Jātaka, The Buddha’s Past Birth-Stories, Level 1, Balustrade, Top, at Borobudur
high-definition creative commons photographs from the Jātaka, or Buddha’s Past Birth-Stories, together with further information.
A Collection of Birth-Stories
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I. The Birth-Story of the Tigress
Giving One’s own Body
The Bodhisattva was born in a family of eminent brahmins, but soon renounced the world, and became a teacher, having many disciples. One day while out with his disciple Ajita he saw a tigress, who, ravaged by starvation, was contemplating eating her own offspring.
By a ruse the Bodhisattva sent off his disciple and threw himself down the chasm so the tigress can be saved from such an ignoble act, and that he may fulfil the perfection of giving, for the sake of attaining Awakening.
01 The Birth Ceremony of the Bodhisattva
The Bodhisattva sits on his mother’s lap while the brahmin priests pour libations over his head. It appears the Bodhisattva’s father is on the far right, holding gifts for the priests. Unfortunately the boy’s head has been lost. Notice his left leg rests on a lotus cushion.
02 The Bodhisattva learns Dharma
It seems the figure seated on the small seat on the right is the Bodhisattva, we cannot see what he was holding, but it was quite likely a book. On the raised seat his teacher is holding a stylus. Two other students are near the teacher, and behind the Bodhisattva are two brahmins.
03 The Bodhisattva sacrifices Himself
It very much looks like there are two scenes in this one small panel: in the first, on the left, the Bodhisattva is seen sitting in a cave, with Ajita, his pupil, sitting in front of him. In the second the Bodhisattva is now standing, and preparing to feed himself to the tigress. Because of the damage we cannot see her, but one of her young is pictured on the bottom right.
04 Paying respect to the Remains of the Bodhisattva
Although half of the panel is missing, we see three disciples standing, and underneath them are figures representing the various gods. They are evidently paying their last respects to the remains of the Bodhisattva which are being buried in the earth.
II. The Birth-Story of the King of the Śibis
Giving One’s Bodily Parts
The Bodhisattva once grew up to become the King of the Śibis. His generosity attracted people from far and wide, and he rejoiced in giving. However, he longed to give, not just his wealth, but also his bodily parts, all for the sake of Awakening.
Śakra, the lord of the gods, took the form of a brahmin, and begged from him his eyes, which he gladly gave. His ministers objected, but the King gladly gave them, and when asked for one, gave two. Later, Śakra returned, and – following an asservation of truth – restored his vision, but with eyes that now had divine vision.
05 The King meets with a Supplicant
The panel is very damaged. What we can make out is as follows: In the centre, atop a seat, sits a person of rank, probably the king. Behind him are two women, on the thigh on one of the women he rests his hand. In front are two people, sitting lower. It may have been someone making a request.
06 The King gives to Supplicants
The king sits on a throne, with what is probably his queen behind him. In front of him five people have gathered, and are stretching their hands forth to receive alms, which the king gladly gives. The king is evidently holding something in his hand, but we cannot see what it is.
07 Śakra requests an Eye from the King
Śakra has here taken on the form of an old and blind brahmin, and is standing in front of the king requesting his eye. The king is sat on a cushion with two of his female attendants around him, one of whom has a fly-whisk.
08 Śakra returns sight to the King
This scene takes place later, and, as we see fruit trees, it is evidently situated outside, and therefore in the king’s park. The king is clearly depicted as being blind at this point; he sits in meditation. Śakra, again shown as an old brahmin, is about to restore the king’s vision.
09 The King teaches Dharma
Here we see the king after the restoration of his sight being greeted back in his capital by his subjects, to whom he now preaches Dharma, taking his own experience as an example. The subjects have brought many gifts for him, and rejoice in his good deeds.
