The Jātaka on 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
XVIII. The Birth-Story of the Childless One
The Value of Detachment
One time the Bodhisattva was reborn into a wealthy family, and grew up excelling in the sciences and arts, and was charitable to all who came to him. But he was also familiar with the life of renunciation, and once his mother and father had passed away he distributed the family wealth amongst his family and those who were worthy, and retired to the penance grove.
There he became famous for his wisdom, and also for his having renounced such riches. An old friend of the family, hearing about him, went to visit him and tried to persuade him to return to the household life, but the Bodhisattva was adamant the ascetic life was where he could best adhere to Dharma, and remained steadfast in his chosen life.
62 The Bodhisattva distributes Alms
In this corner relief we see the Bodhisattva before his renunciation. He is seated on a high seat with his right knee supported by a strap, and a lady stands next to him. On the right side are evidently monastics, one of whom holds his bowl, as though ready to receive alms.
63 A Family Friend visits the Ascetic
This relief is again rather badly damaged. It seems that this is the family friend who visits the ascetic in his forest retreat. We see the forest behind the two figures of the left, and the teacher is seated above them, From the conventionally carved rocks on the right we can understand this is on a mountain.
XIX. The Birth-Story involving the Lotus-Stalks
The Joy of Renunciation
At one time the Bodhisattva was born into a brahminical family that was well-known for their virtue. He has six younger brothers and one sister, who all looked up to him as a teacher of Dharma. After his parents died he decided to renounce the worldly life and seek liberation. His brothers and sister, and also three others, determined to go along with him, and they retired to a spot near a lotus lake where they built solitary huts for each one of them, and embarked on their quest.
They were there joined by a yakṣa, an elephant and a monkey who came to listen to Dharma. The maid servant, who was still devoted to the family, used to gather lotus-stalks for each of them, put them out on seperate leaves and one by one they would come and take them before retiring to meditation.
Now Śakra, to test the endurance of the elder, began taking away his share each day, and did this for five days. But never once did the elder complain. When they all gathered to hear Dharma they saw how emaciated he had become, and discovered the reason why. When they found out, they cursed the thief in a novel way: they wished him success and happiness in the householder life! When Śakra finally revealed it was he who had taken the lotus-stalks as a test of constancy, the elder rebuffed him for his inappropriate action. Śakra apologised and then disappeared on the spot.
64 Men Standing
Again a badly damaged relief. We see the legs of four people who are standing. It is possible that there were two or maybe three more figures in this relief, and that it depicted the Bodhisattva and his siblings while still in the lay-life. They are dressed in fine clothes.
65 The Sister and Two Brothers
This is part of a pair of reliefs that have to be viewed together. The scene is outdoors, as is shown by the trees. On the far left is pictured the Bodhisattva’s sister, and next to her are two of the brothers, one of whom is holding a rather curious posture.
66 The Bodhisattva preaching to his Siblings
Here we see the Bodhisattva sitting above his siblings and teaching them Dharma. In this scene there are three more of the brothers, although this makes only five brothers and a sister, which is one less than the textual story.
67 Gathering the Lotus-Stalks
The lotus pond depicted in the top half of this relief. Conventionally it is divided in two, and the lower half represents the maid collecting together on leaves the lotus-stalks which she is to offer to the brothers. Behind her sits the yakṣa.
68 Śakra returns the Lotus-Stalks
Here we see Śakra after he has revealed his wrong deed returning the lotus-stalks to the siblings. Behind Śakra is Airāvata, his vehicle, signalled by his trunk-like hair and the driving hook. On the far left we see the sister, and the others are her brothers, with the Bodhisattva at the front.
XX. The Birth-Story of the Treasurer
Being thought worthy of Renunciation
The Bodhisattva is this life was a treasurer for the King, and led a virtuous life being generous to the poor and the worthy mendicants alike. One day, while the treasurer was out, his wife was visited by his mother-in-law, and through a series of comical confusions, each becomes convinced that the other is telling them that the treasurer has renounced the world.
On his way home the treasurer saw a great commotion near his house, and asked what it was about. When he found out that the people thought he had renounced – and was therefore worthy of it – he was shamed into truly renouncing the world, and went to the king to ask his permission, which eventually the king gave. Other tried to dissuade him, but none could turn him back from his resolve.
