Lumbini On Trial: The Untold Story

by Terence Alan Phelps


The present site of Lumbini, the Buddha’s birthplace, is a gigantic fraud. The details of its discovery in 1896 reveal an extraordinary tale of deception and intrigue, which is now told for the first time.

At present, controversy continues to surround the location of Kapilavastu, the Buddha’s native town, with both India and Nepal promoting bids for this historically significant site. The Indian claim is based on the finds made at Piprahwa, in Basti District, Uttar Pradesh; the Nepalese, by that of Tilaurakot and its surrounding sites, in the Western Tarai of Nepal. It is my intention in this paper, however, to demonstrate that neither of these claims can be considered as acceptable, and to show that equal doubt attaches to the site of Lumbini also. I further propose to nominate what I consider to be the correct locations for these and other major Buddhist sites, and to give detailed evidence in support of these proposals.

An old French saying declares that to know a river you should know its source, and any attempt to assess the reliability of the present identifications should begin by taking a close look at the circumstances surrounding their discovery. Chief among the participants in those events—and in my view central to them all—was the notorious figure of Dr Alois Anton Fuhrer, a German archaeologist employed by the (British) Government of the North-Western Provinces and Oudh between 1885-98, and co-discoverer of the present Lumbini site.

Modern Indologists, while aware of Fuhrer’s unsavoury reputation, have neglected to conduct any really close scrutiny of his activities, fondly believing that these have been satisfactorily catalogued and assessed, and that Fuhrer may be safely consigned to oblivion in consequence. Unfortunately, this is far from being the case. Fuhrer drove a coach and horses through critical areas of Indological research, and his deceptions continue to have far-reaching consequences for world history to this day. He was a prolific liar, forger, and cheat (who worked, alarmingly, on the first two volumes of the Epigraphia Indica) 1 and I have good reason to believe that his deceptions were sometimes condoned, even exploited, by the Government of the day, for imperial reasons of their own. Following Fuhrer’s resignation in 1898, the Secretary to the Lieutenant-Governor of the North-Western Provinces remarked, in a letter to central Government, that ‘His Honor fears it must be admitted that no statement made by Dr Fuhrer on archaeological subjects, at all events, can be accepted until independently verified’. 2. Unfortunately this verification was by no means as rigorous as one might perhaps have wished, as we shall shortly see.

Fuhrer’s Early Years

Fuhrer was appointed to the position of Curator at the Lucknow Provincial Museum in 1885, and became Archaeological Surveyor to the Government of the North-Western Provinces and Oudh shortly thereafter. In 1889 he challenged the identification for the site of Kapilavastu (then thought to be Bhuila Dih in Basti District) an event which should be borne in mind whilst reviewing later developments in his career. 3

Fuhrer’s first venture into fraudulent activity appears to have occurred in 1892. In his Progress Report for that season, he copied inscriptions from Buhler’s articles on Sanchi and Mathura, reworked them, and wrote the resultant forgeries into the report of his own excavations at the site of Ramnagar. 4. This wholesale deception appears to have passed completely unnoticed during this period, including, apparently, by Buhler himself, with whom Fuhrer was then in correspondence. He also incised Brahmi inscriptions on to stone exhibits in the Lucknow Museum at this time, forgeries which should also be noted in the light of subsequent events. 5

The Nigliva Discovery

In 1893, Fuhrer reported that Jaskaran Singh, a wealthy landowner from Balrampur, had found an inscribed Asokan pillar at Bairat, a deserted spot near the Indo-Nepalese border.6. Two years later, Fuhrer ‘left for look up the Asoka pillar’ which Singh had reported, but ‘it turned out that the information furnished by Major Jaskaran Singh was unfortunately misleading as to the exact position of this pillar’, and ‘after experiencing many difficulties’, Fuhrer found a pillar near the Nepalese village of Nigliva (see map). 7. An Asokan inscription was reportedly discovered by Fuhrer on a broken piece of this pillar, the main shaft of which lay close by. Though the local villagers supposedly told him that ‘other inscriptions were hidden beneath the soil’ in which this stump was partly buried, Fuhrer was refused permission to excavate, and he was thus ‘compelled to content myself with taking impressions and paper moulds of the lines visible above ground’. Permission to excavate was granted two months later, but as this was ‘without any results whatsoever’, it is evident that the inscription was that of ‘the lines visible above ground’ on Fuhrer's arrival. 8 . This is most important, as we shall shortly see.

The inscription referred to Asoka’s enlargement of the stupa of the ‘previous Buddha’, Konagamana, which according to Fuhrer was situated close by, ‘amidst vast brick ruins stretching far away in the direction of the southern gate of Kapilavastu’. Fuhrer gave extensive details of this ancient and impressive structure, declaring that it was ‘undoubtedly one of the oldest Buddhist monuments in India’, and stating that ‘on all sides of this interesting monument are ruined monasteries, fallen columns, and broken sculptures’. 9

All this was pure moonshine however, as later surveys soon revealed. The stupa didn’t exist, and it was found that Fuhrer had copied its elaborate details (including those ‘ruined monasteries, fallen columns, and broken sculptures’) from Alexander Cunningham’s book ‘Bhilsa Topes’. 10. Moreover, Fuhrer’s statement that this Asokan inscription was ‘visible above ground’ on his arrival raises further grave doubts. For in a later report by Drs Hoey and Waddell, it emerged that in 1893—i. e. two years before Fuhrer’s visit—Hoey had commissioned the local Governor, Khadga Shamsher, to take rubbings of the pillar inscriptions in this area, ‘but these were not of Asoka lettering’. Fuhrer also lied when he claimed that the inscribed portion of this pillar was ‘resting on a masonry foundation’, the precise measurements of which he also gave; this didn’t exist either, this broken piece being merely stuck into the ground at the site. Following an investigation of Fuhrer’s claims in 1899, Dr Hoey declared that Fuhrer had ‘lied and lied on a grand scale’ about his alleged Nepalese discoveries, adding that ‘one is appalled at the audacity of invention here displayed’. 11

Finally, according to the Divyavadana, Asoka was conducted to Lumbini for the first time by his spiritual preceptor, Upagupta, who pointed out to the king the spot where the Buddha was born. Though the Lumbini pillar inscription states that this visit occurred during the twentieth year of Asoka’s reign, the nearby Nigliva pillar inscription states that Asoka had ‘increased for the second time the stupa of Buddha Konagamana’ when he had been reigning for only fourteen years. 12. This is absurd. Why would Asoka decide to enlarge the Konagamana stupa—and for the second time—six years before he had even set foot in the Lumbini area?

The Lumbini Discovery

Having heard of ‘another edict pillar of Asoka’ in 1895, Fuhrer left for Nepal in December 1896 ‘to explore the whole neighbourhood of Taulihawa as far as Bhagvanpur’, where this second pillar was said to exist. 13. It should be noted that there was then no reason to suppose that this pillar -- the present Lumbini pillar—was ‘another edict pillar of Asoka’, as Fuhrer had stated. Having obtained rubbings from it ‘a dozen years’ earlier, V. A. Smith found that these consisted only of ‘mediaeval scribblings’, and had ‘thought nothing further of the matter’. 14

The site was supposedly called ‘Rummindei’, this being considered to be a later variant of the name ‘Lumbini’. 15. But as E. J. Thomas observed:

‘According to Fuhrer, “this deserted site is still locally called Rummindei” (Monograph, p. 28). This statement was generally accepted before Fuhrer’s imaginativeness was discovered, and is still incautiously repeated. Yet he admitted that it was not the name used by the present Nepalese officials. “It is a curious fact (he says) that the true meaning of this ancient Buddhistic name has long been forgotten, as the present Nepalese officials believe the word to signify the sthan of Rupa-devi”. V. A. Smith said “the name Rummindei, of which a variant form Rupadei (sic) is known to the hill-men, is that of the shrine near the top of the mound of ruins”. This gives no further evidence for Fuhrer’s assertion, and it appears that neither the Nepalese officials nor the hill-men called it Rummindei’.  16

Whilst the Indian Survey map of 1915 lists the spot as ‘Roman-devi’, it should be noted that another ‘Roman-dei’ exists about 30 miles WSW of the Nepalese site, near the Indian town of Chandapar. 17.  Today, the site is situated in the ‘Rupandehi District’ of Nepal.

The Lumbini Pillar Inscription.

Whatever the event, in December 1896 Fuhrer met up at this Nepalese ‘Rummindei’ with the local Governor, General Khadga Shamsher, ‘a man with intrigue in his bones’, 18 who having assassinated one Prime Minister of Nepal and plotted against two others, was finally exiled to British India shortly thereafter. 19. Following Fuhrer’s arrival, the subsequent excavations around the pillar reportedly disclosed an Asokan inscription about a metre below ground, and level with the top of a surrounding brick enclosure.

The credit for the discovery of this inscription later prompted an official enquiry, since Fuhrer had supposedly left the site just before any excavations had begun, leaving the Governor and his ‘sappers’ to do the digging. In his official letter on the matter, Fuhrer stated that he had told the Governor ‘that an inscription would be found if a search was made below the surface of the mound’ on which the pillar was standing. 20. Since there was no previous historical reference to such an inscription, one wonders at Fuhrer’s remarkable prescience on this occasion. However, since this inscription provides the sole basis for the identification of this place with Lumbini, I propose to deal with it before passing on to other features at this site.

The appearance of this inscription in 1896 marked its first recorded appearance in history. The Chinese pilgrims, Faxian and Xuanzang, make no mention of it in their accounts of the Lumbini site (though Xuanzang does give a detailed description of a pillar) and as Thomas Watters observed:

‘We have no records of any other pilgrims visiting this place, or of any great Buddhists residing at it, or of any human life, except that mentioned by the two pilgrims, between the Buddha’s time and the present.  21

An unpublished manuscript of Watters was published by the Royal Asiatic Society (UK) following his death in 1901. In this publication, the following statement is found with reference to the Lumbini site:

‘Yuan-chuang, as we have seen, mentions a stone pillar, but he does not say anything about an inscription on it. The Fang-chih, however, tells us that the pillar recorded the circumstances of Buddha's birth’. 22

The Fang-chih—a shortened version of Xuanzang’s account—does nothing of the sort, since whilst it also refers to a pillar at Lumbini, no inscription ‘recording the circumstances of Buddha’s birth’ is mentioned in this text either. 23. Watters was referred to by V. A. Smith as ‘one of the most brilliant ornaments’ of Chinese Buddhist scholarship, and it is inconceivable that he would have made this absurd and critical mistake. Indeed, when Smith had earlier asserted that the Lumbini pillar inscription ‘set at rest all doubts as to the exact site of the traditional birthplace of Gautama Buddha’, 24  Watters had acidly retorted that ‘it would be more correct to say that the inscription, if genuine, tells us what was the spot indicated to Asoka as the birthplace of the Buddha’. 25. Note that ‘if genuine’ : this shows that Watters not only had his doubts about this inscription, but that he was prepared to voice those doubts in public. Moreover, according to Smith, ‘Mr Watters writes in a very sceptical spirit, and apparently feels doubts as to the reality of the Sakya principality in the Tarai’. 26   Since it will thus be seen that this apparent Fang-chih ‘mistake’ of Watters was totally at variance with his ‘very sceptical spirit’ regarding these alleged Nepalese discoveries—Lumbini included—I shall therefore charge that it was a posthumous interpolation into Watters’ original text by its editors, Rhys Davids, Bushell, and Smith.  If this charge is correct—and I am quite sure that it is—then the reasons behind this appalling deception can only be guessed at, I need hardly add. 27.

