Source: Daily pioneer

Francois Gautier, The Pioneer
Muslim invaders treated Buddhists as infidels and attacked their places of worship. They razed every single Buddhist temple they encountered, burnt libraries and killed monks. This is why we cannot find Buddhist structures in India, except a few stupas, and why Lumbini has been lost

Buddhism was once upon a time prevalent in India till about the 4th century AD. Many historians, both in India and abroad, have implied that it nearly totally disappeared from India, because it was slowly ‘swallowed’ back by Hinduism at the hands of spiteful Brahmins.

Others have however pointed out that if Hinduism resisted the Muslim onslaught thanks to its Kshatriyas – the Rajputs, Marathas and Sikhs – Buddhism, because it made non-violence an uncompromising dogma, was literally wiped-off the face of India in a few centuries, as it refused to oppose any resistance.

For the Muslim soldiers, Buddhists, who adored statues and did not believe in Allah, were as much infidels as the Hindus, and they razed every single Buddhist temple (and also Jain temples, as the ruins below Fathepur Sikri have proved) they encountered, burnt all the precious libraries and killed tens of thousands of monks, without encountering any opposition. This is why you cannot find a single trace of Buddhist structures today in India, save for a few stupas, which were too cumbersome to be destroyed.

The history of the Islamic onslaught on Buddhism in India should be rewritten. In 1193 CE, for instance, the wonderful Nalanda University was razed to the ground by Bakhtiyar Khilji, a Turkish Muslim invader on his way to conquer Bengal. He looted and burned the monastery, and killed hundreds or even thousands of monks. The shock of this event lives on in local cultural memory: The three libraries of Nalanda – with books like the ones famous travellers famous Xuanzang and Yi Jing carried back to China were so large that they smouldered for six long months.

But most interesting is the history of Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha, which is one of the four holy places of Buddhism. Lumbini is situated at the foothills of the Himalayas in modern Nepal. In Buddha’s time, Lumbini was a beautiful garden full of green and shady sal trees.

The garden and its tranquil environs were owned by both the Sandyas and the Kolias clans. King Suddhodana, father of Gautama Buddha, was of the Shakya dynasty belonging to the Kshatriya or the warrior caste. In 249 BC, when the Emperor Ashoka visited Lumbini, it was a flourishing village. Ashoka constructed four stupas and a stone pillar with a figure of a horse on top. The stone pillar bears an inscription which, in English translation, runs as follows: “King Piyadasi (Ashoka), beloved of devas, in the 20 year of the coronation, himself made a royal visit, Buddha Sakyamuni having been born here, a stone railing was built and a stone pillar erected to the Bhagavan”.

Lumbini then remained neglected and forgotten for centuries. But in 1895, Feuhrer, a famous German archaeologist, discovered the great Ashoka pillar while wandering about the foothills of the Churia range. Further exploration and excavation of the surrounding area revealed the existence of a brick temple and a sandstone sculpture within the temple itself, which depicts the scenes of Buddha’s birth. But there was great damage, which Feuhrer could not explain, except speculate that the place was once ransacked.

Historian Bhuban Lal Pradhan believes that it was Sikandar Lodi (1489-1517 AD) and Aurangzeb (1668-1701 AD) who were mainly responsible for the ravage and subsequent desertion of the Lumbini and Kapilavastu regions. Nepalese rulers were helpless and even Mukund Sena (1782-93 AD), who ruled the region from Palpa, could do nothing to recover the religious glory of the site and the result was that this holy place was lost in the dense forest that grew over it. Later the name of Lumbini gradually changed to Rummindei and then to Rupandehi, the present name of the district.

Since Feuhrer’s discovery, several excavations have been conducted and a large number of ancient relics have been brought to light which reveal that Lumbini was an important place of Buddhist pilgrimage even during the time of the Mauryas. Now China is leading a project worth $3 billion to transform the small town into a premier place of pilgrimage for Buddhists from around the world. Little Lumbini will have an airport, highway, hotels, convention centre, temples and a Buddhist university. It’s not all about philanthropy, but also to undermine the Dalai Lama’s influence in South Asia.

Romila Thapar, India’s most respected historian, believes that because Buddhism challenged the very structure of the caste system, it was not liked by the upper castes who did not let it flourish. She also points a finger at the “policy of assimilation” of Hinduism, such as stating that Buddha is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu.

But Romila Thapar is wrong. If it can be said that Adi Shankaracharya’s preaching the five-fold path of bhakti got the Buddhist converts back into Hinduism, the reality is that Buddhism in India was wiped out by Islamic invaders and that Lumbini, the birthplace of Gautam, suffered greatly in the process.