A Trip Down South

We’re back! It was an intense trip that included meeting lots of new people, a visit to the birthplace of the Buddha, and a trip to the emergency room, but we all made it back in one piece.

We left Kathmandu on Sunday and arrived at about 5pm in Bhuttwal, a little city an hour’s drive from Lumbini. We stayed there with some friends of my father-in-law. Much of their family was gathered there for Tihar, and we brought along 9 people (including me, Tri, Tri’s brother and dad and a number of family friends). All together, including the staff in the house, we were 33 people. Although it was, at times, a little overwhelming, I loved it. There was always something to do, people to talk to, food to eat. I had never met these people before this week, but now they feel like family.

On Monday morning, we set out for Palpa, a hill station about an hour and a half out of Bhuttwal. It was a bit crazy getting out of the house because there were so many of us, but we finally made it for a picnic lunch.

On Tuesday, 10 of us went over to Lumbini to see the temples. Lumbini is in the Terai (the planes of Nepal), only about half an hour from the Indian border. Before coming to Nepal in 2009, I visited Delhi and Agra, and Lumbini really reminded me of what I saw there. In India, the land was flat and dry and the weather hot, very much like Lumbini. The people also looked more like the Indians I met in Agra and Delhi than the Nepalis I know in Kathmandu. Lumbini is a cluster of beautiful temples right in the middle of a vast expanse of farmland. Different countries have donated money to build temples to the Lord Buddha, many of them replicates of Budhhist temples from those places. Here’s the Thai one…

The Cambodian one was under construction, so we couldn’t go inside, but you can see the top of it here…

The German, supposedly one of the most elaborate ones, is built in a Nepali style. I love the ceiling…

Going to see the Buddha’s actual birthplace was the best. There are ruins in the middle of Lumbini supposedly from Siddhartha Gautam’s family palace. They also have the stone on which Siddhartha’s foot was imprinted after he was born. Of course I was a bit skeptical about the lumpy imprint on that stone being from the baby Buddha’s foot, but I didn’t mind extending my imagination a bit 🙂 There were tourists from all over, including a number of pilgrims from South India. You can see the ruins on the grass. The people in white are the pilgrims…

I started re-rereading Siddhartha by Herman Hesse when we were down there, a book I remember loving in high school. It’s a little slow but a good story. I can’t give a proper review of it because I haven’t read it in so long, but I would recommend it to anyone interested in religion in this area.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the intersection between Buddhism and Hinduism in Nepal, partly because of one of Barani’s comment on this post about Buddhism having only a small influence in Nepal. Thulobaa (Tri’s uncle; literally means “big dad”) came with us on the trip down to Bhuttwal, and I asked him if there were any Buddhists in his family. Although I don’t think he would call himself a Buddhist, he said that he and many other Hindus practice Buddhism because they consider the Buddha to be a god. Similarly, there are a number of people in Nepal who would call themselves Buddhists but celebrate Hindu holidays. The fact that the Buddha can be worshiped and loved in what was once considered the only Hindu Kingdom on earth is only one example of the tolerance for diversity and difference that I see so often in Nepal.

Anyway, I’ll add some more photos to the photo page, and I’ll post a little about what we did for Tihar, in particular Laxmi Puja, soon.

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14 thoughts on “A Trip Down South

  1. Mainstream Hinduism considers the Buddha the 9th avatar of Vishnu.
    Buddhists dont accept the avatar theory
    And many Hindus do keep pictures and idols of the buddha in their house.
    Marrying a buddhist is not Jutho, unlike marrying a muslim or a christian,

    The key aspect is this, very few Hindus become buddhist monks or nuns or
    follow buddhist scriptures. They may give alms to a buddhist monk, or visit a buddhist temple,
    but thats about it.

    In India, buddhism is a protest movement of untouchables and Hindus are Ok with this,
    since they fear the alternative of conversion to islam or christianity.

    Many of these neo-buddhists often keep pictures of Hindu gods in their houses.

