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Centre for the Ethics of Cultural Heritage



Durham University UNESCO Chair receives a gift of 20 million Yen

(5 May 2017)

Mr Kasai at Tilaurakot in February 2017

The UNESCO Chair in Archaeological Ethics and Practice in Archaeology receives Donation of 20 million Yen from Mr Tokushin Kasai to continue research on sites associated with the life of the Buddha.

Pilgrimage is the fastest growing motivation for travel with an estimated 600 million 'spiritual voyages' undertaken each year and Asia Development Bank (ADB) predicts that Buddhist pilgrimage to South Asia will increase from current levels of four million pilgrims a year to reach an annual figure of 22 million by 2020. On a regional scale, it has been estimated that in Nepal, pilgrim numbers visiting Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha, in the same time-frame will expand from 800,000 to five million visitors a year. 

Placing a strain on local infrastructure, and aware of economic benefits offered by enhancing Buddhist pilgrimage circuits and the potential to alleviate acute poverty within the Terai, ADB has invested millions of dollars in a 'Tourism Infrastructure Development Project'. On account of the presence of Lumbini, ADB investment in the Terai has included all-weather roads between the light aircraft landing strip at Bhairahawa and Lumbini as well as 100 million dollars upgrading Bhairahawa to the status of an international airport.

Whilst development brings opportunities and economic development, such investment can also potentially cause damage to known and also undiscovered cultural heritage, especially in a region of rich historical development with sites associated with the life-time of the Buddha. Alert to these threats from new infrastructure and associated development for the reception of such large numbers of pilgrims, UNESCO with the Government of Nepal and Japanese Government launched an interdisciplinary program to enhance the conservation and management of Lumbini, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Durham University participated as a core partner with responsibility for implementing the project's archaeological activities, which culminated with the discovery of a unique sequence of structures below the temple of the Buddha's birth dating back to the sixth century BC.

This first phase was then followed by a second of survey and excavation funded by the Japanese-Funds-in-Trust-for-UNESCO at nearby Tilaurakot, the city venerated by many as ancient Kapilavastu, the childhood home of the Buddha. A key place of contemporary Buddhist pilgrimage, Durham's fieldwork in partnership with the Lumbini Development Trust and the Government of Nepal's Department of Archaeology has successfully exposed the city's plan, complete with large central palatial complex, and confirmed that it was first defended by a timber fence in the sixth century BC. The project is working with planners from the University of Tokyo and site managers to conserve and present findings to visitors and pilgrims as well as mapping the social and economic impacts of heritage development on local communities and training government officers and students from Tribhuvan University and Lumbini Buddhist University.

Work will now recommence at the site through the generosity of the donation of 20 million yen from the Buddhist philanthropist and pilgrim, Mr Tokushin Kasai. Goodwill Ambassador for the Lumbini Development Trust and President of Lumbini Hotel Kasai, Mr Kasai has been a regular visitor to Lumbini for over twenty years and his personal donation will allow Durham's UNESCO Chair team and their partners, the Lumbini Development Trust, the Department of Archaeology (Government of Nepal) and UNESCO to continue their important archaeological research and conservation program at Tilaurakot-Kapilavastu. Focused on the study and conservation of a number of key monuments within the ancient capital, it will also provide new information boards and a guidebook for visitors and pilgrims, undertake post-excavation analysis of artefacts and continue to provide ongoing training to archaeologists and students. Not only uncovering new information about Tilaurakot, and the Natal Landscape’s past, it will also help safeguard this heritage and important pilgrimage destinations for future generations.

Durham University and the UNESCO Chair team are extremely grateful to Mr Kasai for his support and his generous donation was warmly welcomed by UNESCO's International Scientific Committee for Lumbini at their annual meeting on the 19th February 2017.