Nepal is the land of origin of Lord Buddha, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kathmandu asserted after India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar described the founder of Buddhism as one of the greatest Indians ever. The comment from the Indian Minister also drew a series of reactions from leading Nepalese figures, including former Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, who said Mr. Jaishankar’s comments about Lord Buddha were “objectionable”.
“It is a well-established and undeniable fact proven by historical and archaeological evidence that Gautama Buddha was born in Lumbini, Nepal. Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha and the fountain of Buddhism, is one of the UNESCO world heritage sites,” said the official spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Nepal in an official statement.
The controversy erupted after Mr. Jaishankar, during an interaction with the Confederation of Indian Industries on Saturday, referred to Buddha while discussing India’s soft power. “Who are the greatest Indians ever that you can remember? I would say one is Gautama Buddha and the other is Mahatma Gandhi,” said Mr. Jaishankar.
The spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, however, responded saying that the Minister was referring to the “shared Buddhist heritage.” The Indian statement supported the Nepalese assertion and said, “There is no doubt that Gautama Buddha was born in Lumbini, which is in Nepal.” India’s statement, however, did not clarify how Mr. Jaishankar regarded the Lumbini-born Sakyamuni or the Buddha as an Indian.
It is understood that the Nepalese side believes Lumbini is of paramount importance in Buddhism, and the Indian side highlights the importance of Bodhgaya, the place of enlightenment of the Buddha and Sarnath, where the first Buddhist sermon was delivered.
Earlier Mr. Jaishankar drew an angry retort from Mr. Nepal who described the remarks as “insensitive and wrong.” “The Indian Foreign Minister has described Nepal’s Lumbini-born Gautama Buddha as a ‘great Indian’. This amounts to misinformation and is objectionable,” said Mr. Nepal.
The war of words about the Buddha has highlighted the Buddha diplomacy that both India and Nepal have been practising for the last few years. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has been highlighting India’s Buddhist heritage since 2014, Nepal, with the help of international partners, including China, has invested in developing Lumbini as a major tourism destination. During the Kathmandu visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping in October 2019, both countries agreed to collaborate on building a road connecting Kathmandu and Pokhara with Lumbini. Notably, Mr. Modi visited Bodhgaya, the place where prince Sidhartha Gautama became the enlightened Buddha. He, however, could not visit Lumbini during his visits to Nepal due to scheduling problems.
Apart from Lumbini, Bodhgaya and Sarnath, classical Buddhism also attaches high significance to Kushinagar, the place where the Buddha breathed his last. India categorically said that Gautam Buddha was born in Lumbini in Nepal thereby defusing a controversy about Buddha’s birth place after Nepal had responded to remarks attributed to External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar.
Jaishankar had talked about about India’s moral leadership and how Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings are still relevant. However, reports suggest that the Nepalese media attributed remarks to him as saying that Buddha was an Indian.
India’s External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava on Sunday said the minister’s remarks on Saturday at an event “referred to our shared Buddhist heritage”.
“There is no doubt that Gautam Buddha was born in Lumbini, which is in Nepal,” Srivastava said. Earlier in the day, the Nepalese Foreign Ministry issued a statement in response to Jaishankar’s remark quoted in the Nepalese media.
“It is a well-established and undeniable fact proven by historical and archaeological evidences that Gautam Buddha was born in Lumbini, Nepal. Lumbini, the Birthplace of Buddha and the fountain of Buddhism, is one of the UNESCO world heritage sites,” said the Nepal Foreign Affairs Ministry.
The official spokesperson of the Nepal ministry said: “During his visit to Nepal in 2014, the Prime Minister of India H.E. Shri Narendra Modi himself, while addressing Nepal’s Legislature Parliament, had said that ‘Nepal is the country where apostle of peace in the world, Buddha, was born’.”
“It is true that Buddhism spread from Nepal to other parts of the world in the subsequent period. The matter remains beyond doubt and controversy and thus cannot be a subject of debate. The entire international community is aware of this,” Nepal’s statement said.
Former prime minister Madhav Kumar Nepal reacted to the statement attributed to Jaishankar and said the alleged statement that Buddha was a great Indian is “baseless and objectionable”. This controversy comes weeks after Nepal Prime Minister KP Oli had stirred a controversy by claiming that Lord Ram was born in Nepal and was a Nepali