III. The Birth-Story involving Gruel
Giving even a Little
The Bodhisattva in this life was the king of the Kośalans, who excelled at giving gifts to the ascetics and brahmins, the poor and the beggars. One day the king remembered his former existence as a servant, in which he had joyfully served rice gruel to four ascetics. He then began to recite two verses telling how even a small gift produces great results.
The queen eventually summoned up courage and asked him about the verses, and he explained what had happened previously. She then also recalled her previous existence, in which, as a slave girl, she had given the remnants of a meal to a sage, with the result that she was now queen in this existence.
The king then gave a talk on Dharma to the assembled audience explaining the benefits of giving.
10 The Servant invites the Ascetics to Lunch
In a former life the king is a poor servant. When he sees four ascetics one day he invites them to eat at his house, even though he barely had enough for himself and his family. The servant is here seen at the feet of the ascetics, making the request.
11 The Slave Girl gives Remnants of a Meal
In this corner-relief, on the left we see a slave-girl giving the remains of a meal to someone who stands next to her. Unfortunately the head is broken off, but we know he is an ascetic. The right side sees three brahmins sitting on the floor, and facing away from the scene, perhaps forming part of the next scene.
12 The King recounts his former Life to the Queen
The king and the queen are sitting together, and there are two others in the scene, one of whom, judging by her shaven hair, must be a female ascetic. The relief presumably depicts the time when the king explained his good deed in a previous life to the queen.
13 The King teaches Dharma
The king and the queen sit of a raised seat in a scene that is set in the outdoors, under trees. Before them sit an entourage who are listening to the teaching. The first of the group has his hands raised in respectful salutation (añjali).
14 Dancing Ladies, Courtiers and Guards
Around the corner from the previous relief we find what must be an extension of the same scene, with three dancing ladies at the front, and many courtiers and guards behind them, presumably all rejoicing to hear of the royal couple’s deeds and rewards.
IV. The Birth-Story of the Head of A Guild
Determination when Giving
The Bodhisattva in this life, through his merit, became the head of a guild, and excelled in the giving of gifts to those in need. One day while taking his meal, a Pratyekabuddha appeared outside his gate with his bowl in hand. The Bodhisattva immediately requested his wife to take alms food for him.
As she approached, Māra made an apparition of the Great Hell appear to separate her from the supplicant, and she turned back afraid. The Bodhisattva took the dishes from her, and prepared to give alms.
Māra then appeared and tried to persuade him otherwise, but the Bodhisattva prevailed with his determination, and, as he approached the Pratyekabuddha, a large lotus sprang up from the hell and sustained his steps. After receiving, the Pratyekabuddha showed his glory as he ascended into the sky and departed.
15 The Bodhisattva and his Wife
The Bodhisattva is sat on a raised seat, with one knee over the other with a knee-support around the leg, and his foot on a cushion. In front of him stands his wife, but part of her body, including her hands, are now broken off, so we cannot see what, if anything she was holding. This may be before or after she tried to give the meal to the Pratyekabuddha.
16 The Bodhisattva takes Food for the Pratyekabuddha
Again the Bodhisattva and his wife are pictured, and both of them now hold bowls of food. It must be that the wife has returned from her attempt to feed the Pratyekabuddha, and now the Bodhisattva is making his attempt. Notice their house in the background. This and the next relief have to be seen as part of one whole scene.
17 The Pratyekabuddha and the Scene in Hell
Between the Bodhisattva and the Pratyekabuddha Māra has made a hellish apparition. Here we see fire under a cauldron in which people are being boiled in retribution for their bad deeds. The Pratyekabuddha stands with his bowl in his left hand, and his right hand held forth, almost blessing those below. In the skies we see a deva who looks on from the clouds.
18 The Pratyekabuddha ascends into the Sky
It is curious that the scene in which the Bodhisattva crosses hell with the help of a lotus is not shown. Instead we see the Pratyekabuddha ascending above the clouds and leaving after receiving the donation of food. Gods and men hold their hands up in respectful salutation, while on the left stands the Bodhisattva, holding a lotus.
