Thereafter, for about five hundred years, Lumbini was forgotten. Ancient sites turned into mounds of bushes and trees and faded from Sub-continental memory. The timing coincides with the decline of Buddhism across Asia. It was not until the 19th C. CE that interest in tracing Buddhist sites and monuments was renewed.
In 1896, Dr. Anton Fuhrer of the Archaeological Survey of India and Nepali General Khadga Shamsher Rana visited a mound crowned by a small shrine to a goddess known as Rummuni-dei. Clearing the debris, they uncovered Asoka’s pillar and remnants of an ancient temple. In 1899, P.C. Mukerji of the Archaeological Survey of India was commissioned to make records of the site. The site was then left untouched until the 1930s when a new Maya Devi temple was constructed.
Although the story of Lumbini’s modern development tends to focus on the roles played by UN Secretary-General U Thant and the renowned Japanese architect Kenzo Tange, we also have an Indian Prime Minister, a Nepali king, and two notable Nepali Theravada monks to thank for the Lumbini which we see today.
In 1955, the prime minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru, wrote to Nepal’s King Mahendra, proposing the development of Lumbini as part of the preparations for the 2,500-year celebration of the Buddha’s birth, to be celebrated with several Buddhist coutnries the following year.
By late 1955, King Mahendra devoted a significant sum from his own funds to the construction of a vihara (Buddhist monastery), guesthouse, and a road connecting the sacred site with the nearby towns of India. At a speech given at Lumbini in February 1956, King Mahendra declared Buddha Jayanti a national festival and forbade the killing of any animal in Nepal on that day, emphasising that it was Nepal’s duty to immortalise the Lord Buddha and materialise his ideas.