Buddha Was Born In Lumbini

The Asokan pillar at Lumbini, where Gautama Bu...
The Asokan pillar at Lumbini, where Gautama Buddha was born (current Nepal). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
(written for Vishwa Sandesh)

Buddha Was Born In Lumbini
By Paramendra Bhagat

Buddha was born in Lumbini. At the time no country called Nepal existed. The country that we know as Nepal today did not exist for another 2,000 years after Buddha was born. So it can be argued Buddha was not born in Nepal. It can also be argued Gandhi was born in Britain, because at the time India that we know today was British territory.

King Janak back in the days ruled over a vast country that was larger than today’s Nepal: it spanned what would today be Eastern Terai in Nepal and much of Bihar. It was called Mithila. The cultural entity still exists. My father is Nepali, my mother was born and grew up Indian. But both are Maithils. To my two families the Nepal-India political border feels highly arbitrary. At some level we want Mithila back!

I am no Buddha, not even close, I am merely a Buddhist, “one small human being” in the words of my fellow Buddhist Richard Gere, but I was born in India. Buddha was born in Nepal, but he achieved enlightenment in India. I was born in India, and attended high school in Kathmandu.

I like to argue Buddha must have looked like me when he was born. Lumbini is in the Terai. Buddha was born a Teraiwasi. The Jesus that walked this earth looked like what an average Arab looks like today. He had brown skin. But he is depicted as this blue eyed blonde dude in popular media. That is not accurate but it is something to do with the fact that Christianity has gone on to flourish in the West, whereas Jesus country is mainly home to Judaism, and in a bigger way Islam.

Buddha gets depicted like he had Mongol features. He gets shown to have Kubla Khan eyes. That cannot have been true. Buddha was a Madhesi. Too bad there are hardly any Madhesis and Biharis who are Buddhist today. I might be a major exception to the rule. My family is still Hindu. And I like to celebrate all kinds of festivals. I am a big fan of the Holi in Richmond Hill, the top Holi celebration in North America. I visited a mosque for a month last year every evening during Ramadan. The picture that you see in my ad for my tech consulting firm in this newspaper is from a Christmas party a few years ago.

The various South Asian currencies are already tied to the Indian rupee. When the Indian rupee goes down in value, the Nepali rupee goes down in value. It would make sense for South Asia to attempt a free trade zone and a South Asian economic union to end up with a single currency. But Europe’s mistake was there was no accompanying political union. I don’t imagine a Kashmir that is with either India or Pakistan. I imagine a Kashmir that is in a closely integrated South Asia, and so it does not really matter if Kashmir is with India or Pakistan.

Buddha is a strong case to be made for diluting the Nepal India border to the max. There are more Nepali speakers in India than in Nepal. Preserve the culture, but when it comes to the economy, make decisions that are pro-growth, pro prosperity. The India Pakistan border is a sore point in South Asia. No prime minister level peace talks could achieve with the magic that full-fledged trade could bring about. A South Asia that stands united will be a South Asia that will compete globally. A disunited South Asia will stay preoccupied with its immediate neighborhood.

I have never gotten worked up about the whole Buddha was born in Nepal issue. Like the Indian embassy said in a press release a few weeks ago: “The fact that Buddha was born in Lumbini was established over 2,000 years ago.” During a class discussion I said with immense pride to my geography teacher in college that Mt. Everest was in Nepal. To that his retort was: “And what’s your contribution to that?” Made me think.

Buddha was born in Nepal. But what’s your contribution to that? Nepalis alive today will have to create a world class economy that they can claim credit for and express pride in. But that requires getting past the false nationalism as expressed in the non-issues like the whole Buddha was born in Nepal fiasco.

A front page article in this newspaper a few weeks back argued India was behind the idea of Nepal elections in November 2013 and April 2014. The truth is it is the political parties in Nepal that have engaged in this debate and tussle. But to see India working behind the scenes is pretty reflective of the knee jerk ways of the Nepali media. If South Asia is a solar system, India is the sun, and Nepal is like planet Earth, true. There is the obvious gravitational pull. That geopolitical reality cannot be wished away just like gravity cannot be wished away. Leading Nepali politicians making regular treks to Delhi to lobby the power centers in that power city is a bigger phenomenon than various elements of the Indian foreign establishment wanting to meddle in Nepal. But for the most part both India and China want Nepal to do what’s best for Nepal. And so Nepali leaders just have to take more responsibility for their actions and non actions than they do.

Buddha was born in Nepal. But what’s your contribution to that?
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