Earliest ever 'Buddhist shrine' uncovered by archaeologists
Shrine discovered in Maya Devi Temple at Lumbini in Nepal
A Sixth Century B.C. timber structure buried within the Maya Devi Temple at Lumbini in Nepal is now being heralded as the world's oldest Buddhist shrine. Archaeologists say that the shrine appears to have housed a tree, which links the structure to the Buddha nativity story, According to legend, Buddha's mother gave birth to him while holding on to a tree branch.
The exact time-line when Buddha lived has yet to be settled upon, in spite of the many texts chronicling his life and teachings. Estimates for his birth stretch as far back as 623 BC, but many scholars believed 390-340 BC a more viable time frame.
The earliest evidence of Buddhist structures at Lumbini dated no earlier than the Third Century BC, in the era of the emperor Ashoka.
Archaeologists began excavating at the heart of the temple while leaving the meditating monks, nuns and pilgrims undisturbed. A wooden structure with a central void which had no roof was unearthed. Brick temples built later above the timber were also arranged around this central space.
Fragments of charcoal and grains of sand found with the structure were tested using a combination of radiocarbon and optically stimulated luminescence techniques.
"Now, for the first time, we have an archaeological sequence at Lumbini that shows a building there as early as the 6th century BC," archaeologist Prof Robin Coningham of Durham University says.
Kosh Prasad Acharya, who teamed with archeologists from Britain's Durham University, says that Buddha is generally thought to have been born in about the sixth century B.C. at the temple site.
A pillar installed by Indian Emperor Ashok with inscriptions dating to the third century B.C. was considered to be the oldest Buddhist structure, Acharya says.
"This finding further strengthens the chronology of Buddha's life and is major news for the millions of Buddhists around the world," Acharya said in an interview.
"Very little is known about the life of the Buddha, except through textual sources and oral tradition," Durham University archaeologist Robin Coningham said in a statement. "Now, for the first time, we have an archaeological sequence at Lumbini that shows a building there as early as the sixth century B.C."
Each year, tens of thousands of Buddhists visit Lumbini, 175 miles southwest of Katmandu.
Followers believe Siddhartha, a prince, left his family and kingdom and meditated in the jungles of Nepal and India before achieving enlightenment.
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