Fuhrer was later found to have fraudulently laid claim to the discovery of about twenty relic-caskets at sites close to Lumbini, which he declared bore Asokan, and even pre-Asokan inscriptions. 28. One of these items supposedly contained a tooth-relic of the Buddha, which Fuhrer exchanged for gifts with a Burmese monk, U Ma (the correspondence between these two makes for lamentable reading, with Fuhrer exploiting U Ma’s gullibility quite unmercifully). 29. Following an official enquiry into the matter, this tooth-relic was found to be ‘apparently that of a horse’: Fuhrer had explained its large size to an indignant U Ma by pointing out that according to ‘your sacred writings’ the Buddha was nearly thirty feet in height!

According to Fuhrer, this ‘Buddhadanta’ had been found by a villager inside a ruined brick stupa near Tilaurakot, and was ‘enshrined in a bronze casket, bearing the following inscription in Maurya characters: “This sacred tooth-relic of Lord Buddha (is) the gift of Upagupta”’ (the mentor of Asoka). 30. Having obligingly parted with the relic, the villager had refused to part with the inscribed casket itself ‘which is still in his possession’. Fuhrer reported finding this phony Asokan inscription during the selfsame visit which saw his involvement with the alleged discovery of the Asokan inscription at Lumbini. Moreover, according to Fuhrer, the Lumbini inscription includes words which were supposedly spoken by Upagupta whilst showing Asoka the Buddha’s birth-spot: ‘It would almost appear as if Asoka had engraved on this pillar the identical words which Upagupta uttered at this place’, he tells us, all wide-eyed. 31. However, what with a bogus Upagupta quote on the casket, an Upagupta quote on the pillar, and Fuhrer’s keen taste for forging Brahmi inscriptions, we may here recall that he had fraudulently incised Brahmi inscriptions on to stone four years earlier (see ‘Fuhrer's Early Years’). And indeed, this pillar inscription ‘appeared almost as if freshly cut’ when Rhys Davids examined it in 1900, 32   a view echoed by Professors N. Dutt and K. D. Bajpai, who noted that ‘it appears as if the inscription has been very recently incised’ when they examined it fifty years later. 33. W. C. Peppe observed in 1898 that ‘the rain falling on this pillar must have trickled over these letters and it is marvellous how well they are preserved; they stand out boldly as if they had been cut today and show no signs of the effects of climate; not a portion of the inscription is even stained’. Inscriptions on other Asokan pillars located at sites associated with the Buddha’s life and ministry—Sarnath and Kosambi, for example—contain no references to their Buddhist associations, as this pillar so conspicuously—and twice—does; and no other inscription makes reference to any erection of a particular pillar by Asoka (as this one does) either. And with the exceptions of Sarnath and Sanchi, where only broken bases of pillars have been found, all other inscribed Asokan pillars are almost covered with inscriptions, whereas this pillar, and the nearby Nigliva pillar, display only single meagre inscriptions of 4 -5 lines each, and as J. F. Fleet has pointed out, they are not really edicts at all. 34.

There is an additional mystery here. As noted above, Fuhrer had supposedly left the site just before the inscription was unearthed. Yet he had travelled up from Lucknow, crossed the Nepalese Tarai to Nigliva by elephant—a difficult and laborious undertaking—and then been further redirected to the ‘Rummindei’ site, where he had been officially appointed to superintend the excavations. According to his own account, Fuhrer finally arrived at the site, identified the pillar as Asokan, assured Khadga Shamsher that an Asokan inscription would be found after further excavation, then left just before the inscription was exposed. This is frankly unbelievable, even absurd. Given that Fuhrer had been officially appointed to oversee these excavations anyway, are we really to believe that after several days’ arduous efforts to reach this site, and himself declaring that this world-shaking discovery was close at hand—a couple of hours’ excavation away at most—Fuhrer would then simply walk away, leaving Khadga Shamsher to expose the inscription in his absence? This is like believing that Howard Carter would choose to walk away from the opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb; it was, after all, a defining moment not just of Indian archaeology, but of world history also. According to V. A. Smith, a nearby landowner, Duncan Ricketts, ‘had the good fortune to be present while the inscription was being unearthed. Dr Fuhrer arrived a little later’. 35. But Smith’s statement ignores Fuhrer’s earlier arrival at the site; and since the accounts which were furnished by Fuhrer and Khadga Shamsher make no reference to Ricketts anyway, one assumes that Fuhrer had alerted him to these excavations after this mysterious departure (Ricketts lived just a few miles away). So what’s to stop Fuhrer from forging the inscription, reinterring the excavated soil (a common archaeological practice) and then notifying Ricketts of events at the site, an action which would have served to remove any subsequent awkward questions on the matter? Only this scenario, it seems to me, can explain Fuhrer’s sudden, inexplicable absence at this critical moment—by far the most important moment in his entire archaeological career— and it is evident that skulduggery was very much at work here.

Fuhrer also refers to a ‘pilgrim's mark’ on the upper part of this pillar, and whilst providing no photograph of it, nor giving any details of its language, script, or content, he nevertheless dates it at around 700 AD. 36. According to him, this item was visible above ground whilst the Asokan inscription lay hidden beneath the soil, and this somehow explained Xuanzang’s failure to notice the latter during his visit to Lumbini in 635 AD. But since there is no such ‘pilgrim’s mark’ on this pillar anyway—this was yet another Fuhrer lie—it is evident that this fabrication was merely a clumsy attempt by Fuhrer to add credence to this Asokan inscription (just as he did with the phony Konagamana stupa at Nigliva). Why else would Fuhrer invent it?

Moreover, there are serious epigraphical problems with the pillar inscription itself. The term ‘silavigadabhi’ which occurs in this inscription appears to have baffled all attempts at translation thus far. According to Pischel, vigadabhi is ‘literally, ‘not so uncouth as a donkey'’ (a translation which Fuhrer cheerfully endorsed) though quite how this phrase might relate to the birthplace of the Buddha remains unclear. 37.  More damaging still, however, is the presence of the term ‘Sakyamuni’ in this inscription. Simply put, it shouldn’t be there. ‘Sakyamuni’ is a later, Sanskritised form of this term, and thus has no place in an allegedly Asokan Brahmi inscription. Its earliest appearance occurred at least three centuries after Asoka, when the north-western Prakrit inscriptions began to show Sanskrit influence—so-called Epigraphical Hybrid Sanskrit—and before this it was always written as ‘Sakamuni’ in both Brahmi and Kharosthi inscriptions. 38. There would thus appear to be no epigraphical support for the presence of ‘Sakyamuni’ in this Asokan Brahmi inscription, and I shall charge that this exposes it as yet another Fuhrer forgery. Though the term occurs in a few Pali texts these were also written down much later, and as J. F. Fleet observed:

‘The inscriptions of India are the only sure grounds of historical results in every line of research connected with its ancient past; they regulate everything that we can learn from coins, architecture, art, literature, tradition, or any other source.  39

A similar caution has been expressed by Richard Salomon:

‘...there can be no question that in Buddhological studies as a whole the testimony of the inscriptions has not generally been given the weight it merits, and that the entire field of the history of Buddhism, which has traditionally been dominated by a strongly text-oriented approach, must be re-examined in its light.  40.

The Location of the Lumbini Pillar

The pillar at the present Lumbini site is in the ‘wrong’ place; that is, it is in a very different position, relative to the so-called ‘Sacred Pool’, from that given by Xuanzang (and the pillar rests upon a support-stone, it should be noted here). 41. According to this pilgrim, a decayed ‘Asoka-flower’ tree lay twenty-five paces to the north of the pool at Lumbini, marking the birth-spot of the Buddha. To the east of this lay an Asokan stupa, marking the spot where ‘two dragons’ bathed the newly-born prince. To the east of this were two more stupas, close to two springs; to the south of these was another stupa; close to this were four more stupas; and close to these was the stone pillar itself, broken in half and lying near to a little ‘river of oil’. A little elementary geometry will disclose that the pillar thus lay—apparently at some distance—to either the east or to the south-east of the pool. The pillar at the present site however  - on its support-stone, remember—stands a mere 75 metres or so to the north-north-west of the pool, a position diametrically opposed to that given by Xuanzang in his carefully-detailed account.

The Mayadevi Temple

In 1994, I photographed an official notice at the present Lumbini site (see Fig. 1 ) the text of which ran as follows:

‘The famous Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang says :- “Lumbini is on the bank of the River Telar where an Asokan pillar (with a split in the centre), the Mayadevi Temple, the Sacred Tank, and a few stupas are situated”.’

Xuanzang, alas, makes no such statement, and like Faxian, his account makes no mention whatsoever of any ‘Mayadevi Temple’ at Lumbini. He is also, as we have seen, quite specific about the stupas at the site, and of their significance, and his account mentions only a ‘little river of oil’ and not the River Telar (which runs about a kilometre away from the present site anyway). As for the ‘Mayadevi Temple’ itself, I can find nothing to connect this structure with Lumbini, let alone with anything Buddhist. Neither of the Chinese pilgrims make any reference to such a ‘temple’ at Lumbini, and the present structure is an entirely modern creation anyway, beneath which lay the remains of an earlier edifice exposed by P.C. Mukherji in 1899. 42. The ornately-carved bricks which formed part of this earlier structure were identical to those found in remains at the nearby Sivaite sites of Sagarwa and Kodan, these being dated by Debala Mitra at ‘not earlier than the eighth century AD’. 43.

Similarly, the sandstone image in this ‘temple’ (see Fig. 2) supposedly of Mayadevi giving birth to the Buddha, appears equally dubious on a close examination of its discovery. The figures on it are so defaced as to be unrecognisable (see Fig. 5) and it originally formed part of the remains of various broken statues which Mukherji found during his visit to the site in 1899. These consisted of various Hindu deities such as Varahi, Durga, Parvati, Ganesh, etc—nothing Buddhist—and it is noted that the supposed image of Mayadevi bears a striking resemblance to figures of yakshis and devatas also (see Figs. 2-4 ). 44.  Moreover, it is highly doubtful whether the all-important top piece of this alleged ‘Mayadevi’ figure, with its raised arm holding a tree-branch, was originally associated with the torso. When Hoey first saw the image in 1897 this critical feature was absent, being later added to it by Mukherji from among the broken pieces mentioned above. During a later visit, Landon noted various examples of Mukherji's careless assembly of these pieces, one even showing a head of Ganesh placed on ‘the headless body of a female deity’ (see Fig. 6). 45.  Whatever the event, all of these items —the so-called ‘Mayadevi’ figure included—were associated with the earlier structure found by Mukherji, and are therefore of mediaeval Hindu provenance. There is thus nothing Buddhist about the ‘Mayadevi Temple’ at all, and it was never a place of Buddhist worship either.

