Kathmandu (AsiaNews) - Nepali Buddhists want to transform Lumbini, Gautama Buddha's birthplace, into a world pilgrimage site like Bethlehem and Makkah. Today, only Asian Buddhists recognise it.
A campaign for that purpose was launched during a visit by 88 religious leaders from Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan and Singapore who on 3-5 November visited the main pilgrimage sites associated with the Buddha on a trip designed to spread his message of peace in the predominantly Hindu country and defend the rights of Buddhists in its new secular constitution.
Sponsored by the Charumati Buddhist Mission Nepal, Charumati Buddha Vihar and the Nepali branch of the World Youth Buddhist Monks Association, the pro-Lumbini campaign is also meant to resist the economic interests of local Nepali Maoists and Chinese businessmen operating in Terai (southern Nepal).
In cooperation with Chinese businesses and international organisations, including the United Nations, former Maoist Prime Minister Prachanda has been trying to turn Lumbini into a tourist attraction with luxury hotels and spas without any regard for religion.
Lumbini "ought to become a destination for Buddhist pilgrims from the whole world," said Bhikku Tapaswi Dhamma, a Nepali official with the World Youth Buddhist Monks Association.
"The Buddha was born here," he added. "We hope the site will become as important to our communities as Bethlehem is to Christians and Makkah is to Muslims."
According to the religious leaders, only if Buddhist communities around the world recognise the site can we avoid tourist encroachment by people and organisations that have nothing to do with religion.
Discovered by archeologists in 1897, Lumbini has become one of the most important locations in Buddhism. UNESCO has designated it a world heritage site.
Each year, millions of pilgrims visit the small village, which is still ringed by a number of monasteries. Out of respect for the place, no new structures can be built.