    The relationship between buddhists and hindus is often not a happy one.
    Buddhists of Bhutan, ethnic cleansed Nepalese Hindus, just a few years ago.
    And in Myanmar and Sri Lanka, buddhist monks have led mobs attacking Hindu civilians.
    In 1810, the Myanmar buddhists invaded Assam in north east India, and tried a forcible conversion campaign against the local Hindus.

    In Nepal, during the monarchy, every so often. a buddhist would get arrested for killing and eating cows, During the monarchy, there were often protest movements by buddhists because Nepal was a Hindu kingdom and not a secular govt.

    • You’re right, the relationship between Hindus and Buddhists isn’t always a happy one, but I’ve always found it interesting that the line between buddhism and Hinduism is not always so defined.

      • Hinduism accepts its daughter religions such as Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism as legitimate
        Hence there is no Jutho involved
        Many gods and goddesses are shared between Hinduism and its daughter religions.
        Buddhism also had a transformative effect on Hinduism
        Concepts such as ahimsa / non-violence, vegetarianism. and idol worship came from Buddhism

        The key difference is celibate priests and nuns in Buddhism and the organised nature of the Buddhist priesthood, vs the disorganised and hereditary brahmin Hindu priests.

        Before the Buddha, Hinduism consisted of fire rituals where sanskrit mantras were chanted and goats sacrificed and brahmins ate goats regularly and were not-vegetarian like these days.

        Buddhist missionaries were also sent to the middle-east and had an influence on Christianity.
        Look at the commonalities Celibate monks and nuns, chanting, bells, monasteries, missionary religions, social service focus, organised priesthood,
        These are absent in both Hinduism and Judaism.

        From Wiki – Barlaam and Josaphat or Joasaph is a Christianized version of the story of Siddharta Gautama, who became the Buddha.[1]. In the Middle Ages the two were treated as Christian saints

        It was ultimately derived, through a variety of intermediate versions (Arabic and Georgian), from the life story of the Buddha

        Although Barlaam was never formally canonized, Josaphat was, and they were included in earlier editions of the Roman Martyrology (feast day 27 November) — though not in the Roman Missal — and in the Eastern Orthodox Church liturgical calendar (26 August in Greek tradition etc / 19 November in Russian tradition).

      • Conversion to Buddhism, Sikhism or Jainism does not result in being outcasted.
        Whereas conversion to abrahamic religions means getting outcasted and expelled from the extended family

        Among Jat and Khatri castes, some are Hindu and some are Sikh and they intermarry within the caste. A Khatri Hindu would marry a Khatri sikh and not marry a non-Khatri Hindu

        Oswal and Aggarwal castes have Jain and Hindu members and they intermarry within the caste

        Mahars have Hindu and Buddhist members and they intermarry within the caste

    • @Barani
      “In Nepal, during the monarchy, every so often. a buddhist would get arrested for killing and eating cows, During the monarchy, there were often protest movements by buddhists because Nepal was a Hindu kingdom and not a secular govt.”
      Please provide citations for your statement.
      You do not know much about Nepal and Nepalese culture or history so please stop trying to mislead people by providing false information. Just because something is a case in India doesn’t mean it is the same in Nepal. The same rules, reasons, or observations don’t apply to Nepal. India and Nepal have very different environment, situations and circumstances.

  2. I had the same feeling when I was in Lumbini. I mean I saw there so many Nepali peoples they look like a Indian peoples.
    Hermann Hesse is a german writer, I had read his book…Steppenwolf, till now I havent know that he wrote a book about buddha. Thanks for you acvice, I will to buy me that book.

    On our way to Lumbini, we were came from Pokhara, we had a short stop in Bhuttwal. Our bus had a blowout. During the repair time I was looked for a restroom. Uffff definatly I havent founded………hahahaha

    Yes I had made the same expiriences, buddhism and hinduism its little bit like one religions in Nepal. The family of my boyfriend are hindus , but they celebrate sometimes buddhism religion too. Spcially my boyfriend, he feel attracted to buddhism more.
    I think Nepal is a good example in the world, that living two relgions togehter so peacefully.