The Piprahwa Discoveries

In January 1898, W. C. Peppe, manager of the Birdpur Estate in north-eastern Basti District, U. P., announced the discovery of soapstone caskets and jewellery inside a stupa near Piprahwa, a small village on this estate (see map). An inscription on one of these caskets appeared to indicate that bone relics, supposedly found with these items, were those of the Buddha. Since this inscription also referred to the Buddha’s Sakyan kinsmen, these relics were thus generally considered to be those relics which were accorded to the Sakyas of Kapilavastu, following the Buddha’s cremation. The following year, these bone relics were ceremonially presented by the (British) Government of India to the King of Siam, who in turn accorded portions to the Sanghas of Burma and Ceylon. 46.  The following points, however, should be noted:

         Peppe had been in contact with Fuhrer just before announcing the Piprahwa discovery (Fuhrer was then excavating at the nearby Nepalese site of Sagarwa: see map). 47. Immediately following Peppe's announcement, it was discovered that Fuhrer had been conducting a steady trade in bogus relics of the Buddha with a Burmese monk, U Ma.  Among these items— and a year before the alleged Piprahwa finds—Fuhrer had sent U Ma a soapstone relic-casket containing fraudulent Buddha-relics of the Sakyas of Kapilavastu, together with a bogus Asokan inscription, these deceptions thus duplicating, at an earlier date, Peppe’s supposedly astounding and unique finds. 48. Fuhrer was also found to have falsely laid claim to the discovery of seventeen inscribed, pre-Asokan, Sakyan caskets at Sagarwa, his report even listing the names of seventeen ‘Sakya heroes’ which were allegedly inscribed upon these caskets. 49. The inscribed Piprahwa casket was also considered to be both Sakyan and pre-Asokan at this time—though its characters have since been shown to be typically Asokan—and no other Sakyan caskets have been discovered either before or since this date.

         the bone relics themselves, purportedly 2500 years old, ‘might have been picked up a few days ago’ according to Peppe, 50 whilst a  molar tooth found among these items (and retained by Peppe) has now been found to be that of a pig. 51.  The eminent archaeologist, Theodor Bloch, declared of the Piprahwa stupa that ‘one may be permitted to maintain some doubts in regard to the theory that the latter monument contained the relic share of the Buddha received by the Sakyas. The bones found at that place, which have been presented to the King of Siam, and which I saw in Calcutta, according to my opinion were not human bones at all’. 52.  Bloch was then Superintendent both of the ASI Bengal Circle and of the Archaeological Section of the Indian Museum, and would presumably have drawn not only upon his own archaeological expertise in making this damning assertion, but also the verdicts of the zoologists in the Indian Museum itself. This museum—formerly the Imperial Museum—was then considered to be the greatest museum in Asia.

         the caskets appear to be identical to caskets found in Cunningham’s book ‘Bhilsa Topes’ (see Figs. 7-12 ) a source also used by Fuhrer for his Nigliva deceptions. A photograph of the ‘rear’ of the inscribed Piprahwa casket, taken in situ at Piprahwa in 1898 (and never published thereafter) discloses that a large sherd was missing from the base of the vessel at this time (see Fig. 8 ). Having closely examined this casket in 1994, I noted that a piece had since been inserted into this broken base, and that this had been ‘nibbled’ in a clumsy attempt to get this piece to fit. The photograph also reveals a curious feature on the upper aspect of the casket; this, I discovered, was a piece of sealing-wax (since transferred to the inside) which had then been stuck on to prevent a large crack from running further. From all this, it is evident that this casket had been badly damaged from the start, a fact not mentioned in any published report. But is it likely, one is prompted to ask, that a damaged casket, supposedly containing the Buddha’s relics, would have been deposited inside the stupa anyway? Or is this the ‘broken’ casket, ‘similar in shape to those found below’, which Peppe reportedly found near the summit of the stupa, and which had vanished without trace thereafter? This casket was the first of the alleged Piprahwa finds; so did Peppe take it to Fuhrer, and did Fuhrer then forge the inscription on it? Is the Piprahwa inscription merely another Fuhrer forgery?  As Assistant Editor on the Epigraphia Indica, Fuhrer would certainly have had the necessary expertise to do this, quite apart from his close association with the great epigraphist, Georg Buhler, who may, indeed, have unwittingly provided Fuhrer with the necessary details, according to the existing accounts. Having received an early copy of the inscription from Fuhrer, Buhler wrote back and ‘begged Mr Peppe to look if any traces of the required I in the first word, of the medial I in the second, and of a vowel-mark in the last syllable of bhagavata are visible’, all features which were duly present when the final copy of the inscription was published shortly thereafter.53.

         on his return to the U. K., Peppe was contacted by the London Buddhist Society, and agreed to answer readers’ questions on his finds. Shortly afterwards however, the Society was notified that Peppe had suddenly been taken seriously ill, and was therefore unable to answer any questions as proposed. The Society declared the matter to be ‘in abeyance’, but Peppe died six years later, leaving all such questions still unanswered. 54.

         the declassified ‘Secret’ political files of the period reveal the disquiet felt by the Government of India over French and Russian influence at the Siamese royal court at this time. Hence, no doubt, this bequest!  55.

In 1972 an Indian archaeologist, K. M. Srivastava, claimed to have discovered yet further relics of the Buddha in a ‘primary mud stupa’ below the one excavated by Peppe. According to him, though Peppe’s ‘indiscriminate destruction’ meant that the 1898 bone relics could not be safely determined to be those of the Buddha, the inscribed casket somehow ‘pointed’ to the real relics allegedly found (by him) lower down. Since this bizarre proposal rests upon the notion that the 1898 inscription is genuine—hardly likely, as we have seen—then this claim becomes equally improbable in consequence. I also note that Srivastava makes no mention at all, in any of his various publications on his alleged finds, of the bequest of the Peppe relics to Siam. Naturally, one wonders why. 56.


Following the supposed discovery of Lumbini in 1896, a further expedition was despatched to Nepal in 1899 to determine the possible location of Kapilavastu, the Buddha’s home town. P.C. Mukherji proposed Tilaurakot as the most likely contender for this site, and since all further investigations ceased for the next sixty years, this identification was generally accepted thereafter. In 1970, however, it was summarily dismissed by Debala Mitra following her own archaeological examinations at the site. Among other criticisms, she pointed out that Mukherji had found no Buddhist antiquities or structures at Tilaurakot, that she had found none either, and despite several extensive later excavations it still remains a highly embarrassing fact that no Buddhist artefact of any kind has ever been found at this site. Given that the real Kapilavastu site would have been visited for over a thousand years by countless thousands of pilgrims, it is unthinkable that no trace whatsoever of any Buddhist votive tablets, sealings, inscriptions, statues, or whatever should have been discovered (the same devastating condemnation can also be levelled at the alleged nearby site of Lumbini, it should be noted). Moreover, Tilaurakot was proposed on the basis of bearings given by Faxian and Xuanzang, and as we shall now see, a close examination of their accounts renders this identification yet more insupportable still.        

The Kapilavastu of the Chinese Pilgrims

In the 5th and 7th centuries AD, the Buddhist sites of the Indian subcontinent were visited by the two great Chinese pilgrims, Faxian and Xuanzang.  Since their detailed accounts specify both the distances and directions which they travelled between those sites, they thus remain the definitive guides to the locations of ancient Indian Buddhist places, and as Alexander Cunningham, Samuel Beal, and other authorities have declared:

‘...the voyages of the two Chinese travellers, undertaken in the fifth and seventh century of our era, have done more to elucidate the history and geography of Buddhism in India than all that has hitherto been found in the Sanskrit and Pali books of India and the neighbouring countries’. 57

Now not only did the pilgrims agree on the location of Kapilavastu (and thus serve to confirm each other’s testimony on the matter) but since they both actually went to Kapilavastu, then this must surely settle any question regarding its whereabouts. On the few instances when the pilgrims’ accounts disagree—as they sometimes do over certain minor locations—then we have a problem, but where they agree then that’s obviously where we must look, since I shall repeat, they both went there, and you really can’t argue with that! From the city of Sravasti, both pilgrims placed Kapilavastu in a south-easterly direction, and at a distance of 500 li (Xuanzang) or 12 yojanas (Faxian), both of these bearings thus serving to place Kapilavastu around ninety miles south-east of Sravasti. 58. Yet neither Piprahwa nor Tilaurakot can be remotely reconciled with these bearings. Piprahwa lies only fifty-five miles east of Sravasti, whilst Tilaurakot lies east-north-east at around the same distance (see map).  Moreover, Xuanzang visited the ‘Scene of the Sakyan Massacre’, where an army from Sravasti are said to have massacred the inhabitants of Kapilavastu during the lifetime of the Buddha. Since this place was situated to the north-west of Kapilavastu this serves to confirm the direction from whence this attack came, and thus provides yet further compelling evidence for the fact that Kapilavastu did indeed lie to the south-east of Sravasti. Having acknowledged the impossibility of reconciling either Tilaurakot or Piprahwa with the pilgrims’ accounts, 59.  V. A. Smith then attempted to ‘solve’ the problem by relocating Sravasti itself into Nepal 60 (see map).  Later excavations reconfirmed Cunningham’s identification of Sravasti with the Indian site of Sahet-Mahet however, 61 and this insurmountable problem has remained ever since (though carefully ignored by all later researchers, I note). But we must search for Kapilavastu where the pilgrims found it— regardless of any present claims to the contrary—and prior to Fuhrer’s Nepalese identifications this location was thought to be ‘well within the Basti District’, an area, like the neighbouring Gorakhpur District, rich in ancient Buddhist sites, still largely unexcavated and unexplored.

‘...our knowledge about the position of Kapila may be reduced to this: that it lay on the route from the Buddhist cities of eastern Gorakhpur to the Buddhist Sravasti of Gonda; and that that route probably passed between the Ghagra and Rapti rivers’.  62.  

Before proceeding further, it will be necessary to mention that most traces of the original Kapilavastu site will have long since disappeared anyway. As Herbert Härtel has pointed out:

‘The hope to recover the original structures and ruins of a town or habitation of the time of the Buddha, let us say Kapilavastu, is almost zero’.  63.

The problem being that the earliest burnt brick buildings found in India date to the second century BC (with the exception of the Harappan sites, which need not concern us here) and any earlier remains would thus have long since returned to clay in consequence. This being so, we are compelled to rely upon the pilgrims’ accounts together with whatever local traditions may tell us, and this in an area where the threads of all such traditions were systematically broken, and Buddhist sites were either abandoned to the jungle or converted into Hindu sites instead. Astonishingly, however, one such tradition has survived; and I now propose to examine this in detail, since it would appear to hold the key to the Kapilavastu problem at last.

Will the Real Kapilavastu Please Stand Up?

Between the Ghagra and Rapti rivers (see above), at the correct distance from Sravasti (about 90 miles), and in the right direction also (south-east), lies the pilgrimage site of Maghar, about sixteen miles west of Gorakhpur (see map).  At present this site is visited by Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim pilgrims, since it marks the final resting-place of the great poet/saint Kabir, who died at this spot in 1518 AD. Kabir’s sayings disclose that he had not only received his spiritual enlightenment at Maghar, but that he had also elected to die there, in deliberate defiance of Brahmin teachings. These declared that Maghar was ‘accursed’, and held that whilst dying in Varanasi assured rebirth in heaven, death at ‘barren’ Maghar meant rebirth in hell, or as an ass, etc. 64.. Such attacks from the Varanasi Brahmins against Maghar—a small village, 200 kms. distant -  reveal that this place was once an important rival religious site which they found it necessary to discredit. But why would anyone have wished to die at Maghar anyway? The answer is not far to seek. According to Buddhist tradition, ‘the Buddha was, after his parinirvana, in some sense actually present at the places where he is known to have formerly been’, and ‘a devout death that occurred within the range of this presence assured for the individuals involved—and these were both monks and laymen—rebirth in heaven’.65.. Since, as we shall now see, there is compelling evidence to show that Maghar was formerly the site of Kapilavastu itself, then the reason for people electing to die there then becomes abundantly clear, as indeed, does Brahmin hostility towards this place.

For A. C. L. Carlleyle, who did archaeological tours of this area in the 1870s, tells us not only that the Maghar site is ‘very ancient’, but that it was ‘reputed to have been the seat of Buddhist hierarchs for some time after Kapilavastu was destroyed’. 66. As mentioned above, Kapilavastu was destroyed during the Buddha’s lifetime by the king of Sravasti; yet when the Chinese pilgrims visited Kapilavastu a thousand years later, they still found Buddhist monks living amid the remains of the town (and these would doubtless have included ‘Buddhist hierarchs’). 67. One also notes ‘the prominent association of this place (Maghar) with Buddhism’, 68  together with the curious tradition that with the arrival of Kabir, a dried-up local stream began to flow once more. This is more likely to refer to the similarity of the anti-Brahmin, anti-caste teachings of Kabir to those of Buddhism, than to any sudden and supernatural antics of the local River Ami. And just who was the protective ‘Lord’ of the (Buddhist) Tharus —the earliest recorded inhabitants of Maghar—whose place of worship (beneath a tree) was called the ‘Thakur-dih’, or high place of the Lord, but upon whose name ‘tradition is silent’? 69.. On visiting this site in 2005, I was twice informed by local sources that famous Chinese travellers had visited long ago, and that they had stayed in the area for a while. 70. The remains at the deserted ‘Thakur-dih’ site—which include ancient walls and wells—call for detailed and careful archaeological examination, as do various mounds in the vicinity.

