The Bodhisatta born as the chaplain of Benares. He was son of the preceding chaplain, and went with the crown prince to Takkasilā to study. There, in due course, he became a famous teacher, with eighty four thousand princes among his pupils. Later, he became chaplain to the Benares king. Every year the eighty four thousand princes came to Benares to pay their respects to the king, causing great suffering to the people. These complained to the king, and he asked Velāma to find a way out of the difficulty. Velāma marked out eighty four thousand provinces for the princes, and, thereafter, they obtained their supplies from their respective dominions.
Velāma was exceedingly wealthy and wished to give alms. Therefore, turning his water jar upside down, he wished that if there were holy men in the world, the water should flow downwards. The water, however, remained in the jar. He then discovered by the same means that his gifts would be free from blame. He thereupon held great almsgivings, distributing during seven years the seven precious things and gifts of great value, pouring forth his riches as though "making into one stream the five great rivers."
A list of his gifts is found at A.IX.20.
Velāma's story is given in AA.ii.802ff.; it is referred to in the Velāma Sutta and in the introductory story to the Khadirangāra Jātaka (No.40).
Velāma's almsgiving became famous in literature as the Velāmamahāyañña. E.g., MA.ii.616.