing up of the Lumbini Development Masterplan and the establishment of the Lumbini Development Trust. Aniruddha would become the main resident monk in the government-built temple in Lumbini in the 1970s and 1980s.
Bhikkhu Aniruddha (L) at the Rajkiya Vihara, Lumbini
Chogye Trichen Rinpoche (1919-2007) is also very noteworthy – he was the first lama to build a Tibetan Buddhist temple in Lumbini (it has the rather unwieldy name of ‘Dharma Swami Maharaja Buddhavihara’). Chogye Rinpoche was the head of the Tsharpa sub-lineage in the Sakyapa tradition and was regarded as a ‘master of masters’ as many Tibetan Buddhist lineage holders were his disciples, including His Holiness the Sakya Trizin.
Coincidentally, he was also the maternal uncle of the Raja of Mustang, and dreamt of building a temple in Lumbini with the support of his relatives. In 1968, in response to a series of official petitions made by Mustang Raja Jigme Palbar, Chogye Rinpoche received from King Mahendra a grant of ten kata of land within the holy site of Lumbini. He thus became the only lama to be deeded by royal grant a building plot at Lumbini.
Front view of the Dharma Swami Maharaja Buddhavihara at Lumbini
According to his student, the historian David Jackson, Chogye Rinpoche wrote that he had decided to find the temple out of a deep devotion toward and faith in Shakyamuni Buddha and his birthplace, Lumbini. He thus dreamt of building a temple in Lumbini as it would become a holy shrine for the accumulation of merit by both Nepalese as well as people from many parts of the world.
After the consecration of the monastery in 1975, Chogye Trichen Rinpoche would go on to establish the Jamchen Lhakang Monastery at Boudhanath – it’s the one very near Himalayan Java, whose central shrine is dominated by a gigantic statue of a seated Maitreya.
All three monasteries – both the Rajakiya Buddhavihara and the Dharma Swami Maharaja Buddhaviharaat Lumbini, as well as the Jamchen Lhakhang at Boudha – are very special places pervaded with a deep sense of tranquility, and I would urge you to spend some time at these places if you get the precious chance!