    When you was in Agra did you saw the Taj Mahal? I m sure you saw. 4 years ago I was there also and I told my boyfriend about that amazing beautiful Taj. One time we want go there together.
    Yes Lumbini is a great place and its a pity that go most of tourists in the mountains or Chitwan only. I diden’t saw some visitors from europa or american in Lumbini.

    Regards Basundhara………..after 4 weeks on the way to Nepal. Yeeeee

    • I was thinking about you, wondering if you had read Siddhartha because it’s written by a German writer. It’s a good book.

      I did see the Taj Mahal…omg, it was incredibly beautiful. But we had to take our shoes off before going inside, and I remember the marble being so hot.

  3. This was such a lovely post. I am Buddhist myself and I have always wanted to visit Lumbini, to see the birth place of Lord Buddha. I thought Nepal had a large number of Buddhists because Lord Buddha was born there, but I do seem get mixed reviews. I have met Nepalese people who are Buddhist and Hindu and the ratios don’t seem to vary much. Do you think they are equal in number?

    • I think the number of people who call themselves Hindu is much greater than the number who call themselves Buddhist. Wikipedia says it’s about 80% Hindu, 10% Buddhist. It’s also surprising to me that there aren’t more self-identifying Buddhists here, considering it’s the Buddha’s birthplace. However, I have heard a number of people say that their grandparents/great-grandparents were buddhist, but they consider themselves Hindu. So maybe there were more Buddhists in times past.

      • Nepal is a racial-boundary zone between brown Indo-Aryans and Yellow-Orientals

        Lumbini is in the Terai, which was part of India, until it was annexed by Nepal in 1780

        The buddha was a brown Indo-Aryan.

        Indian buddhism went into ultra-pacifism and was destroyed by the muslim invaders in 1200AD.

        Whereas, the muslims never captured Nepal and buddhists survived there.

        Even in Nepal, Brahmin Hindus tend to be Indo-Aryan and Buddhists tend to be Oriental. Of course many castes and tribes are a blended mix.

        The current PM of Nepal, Bhattarai is a brahmin of Indo-Aryan stock
        The bollywood starlet, Manisha Koirala is also a brahmin of Indo-Aryan stock

  4. Your description of Lumbini reminds me of Sarnath (where the Buddha started preaching) and Bodh Gaya (where the Buddha gained enlightenment)… where many nations with large Buddhist populations had temples designed in their own cultural style.

    P’s mom considers herself Buddhist, even though she also worships Hindu gods and participates in Hindu festivals. Part of this is probably because she married into a Hindu Chettri family from a Buddhist Newar family, but I think in the city a lot of the Hindu/Buddhist lines are very blurred.

    However when you go up in the hills and mountains its hard to deny that Buddhism has an influence on the local people. You see prayer wheels, Tibetan prayer inscriptions on large boulders, stupas and monasteries everywhere instead of Hindu temples.

    A friend of ours in the US is originally from the Rai hill community in Nepal, and he has been influenced by recent trends of indigenous groups not partaking in holidays or traditions that were not originally part of their culture–like red tikka, or slaughtering a goat and celebrating Dashain. I remember once he told me a story about how his grandfather’s grandfather’s community was forced by representatives of the king to show proof of slaughtering a goat for Dashain so that they proved their “Hindu-ness” even though they really followed a more animist type of local religion.

    I’d love to learn more about the topic. I might have to sit down and pick his brain sometime, but now his wife is in the US and she is rather religious (Hindu) and I think he has had to tone down his activism.

    • Yeah, lines in the city do seems to be less clear…And things are definitely more overtly Buddhist in the hills and mountains. I was surprised, though when I went to a Sherpa Tamang village. Most of the ppl considered themselves Buddhist but also practiced some form of Dashain, including diusibhailo and giving tika. I don’t know how much they practice other holidays…I was there around Dashain, that’s why it came up.

      Animism in Nepal is also something I want to learn more about. I didn’t know that about the king forcing ppl to show proof of slaughter. That’s really awful. 😦

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