Fresh evidence unearthed by international scientists at Lumbini, Buddha’s birthplace in Nepal, have found shrines believed to be the earliest Buddhist worship sites in South Asia.
Till date the oldest surviving Buddhist temples in the region have been attributed to Emperor Ashok, who spread Buddhism in the third century BC by building stupas and shrines.
In Nepal, he constructed a pillar and a brick built temple known as Maya Devi Temple in Lumbini, a UNESCO world heritage site.
“Excavations at the temple site have revealed a pre-Ashokan temple of brick, which itself was built over an earlier one of timber,” said Prof. Robin Coningham of Durham University.
He along with other experts from universities of Tokyo and Rome were part of a Japan-funded UNESCO project which began in 2010 on conservation and management of Lumbini.
“This is the first time we have identified such sequence of Buddhist buildings. We are still awaiting final scientific analysis, but this find is of huge importance,” said Prof. Coningham.
Experts claim that since temples found underneath the Maya Devi Temple followed exactly the same layout with an open area in the middle they are concrete proof of them being Buddhist shrines.
“And since the newly found temples are below the Maya Devi Temple, it can be safely said they are older than the existing temple,” he said.
However, it would take two more months of further scientific analysis to know the exact age of the earlier temples. Archaeologists and experts are yet to find any evidence of pre-Ashokan Buddhist temples in Sarnath, Bodh Gaya and Sanchi in India —all important religious sites in Buddhism.