From all this it can clearly be seen that ‘very ancient’ Maghar was once a major Buddhist site. Just as the Chinese pilgrims found Buddhist monks occupying the ruined site of Kapilavastu a thousand years after its destruction, so we are also told that Maghar was occupied by important Buddhist monks ‘after Kapilavastu was destroyed’. We have direct historical evidence, from Kabir, that people deliberately chose to die at this place, and whilst the Varanasi Brahmins cursed it, and declared that choosing to die there meant rebirth in hell, Buddhists believed that to die in a place where the Buddha had once walked meant rebirth in heaven. And since Maghar lies around 90 miles to the south-east of Sravasti, and is thus in perfect agreement with the geographical bearings which were given by both of the Chinese pilgrims for the site of Kapilavastu, then there can surely remain no doubt that this is indeed the place where Kapilavastu itself once stood.


From the palace-city of Kapilavastu, Xuanzang travelled to the Arrow Well. He states that this lay 32 li (between 5-6 miles) to the southeast of the city, a bearing which agrees with that given by Faxian. From here, Xuanzang travelled ‘80 or 90 li north-east’- about 15 miles—to the Lumbini Garden, though he gives no direct distance between Kapilavastu and Lumbini. Faxian, however, states that he went directly from Kapilavastu ‘50 li east’ to Lumbini (about nine miles) but this distance is impossible to reconcile with Xuanzang’s triangulation. If Xuanzang’s bearings are correct—and they are usually more precise than those of Faxian—then Lumbini must have been just a few miles further on.

According to the Buddhist scriptures, the Rohini River constituted the border between the neighbouring Sakyan clans of Kapilavastu and Koliya, and the Lumbini pleasure-park was used by both clans for purposes of recreation. From this it would appear that they regarded Lumbini as a territorially ‘neutral’ site, which would thus, presumably, have been situated either on or close to this river border. 71.

‘About one and-a-half miles to the north-west of Gorakhpur, close to the junction of the Rohini with the Rapti, is a large and high mound, the ruins of the ancient Domangarh, said to have been founded by, and to have received the name from, a ruling tribe called Dom-kattar. The bricks which compose the interior or oldest portion of the ruins of Domangarh are very large and thick, and of a square shape. During the construction of the Bengal and North-West Railway, in 1884, a relic-casket was discovered near this khera containing an amulet of thin plate gold, representing Yasodhara and Rahula, the wife and son of prince Siddhartha, as well as the ornaments of a child. The relics are deposited in Lucknow Provincial Museum.’  72.

The interment of a relic-casket at Domingarh reveals that it was once a sacred Buddhist place (there are stupa remains still present at the site). The representations on the amulet are of interest, whilst the large size and square shape of the oldest bricks strongly suggest that they are Mauryan, and may therefore be part of the Asokan stupa mentioned by Xuanzang at Lumbini. 73. Kushan terracottas (1st-3rd centuries AD) and Northern Black Polished Ware (500-100 BC) have recently been discovered at Domingarh, these artefacts being housed in the Purvayatan Museum at Gorakhpur University. These latter finds push the dating of this site’s occupation back to a very ancient period indeed, the NBP Ware finds being possibly contemporaneous with the Buddha himself.  74.  

Domingarh lies about 14 miles east of Maghar (see map) bearings which would accord with those travelled by Xuanzang between Kapilavastu and Lumbini. Moreover, its position is in precise agreement with the bearings—35+ miles eastwards—which were given by both pilgrims for their next place of visit, which was that of the Rama Stupa (which I take to be the Ramabhar Stupa, for reasons given below) and it is, indeed, directly en route from Maghar to this stupa. Before the coming of the railway in 1884, Domingarh became an island during the rains, and since it lies on the Rohini river (which marked the border between the neighbouring Sakyan clans of Kapilavastu and Koliya) it would thus have been regarded as a ‘neutral’ place by these two Sakyan clans in consequence. It is still a pleasant place to visit, being on a slightly elevated stretch of ground with fresh air and good views, and local Europeans even built a sanatorium—a place of healing—upon it, and would visit it for purposes of recreation. Close to it, curiously, there is a village called Koliya, and the great mediaeval saint, Gorakhnath (whom many regard as a crypto-Buddhist) also chose a nearby site for his ashram. Local information has it that Domingarh was named after a queen ; this may link with Xuanzang’s version of ‘Lumbini’ as ‘La-fa-ni’ (‘beautiful woman’) whilst other accounts state that Lumbini was named after a Koliyan queen. 75.

The Rama Stupa

Both pilgrims report that having left the Lumbini Garden, they travelled 200 li / 5 yojanas eastwards (about 35 miles) to ‘Lan-mo’ (Rama) where they found an Asokan stupa, with its attendant vihara, situated beside a lake. Earlier traditions regarding the Rama stupa are mentioned by both pilgrims in considerable detail. One of these traditions declared that it was the only stupa containing relics of the Buddha which had remained untouched by Asoka, whilst another tradition held that wild elephants had repeatedly paid homage at the stupa with gifts of flowers. 76.

Taking Domingarh as Lumbini, we find the Kasia site about 35 miles due east, bearings which match those given by both pilgrims from Lumbini to the Rama Stupa. By far the oldest structure at the Kasia site— the bricks are deemed to be Asokan 77    is the Ramabhar Stupa (see map) which like the Rama stupa of the pilgrims is situated beside a lake. 78. Whilst this name— ‘Ramabhar’—has always been a puzzle to scholars, I take it to signify the stupa of Rama and its attendant vihara 79 (since ‘bhar/bihar’ = ‘vihara’ 80 ). At this site, a life-size statue of a seated Buddha (the ‘Matha-Kuar’) bore an inscription—now abraded—which began with the words ‘Rama rupa’ (a rupa being an image of the Buddha). 81. During excavations of 1904-5 a plaque was discovered, also bearing a seated Buddha, showing a row of elephants carrying flowers, precisely as depicted in the tradition mentioned by the pilgrims for the Rama stupa. 82. Most of the votive offerings which were found at the Kasia complex were found at the Ramabhar stupa, a fact which attests to the stupa’s position as the central sacred feature at this site. 83. Since, according to tradition, the Rama stupa’s Buddha-relic was left untouched by Asoka, this would signify the Buddha's ‘parinirvanic presence’ at Kasia, thus explaining the ‘parinirvana’ statue, the ‘parinirvana’ copperplate, and the sealings of the ‘monastery of the Mahaparinirvana’, all of which were found at this location. 84. At present, Kasia is identified with the site of Kusinara, where the Buddha died; but if this identification were correct, and we backtracked from Kasia using the pilgrims’ accounts, we would then find Kapilavastu situated somewhere northwest of Allahabad, and Sravasti located northwest of Lucknow. Nobody, I trust, would seriously attempt to support such proposals.

From Rama to Kusinara

From the Rama Stupa, both pilgrims travelled 100 li / 3 yojanas (about 21 miles) east to the spot where Siddhartha sent back his charioteer, Khanna, following the flight from the palace. The scriptures state that having left by the eastern gate of Kapilavastu at midnight, the prince crossed the Anoma River at daybreak, and thus found safety within the neighbouring kingdom of the Mallas. Having instructed Khanna to return to Kapilavastu, Siddhartha then cut his hair, changed his royal robes for those of an ascetic, and spent a few days at a nearby mango-grove before heading south.

Both of the Chinese pilgrims followed the prince’s escape route from Kapilavastu, and their accounts reveal that not only had Siddhartha travelled directly eastwards to reach this place of renunciation (hence his well-known exit from the eastern gate of Kapilavastu) but that in doing so he had left both his father’s domain, and also—rather daringly—crossed Koliya, the domain of his in-laws. Since both of these Sakyan territories were then part of Kosala—and were thus in turn, subject to the rule of the king of Sravasti—it would appear that the young prince had resolved to leave Kosala entirely, and to flee to a place from which he could not be compelled to return. Authorities agree that the eastern border of Kosala was then the Great Gandak river. From the Rama Stupa, the Chinese pilgrims travelled 3 yojanas / 100 li (21 miles) eastwards to this ‘Place of Renunciation’, and since this distance and direction also equate precisely with those from the Ramabhar Stupa to the Great Gandak (see map) it seems evident enough that this great river border was also the Anoma River of the scriptures.  


From Siddhartha’s ‘Place of Renunciation’, both pilgrims travelled 180 li / 4 yojanas southeast to the Ashes Stupa of the Moriyas of Pipphalivana (bearings which would indicate the Siwan District of western Bihar: see map) and from there, having travelled through a ‘great forest’ (Xuanzang) they arrived at the site of Kusinara, where the Buddha died. Now while Faxian gives ‘12 yojanas east’ (about 84 miles) from the Ashes Stupa to the Kusinara site, Xuanzang, contrary to his usual custom, gives no distance, but corrects Faxian’s direction to ‘northeast’. This overall distance and direction is confirmed by the ‘Fang-chih’ moreover, which gives 500 li northeast—also about 84 miles—for this journey. 85. These bearings take us to the ancient Champaran area of north-western Bihar, an historically fascinating area, now sadly strife-torn and neglected, which ‘presents an immense field for research’ according to V. A. Smith. The Champaran gazetteer, whilst referring to Xuanzang’s ‘great forest’, also mentions Champaran’s glorious Vedic past:

‘Legendary history, local tradition, the names of places and archaeological remains, all point to a prehistoric past. Local tradition asserts that in the early ages Champaran was a dense primeval forest, in whose solitude Brahman hermits studied the aranyakas, which, as their name implies, were to be read in silvan retreats; and the name Champaran itself is said to be derived from the fact that the district was formerly one vast forest (aranya) of Champa (magnolia) trees... it was a place of retreat for Hindu ascetics, where, removed from worldly ambitions, they could contemplate the Eternal Presence in the silence of a vast untrodden forest. Various parts of the district are connected by ancient tradition with many of the great Hindu rishis ... such as Valmiki, in whose hermitage Sita, the banished spouse of Rama, is said to have taken shelter. This great sage is reputed to have resided near Sangrampur, and the village is believed to be indebted for its name (which means the city of the battle) to the famous fight between Rama and his two sons, Lava and Kusha ... it seems probable that Champaran was occupied at an early period by races of Aryan descent, and formed part of the country in which the Videhas settled ... and founded a great and powerful kingdom. This kingdom was in course of time ruled over by king Janaka ... under his rule according to Hindu mythology, the kingdom of Mithila was the most civilized in India.  His court was a centre of learning, and attracted all the most learned men of the time; Vedic literature was enriched by the studies of the scholars who flocked there; his chief priest, Yajnavalkya, inaugurated the stupendous task of revising the Yajur Vedas; and the speculations of the monarch himself, enshrined in the sacred works called the Upanishads, are still cherished by the Hindu community.’  86

These details recall that in response to Ananda's plea not to die in this ‘little wattle-and-daub town’, the Buddha replied that ‘long ago’—also a reference to Vedic times—Kusinara had once been a great royal city called Kushavati. 87. The Champaran area is noted for having what are believed to be the only Vedic remains ever discovered in India (thought to be royal tombs) at the site of Lauriya Nandangarh, where an Asokan pillar also stands. Here several great burial mounds were found, in one of which were coffins containing ‘unusually long skeletons’, presumably those of ancient Malla warrior-kings. 88. I believe that this was the region into which the young Siddhartha had first ventured, seeking wisdom from its forest rishis, and that it was also the area towards which he later struggled as his deliberately-chosen place to die. There is compelling evidence to show that this event—the parinibbana, or passing-away of the Buddha—occurred at the site of Rampurva (see map) near the present Indo-Nepalese border. 89.