69 The Mother speaks with her Daughter
In the first of these reliefs we see the mother sitting casually on the cushion on the left. Her daughter is kneeling in front of her, and there are two other women in the scene, presumably her attendants. In the background we see the treasurer’s house.
70 The Treasurer is informed of his Renunication
The treasurer, who stands in the middle of the relief, is listening to the news of his own renunciation, not yet accomplished. Two informants, one kneeling, one standing, hold their hands in reverential salutation. Four other are seen behind him.
71 The Treasurer informs the King
The king sits comfortably on a seat and is surrounded by courtiers and brahmins. On the floor the treasurer holds his hands in añjali while explaining to the king his decision to renounce. The repsonse of the king is not quite clear: is he blessing the Treasurer, or still trying to convince him to stay?
72 Friends dissuade the Bodhisattva
It seems this must show the Bodhisattva in conversation with his friends, who are trying to dissuade him from his resolve to go to the forest. We see two figures standing, one holding a budding lotus and the other a lotus in bloom, it is not clear who the second person might be. In front of them some householders kneel and brahmins stand, and all hold their hands in añjali. Behind them is the forest.
XXI. The Birth-Story of Cuḍḍabodhi
The Bodhisattva in this life was born into a rich brahminical family, and became famous for his learning. Understanding the drawbacks of the household life he decided to renounce the world. His beautiful wife also insisted on going along with him.
Now one day, when he was sewing rags, and she was meditating in the forest, the king who was out enjoying the springtime, drew near. Seeing the female ascetic his passion was aroused and he wanted to take her to his harem. He was, however, afraid the ascetic might have the power to do him harm. He therefore decided to test him, and asked what he would do if someone took away his wife.
The Bodhisattva answered ambiguously saying in that case he would grab his enemy. The king, thinking he must have no penance power, then ordered his wife taken away, but the ascetic remained calm. The king asked why he spoke one way and acted another? The ascetic replied that anger was his real enemy, and he had held it down. The king, impressed with the ascetic’s virtue, released the wife and put himself at the disposal of the Bodhisattva.
73 The King meets the Ascetics
The king is on the right of the relief, sitting under a parasol, with three attendants around him. On the left Cuḍḍabodhi sits and is making a gesture with his hand, but it is now broken off. Below him is his wife, who also appears to be gesturing.
74 The King with a Long-Bow
A rather odd relief in that it doesn’t correspond to the story we receive. We see the king in the middle holding a long-bow in his left hand, and a large arrow in his right hand. Behind him one of his attendants holds a quiver, and another an arrow, and perhaps a second bow.
75 The Wife is carried away in a Palaquin
The wife of the Bodhisattva is here being taken away in a palaquin to the king’s harem. She is carried by four servants, and beneath her seat is a rotund rakṣasa, who doesn’t seem to figure in the textual story we receive. The scene in set in a forest as can be seen from the trees in the background.
76 The King makes his Decision in Court
It appears that we are now back at the kings’ court, and that the king is contemplating his best action, and is perhaps being pressed by his courtiers who gather round. The female ascetic is seen standing on the left, and has her arms crossed. This scene is also different from the Āryaśūra’s text.
XXII. The Birth-Story of the Geese
The Power of Constancy
One time the Bodhisattva was reborn as a goose and became the king of a large collection of geese who lived in Lake Mānasa. He had an army commander named Sumukha, and together they taught the Dharma to their subjects, becoming famous amongst devas and holy men in doing so.
Word of their fame also reached the king of Benares, who desired to see these famed birds, and asked his advisors to seek a way for that to be accomplished. They decided that building a lake even more beautiful than Lake Mānasa, and giving protection to all birds, might entice them to come hither.
When the geese came to the lake a fowler was sent to capture the king and Sumukha, and the king was ensnared. Sumukha, though free, would not leave him. The fowler was astonished and asked why he stayed, and Sumukha declared he was bound by the king’s virtues.
The fowler wanted to set them free, but they insisted on being taken to the court so the fowler could receive his reward. In the presence of the king the Bodhisattva taught Dharma, and the king was suitably impressed. The Bodhisattva and Sumukha then left to rejoin their kin.
77 The Geese in Lake Mānasa
We see the geese living at the illustrious lake Mānasa. The Bodhisattva, we can take it, is the large goose at the top left, and Sumukha is just below him on the right. Below them are the ordinary geese, standing amidst the lotuses.
