Jajpur's Historic Connection to Buddha's 'First' Devotees

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    In the heart of Odisha, a place of profound reverence beckons both curious travelers and devoted pilgrims. Lalitgiri Archaeological Museum, in Cuttack district, allures visitors from far and wide, as they yearn for a fleeting glimpse of the sacred casket safeguarding the relics of the esteemed Buddha. This remarkable discovery, unearthed in 1985 by the diligent hands of the Archaeological Survey of India during their routine excavations at the Lalitgiri Mahastupa, has ignited a rekindled fascination with Odisha's rich Buddhist heritage.

    However, Lalitgiri is merely a single thread woven into a grand tapestry—a magnificent ensemble of Buddhist monasteries and enclaves that thrived in the region from the 7th to the 9th centuries. In 2005, two important archeological discoveries were made in the neighboring Jajpur district, which rewrote the history of Indian Buddhism!

    The 2005 excavations revealed the connection of Jajpur with Tapassu and Bhallika, Buddha’s ‘first’ disciples as well as with two of the most sacred stupas in Buddhist tradition - the 'Kesa Stupa' cradles delicate strands of the Buddha hair, and the 'Danta Stupa' which housed the sacred tooth.

    The Story of Tapassu and Bhallika

    The discovery of Buddha relics where should not come as a surprise, as the Jajpur region of Odisha played a very important role in Indian Buddhism. The region is known to be closely associated with the story of Tapassu and Bhallika, two merchants from Odisha who were among the earliest devotes of Lord Buddha.

    According to the Buddhist text Anguttara Nikaya, Lord Buddha’s ‘first’ disciples, Tapusa and Bhallika, were honey traders from Ukkala as Odisha was known in bygone eras under various names such as Kalinga, Odra, and Ukkala. On their way to Madhyadesa with 500 carts, they met the Buddha on the last day of the seventh week after his enlightenment at Bodhgaya. They offered him rice‐cake and honey. The Buddha gave them eight handfuls of his hair, which they later placed in a stupa in their native Ukkala. The stupa came to be known as Kesa Stupa (kesa meaning hairʹ).

    Kesa Stupa and Tarapur

    For centuries, the exact location of ‘Kesa Stupa’ remained a mystery. But this would change in the year 2005. The Odisha Institute of Maritime and South East Asian Studies had noticed the presence of archeological remains in the Tarapur village in the Rasulpur tehsil of Jajpur district. Following a series of excavations under Dr Debraj Pradhan, a stupa was discovered.

    During the excavation, a number of discoveries were made in Tarapur, which unearthed three square stupas made of laterite blocks, burnt bricks, railing pillars, and cross-bars besides other architectural traits of Asokan stupas. The stupas were believed to have been constructed in the 5th or 6th Century BCE.

    But the biggest discovery was when few pillars were found with inscriptions in Brahmi and Proto Odiya script. The inscriptions stated “Kesa Stupa” and “Bhikku Tapusa Danam”. The mystery of the Kesa Stupa was solved. Not just this, on the Deuli Hill , also in Jajpur district as another Stupa was found with an inscription “Bhallika or Bhalluka lena”. The story of Tapusa and Bhallika mentioned in the Buddhist texts was corroborated with archeological evidence discovered at Jajpur.

    Danta Stupa and Radhanagar

    Apart from ‘Kesa Stupa’ now discovered and restored at Tarapur, the region of Jajpur is also connected with the story of ‘Danta Stupa’ , where the sacred tooth of Buddha was enshrined. As per Buddhist texts, the tooth relic of Buddha was housed in the ‘Danta Stupa’ at ‘Dantapura’ which was the capital of the ‘King of Kalinga’ named Guhasiva. Fearing an invasion from King of Magadha , Guhasiva secretly sent the Tooth to Sri Lanka from Dantapura, through his daughter Hemamala and son‐in‐law Dantakumara. The tooth was to be delivered to the Kalinga king’s friend Mahasena, the ruler of Buddhist kingdom of Lanka. After reaching Annuradhapura, they handed over it to king Maghavanna (310 A.D.), the son of Mahasena, who enshrined it in a Stupa. The tooth relic is still worshipped at Anuradhapura even today.

    Interestingly, the exact location of ‘Dantapura’ is a topic of debate among historians. Some historians believe that it is located in Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh. But other historians have argued that as per Buddhist texts, Dantakumara is said to have hidden the tooth casket on the Ratnagiri hillock, before travelling to Sri Lanka. So the capital ‘Dantapura’ must be located in the vicinity of Ratnagiri, in or around Jajpur district.

    In 2005, the Odisha Institute of Maritime and South East Asian Studies also carried out excavations in the Radhanagar village in the Dharamshala block of Jajpur district. During the excavations, the remains of fort of Tosali were uncovered, which as per the Asoka rock-edicts near the Dhauli hills near Bhubaneswar, was the capital of the kingdom of Kalinga. A fragment of an inscription found at Radhanagar states `Kalinga rajna gu'. The rest of the inscription could not be retrieved. This has led some historians to argue that Radhanagar-Toshali was the famed ‘Dantapura’ , the capital of Kalinga and its ruler was ‘Guhasiva’.

    The fascinating discoveries at Lalitgiri, Tarapur and Radhanagar are just , as they say, ‘the tip of the Iceberg’. There is so much more still waiting to be uncovered at Deuli, Kayama and a large number of hills that dot the region.

    But what is being revealed to us, brick by brick is just how important Jajpur and its surrounding region was in the development of Indian Buddhism. Hopefully, further research and new discovered will throw greater light into this lesser known chapter of Indian history.

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