6th Century - 2013
Birthplace of Buddha
The site was apparently unknown for centuries. In 1896 a German archeologist discovered a pillar erected by the Emperor Asoka in the 3rd century B.C. to mark the place of the Buddha's birth. The inscription on the pillar is a Prakrit language (similar to Pali) written in the Brahmi script. It is the first ever Indian writing. Asoka's inscriptions are also the very first written mention anywhere about the Buddha.
(The earliest Buddhist scriptures still in existence are the Gandhara texts of the 1st century AD - we still know very little about Buddhist history before that time).
Emperor Asoka built a brick temple around the actual spot where the Buddha was believed to be born. The ruins of the temple are still there. Over the ruins, the Nepal government built a modern structure (Mayadevi Temple) about 20 years ago.
In 2013 scientists discovered a simple wooden structure beneath the Asoka brick temple. Through carbon-dating, they have dated the structure to the 6th century BC. They believe it is the first Buddhist structure, built shortly after the lifetime of the Buddha. (The actual dates of the Buddha's birth and life differ between Myanmar, Thailand, Nepal, Sri Lanka and other countries).
Lumbini in the 6th century BC was on the edge of the kingdom of Magadha (today's Bihar). The 6th century BC was an amazing time in the history of the world. This was the time of Confucius and Lao Tzu (founder of Taoism) in China, Mahavira (founder of Jainism) in India, and Zarathustra (founder of Zoroastrianism) in Persia. The Achaemenids in Persia and the Zhou in China had established the greatest empires the world had ever seen. Greek philosophy was beginning to flourish in the eastern Mediterranean. It was a time of intense political, social, and intellectual change.
The image (from left): Dr Thant Myint-U inside the temple; the new Mayadevi temple from the outside; the brick ruins of Asoka's temple; the actual spot inside the temple where the Buddha was believed to have been born; Asoka's pillar; Brahmi script on the pillar.