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Saturday, August 27, 2011


Lumbini is the traditional birthplace of Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, who was born in the 7th or 6th century BC.
According to Buddhist tradition, Maya Devi (or Mayadevi) gave birth to the Buddha on her way to her parent's home in Devadaha in the month of May in the year 642 BC. Feeling the onset of labor pains, she grabbed hold of the branches of a shade tree and gave birth to Siddharta Gautama, the future Buddha. The Buddha is said to have announced, "This is my final rebirth" as he entered the world. Buddhist tradition also has it that he walked immediately after his birth and took seven steps, under each of which a lotus flower bloomed.
Lumbini, the birth place of Lord Buddha, is situated about 22 km. from Bhairahawa (Siddharthanagar), below the Churia range, 24 km. south from the foothills of the Himalayas, on the western bank of Telar river in Rupandehi district of Lumbini zone in Nepal. It is about 300 km. west of capital city Kathmandu. Kapilvastu, Rupandehi and Nawalparasi Terai districts of Lumbini Zone are around Lumbini, the birth place of Lord Buddha, which are fertile and densely populated.
It is about 34 km. from Naugarh Railway Station on the North-Eastern Railway of India. Buddha, Known as the Lord of Asia, was born in Lumbini during the full moon day in the month of Baisakh in 623 BC. He was born under a sal (Shorea robusta) tree when Mayadevi was going to her maternal town on the occasion of delivery.
Suttanipata has mentioned the earliest description of the birth of Buddha in Lumbini. After the birth of Buddha he took seven steps towards north and, looking in all directions, he declared that "I am the foremost of all creatures to cross the riddle of the ocean of the existence, this is my last birth and here after, I will not be born again". The site is spelt as Rummindei or Rupandei (beautiful lady), the perverted form of Rupa devi, the queen Anjana of the king of Devadaha which was situated to the east of Kapilvastu in ancient time. The site is called Lun- min and La-Fa-Ni by the Chinese pilgrims Fa- Hien and Hiuen- Tsiang respectively. In course of exploration of the ancient Buddhist sites General Cunningham has mentioned La-Fa-Ni is Sanskrit Lavani, a beautiful lady. In Buddhist literature it is known as Pradimoksa vana blessed with various trees and flowers, which is compared to the Chittalata grove of Indra's paradise in heaven. The earliest Pali text Suttanipata has mentioned that, "The wisdom- child, that Jewel so precious, which can not be matched, has been born at Lumbini, in the Sakya land for well being and joy in the world of men". A Muslim historian of India named Abul Fazal has called Mokta. It is also known as Paderiya (Parariya) where the Asokan pillar is located in the Nepalese Terai. The name of the site is spelt Lumminigame and Lumbini Vana in the Asokan pillar Edict still standing at the same place. Mukherji has also mentioned the name Rummin-dei in his report. In the Magadhi language, being used in the north-eastern pillar edicts in India and Nepal, 'la' is invariable substituted for 'ra'. The location of Lumbini is pointed out in the Buddhist literature, as well as, in the records of the Chinese pilgrims who visited India in the fifth and seventh centuries AD. As mentioned in Jataka story this sal garden was in joint possession of the Sakayas and Koliyas during the life time of Buddha. The Mahavamsa, a Ceylones chronicle, and Nidana katha have also located it between Kapilvastu and Devadaha. The sal garden was the place of recreation during the reign of the Sakayas and Koliyas.
 Buddha charita of Asvaghosa describes Lumbini as "gay like the garden of caitra ratha with trees of every kind. According to Fa- Hien it is located about 50 li east of Kapilvastu. Hiuen- Tsiang had also pointed out that it was about 80 or 90 li.(21.729 or 24.445 km.) north-east of arrow-well. It was linked through popular ‘Uttara path' to Kapilvastu, Ramagrama and other important cities during the Buddhist period. The present location of Lumbini, the exact birth place of Lord Buddha, is absolutely clear.
In 249 BC, the Buddhist convert Emperor Ashoka visited Lumbini and constructed four stupas and a stone pillar. Ashoka's Pillar bears an inscription that translates as: "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 ["blessed one"] having been born here. Lumbini village was taxed reduced and entitled to the eight part (only)".
Monasteries and temples were built at Lumbini until the 9th century, but Buddhism declined in the area after the arrival of Islam and later Hinduism. All that remained was a sculpture, revered by local women as a fertility symbol. The garden of the Buddha's birth was lost for a thousand years.
The site was rediscovered in 1895, when a German archaeologist came upon Ashoka's Pillar, identified by its inscription. Records made by the Chinese pilgrim Fa Xian were also used in the process of identifying this religiously acclaimed site. Lumbini was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.
Lumbini lies in the foothills of the Himalayas in Nepal. The site is a large garden with a grove of pipal trees. The area around Lumbini is entirely Hindu, but many Buddhist temples and shrines from various nations are scattered around the holy site itself.
The most important temple at Lumbini is the Maya Devi Temple, which enshrines the traditional site of the Buddha's birth. The current temple stands on the site of earlier temples and stupas, including the stupa built by Ashoka.
The modern temple consists mainly of simple white building that protects ancient ruins, with the exact spot of the Buddha's birth identified. The delicate sandstone sculptures discovered here are now in the National Musuem inKathmandu.
Atop the temple is a small square tower of the type seen in Kathmandu, with Buddha eyes on each side and a golden pinnacle on top.
On the south side of the temple is a sacred pool (see top photo), where it is said Maya Devi bathed before giving birth, and where the newborn Buddha was washed by two dragons.
The Maha Devi temple is surrounded by the brick foundations of ancient temples and monasteries. All around Lumbini, long lines of colorful prayer flagsare strung between trees. They carry prayers and mantras heavenward as they flap on the breeze.
The other main sight of interest at Lumbini is Ashoka's Pillar, near the temple. It is protected by a small fence, which is decorated with prayer flags and banners from the faithful. Around the courtyard containing the pillar are bowls for incense sticks, and there is room to sit in front of the pillar for contemplation
Lumbini is in west-central Nepal near the Indian border. It is not terribly easy to get to, and the site does not receive a large amount of visitors. Most pilgrims to Lumbini come from Southeast Asia, Japan and Tibet, but westerners come regularly as well.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Didyma - Turkey

