Meditate on changeThe government’s disregard for Lumbini’s historical artefacts must be addressed
Even the slightest inkling that Gautam Buddha was born anywhere other than Lumbini, Nepal will galvanise fierce defense from thousands across the country. The persistent need to proclaim with nationalist fervour that ‘Buddha was born in Nepal’ is everywhere from pillar to post. It bedecks airports signage, peddles governmental rhetoric and beams from the backs of vehicles across the country.
And yet, despite this insistence, the Ashoka Pillar, a key historical artefact that provides evidential basis for this proclamation, has been allowed to deteriorate for years. Archeologists and conservationists overseeing the development of Lumbini have recently raised their concerns, yet again, for the urgent need to protect and preserve the historic pillar, which includes inscriptions mentioning the birth of Buddha and dates back to 249 BC.
But its deteriorating condition should come at no surprise to the Lumbini Development Trust (LDT). The alarming presence of harmful particles and the urgent need for intervention was underscored by a team of consultants and experts from UNESCO two years ago following their completion of a comprehensive three-year-long study. The report, replete with examples of how to address the ongoing deterioration before it’s too late, continues to be grossly overlooked by the LDT.
The Trust, which is supposed to serve in the interests of protecting the UNESCO World Heritage site, must urgently implement a concrete plan to preserve the pillar. The LDT’s response to the Post on the issue by Saroj Bhattarai, its project manager, is wholly inadequate and comparable to a shrug: ‘We will soon cover the pillar using some transparent materials… we haven’t reached [a] decision yet’. The situation warrants a concrete and clear strategy of action—not ambiguous plans to create a plan.
The government cannot continue to neglect Lumbini’s historically important arts and artefacts.
An underlying contributor to this continued disregard is the government’s misplaced priorities in Lumbini’s development. Billions of rupees have been funnelled towards ‘developing’ the internationally renowned site but there’s a clear guiding priority in all these initiatives: reaping profits.
And this emphasis is omnipresent in a vast majority of governmental interventions in the area. It continues to shape the government’s perpetually incomplete ‘Lumbini Master Plan’, which gained pace in 2014 with the allocation of Rs.500 million towards building a ‘Greater Lumbini Circuit’. It’s glaringly present in LDT’s decision to focus on seemingly flashy initiatives—like constructing ‘e-toilets’ in temples and hosting redundant conferences—instead of addressing the repeated requests to invest in historical preservation. It’s clearly written into the drive to achieve 2.98 million visitors by the end of 2024 and earn $133.67 million in annual tourism receipts. And it’s undoubtedly guiding the construction of Gautam Buddha International Airport in Bhairahawa and dozens of newly-emerging commercial businesses in the area.
The government must redirect its attention towards historical preservation and away from tourism ambitions. The overt commercialisation of Lumbini cannot come at the cost of what makes it a site of global importance: its deep-rooted history and its ancient artefacts. Tourism numbers can be restored and addressed with time. Artefacts, once deteriorated beyond repair, are irreplaceable.