V. The Birth-Story of Aviṣahya, the Head of a Guild
Giving when Indigent
The Bodhisattva was again a rich merchant in this life, and was called Aviṣahya (the Invincible One) on account of his resistence to wrong ways. He rejoiced in giving gifts, and seeing this, Śakra, the lord of the gods, decided to test him.
The next day he made the Bodhisattva’s gifts disappear as soon as they were prepared, but Aviṣahya kept calling for more to be brought from his house so as to satisfy the supplicants.
Śakra then made all his wealth disappear overnight, except a rope and a sickle. The Bodhisattva then took them and earned his living, so as to persist in his habit of giving gifts to those in need. Later, Śakra, seeing Aviṣahya’s resolve returned all his wealth to him, and begged his forgiveness.
19-21 Triptych of Aviṣahya’s Story
Three of the four panels are shown here, with one of the Buddha statues exposed behind owing to a loss of stones. The three scenes are described below.
19 Aviṣahya sits with his Wife
In the first relief of this series we see the Bodhisattva as a rich merchant, sitting on a comfortable raised seat, with his beautiful wife alongside him. He holds something in his hand, but we cannot make out what now because of the decay. In front stands another woman, scantily clothed, holding a flower which is growing from the ground. Behind the Bodhisattva is another man. Notice the bags of money on a dish under his seat.
20 Aviṣahya give Gifts to Brahmins
The heads of the main characters in this scene are badly damaged. Aviṣahya and his wife are standing and giving alms. The recipients appear to be brahmins, two kneeling, and two with their hands stretched forth. Aviṣahya’s gift-giving was prodigal.
21 Aviṣahya continues his Good Deeds
Krom believes the character on the right to be Śakra, similarly portrayed as in the King of the Śibis story. It could also be that the Bodhisattva, who is now reduced to working for his living – as shown by the bundles of grass under his seat – is continuing his charity, and the person in front of him is a brahmin supplicant. As both the hands of the Bodhisattva and the brahmin are broken off it is hard to be sure of the interpretation.
22 Aviṣahya receives back his Wealth
This is a very badly damaged relief. In the centre of the relief are bags of money, and on the right are people holding gifts. Presumably Aviṣahya was sat on the seat, the legs of which we see on the left hand side. This therefore would represent the scene where Śakra returns his wealth to Aviṣahya.
VI. The Birth-Story of the Hare
Giving One’s own Body
On one occasion the Bodhisattva was reborn as a hare in a forest. Although small he was respected, like the king of the forest. He had three friends with whom he was especially close: an otter, a jackal, and an ape.
Being also a teacher, when he saw the full moon fast day (poṣadha) was approaching he gave a Dharma talk to his friends on how they should not eat on the morrow, without having first entertained a guest, and resolved to give even his own body should a guest come to him.
Śakra, hearing of this resolve, took the form of a brahmin and entered the forest, and wailing and crying, asked for succour. The three animals all brought according to their abilities, but the hare offered his own body, and sacrificed himself for the brahmin on a charcoal grill.
23 Śakra enters the Forest
In this first relief we see Śakra, lord of the gods, has taken the form of a brahmin, and is entering the forest where the hare and his friends live. Śakra carries a staff and a parasol in the relief, and is looking back over his shoulder. In front we see various animals, a lion, a ram and a pair of deer, who are under the trees.
24 Śakra begs from the Four Friends
Here we see Śakra standing with his hand held out in supplication, and the four friends in front of him. The hare is on the highest level, next comes the jackal with his bowl of milk; on the floor sits the ape with mangoes, and the otter with seven fish. The hare has only his own body to give to the brahmin.
25 The Hare prepares to sacrifice Himself
In this last relief we see Śakra sitting on the floor, and he is evidently in conversation with the hare. Above and behind the hare is the charcoal fire on which he will sacrifice his body. A tall flame rears up above it. Around we see trees and the stylised rocks which represent the mountain.