Both pilgrims agree with the Mahaparinibbana Sutta in stating that the Buddha died on the bank of the river Hiranyavati (or Ajitavati) between two sal trees, Xuanzang adding that Asoka had commemorated the spot with a stone pillar. 90. This pillar Xuanzang locates four li—about a kilometre—northwest of the town of Kusinara at the time of his visit. Another stone pillar was located to the north of the town, and marked the place of the Buddha's cremation; this pillar he places ‘300 paces’ from the river's edge. 91.  He also mentions a ‘yellowish-black’ soil at the site, which he believed might contain relics. 92.

The Asokan site of Rampurva still awaits proper excavation, most of it having disappeared beneath the alluvial deposits left by successive inundations from a nearby large river. 93. This river I take to be the one mentioned by the two Chinese pilgrims. When they were discovered in 1877, the two Asokan pillars at this site were situated 300 yards apart—exactly as mentioned by Xuanzang for the two Kusinara pillars —and were also placed in similar bearings to those given by this pilgrim, one being situated slightly to the west of the other. 94.  The pilgrims mention only two sites at which two Asokan pillars were found—those of Sravasti and Kusinara—and Rampurva is the only site in India where there are two Asokan pillars (there are none, I should add, at Kasia). The so-called ‘Southern Pillar’ at the Rampurva site I therefore take to mark the place of the parinibbana, whilst the ‘Northern Pillar’ marked the Buddha's cremation-spot. At the time of its discovery, the ‘Southern’ pillar was situated between two mounds; these mounds marked the locations of the two sal trees. 95. The material which covered these mounds was a yellowish kankar, or lime, not known in this vicinity (it was also found in the Lauriya Nandangarh mounds mentioned above); this I take to be the curious ‘yellowish-black soil’ mentioned by Xuanzang at the Kusinara site. 96. Sir John Marshall declared that the ‘Southern’ pillar at Rampurva ‘appears to have been wilfully mutilated, perhaps with the purpose of destroying some inscription on it’ 97. and a large section of this pillar’s surface has indeed been deliberately hacked away, a fact which doubtless accounted for its breakage at this point (see Fig. 13).  This is clearly damage which is wholly commensurate with the removal of an inscription, and I shall assume that this deed was perpetrated by later enemies of Buddhism who believed, as Xuanzang’s guides evidently did, that it mentioned the details of the Buddha’s final passing at this spot.

Finally, I note that Faxian gives 12 yojanas— about 84 miles—as the distance between Kusinara and a stone pillar near Vaishali. If this refers to the famous Asokan lion-pillar near this place—and no other pillar has been found near there—then this distance matches that between Rampurva and Vaishali (see map). 98 V. A. Smith noted that Xuanzang ‘expressly states that Vaishali lay on the road from Pataliputra to Nepal. Basar (Vaishali) lies on the ancient royal road from the capital (Pataliputra) to Nepal, marked by three of Asoka’s pillars, which passed Kesariya, Lauriya Araraj, Betiya, Lauriya-Nandangarh, Chankigarh, and Rampurva, entering the hills by the Bhikna Thori Pass’. 99.  This ‘ancient royal road’ is clearly marked, with a double broken dotted line, on the 1 inch to 1 mile Survey of India maps. It was, I believe, the ancient via regis that was trodden by the Buddha to Kusinara (Rampurva), the same route being followed by Asoka, and later, by the Chinese pilgrims themselves.


India should now reclaim her greatest son, Siddhartha Gautama (at present, he’s Nepalese). Unfortunately, despite the worldwide prestige—not to mention the revenue—which this tremendous prize would bestow, I believe that Hindu India will reject it as a poisoned chalice. After all, the Brahmins fought caste-free Buddhism for centuries—often ruthlessly and bitterly—before its final downfall in India, and they’re certainly not about to welcome it back, as the ongoing struggle for the control of Bodh Gaya grimly demonstrates. And what, too, about Kabir?  He is generally considered to be the greatest Indian religious figure for a thousand years, and since everybody appears to want a piece of him—Sikhs, Muslims, and Hindus alike—then they’re not going to welcome the proposal that he deliberately chose to die at the site of the Buddha’s home town either. And what effect might this tremendous homecoming have on all those feisty Buddhist Dalits, or on all those modern young Indians who know that Buddhism is now ‘cool’, and is much admired throughout the West? Small wonder then that there would now appear to be an Indian conspiracy of silence upon these findings, and that everyone is still trying to proceed as before, ‘wrapt in the old miasmal mist’.

Buddhists, however, should be well aware of this silence, for if the conclusions which are set out above are correct—and some important people now think that they are—then these critical sites of world history (which include two of the Four Holy Places of Buddhism) have now been rediscovered after fifteen hundred years of darkness, and there may not be another chance to set the record straight. As mentioned above, Buddhists undertake pilgrimages to places where the Buddha once trod for purposes of their own spiritual advancement, and since I find nothing whatsoever to connect the Buddha with the present Lumbini site, then I shall repeat, we must follow the Chinese pilgrims on the matter. These pilgrims visited the real site of Lumbini, 200 years apart from each other, and their accounts clearly show that Lumbini must incontrovertibly be sought in India, and at the distance and direction from Sravasti that both pilgrims have given and upon which they mutually agree. However unpalatable that devastating fact may prove we must nevertheless stick with it, otherwise anything’s anywhere and historical truth becomes meaningless. It’s just too important, I’m afraid: any old Lumbini won’t do.

And finally, there is now the growing struggle between India and China for the control of Nepal itself. 100.  A Chinese takeover attempt of the present Lumbini site was swiftly torpedoed in 2011, 101 but recent events have shown that China is still determined to pursue this proposal. 102  Both powers now see Nepal as critical to their long-term political and strategic aims, and each is pouring huge amounts of aid and development into this increasingly vulnerable country in consequence. Control of a Nepalese Lumbini is seen as essential to China’s objectives, but such a presence on India’s northern border would be unthinkable to Indian strategic concerns. It will henceforth be of interest to see how this contest plays out, and whether the above findings play any part in its final outcome. Will the Indian generals lose out to the Brahmins (who send them safely to heaven)? Watch this space.  


1. H. Luders, ‘On Some Brahmi Inscriptions in the Lucknow Museum’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (UK) 1912, fn., p. 167. Fuhrer was then Assistant Editor (to Burgess) on the Epigraphia Indica. See ref. 4 also.

2. Proceedings of the Government of the North-Western Provinces and Oudh, Public Works Department, B. & R. Branch, ‘Miscellaneous’, Aug. 1899, Proceeding no. 100 (India Office Library, London).

3. A. A. Fuhrer, ‘The Sharqi Architecture of Jaunpur’ (1889), Archaeological Survey of India Reports (New Imperial Series) Vol. 11, p. 69.

4. See ref. 1, pp. 161-8. Luders neglects to mention that Fuhrer had supplied Buhler with the details of these and other inscriptions —almost 400 in all—for Buhler’s assessment in the Epigraphia Indica, and epigraphists will now have the unenviable task of establishing the authenticity of these items. Immediately following Fuhrer’s exposure in 1898, Buhler drowned in Lake Constance in mysterious circumstances, and since he had enthusiastically endorsed all of Fuhrer’s supposed discoveries, one cannot help but wonder whether this tragedy was accidental. 

5. See ref. 1 (Luders) pp. 176-79, and ‘Catalogue of Archaeological Exhibits in the United Provinces Museum, Lucknow’ (Part 1: Inscriptions) by Pandit Hirananda Shastri, 1915, fn. 4, p. 39.    

6. ‘The Pioneer’ newspaper, Allahabad, 15th September, 1893, p. 3; J. Burgess, ‘The Academy’ (London) 44 (October 14th, 1893) p. 324; Annual Progress Report (A. Fuhrer) Arch. Survey of India, N. -W. P. & Oudh Circle, y/e 1894, para. 22; and P. C.  Mukherji, ‘A Report on a Tour of Exploration of the Antiquities in the Tarai, Nepal’, Archaeological Survey of India Reports, New Imperial Series, Vol. 26 (1901) p. 2 (n. b. not of V. A. Smith’s ‘Prefatory Note’ to this work).

7. Annual Progress Reports, Archaeological Survey, N. -W. P. and Oudh Circle, Epigraphical Section, y/e 1895 and 1897. It would appear that Singh had redirected Fuhrer to Nigliva (where Singh owned some villages) in 1895, but Fuhrer’s earlier reports differ widely on the location of Singh’s supposed find. The first public notification was Fuhrer’s 1893 ‘Pioneer’ item (see ref. 6).  According to this, Singh’s discovery was near Bairat, a village 21 miles north of Bahadurganj in Nepal, but Fuhrer's 1894 Progress Report then alters this to a spot near Nepalganj, 100 miles west of Singh's reported location. So why did Fuhrer revise Singh’s account so drastically? Moreover, according to Fuhrer’s 1893 ‘Pioneer’ account, Singh had discovered an Asokan ‘lion-pillar’ bearing all of the seven known Asokan pillar inscriptions as well as two exciting new ones in a new script, these supposedly being ‘addressed to the Buddhist clergy of the Visas, the early predecessors of the Bais of Nepal’. All this was, of course, complete nonsense, and the pillar at Nigliva (1895) bore not the slightest resemblance to this ‘lion-pillar’ with its nine Asokan inscriptions (which has never been found, I need hardly add). But why didn’t Singh himself promptly protest the untruthfulness of Fuhrer’s report when it appeared in the ‘Pioneer’? Since this newspaper was noted for its links to intelligence, and Singh was a relative of the Maharajah of Balrampur (a powerful zamindari family which had aided the British during the Mutiny) one wonders whether the original (1893) report was some sort of ‘plant’, designed to further British ‘forward’ imperial interests in Nepal. Whatever the event, this paved the way for all the other alleged Asokan discoveries in the Nepalese Tarai (‘Rummindei’ included) but an increasingly paranoid Nepalese Government soon put an end to these archaeological intrusions into its territory, and the border became firmly closed to all such ‘surveys’ shortly thereafter (cf. Smith’s fulminations on the matter in the JRAS (UK) 1897, pp. 619-21).     

8. Annual Progress Report for N-W. P. and Oudh,, Epigraphical Section, (Fuhrer) y/e 1895, p. 1. The Architectural Section of this Report was mistaken in stating that ‘In March 1895 the Architectural Surveyor accompanied Dr Fuhrer on a short trip to Nigliva, Tahsil Tauliva, in the Nepal Tarai, to procure photographs of a new Asokan edict pillar which was discovered there in 1893 by Major Jaskaran Singh of Balrampur’. The photographs mentioned—which accompanied both this Progress Report and Fuhrer’s later ‘Monograph’ (1897)—show the inscribed Nigliva pillar stump after excavation, and as Fuhrer himself states that Nepalese permission for this excavation was only given for May, this shows that the Architectural Surveyor’s ‘short trip’ (which could hardly have included Fuhrer’s Balrampur visit to Singh) had also occurred in May, i.e. two months after Fuhrer’s initial arrival at Nigliva.   

9. ‘A Monograph on Buddha Sakyamuni’s Birthplace’, by A. A. Fuhrer (1897) Arch. Surv. of Northern India Reports, Vol. 6,  p. 25 (reprinted in Varanasi (1972) as ‘Antiquities of Buddha Sakyamuni’s Birthplace’). See also ref. 8, p. 2.

