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Sunday, 19 July 2015





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New revelations on Buddha’s birth

Book - Siduhath Kumaru
Upan Lumbiniye Mayadevi Viharaya
Author: Sirisaman Wijetunga
Reviewed by Rohana Ariyaratna

The Buddha’s Birth and the place where he was born and all other details connected to the hallowed event is significant to Buddhists all over the world. According to Buddhist tradition Queen Maya gave birth to Prince Siddhartha, holding on to a branch of a Sal tree in the Lumbini garden or park (in present day Nepal), midway between the kingdoms of her husband, King Suddodana and her parents.

There have been various different viewpoints and opinions presented by many historians and scholars regarding the birth and other important events of the life of the Buddha. Whatever views presented should be verified and proved with evidence and facts gathered from archaeological excavations.

The latest archaeological foray into the birth of the Buddha and the place was initiated by Professor Robin Coningham of Durham University, England.

A prolific writer on historical and archaeological events, Sirisaman Wijetunga in his latest publication entitled ‘Siduhath Kumaru Upan Lumbiniye Mayadevi Viharaya’ deals mainly with Professor Coningham’s new discoveries in the Mayadevi Temple and how those details have changed present scholarly views regarding the birth and the place where the Buddha was born.

Buddhist traditions

Wijetunga’s latest publication is important to those who read only Sinhala publications because this book is a great source to expand their limited knowledge of this important event other than what Buddhist traditions and oral and textual sources had taught them earlier.

In addition to what Professor Coningham discovered, Wijetunga has given a detailed description of Emperor Asoka and his propagation of Buddhism, political and sociological details of Jambudipa [India], how Buddhist literary works had depicted the Buddha’s birth and also the Lumbini Garden where he was born. His close association with history and archaeology has enabled him to enrich the Sinhala readers with a plethora of publications—books and a series of newspaper articles—about the heritage linked to Buddhism. His service and the experience he gained as an associate director in the Archaeology Department and also in several other institutions pertaining to the field of history and archaeology, has turned him into a specialist and an important personality in these particular fields.

Lumbini is one of the key sites associated with the life of the Buddha and was rediscovered in 1896 when it was identified as the birthplace of the Sacred One. According to the rock edict documenting the visit of Emperor Asoka to the site of the Buddha’s birth and other evidence revealed from the earlier excavations, the sacred event is said to have occurred in the 3rd century B.C.

But the latest excavations directed by Robin Coningham and Kosh Prasad Acharya in the Mayadevi Temple premises, revealed older timber structures lying beneath the walls of the later brick shrine. According to Coningham the layout of the more recent shrine duplicates the layout of the earlier wooden structures pointing to a continuity of Buddhist worship at the site.

Historic details

The exact date of the Buddha’s birth is disputed with Nepalese authorities accepting 623 B.C. and others favouring more recent dates around 400 B.C. But the discovery of a timber structures buried within the temple and also parts of a tree supposed to be the tree that Queen Maya grasped while delivering the child Siddartha, has given a new meaning to the existing views.

The discovery contributes to a better understanding of the early development of Buddhism, the early life of the Buddha and also the spiritual significance of Lumbini. The most important fact is that these excavations at the Mayadevi Temple reveal that the Buddha could have been living more than a century earlier than the dates accepted by many scholars.

The new developments seem to have prompted Wijetunga to bring out a well researched and well compiled treatise. Professor Leelananda Prematilake in one of the prefaces states that Wijetunga’s attempt to present details of Coningham’s significant discoveries and the historic details of Buddhism in India and the major events in the life of the Buddha, should be commended as it helps and guides interested Sinhala readers to get a better understanding of this hallowed event as well as the historical and archaeological value of our Buddhist heritage.

In addition to the excavations in Mayadevi Temple Wijetunga also adds a special chapter describing the valuable and courageous contributions of Anagarika Dharmapala in rescuing Buddhagaya, a religious site important to Buddhist followers.

Wijetunga’s latest publication is a valuable and significant contribution to readers and scholars interested in the traditions and the history of Buddhism.


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