VII. The Birth-Story of Agastya
Determination in Giving
The Bodhisattva was once born into a family of eminent brahmins. He was named Agastya and became well-known for his virtues. Seeking, however, to do penance he retired to a small island in the southern ocean and built a hermitage there, and welcomed guests with what little he had.
Śakra, wishing to test his constancy, first caused his food to disappear, and then seeing him unperturbed, came as a guest each day and ate up all the food the sage had. Agastya, however, was unmoved and indeed still delighted in the opportunity to give gifts.
Śakra then offered Agastya six boons, and he asked for freedom from covetousness, hatred, the company of fools and to be joined with the wise. He also asked for the opportunity and means to give alms. And lastly, he requested that Śakra no more appear in all his splendour lest he be diverted from his ascetic path.
In fulfilment of the 4th boon, at dawn there appeared hundreds of Pratyekabuddhas, and various sons-of-god (devaputra) to serve them with the abundant food provided.
26 The Bodisattva as Householder and Ascetic
There are two scenes presented in this one relief, which, as we see elsewhere, are seperated by a tree. On the left the Bodhisattva is still in the household life, and is exercising his charity to all who come to him. He holds in his left hand a gift. On the right hand side we see Agastya after he has retired from the world and is living in the wilds as an ascetic. A deer sits down in front of him unafraid.
27 The Ascetic prepares to give Gifts
The Bodhisattva is sat in the middle of this scene and appears to be directing the others. On the left are seated two more ascetics. Behind him five men stand and are bearing gifts for the Pratyekabuddha, who is seen only on the next relief.
28 The Pratyekabuddha receives Gifts
A Pratyekabuddha is seated on a double lotus seat. His left arm has broken off but he was probably blessing those around him who are giving gifts. The one at his feet has a large bowl which he is offering. Behind stand devaputras who are serving the gifts.
29 Śakra watches the Proceedings
It appears to me that this is also an extension of the reliefs on panels 27 & 28, and shows Śakra, who has now retired from the scene, watching as his attendants take divine food along to help feed the Pratyekabuddha. Śakra stands in royal attire, and there are women behind him bearing gifts.
30 Attendants bearing Gifts
This panel forms another part of the preceding scenes, and shows first, on the left, Śakra’s vehicle, Airāvata, distinguished by his elephant ears, holding up the parasol. Behind are further members of the entourage, again bearing gifts, including the woman on the right who holds a large lotus.
VIII. The Birth-Story of Maitrībala
Giving away Bodily Parts
The Bodhisattva was once a king strong in loving-kindness, called Maitrībala, and ruled his kingdom by righteousness. One day five yakṣas who were exiled by the Lord Kubera came to his kingdom. They were of the kind that took away people’s vigor, and they sought to steal away the strength of the people of the land, but in this case were unable to do so.
They therefore took the form of brahmins and approached a cowherd, and asked him why they could not achieve their aims. He replied the virtue of the king protected his subjects. They determined to test the king and went to the palace, dressed as brahmins and asked for a meal, which the king ordered prepared for them. They, however, rejected it as not suitable, and asked for human flesh and blood.
The king seeing no other recourse that was fit to follow, had his physicians cut his own veins, and took a sword and cut off his own flesh to feed them. The yakṣas, amazed, were converted by the king’s virtue and his Dharma teaching, and he promised them they would later be his first five disciples when he had attained Awakening. Śakra, hearing of the king’s deeds, came and healed his body and made him whole again.
31 The Cowherd and the Yakṣas
The cowherd sits under a tree, and was probably engaged in twisting rope, as is stated in the text, but his hands are broken now so we cannot see what he was doing with them. In a rather awkward fashion three of his kine are pictured around the tree. Under the tree sit two of the yakṣas, who are distinguished by their beards and heavy hanging earrings.