10. See ref. 6, Smith’s ‘Prefatory Note’ to Mukherji’s report, fn., p. 4.

11. See ref. 2, Aug. 1899, Proceedings nos. 90-91, pp. 29-33 (India Office Library, London). The same details are also disclosed in the Government of India Proceedings (Part B), Department of Revenue & Agriculture, Archaeology & Epigraphy, April 1899, File no. 6; see ‘Enclosure 1’ (Report) of letter no. 53A, and also letter no. 41A in this file. (National Archives of India, New Delhi). This report by Waddell and Hoey, detailing the results of their own (1899) excursion into the Tarai, led to the Government suppression of Fuhrer’s ‘Monograph on Buddha Sakyamuni’s Birthplace’ shortly thereafter. In a letter accompanying this report, Waddell stated that the alleged stupa of Konagamana ‘did not in reality exist—it was a pure fabrication to reconcile this false identification with the descriptions of the Chinese pilgrims’. There is, however, good reason to believe that the deception also extended to the inscription itself.  Hoey stated that following his appointment at nearby Gorakhpur in 1892, he had ‘employed an agent who travelled over these parts and the Nepal Tarai, and brought me notes of the pillar at Nigali Sagar and other remains including Piprahwa and Rumindei’.  In 1893 Hoey befriended Khadga Shamsher, the Governor of this Tarai area, who ‘sent me rubbings from pillars, but these were not of Asoka lettering’.  From this it is evident that since Hoey knew about the Nigliva pillar before Fuhrer’s arrival (and according to Fuhrer this pillar was ‘known far and wide to the people of the Tarai’) it would also have been included in Khadga Shamsher’s earlier examinations on Hoey’s behalf.  But whereas Shamsher found no Asokan inscription in 1893, Fuhrer supposedly arrived at Nigliva in 1895 and found an inscription ‘visible above ground’, and without any need for excavation.  And if, as Fuhrer states, the local villagers were aware of this inscription also, then why hadn’t they alerted the Governor to it during his earlier examination of the site?

12. See ref. 9 (Fuhrer, Monograph ) pp. 33-4.

13. See ref. 7, y/e 1895 (p. 2) and 1896 (p. 2).  

14. See ref. 8 (Fuhrer) and ‘The Birthplace of Gautama Buddha’, by V. A. Smith, JRAS (UK) 1897, fn., p. 617.

15. ‘The Rummindei Inscription’, by V. A. Smith, Indian Antiquary, Vol. 34 (1905) p. 1.

16. ‘The Life of Buddha’, by E. J. Thomas (1927) fn., p. 18.

17. See ref. 6 (Mukherji)  pp. 4, 43, and Plate 1. See also V. A. Smith, Annual Progress Report, Archaeological Survey Circle, N. -W. P. & Oudh, y/e 1899, p. 8.

18. ‘Nepal’, by Perceval Landon (1928) Vol. 2, p. 76.

19. ‘Nepal under the Ranas’, by Adrian Sever (1993) p. 469. See also ‘Princess’, by Vijayaraje Scindia (1985) pp. 5-8.

20. See ref. 2, Aug. 1899, proc. no. 12 (p. 5).

21. ‘Kapilavastu in the Buddhist Books’, by Thomas Watters, JRAS (UK) 1898, p. 563.

22. ‘On Yuan Chwang’s Travels in India’, by Thomas Watters, Vol. 2 (1905) p. 17.

23. See ‘She-Kia-Fang-Che’, trans. by P. C. Bagchi (Calcutta, 1959) p. 69. A noted Sinologist, who has consulted a recent Chinese variorum of the Fang-chih, assures me that Bagchi’s translation, whilst ‘not very good’, is nevertheless correct upon this most important point. There is no mention whatsoever of any inscription on the Lumbini pillar in the Fang-chih text, and Watters was far too good a scholar to have made such an absurd blunder.

24. See ref. 14 (Smith) p. 619.

25. Emphasis added. See ref. 21 (Watters) p. 547.

26. See ref. 6 (Smith’s ‘Prefatory Note’) p. 17.

27. In the Preface to Watters’ book, Rhys Davids wrote that ‘We have thought it best to leave Mr Watters’s Ms. untouched, and to print the work as it stands’. This statement was yet another demonstrable lie. Rhys Davids was evidently unaware that Watters had already published a considerable portion of this work in an earlier series of articles entitled ‘The Shadow of a Pilgrim’ (there are extracts from these online) in ‘The China Review’, Vols. 18-20 (1890-92). A comparison of the text of these articles with that of the book discloses that these posthumous editors of Watters had, in fact, substantially tampered with his original text, omitting entire paragraphs and radically rearranging others.  Unfortunately, these ‘China Review’ articles stop just short of Xuanzang’s account of his visit to the Kapilavastu area, so we will never know just exactly what Watters did write in this subsequent section of his work (and his unpublished manuscript has also mysteriously disappeared). Moreover, I note that although Watters tentatively referred to the Lumbini inscription in his earlier ‘Kapilavastu in the Buddhist Books’ (JRAS 1898, pp. 533-71) he made no mention of this phony ‘Fang-chih’ reference in this article.  But then, this was published while he was still alive.

28. A. A. Fuhrer, Annual Progress Report, Archaeological Survey, N. -W. P. & Oudh Circle. y/e 1898, p. 2. See also ref. 6 (Smith’s 'Prefatory Note' to Mukherji's report) p. 4, and also ref. 17 (Smith, Ann. Prog. Rep. 1899) pp. 1-2.

29. Government of India Proceedings (Part B), Department of Revenue & Agriculture (Archaeology & Epigraphy section), Aug. 1898, File no. 24 of 1898, Proceedings nos. 7-10. (National Archives of India, New Delhi).

30. Ibid. See also ref. 6 (Smith’s ‘Prefatory Note’ to Mukherji’s report) p. 4.

31. See ref. 7, y/e 1897, p. 3; and ref. 9 (Fuhrer, Monograph) Chapter 5, concluding paragraph.

32. ‘Lumbini’, by T. W. Rhys Davids, ‘Encyclopaedia of Religion & Ethics’, Vol. 8, p. 196.

33. ‘Development of Buddhism in Uttar Pradesh’, by N. Dutt and K. D. Bajpai, (Lucknow, 1956) p. 330.

34. ‘Asokan Pillars: A Reassessment of the Evidence (2)’, by John Irwin, Burlington Magazine, Vol.  115, p. 714 (Nov. 1973); J. F. Fleet, ‘The Rummindei Inscription and the Conversion of Asoka to Buddhism’, JRAS (UK) 1908, p. 472. The remarks on the ‘Lumbani’ pillar by W. C.  Peppe are taken from his initial draft of the JRAS account of his alleged Piprahwa discoveries, which was privately printed in Calcutta (n. d.) by J. H. H. Peppe. A copy of it can be seen in the few Peppe Papers which are in the custody of the Department of South Asian Studies at Cambridge University, and it offers a markedly different version of the Piprahwa events from that seen in his July 1898 JRAS account, which was heavily edited by the ubiquitous V. A. Smith before publication.

35. ‘The Birthplace of Gautama Buddha’, by V. A. Smith, JRAS (UK) 1897, p. 618.  It is interesting to note that despite Khadga Shamsher’s alleged central role in these world-shaking events, he was treated—like Fuhrer—as a tiresome embarrassment by British authorities when he finally applied for exiled residence in India in 1903.  Moreover, having subsequently written a series of detailed articles on the Nepalese Tarai sites in the Allahabad ‘Pioneer Mail’ in 1904  - all wildly inaccurate—he made no mention in these articles of the present Lumbini site, or of his supposed momentous discoveries there. The Nepalese themselves, however, have now eagerly adopted Shamsher as their very own ‘Lumbini discoverer’ after I informed them of all this in 1994, and have carefully airbrushed Fuhrer out of the picture ever since.  

36. See ref. 9, pp. 27-8, and Fuhrer’s Annual Progress Report, Archaeological Survey, N. -W. P. and Oudh Circle, Epigraphical Section, y/e 1897, pp. 3-4. This is not, of course, the 12th century Tapu Malla inscription near the top of the pillar, nor the Tibetan ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ inscription close to it. And despite returning to the site with his draughtsman (who appears to have been unaccountably absent when Fuhrer first appeared at the site) no photograph or drawing was made of this most important item, and nobody else has since made any reference to it either. Likewise, the term ‘Bhagavat’ (as ‘Lord’) which also occurs on this pillar would appear to be no earlier than 1st century BCE, and again, therefore, is not Asokan.

37.  Epigraphia Indica, vol. 5, p. 5  (Buhler) and ref. 9, p. 34 (Fuhrer).

38. Commenting on an inscription on the Wardak Vase (2nd century AD) N. G. Majumdar writes that ‘the name is Sankritized as Śakyamuni (Epigraphia Indica, Vol. 24, p. 2). Though I can find no other instance of sakyamuni  - as distinct from sakamuni - in any other Brahmi inscription, the term occurs in ten Kharosthi inscriptions. Of these, six also show sakamuni, while the four showing sakyamuni—those on the Avaca, Kurram, and two Wardak caskets—were all found in Gandhara area, viz, north-western Pakistan / eastern Afghanistan, being written in the Kharosthi script and utilising the Gandhari Prakrit.   

39. J. F. Fleet, ‘Inscriptions’, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Vol. 14, 11th edn. (1911) p. 622.

40. ‘Indian Epigraphy’, by Richard Salomon (1998) p. 242.

41. See article (in Nepali) by Tara Nanda Misra, published in the Saturday supplement to the ‘Gorkhapatra’ newspaper, Kathmandu, 27 Baisakh, 2043 (1986) and ‘Evolution of Buddhism and Archaeological Excavations in Lumbini’, by Tara Nanda Mishra, in ‘Ancient Nepal’, no. 155, June 2004. 

42. See ref. 6 (Mukherji) pp. 35-6 and Plates 21 & 22.  The former ‘modern, mean construction’ (Fuhrer, 1897) has recently been removed from the face of the earth, and has since been replaced by a larger (and even more modern) construction.

43. ‘Buddhist Monuments’, by Debala Mitra (Calcutta, 1971) p. 251.

44. See ref. 6 (Mukherji) p. 36 and Plates 24, 24a, and 26.

45. ‘Nepal’, by Perceval Landon, Vol. 1, pp. 9-10.

46. V. A. Smith, ‘The Piprahwa Stupa’, JRAS (UK) 1898, p. 868. See also Mahabodhi Society Journal (Calcutta) May 1900, pp. 2-3.

47. Govt. of India Proceedings (Part B), Department of Revenue & Agriculture, (Archaeology & Epigraphy section), Aug. 1898, Proceedings no. 15, File no. 30 of 1898, p. 2. (National Archives of India, New Delhi).

48. See ref. 29. In a letter to U Ma dated 19th November, 1896, Fuhrer writes: ‘My Dear Phongyi, The relics of Tathagata, sent off yesterday, were found in the stupa erected by the Sakyas of Kapilavastu over the corporeal relics (saririka-dhatus) of the Lord.  The relics were found by me during an excavation in 1886, and are placed in the same relic-casket of soapstone in which they were found. The four votive tablets of Buddha surrounded the relic-casket.  The ancient inscription found on the spot with the relics will follow, as I wish to prepare a transcript and translation of the same for you’. Since Peppe was deemed to have made an identical discovery a year later (viz., that of an inscribed soapstone casket containing those relics of the Buddha that were accorded to the Sakyas of Kapilavastu after the Buddha’s cremation) it would appear that this earlier deception was thus merely a ‘dry run’, as it were, for the supposed Piprahwa finds of 1898.  From this letter it will also be seen that Fuhrer sent a bogus soapstone relic casket to U Ma, but no details can now be traced about this item—its appearance, how Fuhrer obtained it, or its subsequent fate—and no details of the alleged inscription can now be traced either.  Fuhrer’s letters to U Ma  - there are eleven of them, stretching between 1896 to 1898—have never seen the public light of day, and make for instructive and entertaining reading. For their details, see ref. 29.  