Didyma was an ancient Ionian shrine which is today known as Didim in Turkey.Didyma, Apollo Temple is an important sacred site in the ancient Greek world.
It was the most renowned oracle of the Hellenic world containing a temple and an oracle of Apollo. Mythic genealogies of the Branchidae line of priests, designed to capture the origins of Didyma as a Hellenistic tradition, date to the Hellenistic period
Along with several myths, it was thought that the name Dydimaion which meant ”temple of the twins” or “twin temples” was related to Artemis that is the twin sister of Apollo.
However this theory remained as a myth, as there is no definite evidence could be found. Besides, it was proved that this thesis was right, during the excavations in the recent years with the intensification of work on the “Sacred Road” connecting Miletus and Didyma and finding the location of the Artemis cult. The twin temples built for the twin brother and sister, the Artemision and the Didymaion, constitute the origin of the name Didyma.
The mother goddess Cybele was closely related to Apollo and Artemis. From prehistoric times Cybele had a very important place in Anatolia. According to the cultures and localities, Cybele had various names and epithets. The most widespread one of these was Dindymus and which was derived from month Dindymus and which is remarkable for its name to the Dydima.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Mecca - Al-Masjid al-Haram (The Holy Mosque)-Saudi Arabia

Mecca is the most revered site of the Islamic world. It is situated in the Sirat Mountains and is approximately forty-five miles from the port of Jidda, which is located on the Red Sea. Originally this ancient city was a popular way point for caravan traders on route to Southern Arabia, Asia and the Eastern portion of Africa. By the six century, Mecca was well on its way to becoming an important center for religion and trade.
In 570 Ad. Muhammad was born in Mecca. Muhammad would go on to preach about monotheism and as a result faced many years of persecution. All the while he began amassing a large number of followers. In 622 AD, Muhammad and his followers emigrated to Yathrib. By the year 630, Muhammad and his followers entered Mecca and took control of the city.
After seizing control of the city Muhammad began systematically began destroying the almost four hundred pagan idols located there. He then declared Mecca as the holiest site in Islam. It was also designated as the major point for Muslim pilgrimage.
The annual pilgrimage to Mecca is known as Haji. Haji is an obligation that is required of every able bodied Muslim. According to tradition, the Haji is to be begun on the twelfth month of the Islamic calendar. The purpose of the pilgrimage is to show devotion to Allah and also show solidarity among the Muslim people. Today, the Haji attracts over three million visitors to Mecca each year. As a result, the economy of Mecca has become quite dependant on this influx of foreign money. It is estimated that the city takes in more than one hundred million dollars as a result of the Haji.
While the pilgrimage nets the most income for the city, Mecca does have a few minor industries still operating there. These include furniture and utensil production and textiles.
The Masjid al-Haram, known as the Sacred Mosque, is the epicenter for the Haji. It covers an area of ninety-nine acres and can accommodate over a million people. This mosque was originally built in 638AD and has been continually added to and modified ever since. It is considered to be one of the finest examples of Ottoman architecture available in the world. The Masjid al-Haram surrounds an area known as the Kaaba . The Kaaba is considered to be the holiest location in the world according to Muslim tradition. The Kaaba is a large stone structure in the shape of a cube. It is about forty-three feet high. Its covered in a black silk curtain known as a Kiswah. On the eastern corner of the Kaaba is the Black Stone.
It is a stone that is believed to date back to the time of Adam and Eve. It is twelve inches in diameter. Also located within the Masjid al-Haram is the Zamzam Well. The water from this well is believed to be blessed by Allah and able to cure not only thirst, but illness and hunger as well.
Another popular attraction in Mecca is the Jabal-al-noor or Mountain of Light. Its located in Mecca’s Hejaz region. On location is the Cave of Hira. This shrine is a popular place for pilgrims to visit and offer prayers up to Allah. This cave is where Muhammad sought refuge from the evils of society. It is also believe that this is the location where the archangel Gabriel revealed himself to the prophet and guided his endeavors.