32 Three more Yakṣas
This corner relief is evidently a part of the previous scene, and represents the other three yakṣas. One would have expected them to appear as brahmins, as in the text, or at least all of them as yakṣas, but the two on the right look more like rākṣasas, being without beards.
33 Maitrībala and his Queen
This too is part of a scene spread over two reliefs. Here we see King Maitrībala, with presumably his queen behind him. They are seated on a raised seat, and are in relaxed posture. Under the seat is a large covered basin. And below the tree is a double lotus, which Krom identifies as holding a large jewel.
34 Five Yakṣas
The yakṣas he is giving audience to are shown on a separate relief. They are seated on the floor and evidently listening to what the king is saying. Above them are shown trees, as though this scene had been placed outdoors, instead of indoors as in the text.
IX. The Birth-Story of Viśvantara
Giving without Reserve
The Bodhisattva was once born to Sañjaya, the king of the Śibis, and was named Viśvantara. He excelled in virute, like his father, and also in generosity. When a neighbouring king heard of this he sent some brahmins to beg his Elephant from him. Viśvantara gave away his elephant with pleasure.
The Śibis, however, were displeased with this act, and begged the king to banish him, which eventually he had to agree to, and sent his chamberlain to inform the prince. Viśvantara gave away all his wealth to mendicants before leaving, and headed for the forest. On the way more brahmins asked for his horses, and then his chariot, and he gave them. Then he set up home in a leaf hut in the forest.
After some time abiding there, another brahmin came along and begged his children, whom he wanted for servants for his wife, and he gave them. Śakra noticing this, and the reason for it, put on the form of a brahmin and asked for the prince’s wife, which again he gave. Śakra then revealed his own form, and foretold the future in which Viśvantara’s children, and the royal dignity, both, would be returned to him. And so it turned out.
35 King Sañjaya and his Son Viśvantara
It seems this must be an interview between king Sañjaya and his son Viśvantara. On the left the king is seated on a raised seat, with his queen slightly lower behind him. The faces of both have been broken off. On the right we see Viśvantara sat in the middle of an entourage, one of whom holds a parasol over him, while another holds a sword. Judging by the trees the whole must take place in the outdoors.
36 The Brahmins request his Elephant
This is most probably prince Viśvantara sitting on a throne with his wife. They are receiving a brahmin who appears to be requesting the elephant be given him. The two characters on the floor, are most likely courtiers, who are not happy with the request. Viśvantara, however, has – quite literally – an open hand.
37 Viśvantara donates his Elephant
This scene, in any case, is unmistakable. Viśvantara here pours the water of donation over the brahmin’s hand, and behind him stands the magnificent elephant he is giving away. The character crouched down between them is the mahout.
38 The Banishment of Viśvantara
I tend to think this must be the moment when the chamberlain comes to tell Viśvantara that he is banished from the city. Viśvantara sits with his entire family, and is evidently listening to the man sat on the floor in front of him. The relief, however, appears to be unfinished.
39 The Return of Viśvantara
It is curious that some of the most striking scenes from this famous story have been omitted in the depiction at Borobudur. But here it conludes with Viśvantara’s triumphant return to the city. Again the relief is not finished and in places is simply roughed out, giving us an idea, however, of how the sculptors worked.
X. The Birth-Story of the Sacrifice
Maintaining Virtue and Extending Weal
The Bodhisattva was once a righteous king, and for a long time his kingdom was at peace and prosperous. But one time, not through his own fault, the country fell into a drought. His priests advised he perform a sacrifice of living beings, but the king’s heart was against it.
Nevertheless to appease them he told he would offer a sacrifice of thousands of humans, and sent out a proclamation that those who were virtuous would be spared, while those who did wrong would be sacrificed for the good of the land. The people, of course, became very restrained so as not to become victims.
Now again the rains fell and the kingdom became prosperous, and the king decided to further enhance the general weal by distributing wealth to his virtuous subjects, and the people in return praised the wisdom and munificence of the king.
