Pre-Ashokan structures unearthed at Buddha's birthplace

Kathmandu, July 7 (IANS) New excavations within the Maya Devi temple at Lumbini - the Buddha's birthplace - have revealed evidence of a series of shrines which extend the history of the site to a much earlier date than previously thought, an archaeologist said Sunday.

"For the first time in South Asia, excavations have revealed a pre-Ashokan temple of brick, which itself was built over an earlier one, made of timber," said Professor Robin Coningham of Britain's Durham University, who is co-directing a team of Nepali and international experts excavating at the site since 2010.

Until now, the earliest Buddhist temples have been attributed to Emperor Ashoka, who in the 3rd century BC spread Buddhism across the region, as proved by his iron pillar and brick-built temple in Lumbini, a Unesco World Heritage property since 1997.

Addressing a press conference here after completion of the first phase of the project, Coningham said that even older remains of a village dating back to as early as 1300 BC were found a few hundred metres south of the Buddha's birthplace, pushing the date of the settlement of the region back by a thousand years.

"These two discoveries are great steps which help us to better understand the origins of Lord Buddha's life and the spiritual importance of Lumbini," said Acharya Karma Sango Sherpa, the vice-chair of the Lumbini Development Trust that looks after the preservation and management of the site.

The trust has enhanced the conservation of the three most emblematic monuments of the Buddha's birthplace, namely the Marker Stone, the Nativity Sculpture and the Ashoka Pillar.

It has established a comprehensive management framework for the property. The project has demonstrated that the preservation and management of the World Heritage property of Lumbini cannot be isolated from the management of the rich cultural landscape of the greater Lumbini area.

"We have now very robust proof that Lumbini's history extends far before the visit of Emperor Ashoka. The government of Nepal will step up its efforts to preserve the outstanding universal value of the site," Nepal's Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Secretary Sushil Ghimire told IANS.

Recently, India and Nepal have agreed to set up Indian immigration check point in Lumbini given the increasing size of visitors visiting from India.