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Vessantara Jataka

Vessantara Jataka

Vessantara Jataka mural, Wat Phnom. Phnom Penh. Cambodia. The girl Amittada is beaten up by the village girls, humiliated she goes to complain to her old husband.

The Vessantara Jataka (Burmese. ဝေဿန္တရာ ဇာတ်တော်. Wethandaya Zatdaw; Thai. มหาเวสสันดรชาดก. Maha Wetsandon Chadok) is one of the most popular apadānas of Theravada Buddhism. The Vessantara Jataka tells the story of one of Gautama Buddha 's past lives, about a compassionate prince, Vessantara, who gives away everything he owns, including his children, thereby displaying the virtue of perfect charity. It is also known as the Great Birth Sermon .

Description

When Gautama Buddha visited his father's kingdom for the first time after he achieved the supreme enlightenment, arrogant elders of the ruling dynasty did not pay him respect, since they were older than 'Siddhartha Rajakumar'. The Buddha miraculously appeared in the air above his relatives. His father was the first to bow down and admitted that this was his third time to pay respect to his own son. Members of the dynasty then bowed down and accepted the religion. Suddenly, rain clouds gathered and a red-drop rain appeared. This miracle led to his followers' asking, "What is this rain?" He then explained that this rain had appeared once before, during his last life before his present life. Then, he told them the story of his previous life as King Vessantara.

King Vessantara was the son of Sañjaya, king of Sivirattha . and was born in the capital city of Jatuttara as a bodhisattva. [ 1 ]

His mother, according to tradition, was a princess who made great merit and wished to become the mother of a future Bodhisattva who would be the next Buddha. After she died, the princess ascended to the Celestial Kingdom and became one of the god Indra's consorts. She lived happily until the day she had to be reborn again as a human. Indra gave her 10 boons and one of them was 'Let me become the mother of Bodhisattva, who in his next life will achieve enlightenment'. She descended to the human world, was born to the court of a king, and later married to King Sañjaya.

On the last day of her pregnancy, the Queen wished to sight-see in the capital city. Her husband granted her that wish. She visited several districts, and the people were delighted by their queen. While she was in the merchant quarter, she gave birth in an emergency delivery at the bazaar, in the heart of the city. Therefore, the newborn prince and heir was named Vessantara, which means 'Born in the merchant quarter'. As soon as he opened his eyes, the infant prince asked his mother for money to give to the poor. On the same day, a female elephant brought her newborn calf to the royal palace. The calf was pure white.

Vessantara grew up to be a kind person who was willing to give away his belongings to others. His parents were delighted by their son's character and supported the prince's charity with their treasures. Vessantara married princess Maddi. They had 2 children: the Prince Jali and the Princess Kanhajina. Sañjaya retired and Vessantara was crowned King.

One day Vessantara gave away the magical white elephant. which had brought rain to his kingdom, to envoys from Kalinga, a neighboring country which was facing a drought. The citizens of Vessantara's kingdom were distressed by the fear of drought because of the loss of the elephant. Thus, they convinced King Sanjaya to resume control of the kingdom and banish his son Vessantara.

The king readily gave away his kingdom to his father. Before leaving the city and going to live in the forest as a hermit with his wife Maddi and their two children, he also gave away his wealth. [ 2 ]

One of his loyal courtiers suggested that the family should live at Vamka Mountain. They left the city on a four-horse chariot. Along the way; Vessantara gave away his horses and four deities appeared in the form of stags to pull the chariot. Then he gave away his chariot. The family walked on foot through a forest. The young prince and princess saw wild fruit hanging on high branches, but their parents could not reach it. Miraculously, all the trees bent their branches for them.

The family then arrived at the neighbouring kingdom of Ceti. The king of Ceta was informed of their arrival and rushed to greet the prince. He was touched by their story and offered his throne, but the prince declined. He and his family also declined to stay in a palace. The king of Ceta ordered a hunter to patrol the entrance to Vamka Mountain, to prevent anyone from disturbing the family.

Meanwhile Jujaka, a greedy old brahmin who lived as a beggar, had a very young wife, Amittada, who was also very beautiful and hard-working. During the drought Amittada used to regularly bring water from the well for her old husband. The husbands of the other women in the village held her up as an example of a good industrious wife. One day, in a fit of jealousy, all the village women gathered by the well and beat up the Brahmin's young wife, tearing her clothes.

In Chapter 11, the children are cared for while Jujaka sleeps. This painting is from the 19th century, Thailand. In the collection of the Walters Art Museum

From that day onwards the girl stubbornly refused to go to the well any longer. Amittada harassed Jujaka telling him to find her some servants in order to spare her more ridicule. She didn't give her husband any peace.