78 The King discusses with his Advisors
In the palace the king of Benares discusses with his advisors how they can get to see the famous king of the geese, and they come up with a strategem. The king’s face has been knocked off, as also one of the advisors. The one standing next to the king is a brahmin.
79 The Fowler frees the Geese
We see the magnificent lake the king has had built, and the geese flying away from it in a flock. On the floor the king of the geese and his commander-in-chief stay with the fowler so he can take them to the king of Benares.
80 The Geese teach in the presence of the King
A much longer relief that is common for this series. On the right there were the two main geese, though the Bodhisattva is hardly visibly now. He was on a seat, and higher than Sumukha. The king of Benares has also been badly damaged, he was kneeling and holding an incense burner. Behind him are two women, and then other attendants.
XXIII. The Birth-Story of Mahābodhi
Patience and Gratitude
The Bodhisattva was once a wandering ascetic teaching Dharma for the welfare of the world. When he approached one kingdom, the king, who had heard of his fame, had a hut built for him, and the Bodhisattva taught him daily. The king’s other advisors, however, were jealous, and started to poison the mind of the king against him.
Eventually the Bodhisattva, seeing the neglect of the king, departed and retired to the forest. There, in his meditation, he saw that the king’s advisors were teaching him wrong views, and solicitous for his former benefactor he decided to return and save him from them.
Conjuring up by psychic powers a large monkey he skinned it, and wrapped in the skin went to court. The advisors blamed him, but Mahābodhi showed how their own beliefs were inconsistent with righteousness. He then revealed he had never killed any living being, but had come only to refute false teachings with the help of the skin. He taught them Dharma and then departed.
81 The King is told of the arrival of Mahābodhi
This relief is quite damaged, and the whole upper part of the king is missing, as is most of one of the women who sits with him on the throne. The heads of two of the courtiers have also been removed. They were telling the King of the arrival of the great sage.
82 Mahābodhi comes to Court
Again a rather badly damaged relief, with a number of blocks missing. We can however see Mahābodhi clearly, he is dressed as a sage, with beard and hair tumbled high on his head. Before him are four persons, two kneeling, and two standing, but we can’t see who the latter were.
83 Mahābodhi teaches Dharma
Here we see Mahābodhi comfortably dwelling in the hut the king has built for his use in the park. There are five courtiers with him, whom we may think of as disciples, gone to the park to hear his teaching. There is a strange looking animal under the seat on the left part of this corner-piece.
84 Mahābodhi teaches the King
The king, hearing of Mahābodhi’s intended departure has gone to see him. In the relief he is accompanied by two women. Mahābodhi himself sits and appears to be speaking to the king. There are a number of jars under both seats.
85 Mahābodhi teaches the King
This is a rather curious relief, in that Mahābodhi appears to have been shorn of his main features. He sits on the high seat on the right, and was sat on the monkey skin, as is shown by the head which remains under his right knee. The king and his courtiers sit on the left and some appear to be discussing amongst themselves.
XXIV. The Birth-Story of the Great Ape
Compassion, even for an Enemy
At one time the Bodhisattva was reborn as a great ape, and lived alone in the forest practising the virtues he was accustomed to during his journey in saṁsāra. Now one day a man, searching for a stray cow, lost his way and was suffering from fatigue, hunger and thirst. Seeing a fruit tree he climbed it, but fell from it into a precipice from which he could not ascend.
The Bodhisattva going about his daily foraging found that man, and bringing him fruits and comforting him, told him he would find a way to get him out. The Bodhisattva went into training, and when he deemed himself sufficiently strong, he descended into the abyss and carried the man out. Being exceedingly tired after his efforts he lay down and the man promised to protect him.
The man, however, conceived an evil thought, and lifted a rock to kill the ape intending to eat him. His plan went wrong, and the Bodhisattva, seeing the man’s blinding ignorance, was overcome by compassion, and escorted him to the edge of the jungle. The man in consequence of his deeds burst out in boils and leprosy, and was driven from human habitations. One day a king came across the wretch in the jungle, and ask him how he came to such a sorry state, and the man related his story, and using himself as example taught Dharma to the king.
86 The Ape and the Man
A very badly damaged relief. We see the ape on the left, with his arms wrapped round himself. Next to him we see a squirrel ascending a tree. The man is on the right, as we see from the hand. It is hard to know what part of the story it represents, though it is after the man has been rescued, possibly as he is going to attack the ape.
