The Buddha had visited Orissa, say archaeologists

Indo-Asian News Service, August 7, 2005

Kolkata, India -- New excavations in Orissa have revealed that Lord Buddha more than 2,500 years ago had visited the state and preached there, say archaeologists, belying earlier theories that the founder of Buddhism had never been there.

The discovery of three stupas (edicts), put up by Emperor Asoka after he converted to Buddhism, at Tarapur, Kayama and Deuli in Jajpur district to mark the places where the Buddha had preached in the state point towards a Buddha trail in his lifetime.

An earlier stupa was also discovered at Langudi in the state. The Mauryan emperor had ruled between 270-232 BC.

"According to Chinese Buddhist monk Huen Tsang, Asoka had constructed stupas in the places where the Buddha had preached. So we can now claim that Buddha had visited Orissa as these are the commemorative stupas built by Asoka," said D.R. Pradhan, Orissa State Archaeology department curator, at a press conference here Sunday.

"Huen Tsang had said that there were 200 Buddhist sites in Orissa (then known as Kalinga). We have only found 139 so far," said Pradhan.

The Orissa Institute of Maritime and South East Asian Studies under the state department of culture took up the excavations in Jajpur in December 2004.

"In the course of excavation we unearthed square stupas made of laterite blocks, burnt bricks, railing pillars, cross bars and other Asokan edicts," said Pradhan.

"Pottery and terracotta remains of the Asokan age were also discovered at these sites. The brick sizes are of the Mauryan period," he said.

"No images or icons were found in these hills and therefore it is certain that these stupas were constructed in the early phase of Hinayana or Theravada branch of Buddhism during the time of Asoka," he said.

"Inscriptions deciphered at Tarapur reveal that two merchants of Ukkala (Utkala or Orissa) on their way to Madhyadesa (northern India) with 500 trading carts met the Buddha on the last day of the seventh week after his enlightenment (Bodhi) at Bodhagaya, celebrated as Buddha Purnima sometime in April/May."

"They first offered him rice-cake and honey. In return Buddha gave them eight handful of his hair. The merchants later deposited the hair in a stupa (Kesa Stupa) in their native place Asitanjana.

"Kesa Stupa is identified with the present Buddhist site at Tarapur and it can be safely presumed that the stupa was constructed by Buddha's disciple Bhikhu Tapusa himself in the 6th/5th century BC and could be the first stupa of its kind and that Buddha visited there," he said.

Pradhan said the excavations at Kayama had resulted in a series of discoveries and the rock-cut elephant at Kayama is a unique piece of Kalingan art and probably was erected by Tisa, brother of Asoka.

Inscription on a huge shell, deciphered by professor B.N. Mukherjee of Calcutta University here, suggests that the Buddha might have visited the place.

Orissa Minister of Culture Damodar Rout said: "The excavations in Jajpur district have yielded an amazing discovery in the field of ancient history and Buddhist studies which could solve many historical riddles and add new chapters."