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Competing Claims on Buddha's Hometown Volume 54 Number 2, March/April 2001
by Chris Hellier

Excavations at Tilaurakot in southern Nepal have reopened a longstanding debate about, and competing national claims to, the true hometown of Gautama Siddhartha, better known as the Buddha. With UNESCO backing, Nepali and British archaeologists have uncovered evidence the site was occupied during the Buddha's lifetime, sometime between the seventh and fifth centuries B.C. Tilaurakot was first identified as the possible site of Kapilavastu, the Buddha's childhood home, at the end of the nineteenth century when Archaeological Survey of India officials attempted to link Buddhist remains and topographical features with the descriptions of Chinese pilgrims. "No other ancient site has so much being situated in the right position and fulfilling all other conditions," wrote P.C. Mukherji after undertaking extensive research in the area in the 1890s.

In 1962, however, new excavators at Tilaurakot concluded that the town could not be ancient Kapilavastu, as the earliest settlement of the site began centuries after the Buddha's death. Indian archaeologists subsequently identified the Indian town of Piprahwa, in Uttar Pradesh, ten miles south of the Indo-Nepali border, where the earliest remains are those of a third-century B.C. monastery, as the Buddha's hometown.

Now the focus has turned back to the Nepali site. The latest excavations at Tilaurakot have uncovered terra-cotta crucibles, pottery beads, and fragments of painted bowls known as painted gray ware, dated to the Iron Age of the Ganges Plain, between the beginning of the early first millennium B.C. and the sixth or seventh century B.C. "As a result," says excavation co-director Robin Coningham, "there is little reason to continue to doubt the original, nineteenth-century identification of the site of Tilaurakot as the childhood home of theBuddhačancient Kapilavastu."

© 2001 by the Archaeological Institute of America