40-42 A Triptych of the Sacrifice Story
These panels show the first three of the four panels which are used to illustrate this story. The individual descriptions follow below.
40 The King is urged to Sacrifice
The king and his queen are sitting on a raised seat, which has a pot underneath it. The prince’s knee is supported by the knee-band. The queen holds her hands in añjali. In front of him a brahmin urges the king to offer a great sacrifice. Below him are what I take to be courtiers, one of whom also has his hands in reverential salutation.
41 The King gives his Orders
After consideration the king gives his orders to the people. The king and queen are again on the seat, below which we see three of his subjects. On the right two sit, as before, and two stand, including the brahmin who had made the request in the last relief.
42 The Proclamation is made
Heralds now go round the city and make the proclamation. One man beats the drum to gain attention, and the other speaks the command the king has given. There are three others in the scene, all of whom hold their palms out at the viewer.
43 The People praise the King
The king and queen are again seated together, and the king has his hand held up in blessing. Meanwhile eight subjects, four seated and four standing, are paying homage to the king and his wisdom. The front four have their hands raised in añjali.
XI. The Birth-Story of Śakra
Having Compassion on Others
One time the Bodhisattva, through the power of his meritorious deeds, was reborn as Śakra, the lord of the gods. The asuras, or anti-gods, could not bear his renown, and determined to fight against him and his host.
Śakra was forced, therefore, to defend his position, and mounted his chariot and went to the war. The rest of the gods, however, after some time were overcome and withdrew, and only Śakra remained on the battlefield to face the asuras.
His charioteer, Mātali, turned the chariot to retreat, rather than see his master be captured or die, and started for the skies. But Śakra saw an eagles’ nest with eaglets in it, and that the chariot was heading directly for it, and told Mātali to avoid the nest and turn the chariot back, even at the cost of his own life. The asuras, seeing Śakra turn, were greatly afraid and fled, and the gods won the day.
44 Śakra sits on his Throne
This is the first panel in a triptych showing Śakra in his heaven. Here we see the Bodhisattva, in his glory as Śakra, sitting on his throne, with his knee strap supporting his leg. Two female attendants are on either side on him, and another stands next to the seat. The heads of both Śakra and the one standing have been knocked off. Below the throne are three other characters.
45 A Female Dancer
A female dancer, who looks quite similar to the apsaras we see at Angkor, is dancing on a podium, her arms holding a distinctive posture (mudrā). On the left stands another woman, who is keeping time by clapping. On the right another woman stands, who is possibly playing small cymbals.
46 A Chamber Orchestra
On this relief we see the rest of the musicians who are playing for the dancer on the previous relief. The ones on the floor play a cymbal, a pot-drum and two flutes, and appear to be male. At least two of those standing are female, and all four seem to be playing small bells.
47a The Battle between Gods and Asuras
This relief is quite badly damaged and certain key blocks are missing. However, it is clear this is the battle between the gods. It seems the gods are on the left side, and the asuras on the right. They hold swords, shields and a hatchet, and on the left one blows on a conch shell. In the tree sits a goose, and on the left of the tree is a banner with a wheel on it, which must be Śakra’s. It is again curious that the main scene, where Śakra sees the eaglets and has mercy on them, and which is so visual, is not chosen for depiction.
XII. The Birth-Story of the Brahmin
Restraint from Wrong-Doing
The Bodhisattva was one time born in an illustrious brahmin family, and when all the rites were performed he was sent to a teacher, where he also excelled in virute and learning.
One time his teacher, to test his pupils, told them they must steal for him, to increase his riches, and used the sophistry of the books, which state that the brahmins own the earth, to back up his arguments.
All his pupils agreed, but the Bodhisattva, of course, could not bring himself to break such a fundamental precept as that against stealing. The brahmin singled him out from amongst his disciples as the one who had truly learned the teachings.