87 The Edge of the Forest
Here we see the man has been led to the edge of the forest, and is walking away out of it. The hands of the ape are visible, but nothing more of his body. There is a bird in the branches of the tree.
88 The Meeting with the King
Here we see the man is sitting on the bottom left and telling his story to the king. The king also has a woman with him on the left of the panel, and on the right two men, one holding a bow and arrow, and the other a quiver.
89 A King holds Audience
It seems impossible to understand this relief from either this story or the next. What we see is a king sitting on a large cushion with two female companions, one of whom holds her hands in añjali. In front of the king five people are standing and six are sitting, they are making various gestures.
XXV. The Birth-Story of the Śarabha
Compassion for One in Distress
One time the Bodhisattva, being reborn as a śarabha-deer, roamed the forests, and, living like a yogi, maintained precepts and hurt no other living creature. Now it happened that the king of the country while out hunting, saw the Bodhisattva, determined to bag him, and chased after him on his horse.
As the Bodhisattva ran he came to a great hole in the ground, but being agile, he jumped straight over it. When the horse carrying the king saw the hole, however, he hesitated and drew up short. The king, being unbalanced at the time, fell straight into the hole.
The Bodhisattva, perceiving his plight, turned back and asked if the king would allow to help him out. The king, shamed by his own deeds, agreed, and the śarabha exercised, gained strength and managed to retrieve the king from the hole. The king wanted to take the deer to his court with him, but the deer preferred to live according to his nature in the forest, and the king let him do so.
90 The King goes Hunting
Here we see the king on his horse, with his attendants in tow, entering the forest to begin his hunt. Two of the horse’s legs have broken off. His attendants carry a sword and a bow and arrows. The forest is signified by the tree on the far right. The king is positioned awkwardly on the horse, and hardly looks stable.
91 The King in the Precipice
The crampedness of the relief rather dampens the scene. On the left the riderless horse is stood on the edge of the precipice, and on the right we see the śarabha. The king, who has fallen into the abyss, lifts his hands in añjali, as the śarabha comes to help him. In the background are trees, and there are conventional rocks in the foreground.
92 The Śarabha rescues the King
Here we see the King being carried to safety by his benefactor the śarabha. Again because the relief is so narrow the sculptor has found it hard to give full expression to the scene, and the horse appears to be climbing a set of steps, rather than a steep cliff.
93 The Śarabha bids Farewell to the King
This is the moment when the śarabha announces to the king that he must live in the forest as is suitable to his kind. He is stood on high ground, with trees around. The king stands in front of him, and parts of his image are damaged, so we can’t see his attitude clearly. Behind the king are the parasol bearer, two more servants, and the horse.
XXVI. The Birth-Story of the Ruru-Deer
Sympathy for Others
One time the Bodhisattva was born as a ruru-deer, and grew up to be a magnificent example of his species, and his body shone forth like it was clustered with jewels. For this reason he always tried to stay away from men, whose hearts are stained by covetousness.
One day, however, he heard the plaintiff cries of a man who had fallen into a stream and was being washed away. He jumped in and, with great effort, saved him, and asked only that the man keep his whereabouts secret.
Later, a queen in a distant country dreamt of the deer, and the king had a proclamation sent out that he would reward the person who showed him where the deer dwelt. The man, who at this time was overcome by poverty, led the king to the place.
The deer, seeing no escape, spoke in a human voice to the king, and explained how he had previously saved the man. The king was duly impressed, and invited the deer to court, where he went, and taught them Dharma.
94 A King meets Five Men
The relief is somewhat damaged, but what we see is a king sitting on a seat, with at least one female companion. In front of him are five people, all male. The front one sits under a coconut tree and has his arms crossed. Krom thinks this is a scene from the deer-story set in the king’s court that is out of place in the sequence as we receive it.
95 The Forest Animals
This is part of a pair of reliefs, on this one we see an elephant, a deer, a buffalo and a wild boar on the ground, and a peacock and another bird in the trees. There are conventional rocks in the background. The animals are watching the action taking place in the next relief.
96 The Ruru-deer saves the Man
In this scene the ruru-deer has gone down to the river and is offering to rescue the man. We see the waters on the bottom-left of the panel. The deer is a very fine looking creature, and the man is worshipping it, with his hands held in añjali.