Jujaka met the hunter guarding the entrance to Vamka Mountain and tricked him. He met a rishi and tricked him, as well. Finally, the Brahmin Jujaka went to the forest to prince Vessantara while his wife Maddi was away. He asked him for his two children, which Vessantara readily gave away. Jali and Kanha went to hide in a lotus pond. Their father found them and asked if they would help their father achieve his highest goal. Both agreed and became Jujaka's slaves. Vessantara told the Brahmin to bring his children to their grandfather, saying, "The king will reward you for bringing his beloved grandchildren back to them". Jujaka disagreed, stating the Sunjaya would execute him instead. The Brahmin tied both children with vines and dragged them like cattle. Both children begged their father to help them while the old man scolded and beat them with his stick. Vessantara could not stand this scene and reached for his weapon he kept in his hut. However, he overcame all anger and let his children be taken away.

Maddi's return passage to their resident was blocked by tigers (gods in disguise). When she didn't see her children, she wandered around all night looking for them and finally collapsed before her husband. Vessatara thought she was dead so he lamented his loss. He put her head on his lap and realised that she was still breathing. He revived Maddi with water. She woke up and rose immediately as the couple had taken a vow of celibacy and were not supposed to touch each other. Vessantara told her what had happened. After Maddi learnt that her husband gave away their children, she praised him for his greatness.

Fearing that Vessantara would have given away his wife as well, God Indra intervened and in disguise, asked for his wife Maddi, which Vessantara readily gave him as well. Then Indra gave Maddi back to Vessantara as a trust, for all his acts of benevolence and generosity had been perfect. [ 3 ]

A god and a goddess felt sympathy for the young prince and princess. They disguised themselves as their parents and helped nurse Jali and Kanha. They made Jujaka take a wrong turn and led him to into Sivi Kingdom and through the palace gate. King Sanjaya saw two familiar faces and ordered royal guards to bring them to him. He recognized his grandchildren and paid for their price. Kanha's price was higher than her brother's, as her father wanted no one to buy her from Jujaka. In fact, both Jali and Kanha's prices were so high that only the wealthy king Sanjaya of Sivi could have bought them.

Jujaka became extremely rich. At his first meal as a rich man, he ate too much. His digestive system failed and he fell dead upon his plate. King Sanjaya sent his men to find Jujaka's family to inherit his wealth; however, his wife and in-laws were afraid of the punishment for Jujaka's treason, so they escaped.

Sanjaya arranged a grand procession to meet his son and daughter-in-law. The Kingdom of Kalinga also returned the white elephant, now that Kalinga had become prosperous again, abating the anger of the people of Sivi. Jali led the army and men to his parents' residence and the family was reunited. After the most happy moment, all six of them collapsed.

The red rain poured down from Heaven to revive the family. This rain "soaks those who want to be soaked, but will not fall on those who want to stay dry." Vessantara was crowned as king again and returned to his kingdom. Indra blessed Sivi Kingdom with a seven-gem rain. Vessantara allowed people to keep those gems for themselves and the leftover went into the Kingdom treasury, which he used for his charity. He was also given the blessing of never running out of treasure for his charity.

Lord Buddha explained that each figure had been reborn as people surrounding him. His parents were Vessantara's parents. Maddi was reborn as his former wife. Jali became Rahul, his son. Kanha became Ubolvanna, the Bhikuni (female monk). The loyal courtier who informed him of the place he should stay became Ananda, his cousin and attendant. Jujaka became Devadutt, his arch enemy. The white elephant became Maha Kassapa.

Festivals and arts

The Vessantara Jataka is celebrated in temples during a Buddhist festival known as Thet Mahachat (Thai. เทศน์มหาชาติ ), from Maha Jati or "Great Birth", in Central Thailand. [ 4 ] Boun Pha Vet in Laos [ 5 ] and as Bun Phawet (Bun Phra Wes), Bun Duan Sii (Merit-making of the fourth month) or Thet Phawet in Isan. It is also an important celebration as well in Cambodia [ 6 ] and Burma. [ 7 ]

The Thet Mahachat is very popular both in rural and urban communities, often with dance and drama performances, as well as festive parades and processions through the towns. During this Buddhist festival the monks give a sermon of all chapters of the Vessantara Jataka, accompanied by rituals and cultural performances. Because of its central role on the Thet Mahachat or Boun Pha Vet celebrations, the Vessantara Jataka is an important part of the traditional folklore in many areas of the Southeast Asian region. Some of the scenes, especially the mismatched couple formed by Jujaka, the old Brahmin, and his nagging young wife Amittada, are avidly followed by the average people during the festival. [ 8 ] While it has lost its traditional importance in some areas, in others it has gained in popularity. [ 9 ]

Scenes of the Vessantara Jataka are engraved on Angkor Wat murals. They are also often found depicted on the walls of Buddhist temples throughout Southeast Asia. This story is also depicted in ancient patterns on ikat silk cloth. [ 10 ]

Bibliography
  • Phraya Anuman Rajadhon (1888–1969), Thet Maha Chat. Promotion and Public Relations Sub-Division, Fine Arts Department, Bangkok, 1990
  • Richard Gombrich & Margaret Cone, The perfect generosity of Prince Vessantara. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1977.
Further reading
  • Siegfried Lienhard. Die Legende vom Prinzen Viśvantara. Eine nepalesische Bilderrolle aus der Sammlung des Museums for Indische Kunst Berlin. Berlin. 1980. Veröffentlichungen des Museums für Indische Kunst Berlin, 5.
References

Other articles

Vessantara Jataka

Description

When Gautama Buddha visited his father's kingdom for the first time after he achieved the supreme enlightenment, arrogant elders of the ruling dynasty did not pay him respect, since they were older than 'Siddhartha Rajakumar'. The Buddha miraculously appeared in the air above his relatives. His father was the first to bow down and admitted that this was his third time to pay respect to his own son. Members of the dynasty then bowed down and accepted the religion. Suddenly, rain clouds gathered and a red-drop rain appeared. This miracle led to his followers' asking, "What is this rain?" He then explained that this rain had appeared once before, during his last life before his present life. Then, he told them the story of his previous life as King Vessantara.