47b The Brahmin gives Instructions
It is not at all clear if this panel does in fact illustrate this story, but equally it can hardly be made to fit in with the stories on either side either. Presumably then what we see is the brahmin teacher sat on a cushion, and his devoted pupils stood and sat around him listening to his teachings. Perhaps the one who holds his hand to his head is meant to be the Bodhisattva, who refuses to follow the wrong teachings.
XIII. The Birth-Story of Unmādayantī
Being Firm in Virtue
At one time the Bodhisattva was the king of the Śibis, and ruled righteously over his subjects, who looked to him for guidance in conduct. One rich townsman had a beautiful daughter, Unmādayantī, who turned the head of all who saw her. He went and offered her first to the king, who sent two brahmins to inspect the girl.
The townsman ordered his daughter to serve the brahmins, but even they felt enraptured in her presence, and feared that the king would not be able to attend to matters of state should he marry her. They therefore reported back that the girl was indeed beautiful, but that she had certain inauspicious marks, and the king then let her be married off to another, and she was married to one of his officers.
Later, during a festival, the king indeed laid eyes on Unmādayantī and was immediately enchanted. The officer, being aware of this and fearing for his position decided therefore to offer his wife to the king. The king, though pressed time and again, declined the offer as it offended against righteousness.
48 The Merchant visits the King
The king sits in relaxed posture with his queen on a seat or throne, and below him on the floor sits the rich merchant, and his accomplice, offering his daughter to the king. Above him stand the two brahmins whom the king asks to go and inspect the girl.
49 Unmādayantī serves the Brahmins
In the scene the brahmins have already gone to the home of the merchant, and are sitting on a raised seat. Unmādayantī stands in front of them pouring the waters of donation.
50 The Brahmins report back to the King
Here we see, curiously enough, that the brahmins and the king are seated at the same level. Below their seats are various covered pots. The brahmins are reporting back to the king their findings and advice.
51 The King sees Unmādayantī
Here we see the king going in procession through the crowds in the city, he is being carried in a palaquin. Unmādayantī is meanwhile on a rooftop, and looking away, but already the King is enthralled.
52 The King meets with the Husband
Here we see the king in his meeting with Unmādayantī’s husband, who fearing the king’s displeasure, has come to offer him his wife. The king, however, remains firm in his virtue and is not overcome by his desire, and declines the husband’s offer.
XIV. The Birth-Story of Supāraga
Truth overcomes Dangers
The Bodhisattvas, wherever they are born, are always highly skilled at whatever science or art they undertake. The Bodhisattva was once a navigator called Supāraga, and was renowned for his knowledge of the seas. One day, after he had grown old and almost blind, he was sought out by some merchants, who wished him to join them in their voyage, more as an auspicious companion, than as a worker.
The Bodhisattva agreed, and when they were upon the Great Ocean and the winds had blown up a storm, the ship drifted across the seas. The merchants described the various seas and Supāraga identified them, and each time advised them to turn back, but they were unable.
Coming to the edge of the world, and being about to fall into the jaws of death, the Bodhisattva made an asservation of truth, and they were saved. Moreover, he advised them to scoop up ballast from the sea floor to weigh the ship down and keep it steady. They did so, and when they had returned to port found it was not full of sand, but precious jewels and stones.
53 The Merchants approach Supāraga
A simple relief, showing Supāraga with an attendant holding a parasol over him, and three merchants in front of him, one of whom bears a gift of cloth. This then is where the merchants ask that Supāraga accompany them on the voyage.
54 The Ship in Great Distress
Here they are obviously on the great sea and the merchants and travelers are in great distress. One of the sailors climbs the mast to put the sail right, others offer prayers, and still more grab their possessions. In the seas below, on the right, one sea-monster waits for those who might fall into the sea.
55 The Merchants thank Supāraga
Here they must have returned from their voyage, and the merchants are all rich, with many money-bags around. Supāraga sits on a cushion on a raised seat and is evidently giving his blessing, while some of the merchants hold their hands out in añjali.
