A comprehensive Greater Lumbini Project has been mooted, which seeks to secure integrated development of the Buddhist sites in the area - Devdaha, Ram Gram, Gottihawa, Niglihawa and the likes. There are also plans to connect Lumbini with the Buddhist Circuit consisting of Bodhgaya, Benares and Kushinagar

Never before has a prime minister of India visited Nepal on more than four occasions. Narendra Modi holds the distinction of achieving this unusual feat.

He has not only created history but also made it a memorable moment in Indo-Nepal relations, which have been making rapid ascent following the emergence of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba on the political scene.

A visit byan Indian statesman can be an eye opener for Nepal if history is any indication. When President Sarvepalli Radhakrisnan visited Nepal in 1963, he had predicted a people's rebellion in Nepal if not governed properly based on social justice. But all his wise words fell on the deaf ears of Nepali politicians.

As a result, the country had to witness a people's war, resulting in the demise of more than 17,000 persons.

PM Modi won the hearts and minds of the Nepali people on his first visit to Nepal when he addressed the Nepali parliament, describing Nepal as the birthplace of the Buddha. It brought a huge relief to the Nepali people amidst the prevailing mistaken impression that Buddha was born in India. The visit ofPM Modi during this 2566th birth anniversary of the Buddha has buried this ghost forever. Previously, PM Modi also visited Janakpur, the birthplace of Sita and Muktichhetra, the Himalayan pilgrimage, which triggered a flow of Indian religious tourists as never before.

Lumbini is the birthplace of prince Siddhartha turned Buddha, the enlightened one, who was saddened by the observation of sufferings all around. So he escaped from the palace in deep midnight and meditated till he was reduced to mere bones and skin. In Bodhgaya, he suddenly got enlightenment and found out that desire was the cause of all sufferings. He concluded that sufferings can be minimised, if not alleviated altogether, by following the eight-fold path.

His thought became so popular that it transformed into a religion known as Buddhism. Several people took solace in the Buddhist fold, including persons no lesser than Emperor Ashoka.

Buddhists wish to visit Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha, Bodhgaya, the place of his edification, Benares, the place of the delivery of the first sermons, and finally Kushinara, the place of his demise, in their life time. Ac-cordingly, Emperor Ashoka paid visit to Lumbini and installed the Ashoka Pillar in the year 249 BC with an inscription that mentions the birth of the Buddha in Lumbini.

Lumbini was declared the centerer of world peace in 1967 after the visit of U Thant, then the UN General Secretary, to Nepal. Itsdevelopment was carried out based on a masterplan prepared by the famous architect of Japan, Kenzo Tange. He created space for the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha - the three pillars of Buddhism.

He provided the Buddha-space for the Maya Devi Temple and archaeological ruins; for the Dhamma - monasteries of countries around the globe, both belonging to Hinayana and Mahayana Schoolsof thought; and for the Sangha - a library, museum, administrative buildings and waiting space for the pilgrims.

The Masterplan took more than five decades to come to the present form.

Though located in a desolate space in early times, it has now several hotels for tourists as well as the pres-tigious Lumbini Buddhist University, which has been offering several courses related to Buddhism studies.

One of them is a Master's course in Buddhist Architecture to take off soon.

Nepal had missed the opportunity to take Chinese President Xi Jinping when he visited Nepal last time. It would have been very memorable for President Xi because Huang Shang had visited this spot in the year 636, who hap-pens to be his native fellow.

It has compensated for this loss by the visit of PM Modi. A comprehensive Greater Lumbini Project has been mooted, which seeks to secure integrated development of the Buddhist sites in the area - Devdaha, Ram Gram, Gottihawa, Niglihawa and the likes. There are alsoplans to connect Lumbini with the Buddhist circuit consisting of Bodhgaya, Benares and Kushinagar.

The visit of PM Modi can now make this dream come true. There are several other sites which need to be connected with this wider Buddhist Circuit. One of them is the two-in-one, Hindu and Buddhist Shringi Rishi Gufa site in Lamatar, Lalitpur. Shringi was instrumental in securing the birth of Ram with his three brothers by performing a Putresthi Yagya on the advice of Basista Rishi, who was the teacher of Dasarath after he failed to have any issue despite having three spouses.

Shringi's mother, fairy Nalanika, who was sent by King Indra to foil the meditation of Bibhandaka Rishi, the son of Kashyapa Buddha and the father of Shringi, is said to have taken birth as Yasodhara, the consort of the Buddha.

This visit is going to change the face of Lumbini as never before as can be seen in the case of Janakpur and Matatirtha. In his fivehour visit, Modi paid homage at the Maya Devi Temple, showered water on a Bodhi tree planted a few years back and inaugurated an International Buddhist Confederation together with Deuba. This was followed by signing of six agreements, namely, the establishment of a chair of Baba Shaheb Ambaedkar studies in Lumbini University and the likes along with the development and implementation of Arun IV Project. His visit came to an end with the address by both the prime ministers.

PM Modi's address delivered in mixed Hindi as well as Nepali put everybody on their toes dominated by resonating people's applause.

PM Modi has seriously followed his policy of neighbours first, following which he has made several visits to Nepal. His visit to Lumbini will provide a great boost to it with the arrival of innumerable tourists in the future. Besides, the truth of Lumbini being the Buddha's birthplace has finally triumphed with Modi's visit.

Prof Pokharel, a former Vice Chancellor of NAST, is the designer of the Maya Devi Temple in Lumbini

A version of this article appears in the print on May 18, 2022, of The Himalayan Times.