The cuisine in Mecca is heavily influenced by the large influx of foreigners of different nationalities.
This can be evidenced by the proximity and popularity of North American fast food chains to traditional Arabian restaurants. Popular dished eaten by the citizens of Mecca include Kabsa (a traditional dish of rice, spices and meat), Mandi (a dish featuring lamb and basmati rice) and Shawarma (a flat bread sandwich containing meat). Other popular food items in the city is Samosa, fava beans and Baklava.
Visitors need to keep in mind that there are no mass transit facilities available in this city. Travel around the city is done by either taxis or private vehicles. There are plenty of lodging accommodations available throughout the city. These include popular hotels such as the Hilton Makkah, Elaf Kindah-Makkah, Mercure Hibatullah and Makkah Al Mukaramah Elaf Ajyad. The Makkah Al Mukaramah Elaf Ajyad is the closet hotel to Masjid al-Haram and is only a few miles from the Al Hijaz shopping centre.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Medina(The Prophet's Mosque)-Saudi Arabia

The second holiest site in Islam is Medina (or Medinah), the "City of the Prophet," is in the Hejaz region of western Saudi Arabia. It was to Medina city that Muhammad fled when he was initially driven out of Mecca, and the place where he attracted his first followers. Medina currently has a population of about 600,000 people and is the home of "The Prophet's Mosque."Medina Masjid, a brand new place of worship in the Sharrow area of the city. It is an awesome building, a £4 million project big enough to take in 2,500 people for Friday prayers. The main prayer hall itself, designed by a famous Iraqi architect, has a beautiful dome and lots of windows letting in light.
The money raised for the project came from local people and local fundraising - not a penny of government money spent. The Muslim taxi drivers of Sheffield have been donating £2,000 a week from their revenues as drivers - and the women from the local area have donated £300,000 worth of gold jewellery to the project! It is completely astonishing.
In return, the community gets to decide everything about the Masjid... Colour schemes, carpets, tiling for the floors, even the toilets. It's a real grassroots project.
The long form of the Arabic name for Medina (Madinat Rasul Allah) means "City of the Prophet of Allah", while the short form (al-Madina) just means "the City". Muslims always add salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam ("peace be upon him") after mentioning the Prophet Muhammad, so the full form of the name is commonly given as "Madinat Rasul Allah salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam."
Medina is the second holy city of Islam, after Mecca. Its importance as a religious site derives from the presence there of the Masjid al Nabawi, the Mosque of the Prophet, which was built on the site of Muhammad's home and is where he is buried. The first mosque of Islam is also located in Medinah and is known as Masjid al-Quba, the Quba Mosque.
In 622, Medina became the seat of Muhammad's growing movement after the Hijra. In 622 Muhammad was invited to come and live in Yathrib (the old name of Medina) and act as a sort of governor. Medina in those times was a divided city. Different clans and religions were eternally quarrelling and bickering and Muhammad brought unity to the city. All parties agreed to a pact drawn up by Muhammad and his followers. He invited all people in the city to follow the new religion of Islam. However, he had trouble convincing the Jewish population (which was actually quite large) that Islam was the true version of Judaism.
In the ten years following the Hijra, Medina formed the base from which Muhammad attacked and was attacked and it was from here that he marched on Makkah, becoming its ruler without battle. Even when Islamic rule was established Medina remained for some years the most important city of Islam and the de facto capital of the Caliphate.
Under the first four Caliphs, known as the Righteous Caliphs, the Islamic empire expanded rapidly and came to include centres of learning such as Jerusalem, Ctesiphon, and Damascus. After the death of Ali, the fourth caliph, Mu'awiyya transferred the capital to Damascus and the importance of Medina dwindled and became of a religious more than a political nature.
In 1924 the city, which had been in Ottoman hands for centuries, fell to Ibn Saud, whose empire later became Saudi Arabia.


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