97 The King encounters the Deer
In this scene the king, who is standing with a long-bow in his hand, has already entered the forest and found the ruru-deer, who is sat on a rocky outcrop. Behind the king are two attendants. And in the bottom-left one deer flees away. Whether the deer has explained what happened yet is not clear.
98 The Ruru-deer at Court
A very fine ensemble relief, such as the sculptors in Borobudur excelled at. In the middle the king sits with his queen who had the dream, she holds her hands in añjali. The deer sits on a raised seat, and may be teaching Dharma. Courtiers are spread around.
XXVII. The Great Birth-Story of the Monkey
Self-Sacrifice for Friends
The Bodhisattva once lived in the Himalaya as a king of the monkeys. They had their abode in a great banyan tree, which overhung a river. The king of the monkeys kept himself from all vices, and nurtured the virtues.
One time a fig fell from the tree into the river, was washed downstream, and, owing to its wondrous odour, was found by a king who was out enjoying water-sports. He determined to find the tree it orginated from and took a party upstream.
When he found the tree he saw the monkeys were eating all the fruits, and he ordered his men to assail them. The Bodhisattva made a bridge of his body so the troop of monkeys could escape to a nearby mountain. They did so, but trampled down his body in the process.
The king saw this wonderful self-sacrifice, and ordered his men to save the monkey-king. He then discoursed with him on his actions, and the Bodhisattva taught him Dharma before succumbing to his wounds and being reborn in Heaven.
99 Courtiers and an Elephant
The left side of a pair of reliefs shows the courtiers looking on at the action in the next relief. We see eight people sat on the floor in various postures. Behind them is a royal elephant with his trunk raised.
100 The King and the Fig
The king is sitting casually on a raised seat with an arm around a woman. His knee is supported by a strap. Behind him stand two more women, one of whom is holding the fig. The king seems to stretch forth his hand to receive it.
101 The King follows the Scent
The king has sent out with three of his guard to find the place where the fig-trees grow. They are all carrying arrows, or maybe spears. He is being greeted by two people as he goes, but this is not mentioned in the story.
102 The Attack on the Monkeys
The king is ordering his men to drive way the monkeys so he may have them all for himself; and the Bodhisattva, clinging to the tree on the right, has made a bridge out of himself so that his companions may escape. The king has his hand raised and may be giving the command to stop the assault.
XXVIII. The Birth-Story of Kṣāntivādī
Patience at all Times
The Bodhisattva at one time became an ascetic, and lived in a remote forest. He was visited by gods and men, and preached patience as the main virtue to be developed. Now one time the king of that country went to that forest and after drinking liquor and dallying with his harem decided to take a rest.
His harem, seeing him rested, wandered through the forest and eventually came across the Bodhisattva sat in meditation. He preached patience to them as they listened with faith. When the king woke he found his courtesans were gone, and followed the trail they left, until he found them sat around Kṣāntivādī.
Seeing them thus, he was overcome by jealousy and anger, and threatened the Bodhisattva, calling him a false ascetic. Kṣāntivādī preached patience to him also. The King, however, would not listen, and struck the ascetic, and cut off his hands, feet, ears and nose. The Bodhisattva still did not lose his patience, but the King was overcome by a fever owing to his deed, and the earth also opened up and swallowed him.
It is curious that such visual scenes as the Bodhisattva preaching to the women, and the king cutting his limbs off are not shown at Borobudur, and instead some rather banal scenes of the king and the women in procession fill the space.
103 The King Sleeping
We see a kind of raised platform with a cover over it, and four parrots atop it, where the king is sleeping. He has a female attendant who is massaging him as he rests. There are various dishes about including one by the king’s cushion.
104 The King enters the Forest
A corner panel which shows a very simple scene. The king has awoken and is now leading his men as he goes in search of his harem. The men are mainly carrying a single arrow or spear.
105 A Woman under a Tree
This forms part of a scene along with the next panel. Here we see one woman sitting under a fruiting tree, she finds no special mention in the text. Next to her is another woman who is standing and part of the group on the next panel.
106 A Procession of Women
The panel shows a procession of women moving to the right. Exactly why this was chosen for representation, and important parts of the story are omitted, is not clear.
