The new discoveries at the ancient city of Tilaurakot provide crucial information for the preparation of its World Heritage nomination.
Tilaurakot, the archaeological remains of the ancient Shakya Kingdom, the city where Lord Buddha spent the first 29 years of his life, is located in Western Nepal in the Greater Lumbini Area and is on the Tentative List for UNESCO World Heritage inscription. It is from here that the Buddha departed through the Eastern Gateway on his journey of spiritual enlightenment.
Tilaurakot, 27 kilometers west of Lumbini on the eastern bank of the river Banganga, consists of a fortified citadel of about 500 by 400 meters and is surrounded by a series of associated monuments. The importance of Tilaurakot is reinforced by the close proximity of two Asokan pillars at Niglihawa and Gotihawa.
The site was first discovered by P.C. Mukherji of India in 1899, who traced the journey of two Chinese pilgrims of the 3rd and 6th centuries AD. He mapped the fortiﬁed city surrounded by religious monuments and undertook some clearance of the architectural features, including the Eastern Stupa.
A team of archaeologists from UK based Durham University, jointly with Nepal’s Department of Archaeology and the Lumbini Development Trust have been carrying out archaeological investigations at Tilaurakot as part of the Japanese Government funded project implemented by UNESCO since 2013.
The team exposed clay and timber fortifications, with the earliest palisade dating to the 6th century BCE, and thus concurrent with the life of Lord Buddha.
The geophysical survey of subsurface archaeological features revealed the buried street plan of the city with roads running north-south and east-west and punctuated by small squares within a fortification wall, providing the most comprehensive plan of an early historic city to date in South Asia. At the centre of the city, a monumental palatial complex measuring over 100 by 100 metres, with gates at each cardinal direction was discovered.
Within the walled city, a small shrine, a deep brick-lined water tank, parts of the northern and eastern ramparts, large sections of the central walled complex, and some smaller buildings and houses were excavated dating back to 8th century BCE and later. Outside the city, a large Mauryan Period monastery was discovered near the Eastern Stupa, and an industrial zone was discovered to the south. A spectacular hoard of 500 silver punch-marked coins of 3rd century BCE, was recovered from a monastery area.
These discoveries have provided new fascinating insights into ancient life and also illustrate the necessity to safeguard the heritage of this internationally significant site.