It was something 500-550 years ago before the Christian Era. Two merchants, Tapassu and Bhallika, were going on a business trip in their caravan. They were highly successful and rich merchants and officially they both were the leaders of that Caravan. Like them, their bullocks were also intelligent and lead the way like their masters. Wherever in the journey, if there was any danger, whether, from animals or nature, the bulls refuse to go in that way. The merchants thus knew there was danger there, and they would come together and go scouting in all directions.

While traveling, one day, suddenly bulls stopped, and then a voice was heard by them (in some places it is written that the Deva Vani or Deba Bani was from the relatives of those two merchants who became Devas after their death). According to that voice, the leaders have to meet Buddha who is fasting for several weeks and just attained the Enlightenment. As per the voice, they went ahead with some amount of food in their hands, met him, offered him food, and in return get some hair of Buddha.

We all know this story and this story is also mentioned in several Buddhist texts like Lalitavistara, The Mahavastu, Anguttara Nikaya, etc. But here we will discuss the historicity of Tapassu and Bhalluka mainly to which place they exactly belong as there are various theories on the nativity of these two merchants.

  • There is an article in wisdom library describing minutely this story. If you go to the footnote no. 3, you can easily find the mention of word Ukkala. The exact description goes like this: “Ukkalā in Pali. The region is generally identified with the modern Odisha. See Vin. Texts 1 p. 81, Thomas: Life of Buddha p. 85, and D.P.N. But the Mhvu. definitely places it in the north country and implies that they were passing that way on their journey home from the south, dakṣiṇāpathāto.” Here you can find that the Mahavastu places this place in north country. Also Mahavastu, did not mention the exact location.
  • Eminent scholar Prof. Purushottam Vishvanath Bapat, clearly mentions in his book titled “2500 Years of Buddhism” that, both the merchants belong to Odisha. This was published in 1956 and forwarded by Dr. S Radhakrishnan.
  • In an article which was published in Frontline on October 7, 2005 “Exploring The Ancient Kingdom”, it was clearly mentioned that those merchants were from Odisha and built the Kesha Stupa in Odisha, as per archaeological and inscriptional findings.
  • In the website, we find the mention of Ukkala. It is clearly mentioned that, Ukkala was a district or Janapada, in the region identified with modern Odisha.
  • Eminent scholar, Dr. Antaryami Mishra in his book “Odia Bhasara Itihas”, clearly mentions about the inscription of Kesha Stupa, which was built by Tapassu and Bhalluka. He also mentions that this Kesha Stupa was the first stupa of its kind.
  • In an article published in Orissa Review, titled as “Tapassu and Bhallika of Orissa, Their Historicity and Nativity (Fresh Evidence from Recent Archaeological Explorations and Excavations)” by Gopinath Mohanty, Dr. C. B. Patel, D. R. Pradhan & Dr. B. Tripathy it is proven that the merchants belong to Jajpur region of Odisha.
  • The Assia hills are still present in Jajpur,Odisha, where a city was there known as Asitanjana and to which the two merchants belong.

Again, we have to think and re-think on the above evidences which were published long ago and again by eminent scholars. In this regard we have to look again the results of excavation that took place in 2005. During that excavation and restoration of Tarapur Stupa, it has been identified that the Tarapur Stupa is the Kesha Stupa. It has also been discovered that the stupa was built with a donation from Bhikhu Tapusa. The Buddhist texts say that the Kesa stupa is the earliest stupa. Two pillars, discovered at the site, carry the inscriptions `Kesa Thupa' and `Bheku Tapusa Danam'. The process of excavation and restoration of Tarapur Stupa was conducted under the archaeologist Dr. Debraj Pradhan, who was the then secretary of OIMSEAS (Odisha Institute of Maritime and South East Asian Studies). Even on Deuli hills one stupa had been found, one inscription was also found on that stupa which is deciphered as “Bhallika or Bhalluka lena”. So importantly, the Tarapur, Deuli hills and surrounding area like Kayama hills, Radhanagar fortified area & Langudi hills were seems to be the part of that era. Still a lot was left to excavate.

It has been clearly proved that Tapassu and Bhallika both merchants or as in some texts mentioned as brothers, belong to Odisha and built the Kesha Stupa in Tarapur during the lifetime of Buddha itself. And on the invitation of Tapassu and Bhallika, Buddha came to this place and preach Buddhism.

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