107 Kṣāntivādī preaches Patience
Kṣāntivādī is sitting on an elevation, and judging by his hand is teaching at this point. In front of him are first the ladies of the harem, and behind them the guards, one with a sword in hand.
XXIX. The Birth-Story of a Brahmā
Compassion for the Ignorant
The Bodhisattva in consequence of his highly developed meditation skills, was one time reborn in the Brahmā worlds. Even though he was in such a refined state of being, he had not lost his compassion for others.
One day he looked down from his world onto the world of men, and saw that the King of Videha was being led by wrong views, and no longer believed in an afterlife where deeds were rewarded or punished, and that his subjects, following him, were also going astray.
He therefore descended from his high estate and met with the King, who was duly impressed by the great being. The king was still in doubt, however, until the Bodhisattva described in detail the rewards in the high heavens and the torture in the hells. Finally the king relented, and asked to be taught Dharma.
108 The Bodhisattva as Brahmā
This is a simple scene. The Bodhisattva has decided to descend to earth to correct the king’s wrong views, and he is here pictured on a cloud heading down. He has a very elaborate headdress. Unfortunately part of the relief is missing.
109 Brahmā meets the King
First of a pair of reliefs, this one shows the Bodhisattva standing next to the king, who is seated on his throne with females on either side. Below the throne is the usual bowl, signifying riches. The entire top of this relief is missing, so we cannot see their expressions.
110 The Courtiers listen to Brahmā
This is just an extension of the previous scene. Here we see the king’s courtiers, perhaps ministers and high ranking officials, judging by their clothes, looking on as the Bodhisattva meets with the king. One of them holds his hands in añjali.
111 The Bodhisattva teaches Dharma
Here we see Brahmā teaching Dharma to the king and the assembled courtiers. The Bodhisattva is sitting on a raised pedestal and is evidently teaching at this time. The king, who sits in front of him, has his hands raised in añjali. They are sat in a pavilion.
XXX. The Birth-Story of the Elephant
Self-Sacrifice for Others
At one time the Bodhisattva was reborn as a great elephant, and dwelt far from the haunts of men, deep in the forests. One time, when he was out walking, he heard the plaintive cries of people in the distance, and came towards them.
They were afraid as they had no strength to flee, but the Bodhisattva told them they had to need to fear. They explained that their troop of seven hundred were the pitiful remains of one thousand men who had been sent into exile by a cruel king.
The great being, realising they could not escape from that forest without water and meat, decided to sacrifice himself for their safety. He told them to go down the mountain where they would find water aplenty in a lake, and nearby a recently dead elephant they could feast on.
They thanked him and proceded on their way. Meanwhile the Bodhisattva rushed to the same spot by a quicker route and sacrificed himself by jumping off a cliff. When they found him they realised what he had done, and honoured him by accepting the sacrifice as intended.
112-114 Triptych of the Elephant Birth-Story
Three of the four scenes are presented here, with the Bodhisattva featured on either side, and the lost men in the middle.
112 The Bodhisattva meets with one in Exile
A very fine looking elephant stands in the centre of this scene. Of the seven hundred exiles only one has been shown. He is crouched down in front of the elephant and holds his hands in añjali.
113 The Exiles on the March
The seven hundred are here represented by just seven figures, who are moving to the right, and therefore to the place indicated by the Bodhisattva. One carries a water-pot; another a cloth. They look poor and wretched.
114 The Bodhisattva hurries to the Sacrifice
As the men in the previous relief are slowly going their way, here the Bodhisattva is charging along to get to the place and sacrifice himself before they arrive. The legs and trunk of the elephant all indicate great motion. Deer are seen under the trees.
115 Honouring the Sacrifice
The self-sacrifice of the elephant is not shown, of course, but rather we move on to the scene where the grateful exiles have interned the remains of the Bodhisattva and are now doing honours to it. He is suitably interred in a stūpa. On the bottom right we see the stūpa is decorated with a commemorative lotus pond. This scene is not related in the text.
XXXI. The Birth-Story of Sutasoma
Meeting Virtuous People
At one time the Bodhisattva was reborn as a prince of the Kauravas and was famed for his virtue. Now one day a brahmin approached him with some well-said verses. But before he could speak them they were interrupted by a great commotion.
It was the man-eater Kalmāṣapada, who had dispersed all in front of him and had come to carry away the prince, by reason of having promised to sacrifice one-hundred princes. Prince Sutasoma, thinking he could convert him, offered himself up and was taken back to his den in the wilderness where he found one hundred more princes held captive.