49. See ref. 28 (all refs. quoted).

50. W. C. Peppe', ‘The Piprahwa Stupa, containing relics of Buddha’, JRAS (UK) 1898, p. 576.

51.  Charles Allen, ‘The Buddha and Dr Fuhrer’ (2008) p. 260.  See also ‘The Sunday Times Magazine’ article cited in ref. 53.

52. ‘Notes on the Exploration of Vaisali’, by Theodor Bloch, ASI Annual Report, Bengal Circle, y/e April 1904, p. 15.

53. See Buhler’s ‘A Preliminary Note on a Recently Discovered Sakyan Inscription’, JRAS (UK) 1898. Having received an early copy of the inscription from Fuhrer, Buhler wrote back and ‘begged Mr Peppe to look if any traces of the required I in the first word, of the medial I in the second, and of a vowel-mark in the last syllable of bhagavata are visible’, all these additional details being duly present when the final copy of the inscription was published. The caskets (including the inscribed item) are now in the custody of the Indian Museum, Calcutta. No drawing or photograph was ever made of the missing (summit) casket however, the earliest of the supposed finds. It is absent from the Indian Museum’s collection (and Accession List) of the Piprahwa items, and no mention of it occurs in Smith’s detailed list of the Piprahwa finds either (see ref. 46 (Smith) pp. 868-70).  Of the twenty drawings of the Sagarwa and Piprahwa items which were listed in Fuhrer’s 1898 Progress Report, the three Piprahwa drawings are now missing from the ASI archives at Agra (including the drawing of the inscribed casket). As for the Piprahwa jewellery, Smith stated that ‘Mr Peppe has generously placed all the objects discovered at the disposal of Government, subject to the retention by him, on behalf of the proprietors of the estate, of a reasonable number of duplicates of the smaller objects’ (see ref. 47, Smith's reference to those ‘duplicates’ being later repeated in the JRAS: see ref. 46).  Since recent events have shown, however, that Peppe retained one-third —360 pieces—of the original items of Piprahwa jewellery, it is evident that this proposal to ‘place all the objects discovered at the disposal of Government’ was not met, and the question thus arises as to whether these items were unlawfully retained thereafter (see ‘The Sunday Times Magazine’ (UK) March 21st, 2004, pp. 36-42). One also wonders why Smith found it necessary to lie—to central Government, no less—upon the matter of those ‘duplicates’. 

54. ‘Buddhism in England’ (Journal of the Buddhist Society, London) July 1931, pp. 61-4; Oct. 1931, p. 78; Mar- Apr. 1932, p. 180.

55. ‘Political and Secret’, Home Correspondence, 1898 (India Office Library, London). The official correspondence immediately following this discovery (see ref. 47) draws attention to the political advantages to be gained from awarding the relics to surrounding Buddhist countries, and also makes various pointed references to the presence in India at this time of a Siamese crown prince, Jinavarmavansa—a cousin to the King—who soon showed a keen interest in acquiring the bone relics for Siam.

56. See ‘Discovery of Kapilavastu’, by K. M. Srivastava (1986), ‘Buddha's Relics from Kapilavastu’ (same author) 1986, and ‘Excavations at Piprahwa and Ganwaria’ (1996). He also claimed to have discovered—precisely as Debala Mitra had earlier predicted—clay sealings bearing the word ‘Kapilavastu’, in monastic remains adjacent to the stupa (though neither Peppe nor Mukherji had found a single instance of these when they had earlier excavated at these selfsame remains).  Alarmed by these claims however, that doyen of Buddhist archaeologists, Herbert Härtel, declared sharply at the 14th International EASAA Conference in Rome (1997) that ‘it is high time to set a token of ‘scientific correctness’ in this extremely important matter’, but his call for action went unheeded, authorities worldwide preferring to maintain a deafening silence instead (see Herbert Härtel, ‘On the Dating of the Piprahwa Vases’, in ‘South Asian Archaeology 1997’, Rome, 2000).  In 2006, a conference was held under the auspices of the Royal Asiatic Society at Harewood House, in England, in an attempt to ‘clear the air’ over the vexed problem of Piprahwa, but it was decided not to publish the findings that were then disclosed (some of which have been published in this paper) the authorities electing, yet again, to discreetly close the lid on this particular Pandora’s box. It is, in fact, high time that this tiresome old ‘relic of Empire’ was finally put to bed, but since many powerful agendas are at stake here— religious, political, financial, and academic—this is unlikely to happen at present.

57. ‘The Travels of Fah-Hian and Sung-yun’, by  Samuel Beal (1869)  page before Preface.

58. Throughout this essay I have utilised Sir H. M. Elliot’s conclusion that the yojana of Faxian was ‘as nearly as possible’ 7 miles, as revealed by the distances between known sites, e. g. Vaishali to Pataliputra (Patna)—35 miles —which is given by Faxian as 5 yojanas; Elliot cites further examples also (‘Memoirs of the History, Folk-lore, and Distribution of the Races of the North-Western Provinces of India’, by Sir H. M. Elliot (1869) Vol. 2, pp. 195-6).  This, in turn, shows the li of Xuanzang to have been about 308 yards, since this pilgrim cites 40 li to the yojana.   

59. ‘Sravasti’, by V. A. Smith, JRAS (UK) 1900, pp. 6-7.

60. ‘Kausambi and Sravasti’, by V. A. Smith, JRAS (UK) 1898, pp. 520-31.

61. ‘The Site of Sravasti’, by J. Ph. Vogel, JRAS (UK) 1908, pp. 971-5, and ‘Archaeological Exploration in India, 1907-8’, by J. H. Marshall, JRAS (UK) 1908, pp. 1098-1104.

62.  H. C. Conybeare, ‘Statistical, Descriptive and Historical Account of the North-Western Provinces of India’ (Vol. 6) 1881, p. 716.    

63. ‘Archaeological Research on Ancient Buddhist Sites’, by Herbert Härtel, in ‘The Dating of the Historical Buddha’ (Pt.1) p. 62, (ed. Heinz Bechert, 1991).

64. ‘A Weaver Named Kabir’, by Charlotte Vaudeville (1993) pp. 56 and 61-2. According to Kabir, Maghar was ‘haramba’, from the Arabic ‘haram’, meaning ‘forbidden’ (the word ‘harem’ derives from the same root).  Interestingly, a young Hindu at nearby Gorakhpur told me that his mother declared that it was unlucky to think of either Maghar or the (Buddhist) Kasia site in the early morning, a tradition also indicative of the ‘forbidden’ Buddhist nature of both places.

65. Gregory Schopen, ‘Burial ‘Ad Sanctos’ and the Physical Presence of the Buddha in Early Indian Buddhism’: Religion, Vol. 17, pp. 193-225 (1987). The issue of the Buddha’s ‘parinirvanic presence’ in stupas, images, relics, places, etc., is also examined in ‘Embodying the Dharma’, ed. by K. Trainor and D. Germano (New York, 2004) and ‘Relics of the Buddha’, by John S. Strong (Princeton University Press, 2004).  See also ref. 84 (below).

66. ‘Report of Tours in Gorakhpur, Saran, and Ghazipur in 1878-80’, by A. C. L. Carlleyle, Archaeological Survey of India Reports (Old Series) Vol. 22, p. 72, (1885). See also ref. 64 (Vaudeville) p. 61-2.  It is noteworthy that Carlleyle himself made not the slightest attempt to follow the implications of this extraordinary statement (and alas, gave no indications of its origin either) but his use of the word ‘reputed’ suggests that this information came from a local source. Even more extraordinary is the fact that nobody has since made the glaringly obvious connection between Carlleyle’s statement and the location of Kapilavastu, given the bearings which are cited by the pilgrims. Here, surely, was the key to the real whereabouts of Kapilavastu staring everyone right in the face. 

67. See ref. 22 (Watters) p. 1., and ‘Travels of Fa-Hsien’, by H. A. Giles, p. 36 (1926). Xuanzang also noted the remains of around 1000 ruined monasteries and ten ruined cities in the Kapilavastu region. Whilst such features appear to be absent from the areas around the present nominations for the site of Kapilavastu, Carlleyle noted that the remains at Tameshwar, near to Maghar, appeared to be those of ‘an ancient city of considerable size and importance... (with) many Buddhist viharas and monasteries’. Similar nearby sites were also noted by Carlleyle at the time of his visits in the 1870s—Koron-dih, Mahasthan, Bakhira-dih, etc. All still await excavation.

68. See ref. 64, pp. 61-79.

69. ‘The History, Antiquities, Topography, and Statistics of Eastern India’, (usually referred to as ‘Eastern India’) by Francis Buchanan-Hamilton (ed. R. M. Martin) Vol. 2, p. 393 (1838).  The ‘Thakur-dih’ area is behind the very northernmost houses of the village, immediately to the south of the Gorakhpur-Basti road, and can be accessed from an old road/track which runs to the east of the main turn off into Maghar. It is near to Ghanshiampur.  I would welcome any further information on this site (see my email address at the end of this paper). According to a recent website, Buddhist pilgrims are now increasingly visiting Maghar (presumably as a result of reading my conclusions) and the UP government has proposed that a park be built there in consequence.  If so, it is much to be hoped that archaeological considerations are held uppermost in any such ‘development’.

70. This information, it should be noted, emerged quite spontaneously, and with no prompting from me. One old blind resident told me that they had influenced pottery-making in the area. Such local traditions often persist strongly in rural places.  On rediscovering the remains of the ‘lost’ 7th century Chinese Nestorian Christian monastery of Da Qin in 1998, Martin Palmer discovered that despite its disappearance, local sources were still perfectly well aware of the former existence of the place, the tradition having persisted there for 1400 years.

71.  ‘A Manual of Budhism’, by R. Spence Hardy (1853) p. 144.  Since the present Lumbini site lies 27 kms. west of this river border, this would  thus have located it deep inside any former Kapilavastu territory, and it would hardly have been considered ‘neutral’ in consequence.

72. ‘Monumental Antiquities and Inscriptions of the North-Western Provinces’, by A. A. Fuhrer (1891) p. 242. See also Proceedings of the Asiatic Society of Bengal (Part 1) p. 56 (1884), and Minutes of the Managing Committee (North-Western Provinces and Oudh Provincial Museum) Vol. 1, 1885-6, Appendix A (p. 107). Since Lucknow Museum has informed me that neither this casket nor its associated items can now be traced, no date for this deposit is presently available (though since coins were also found, this strongly suggests a Kushan provenance). For earlier topographical accounts of the site, see ref. 69 (Buchanan-Hamilton) pp. 352-3, and ref. 66 (Carlleyle) pp. 64-7. Buchanan-Hamilton referred to the presence of ‘many small detached heaps’ at the site during his visit in the early 1800s: were these votive stupas, one wonders? He also mentions two ancient shrines of Mohammedan holy men at Domingarh. Doubtless these were Sufi pirs, remarkably eclectic in their spiritual outlook, whose cult ‘often developed by taking over an old Buddhistical site’ according to Prof. Vaudeville (as Kabir did at Maghar). Though the decline of Buddhism in India often saw the conversion of remaining Indian Buddhists to Islam, this was done largely for pragmatic social reasons, and Buddhist sites and beliefs were by no means promptly abandoned by such conversions.

