About The Ashokan Pillar
The Ashokan Pillar is one of the oldest and most revered monuments at Lumbini, Nepal. It is a stone column erected by the Emperor Ashoka when he visited in 249 BC.
History of The Ashokan Pillar
The Ashokan Pillars are a series of columns throughout the Indian subcontinent, and are among the earliest known stone sculptural monuments in India. They were built or at least inscribed by the Emperor Ashoka during his reign from 268 to 232 BC. The pillars were built at Buddhist monasteries and places of pilgrimage as well as many important sites from Buddha’s life. The pillars are important monuments of India’s architectural past, with most of them exhibiting the famous smooth and shiny Mauryan stone polish.
The sandstone Ashokan Pillar at Lumbini is one of the most revered monuments in the area. There are ancient historical records from between the 5th and 7th century that discuss the search for Buddha’s birthplace, which was said to be in Lumbini. The Lumbini pillar itself was mentioned in these ancient texts, and was positioned where Buddha was born. In the ancient description, it is noted that the pillar used to be crowned by a sculpture of a horse, but even by then, the pillar had broken in half, and was partially buried.
In 1896, due to these historical records, the governor of Palpa General Khadge Samsher Rana and Alois Anton Fuhrer re-discovered the great stone pillar.
When they dug down and unearthed the pillar, they discovered an ancient Brahmi inscription on the side, buried about a metre beneath ground level. The inscription gives evidence that the aforementioned Emperor Ashoka visited in the 3rd century BC, and identified the pillar’s location as the birthplace of Buddha.
The Ashokan Pillar Today
The Ashokan Pillar now stands outside the Maya Devi Temple, which is a UNESCO world heritage site. Combined with the temple, the Pillar is a hugely popular tourist attraction for Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike. It is also a key destination for many Buddhist pilgrimages. The area itself is historically and spiritually fascinating, with the holy site of Lumbini being bordered by a large monastic zone in which strictly only monasteries are allowed to be built.
From early in the morning to early in the evening, pilgrims from different countries chant and meditate at the site. The Pillar is normally accessible between 6am and 6pm.
There are other places to visit in Lumbini, including the Maya Devi Temple, the World Peace Pagoda, the Myanmar Golden Temple, and the Lumbini Crane Sanctuary.
Getting to The Ashokan Pillar
Lumbini ia a 10 hour drive from Kathmandu and a 30 minute drive from Bhairahawa. The nearest airport is Gautam Buddha Airport at Bhairahawa, with flights running to and from Kathmandu. The India border town of Sonauli in the Maharajganj district is a 1 hour drive from Lumbini, and Nautanwa railway station in India is just a few kilometres away. The nearest big city is Gorakhpur which is about 100km and a 4 hour drive away from Lumbini.
Effectively hidden from the western world until the 1950s, Nepal is a country which is full of astoundingly well-preserved and detailed historical sites. Here's our pick of 5 of the best worth visiting.