After he had arrived he remembered the brahmin waiting for his reward, and asked to be released so he may go and learn the verses the brahmin had brought. After some discussion Kalmāṣapada agreed, more to dishonour him, as he did not expect him to return.
Sutasoma went back, learned the verses, and then returned. His very veracity impressed Kalmāṣapada, and he asked to hear the verses. After hearing them he offered four boons, and Sutasoma asked that he speak truth, give up injury, release his prisoners and refrain from eating human flesh. Finally he agreed and was reestablished in honour and rank.
116 The Brahmin meets with Prince Sutasoma
In the first scene in this series we see Prince Sutasoma sitting on a raised seat, with a female attendant behind him. He is richly dressed, and notice their elaborate hairstyles. In front of him sits the brahmin, but the relief is badly damaged at this point. He seems to have held his hands in añjali.
117 Sutasoma is carried away by Kalmāṣapada
On the right we see the man-eating Kalmāṣapada on his knees, and Sutasoma climbing on to his back so as to be carried away. I tend to think the figure on the left is also Sutasoma, who is directing the attention of Kalmāṣapada to himself. If so we are seeing two different, but closely related, scenes in the one relief.
118 Sutasoma meets the Brahmin
Prince Sutasoma has returned from captivity and now is kneeling in front of the brahmin so that he can learn the wisdom verses the brahmin knows. The brahmin is sat on a comfortable cushion in relaxed posture. There are three other people in the scene.
119 Sutasoma teaches Kalmāṣapada
The last scene is evidently meant to take place in the wilderness. We see deer on the left, probably lions on the right, with a snake in the middle setting the scene. Sutasoma is now seated on a high seat and is teaching the verses to Kalmāṣapada. Behind him are four others, though who they are is not clear.
XXXII. The Birth-Story of Ayogṛha
The Virtue of Renunciation
At one time the Bodhisattva was reborn into a virtuous race of kings, but as each son who was born in that family died quickly, special care was taken to protect him. A building of iron was made for him, which was consecrated according to the Vedas, and owing to this house he was called Ayogṛha (Iron-House).
Now having grown up and learned the arts and sciences, one time he attended the Autumn festival, and seeing the people rejoicing in the streets, was overcome by spiritual anxiety, realised the impermanence of pleasures, and determined to renounce the world. His father, the king, was none too pleased by this, but the Bodhisattva managed to persuade to let him go to the penance-grove.
It is curious that this virtually action-less story should have been alloted no less than eight reliefs for its illustration, whereas others which could have well been expanded were cut off with four or less. It appears that as the sculptors approached the end of the Jātakamālā they found they have space to fill, and as elsewhere, fill it they did.
120 The Birth of Ayogṛha
We see the Bodhisattva being presented to the king after his birth. It is a nurse who holds him, and there are other attendants around. The king himself sits on a cushion and looks quite pensive. Attendants in the background hold up lotuses in their hands.
121 A Ceremony for the Child
Again the Bodhisattva is on his nurse’s lap, but is here being presented to the brahmin on the left, who has his hand raised in blessing. We can assume this is a one of the rites that the young boy would have gone through. Behind him stand three others, one of whom is holding an offering.
122 The King and his Son
This appears to be a scene when Ayogṛha is now grown at least to adolescence and is listening to his father, the king. The latter sits on a raised seat, with a female attendant behind him, and has his hand raised, presumably in admonishment. A female figure sits behind Ayogṛha.
123 Ayogṛha goes to the Festivities
Another procession scene which the sculptors of Borobudur were so good at portraying. Ayogṛha, seated on a large cushion, is being carried on a palaquin by eight attendants, and a procession of people, including soldiers, go before him.
124 The Prince contemplates Renunciation
In this scene it is the prince who is seated on the raised seat, with three lovely ladies around him. He, however, seems lost in thought, as he contemplates the transient pleasures of the world. Two others are seated in the scene, including one who is under the seat.
125 The Prince informs the King
In this corner panel the king is sat with two ladies on the left, and seems to be pulling back from what he is being told. The prince, however, is standing on the right, and appears confident in his decision. One lady worships him. Perhaps it is his mother?
