Meanwhile, in other news (though not really so new since I’ve been meaning to post about this since late November), scholars have found a 6th century BCE shrine at Lumbini in Nepal, the earliest Buddhist worship site yet discovered.
The shrine pushes back the dates of the life of the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, who scholars had been estimating might have lived in the 4th century BCE. Despite the conventional wisdom associating the Buddha with India, sites celebrated as his birthplace, the site of his enlightenment, etc., are in Nepal; Lumbini is traditionally believed to be his birthplace. The wooden shrine, with an area in the center open to the sky, seems to have been centered around a tree – the Buddha’s enlightenment having taken place under a bodhi tree. The Buddha is also said to have been born under a tree, grasped by his mother Maya as she gave birth. Later brick buildings were built over the site, and remain a major pilgrimage site today; it was in excavations at this still-active holy site, the Maya Devi Temple, also designated a World Heritage Site, that evidence or remains of the early shrine were found. Some scholars, however, have suggested that a tree shrine could be a pre-Buddhist site as well.