56-58 Triptych showing Two Stories
This triptych is unusual in that is actually features two stories. The first two on the left tell the birth story of the fish, and the one on the right illustrates by itself the story of the quail’s young.
XV. The Birth-Story of the Fish
Truth averts Calamity
One time the Bodhisattva was a king of fishes, and through the power of his habit of virtue taught his subjects to desist from their naturally vicious nature and to live according to Dharma.
Now it so happened that a drought fell upon the land, and the lake in which the Bodhisattva lived with his subjects dried up day by day, and as the fish pushed their heads above water, they were devoured by crows and the like.
The Bodhisattva uttered an asservation of truth and called on the rain-god to rain down, and by the power of the Bodhisattva’s virtue and truth-saying it did just that. Śakra came along and saw and marvelled at the virtue of the Bodhisattva.
56 Śakra and Airāvata above the Pond
The first of two joined panels. In this one we see Śakra and his vehicle – Airāvata, identifiable by his elephant-trunk hairstyle, and large ears – hovering above the waters. In the water below we see it is crowded with fish, and one especially stands out by reason of size: the Bodhisattva.
57 The Gods look down on the Pond
In the second of these panels, we see various gods on the clouds above the pond. They are looking down and observing the various water creatures below, including a tortoise. Again it is very crowded, though this must be after the rains had fallen.
XVI. The Birth-Story of the Quail’s Young
Truth averts Calamity
One time the Bodhisattva was reborn as a quail in the Himalayas, and while yet a chick, unable to walk or run, a great fire tore through the forest, and his parents and all other birds and animals that were able fled for their lives.
The Bodhisattva was unable to do the same and therefore made an asservation of truth, and brought Agni, the fire, to a halt, right there and then. It is said that even to this day no fire can harm the place where the Bodhisattva sat in his nest that day.
58 The Bodhisattva makes an Asservation of Truth
There is only one panel given over to this story. The Bodhisattva is in the nest in the middle of the relief, near the bottom. The other birds all fly away, but the Bodhisattva faces the fire and utters his asservation of truth. We see a mountain in the background signifying the Himalaya, and deer, quails, a monkey and an ox all threatened by the fire.
XVII. The Birth-Story of the Jar
Restraint from Liquor
The Bodhisattva in consequence of his good deeds was one time reborn as Śakra himself, ruling over the gods in Heaven, and solicitous for the welfare of humans on earth. One day, while looking around the world, he saw a king, Sarvamitra by name, who had fallen into excessive drinking, and his subjects followed him, as is their wont.
Śakra therefore took the form of a sage and appeared in front of the king, carrying a jar of liquor and asking who would like to purchase it. The king asked the sage to describe the virtues of the drink, and Śakra, speaking only the truth, told about the calamities people drinking it would fall into.
The king, understanding the truth of what the sage spoke, repented, vowed to give up strong drink and offered great gifts to the sage. Śakra then revealed himself, and said the greatest gift a wise man can receive is adherence to his advice, and thereafter disappeared from earth and reappeared in heaven.
59 Śakra in guise teaches the King
We see the king sitted on a seat with a young woman, and in front of him stands Śakra in his new guise as a sage speaking out about the liquor he holds in a jar in his left hand. Behind Śakra we see the king’s drunken subjects, who are revelling in various ways.
It is unclear if this badly damaged relief belongs to the story of the jar, or the following story. All we can see is someone sitting on a throne, and apparently teaching a person of the high ranks in front of him. Others are seated round the listener, one holding his hands in añjali.
There is even less of this relief left. We see what is probably a king sitting with his leg held in a knee-strap. Someone, undoubtedly a woman, is sitting behind him. Under the seat is a pot. We see the feet, which is all that is left, of two figures on the right.
Photographs by Anandajoti Bhikkhu
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