126 The Departure of Ayogṛha
The Bodhisattva now heads off to the penance-grove to begin his austerities. It seems two females are with him, or perhaps he is now parting from them. On the right the forest is indicated by a lone tree, almost the size of a shrub.
127 Ayogṛha sits in Meditation
In this final scene we see the Bodhisattva is now in the distant grove, and is surrounded by signs of the wilderness all round. He sits on a spread cloth and is in meditation posture (dhyāna-mudrā). A water jug is pictured on the left.
XXXIII. The Story of the Buffalo
Patience even when Tormented
The Bodhisattva, owing to some residual karma, was one time born as a great, dirty buffalo and lived in the forest. But though he was of grim appearance he still adhered to compassion and the other virtues.
Now a naughty monkey who lived in that place, used to torment the Bodhisattva, obstructing his grazing, jumping on his back, swinging back and forth on his horns, and so forth. But the Bodhisattva bore it all patiently.
One time a yakṣa, seeing what was going on, obstructed the path of the buffalo, who was being riden by the monkey, and questioned him as to why he allowed all these indignities. The Bodhisattva replied that he was not at upset, as it allowed him to exercise the virtue of patience, and the rest.
The yakṣa, however, drove the monkey away with a stick, and taught a charm to the Bodhisattva, so he wouldn’t be bothered by the monkey again in the future.
128 The Buffalo in the Forest
An unusally wide, but badly damaged, relief. The middle section, which would have carried the story, is missing, although we can see the hind feet of the buffalo. Around we see the mountain rocks and fruiting trees, and many types of wild animals.
129 The Bodhisattva and the Monkey
Presumably this is the ape playing one of his tricks on the Bodhisattva, although it also looks like an embrace. Either way, we have nothing much to clearly identify the scene. It is once again set in the forest, and under fruiting trees.
130 The Yakṣa questions the Monkey
We see the monkey is here riding on the back of the patient buffalo, with a stick in his hand. A yakṣa has come forward to interrupt his behaviour, and question why the buffalo allows it. Again the scene is outdoors in the forest.
131 The Monkey blinds the Buffalo
This relief seems to be out of place, as this scene is one of the tricks that is described before the yakṣa is introduced. We see two trees with the main protagonists below them. The monkey covers the eyes of the buffalo, preventing him from seeing where he is going.
132 The Yakṣa worships the Bodhisattva
The yakṣa is revering the buffalo, with his hands held in añjali. The monkey has been driven away by now. There are a number of trees and in the middle a squirrel is pictured climbing one of the them. The scene is outdoors, with trees and rocks and flowers.
XXXIV. The Story of the Woodpecker
The Virtue of Forbearance
The Bodhisattva was once a woodpecker, and taught Dharma to the other animals in the forest where he lived. One day, when he was out and about, he saw a lion who was overcome by pain, and asked him if there was some way he could help.
The lion explained a bone was stuck in his throat, which he couldn’t get down or out, and requested help. The Bodhisattva came up with a plan, and after holding the lion’s jaws wide-open, flew inside and carefully worked away at the bone until it was dislodged. The lion expressed his gratitude at the relief from suffering.
On another day the woodpecker himself was starving and saw that the lion had caught some meat and was eating it, so he went and stood nearby. The lion, however, first ignored him, then scolded him. The Bodhisattva flew away, and, when questioned, explained to a deva that those who do virtuous deeds, do so to benefit the other, and not seeking rewards in the future or their own advantage.
133 The Lion refuses the Woodpecker
This scene seems out of place, and should really be the last one in this story, where the lion refuses to entertain the woodpecker. The lion has its jaws open has already pounced upon, and is about to devour, a deer. The scene is unusual at Borobudur, which normally avoids scenes of violence. A second deer is perhaps making its getaway on the right. Above them flying through the air, is the woodpecker.
134 The Lion has a Bone stuck in his Throat
A bone has become lodged in the throat of the lion, and he sits back on his hind legs, holding his mouth open. This is where the story in the text that we receive actually starts. A couple of deer walk nearby, no longer afraid of the lion, and the woodpecker flies again through the sky.
135 The Woodpecker removes the Bone
Here we see the Bodhisattva preparing to fly into the mouth of the great lion, and remove the bone from his throat. The scene is set by the trees, and two long-tailed mammals look on from the right, while a hyena is watching the action.
Photographs by Anandajoti Bhikkhu
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