Set back from the main road heading north from India to Kapilvastu, Nepal, is a seemingly unremarkable pile of bricks adorning a nondescript field. It would be easy to drive past this spot without further investigation, but that would be a regrettable decision since this is a site burgeoning with historical and religious significance. Now known as Kudan after the nearby village, the site is believed to be the Nigrodharam Bihar mentioned in Buddhist texts where Buddha met his father, King Suddhodhana, for the first time following his enlightenment.
The site is located nearly six kilometers (3.7 miles) south of Buddha’s childhood home, the palace at Tilaurakot. Kudan served as a meeting place for Buddha’s followers and also hosted the ordination of his son, Rahula, an event commemorated by a stupa erected atop the tallest hill. Consequential theological debates were also held at Kudan, including whether women ought to be ordained. Although Buddha initially rejected this proposal, his step-mother, Mahāprajāpatī Gautamī, prevailed upon him and became the first bhikkhuni, or Buddhist nun.
The excavation of the Bihar (“home”) began in 2007, revealing original stone and brickwork. The site contains several ancillary structures including a well, several stupas, and the remains of a large pond. The Bihar itself stands 22 feet high and measures over 15,000 square feet in area. A dubious staircase takes intrepid explorers to the top of the Bihar for an unparalleled view of the entire site as well as to the locus of a well-worn Shiva linga.
Although many of the specific details about Buddha’s life and the initial spread of his philosophy are shrouded in legend, the site’s original name—Nigrodharam—derives from Nigrodha, the name of a Buddhist monk who purportedly once owned the banyan grove where the Bihar was built. In the third century B.C., Nigrodha is said to have converted Emperor Ashoka Maurya to Buddhism who became one of Buddhism’s most powerful champions. Today, stone pillars erected by Ashoka can still be found in nearby Nepali villages and cities celebrating the Buddha. Kudan is, therefore, a good starting point for any enthusiastic pilgrim to retrace the footsteps of the Buddha and his followers.
Know Before You Go
To get the best experience in Kudan, it is a good idea to hire a knowledgeable guide as interpretive signage is limited and unreadable in some cases.