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After years of work at Lumbini, archaeologists are now fairly certain that Gautama Siddhartha, the historical Buddha, was indeed born here in 563 BC. A huge complex of monasteries and stupas was erected on the site by his followers and the Indian emperor Ashoka made a pilgrimage here in 249 BC, erecting one of his famous pillars.

Shortly after this, some unknown cataclysm affected Lumbini. When the Chinese pilgrim, Fa Hsien (Fa Xian), visited in AD 403, he found the monasteries abandoned and the city of Kapilavastu in ruins. Two hundred years later, Hsuan Tang (Xuan Zang), another Chinese pilgrim, described 1000 derelict monasteries and Ashoka's pillar, shattered by lightning and lying on the ground. However, the site was not entirely forgotten. The Nepali king, Ripu Malla, made a pilgrimage here in 1312, possibly leaving the nativity statue that is still worshipped in the Maya Devi Temple.

Mughal invaders arrived in the region at the end of the 14th century and destroyed the remaining 'pagan' monuments at both Kapilavastu and Lumbini. The whole region then returned to wilderness and the sites were lost to humanity, until the governor of Palpa, Khadga Shumsher Rana, began the excavation of Ashoka's pillar in late 1896.

Lumbini is now creating a new archaeology for itself in the Lumbini Development Zone - if explorers rediscover the site in a thousand years, they'll find the ruins of dozens of vast 21st century monasteries, reflecting Buddhist cultures from across the globe.