73.  See ref. 77 (Sastri).

74.  ‘Archaeological Geography of the Ganga Plain’, by Dilip Chakrabarti (2001) p. 219. Chakrabarti states that this was ‘personal information’ from Krishnanand Tripathi, of the Department of Ancient History at Gorakhpur University. When I telephoned Tripathi however, he chose not to answer my questions, referring me instead to Dr P. N. Singh of the Banaras Hindu University. A colleague of his, Dr R. N. Singh, promised to supply me with further details on the matter, but has signally failed to do so, referring darkly to unspecified ‘socio-political problems’ instead. The Archaeological Survey of India have also refused to respond to my requests for information. I have thus been unable to obtain any details of the BHU Domingarh dig, when it was conducted, or by whom, and if anyone can obtain further details on these finds, please let me know (my email address is given above). Equally inexplicable—given the important 1884 discoveries noted in ref. 72— is the absence of any earlier excavation at this site, particularly given the presence of both V. A. Smith and Hoey at Gorakhpur during the 1890s. An old bed of the Rohini formerly ran to the east of the Domingarh mound (cf. Xuanzang’s ‘little river of oil’) and if my conclusion that Domingarh was Lumbini is correct, then any Asokan pillar remains should be sought in this area. A road has recently been driven through the site, though it obviously warrants careful, prompt, and extensive archaeological excavation. As noted above however, the 1884 relic-casket find was made during the local railway construction, and the records show that great difficulty was had in providing support for the bridge across the Rohini. One suspects that the Domingarh site may thus have been plundered for ballast purposes, and like much else of ancient India, now lie lost forever beneath such works.     

75. See ref.  22 (Watters) p. 15, and also ref. 69 (Buchanan-Hamilton) vol. 2, pp. 352-3: ‘It is called the Domingarh, or the castle of the Domlady’. 

76. See ref. 22 (Watters) p. 20, and ref. 67 (Giles) p. 39.

77. Hirananda Sastri, Annual Report, Archaeological Survey of India (Northern Circle) 1910-11, p. 69. Sastri mentions ‘the very heavy square bricks of the Mauryan type of which it is mostly built’. Cf. the oldest bricks, ‘very large and thick, and of a square shape’, found at the Domingarh site mentioned earlier, and the similar bricks found at Rampurva (see section below on ‘Kusinara’) which Daya Ram Sahni identified as ‘the remnants of an extensive floor laid in Asoka’s time’ (‘Excavations at Rampurva’, ASI Director-General’s Report, 1907-08, p. 183).

78. The Ramabhar Tal (lake): see A. Cunningham, Archaeological Survey of India Reports (Old Series) Vol. 1, Plate 27, and also ref. 77 (Sastri) p. 69. I note that in an 1893 letter to Hoey, L. A. Waddell had likewise concluded that ‘Kasia and the Ramabhar Chour (sic) is Ramagram’ (Papers of V. A. Smith, Special Collections and Western Manuscripts, Bodleian Library, Oxford University).  See ref. 89 also. 

79. The stupa appeared to be ‘the centre of a group of religious buildings’; see ref. 77 (Sastri) p. 70.

80. See ‘Kusinara or Kusinagara’, by V. A. Smith, JRAS (UK) 1902, p. 153 ;  ‘Bihar ( = vihara)’.  The State of Bihar is also said to have drawn its name from Muslim chroniclers, who noted the large number of Buddhist viharas in the province.

81. See ref. 69 (Buchanan-Hamilton) pp. 357-8.  Sastri mentions an inscribed stone found at the south-eastern aspect of this stupa, which ‘has some five lines of writing on it which is much worn’ (ASI Annual Report, Northern Circle, 1911-12, p. 140).  Unfortunately, he gives no date, script, or possible content of this inscription, and the stone itself now appears to have been either buried or removed. Was this the inscription seen by Xuanzang, which purportedly mentioned the appearance of the naga from the lake during Asoka’s visit?

82. J. Ph. Vogel, Annual Report, Archaeological Survey of India (Punjab and United Provinces Circle) 1904-5, p. 47.  What is decipherable of the ‘inscription, greatly obliterated,’ which is found on this plaque?

83. See ref. 77 (Sastri), p. 72 (‘Miscellaneous’, no.17).

84. ‘Simply put, the presence of relics is equal to the presence of the Buddha. This is confirmed by early inscriptions.’ (‘Buddhist Reliquaries From Ancient India’, by Michael Willis, p. 14, British Museum Publications, 2000).  See also ref. 65.

85. See ref. 22 (Watters) pp. 25-6, and ref. 23 (Bagchi) p. 70. It should always be borne in mind, I feel, that for Faxian ‘east’ could mean anywhere east of a north-south axis (ditto with regard to other directions also) whilst for Xuanzang, similarly, ‘north-east’ meant anywhere between north and east. On the fascinating question of how the pilgrims navigated between sites, it must be remembered that the Chinese had utilised the lodestone as early as the 4th century BC, and that this had been improved by the introduction of a magnetized needle by 600 AD (which may account for Xuanzang’s greater accuracy in these matters). As monks they would also have stayed in monasteries en route, where the resident monks would doubtless have supplied them with advice, guides, etc for their onward journey. 

86. Champaran District Gazetteer (1907) by L. S. S. O’Malley, pp. 14-15.

87. Mahaparinibbana Sutta.

88. See ref. 80 (Smith) pp. 154-5, ref. 78 (Cunningham) p. 70, and Bengal Administration Reports for 1868-69, para. 273.  The reports on this intriguing find are somewhat garbled, one saying ‘leaden coffins’, another an ‘iron coffin’. Were these perhaps Malla ( = ‘athlete’) skeletons, one wonders? The Buddha’s body was cremated inside two ‘iron vessels’, according to the Mahaparinibbana Sutta.

89. Having arrived at this conclusion by the simple expedient of following, on a map, the distances and directions from Sravasti to Kusinara which are given by the Chinese pilgrims, I was intrigued to note that L. A. Waddell, presumably using the same process, had arrived at a similar conclusion: ‘I believe that Kusinagara, where the Buddha died, may be ultimately found to the north of Bettiah, and in the line of the Asoka-pillars which lead hither from Patna (Pataliputra)’ (‘A Tibetan Guide-book to the Lost Sites of the Buddha's Birth and Death’, Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1896, p. 279). Rampurva lies thirty-odd miles north of Bettiah along the Narkatiaganj-Gawnaha Road railway line, and about 3 kilometres s/w of the latter station. According to an unpublished 1897 report, Waddell deputed P.C. Mukherji to ‘search for the site of the Buddha’s Parinirvana in the jungly tract from Rampurva, where is an inscribed Asoka pillar, to Bhikna Thori’. Waddell and I thus arrived at identical conclusions regarding the whereabouts of both the Ramagrama and Kusinara sites simply by following the pilgrims’ directions, and though he elected to choose Lauriya Nandangarh, I am quite certain that he would have chosen nearby Rampurva if he had known that there were two pillars at the site (a fact discovered later). Moreover, one suspects that Sir John Marshall entertained similar notions also, particularly after the reconfirmation of Sahet-Mahet as Sravasti: hence, presumably, his evident interest in the apparently ‘missing’ inscription at Rampurva (see ref. 97, below). The Mukherji/Waddell report is among V. A. Smith’s papers at the Bodleian Library, Oxford (see ref. 78).

90. See ref. 22 (Watters) p. 28.

91. Ibid, pp. 39-42.

92. Ibid, p. 39.

93. Daya Ram Sahni, ‘Excavations at Rampurva’, Archaeological Survey of India, Director-General's Report (1907-8) p. 182: ‘Up to the depth of 7 feet the digging was quite easy, for we were digging through layers of clay alternating at irregular intervals with sand, deposited obviously by some large river...’

94. See ref. 66 (Carlleyle): the orientation arrow on Plate 6 (map) would appear to confirm this. See also ref. 93 (Sahni) p. 185. Since the pillars were subsequently moved to the top of the western mound near the ‘Southern’ pillar (see Ann. Rep., Arch. Surv. of India, Eastern Circle, 1912-13, p. 36) their original find-spots presumably await rediscovery at the site. Whilst the pillars at Sravasti have never been found, a correspondent informs me that in 1976 he saw part of one in use as a sugar-cane crusher in a nearby village, though on a later visit it had disappeared.

95. See ref. 66 (Carlleyle) p. 53.

96. See ref. 22 (Watters) pp. 39-40, and Theodor Bloch, Archaeological Survey of India (Eastern Circle) Annual Report, 1906-7, p. 121.

97. ‘Archaeological Exploration In India, 1907-8’, by J. H. Marshall, JRAS (UK) 1908, p. 1088. Since the upper part of this pillar was found lying on the Asokan flooring at the site (which is about ten feet below the surface) other researchers have concluded that it was broken at an early date, but I see no particular necessity to endorse this proposal. The lion-capital on the ‘Northern’ pillar would appear to have been deliberately—and literally— ‘defaced’ also (a notorious Muslim practice) and Cunningham records that a Muslim raiding-party, returning from Bengal, took cannon pot-shots at the nearby Lauriya Nandangarh lion-capital in 1660, damaging it in the mouth. The pillars at Rampurva could thus have been damaged along with these later events, and with the entire site being heavily waterlogged—‘a morass’, according to Carlleyle and Garrick—the broken pieces from the ‘Southern’ pillar could easily have sunk down through the silt thereafter. Long trenches, over two metres deep, which were dug by Carlleyle in 1877, had silted over when Garrick visited the site a mere three years later.

98. V. A. Smith points out—quite correctly, in my opinion—that Faxian’s account regarding the location of this ‘leave-taking’ pillar (which this pilgrim states was inscribed) is in error, and that Xuanzang’s account is the more reliable in placing it close to Vaisali (see ref. 80 (Smith) pp. 146-9). Since the present Vaisali pillar appears to have sunk under its own vertical weight, its shaft has yet to be fully revealed in its entirety, and the question of whether it is inscribed remains unresolved in consequence.

99. ‘Vaisali’, by V. A. Smith, JRAS (UK) 1902, pp. 270-1. See also ref. 66 (Carlleyle) p. 50. The maps are available in the Map Room of the British Library, London, and the road is also shown on Plate 1 of the ASI Reports (Old Series) Vol. 16.  Doubtless, the long-lost villages mentioned in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta lay along it— Kotigama, the Nadikas, Bhandagama, Hatthigama, etc—and presumably lay about 1 yojana (7 miles) apart, this then being the traditional distance between viharas.

100. See India Today's article ‘The Himalayan Race’, and also South Asia Monitor's article 'Modi's Nepal visit may be a game changer'.

101. See on the site the article 'Nepal rejects China's multi-billion dollar Lumbini project'.

102. See Industan Times' article ‘The Dragon’s Getting Too Close for Comfort’ and more recently the Shillong Times's article, 'China extends support to Nepal to develop Buddha's birthplace'





Fig. 1. Sign at present Lumbini site, 1994.



Fig. 2.  P. C. Mukherji’s 1899 drawing of the ‘Mayadevi’ sculpture (compare with Fig. 5).  Note the dubious ‘join’ of the top piece, and the Sivaite trident on the left.


Fig. 3. Chulakoka (devata). (Bharhut Stupa).


Fig. 4 Chanda (yakshini). (Bharhut Stupa).



Fig. 5. Photograph of Fig. 2.


Fig. 6. Landon’s photograph (taken ca. 1920) showing P. C. Mukherji’s assembly of a head of Ganesh on the torso of a female deity. Is this the correct torso for the ‘Mayadevi’ head? (see Figs. 2 and 5) 



Fig. 7. The Sonari (Bhilsa) casket.  Compare with Fig. 8.


Fig. 8. The inscribed Piprahwa casket, photographed at Piprahwa in 1898. Note the appearance, on both caskets, of the final two characters above the inscriptional line.



Fig. 9. The Mogallana casket (from one of the Sanchi stupas) as shown in Alexander Cunningham's book, ‘Bhilsa Topes’.


Fig. 10. The small (uninscribed) Piprahwa casket. Compare with Fig. 9 item.



Fig. 11. The Satdhara (Bhilsa) casket.

© The Trustees of The British Museum.


Fig. 12. The lota from Piprahwa. Note double bands of incised rings (top and middle) as on Fig. 11 item. The vessels are also of identical size.





Fig. 13. The ‘Southern’ pillar at Rampurva.