There are compelling reasons for believing that the site of Lumbini is an extraordinary hoax. The details of its discovery in 1896 reveal a tale of deception and intrigue, which is now told for the first time.
At present, controversy continues to surround the location of Kapilavastu, the Buddha's native town, with both India and Nepal promoting bids for this historically significant site. The Indian claim is based on the finds made at Piprahwa, in Basti District, Uttar Pradesh; the Nepalese, by that of Tilaurakot and its surrounding sites, in the Western Tarai of Nepal. It is my intention in this paper, however, to demonstrate that neither of these claims can be considered as acceptable, and to show that equal doubt attaches to the present site of Lumbini also. I further propose to nominate what I consider to be the correct locations for these and other major Buddhist sites, and to give detailed evidence in support of these proposals.
An old French saying declares that to know a river you should know its source, and any attempt to assess the reliability of the present identifications should begin by taking a close look at the circumstances surrounding their discovery. Chief among the participants in those events - and in my view central to them all - was the notorious figure of Dr Alois Anton Fuhrer, a German archaeologist employed by the (British) Government of the North-Western Provinces and Oudh between 1885-98, and co-discoverer of the present Lumbini site.
Modern Indologists, while aware of Fuhrer's unsavoury reputation, have neglected to conduct any really close scrutiny of his activities, fondly believing that these have long since been satisfactorily catalogued and assessed, and that Fuhrer may be safely consigned to oblivion in consequence. Unfortunately, this is far from being the case. Fuhrer, in fact, drove a coach and horses through critical areas of Indological research, and his deceptions continue to have far-reaching consequences for world history to this day. He was a prolific plagiarist and forger (who worked, alarmingly, on the first two volumes of the Epigraphia Indica) and I have good reason to believe that his deceptions were sometimes condoned, even exploited, by the Government of the day, for imperial reasons of their own. Following Fuhrer's resignation in 1898, the Secretary to the Lieutenant-Governor of the North-Western Provinces remarked, in a letter to central Government, that 'His Honor fears it must be admitted that no statement made by Dr Fuhrer on archaeological subjects, at all events, can be accepted until independently verified'. Unfortunately, this verification was by no means as rigorous as one might perhaps have wished, as we shall shortly see.