Lumbini Garden – Buddha's birthplace

I came across this drawing of the Buddha’s birthplace recently and it reminded me what a cruel thing Kenzo Tange did at Lumbini. Like Corbusier, Tange was a gifted designer and a terrible planner.

An ability to design objects (eg buildings) sometimes goes with an understanding of outdoor space, and gardens, but in the case of these two leading architects from West and East it did not. ‘Baroque Buddhism’ is as unwelcome as ‘Baroque Communism’, in politics and in design.

The illustration shows the scene which Fa-hsien described in c400 CE:
“Fifty li east from the city (ie from Kapilavastu) was a garden, named Lumbini, where the queen entered the pond and bathed. Having come forth from the pond on the northern bank, after walking twenty paces, she lifted up her hand, laid hold of a branch of a tree, and, with her face to the east, gave birth to the heir-apparent. When he fell to the ground, he immediately walked seven paces. Two dragon-kings appeared and washed his body. At the place where they did so, there was immediately formed a well, and from it, as well as from the above pond, where the queen bathed, the monks even now constantly take the water, and drink it.”

3 thoughts on “Lumbini Garden – Buddha's birthplace

  1. Christine

    For the uninitiated like myself the following website might be a useful for becoming visually familiar with a few of the key feature of the Lumbini Gardens site;

    I understand that Kenzo Tange worked free of charge on this project and died aged 92 before his master plan for the site could be fully implemented.

    The mythical desciptions of the time of Buddha as retold by Barbara Crossette in the New York Times have a dreamlike quality which does not seem to be reflected at Lumbini at present.
    IN my hotel room in Lumbini, instead of a Gideon Bible, there was a copy of “The Teachings of Buddha.” I searched it and found a lesson appropriate to the place: “Soft zephyrs pass through the trees of that Pure Land and stir the fragrant curtains of the pavilions and pass away in sweet cadences of music.”

    This may be due to a greater emphasis being placed on the archeological and interpretative value of the site, and its value as a cultural tourism site, than on an appreciation of the sites spiritual and cultural value.

  2. Tom Turner Post author

    No doubt the Nepalese government does view Lumbini as a tourist attraction – and it seems the UNDP support the initiative: “Before 1967 when U Thant, as Secretary General of the United Nations visited Lumbini, very little action had been taken to preserve or develop the nativity site of Siddhartha Gautam, the Buddha. (1) As a consequence of Thant’s distress at the state of the site and his drive a to address the situation, the UN formed an international committee for the development of Lumbini in 1970. In 1972 UNDP commissioned Japanese architect Kenzo Tange to design master plan for the development of Lumbini (Coningham and Milou 2000:18) with a budget of US$ 6.5 million (LDT 2000). Yange submitted his completed master plan for the extensive development and preservation of the site as a centre of Buddhist pilgrimage and world tourism in 1978.” [ ]

  3. Christine

    You are right. The site is both overvalued (over-developed) and undervalued (not known – I hesitate to say ‘marketed’) as a cultural tourism site with spiritual value for Buddhism specifically and world religions in general.


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