King Vessantara was the son of Sañjaya, king of Sivirattha (Sivi-Rashtra ), and was born in the capital city of Jatuttara as a Bodhisatta. [ 1 ]

His mother, according to tradition, was a princess who made great merit and wished to become the mother of a future Bodhisatta who would be the next Buddha. After she died, the princess ascended to the Celestial Kingdom and became one of the god Indra's consorts. She lived happily until the day she had to be reborn again as a human. Indra gave her 10 boons and one of them was 'Let me become the mother of Bodhisatta, who in his next life will achieve enlightenment'. She descended to the human world, was born to the court of a king, and later married to King Sañjaya.

On the last day of her pregnancy, the Queen wished to sight-see in the capital city. Her husband granted her that wish. She visited several districts, and the people were delighted by their queen. While she was in the merchant quarter, she gave birth in an emergency delivery at the bazaar, in the heart of the city. Therefore, the new-born prince and heir was named Vessantara, which means 'Born in the merchant quarter'. As soon as he opened his eyes, the infant prince asked his mother for money to give to the poor. On the same day, a female elephant brought her new born calf to the royal palace. The calf was pure white.

Vessantara grew up to be a kind person who was willing to give away his belongings to others. His parents were delighted by their son's character and supported the prince's charity with their treasures. Vessantara married princess Maddi. They had 2 children: the Prince Jali and the Princess Kanhajina. Sañjaya retired and Vessantara was crowned King.

One day Vessantara gave away the magical white elephant. which had brought rain to his kingdom, to envoys from Kalinga. a neighboring country which was facing a drought. The citizens of Vessantara's kingdom were distressed by the fear of drought because of the loss of the elephant. Thus, they convinced King Sanjaya to resume control of the kingdom and banish his son Vessantara.

The king readily gave away his kingdom to his father. Before leaving the city and going to live in the forest as a hermit with his wife Maddi and their two children, he also gave away his wealth. [ 2 ]

One of his loyal courtiers suggested that the family should live at Vamka Mountain. They left the city on a four-horse chariot. Along the way; Vessantara gave away his horses and four deities appeared in the form of stags to pull the chariot. Then he gave away his chariot. The family walked on foot through a forest. The young prince and princess saw wild fruit hanging on high branches, but their parents could not reach it. Miraculously, all the trees bent their branches for them.

The family then arrived at the neighbouring kingdom of Ceti. The king of Ceta was informed of their arrival and rushed to greet the prince. He was touched by their story and offered his throne, but the prince declined. He and his family also declined to stay in a palace. The king of Ceta ordered a hunter to patrol the entrance to Vamka Mountain, to prevent anyone from disturbing the family.

Meanwhile Jujaka, a greedy old Brahmin who lived as a beggar, had a very young wife, Amittada, who was also very beautiful and hard-working. During the drought Amittada used to regularly bring water from the well for her old husband. The husbands of the other women in the village held her up as an example of a good industrious wife. One day, in a fit of jealousy, all the village women gathered by the well and beat up the Brahmin's young wife, tearing her clothes.

From that day onwards the girl stubbornly refused to go to the well any longer. Amittada harassed Jujaka telling him to find her some servants in order to spare her more ridicule. She didn't give her husband any peace.

Jujaka met the hunter guarding the entrance to Vamka Mountain and tricked him. He met a rishi and tricked him, as well. Finally, the Brahmin Jujaka went to the forest to prince Vessantara while his wife Maddi was away. He asked him for his two children, which Vessantara readily gave away. Jali and Kanha went to hide in a lotus pond. Their father found them and asked if they would help their father achieve his highest goal. Both agreed and became Jujaka's slaves. Vessantara told the Brahmin to bring his children to their grandfather, saying, "The king will reward you for bringing his beloved grandchildren back to them". Jujaka disagreed, stating the Sunjaya would execute him instead. The Brahmin tied both children with vines and dragged them like cattle. Both children begged their father to help them while the old man scolded and beat them with his stick. Vessantara could not stand this scene and reached for his weapon he kept in his hut. However, he overcame all anger and let his children be taken away.

Maddi's return passage to their resident was blocked by tigers (gods in disguise). When she didn't see her children, she wandered around all night looking for them and finally collapsed before her husband. Vessatara thought she was dead so he lamented his loss. He put her head on his lap and realised that she was still breathing. He revived Maddi with water. She woke up and rose immediately as the couple had taken a vow of celibacy and were not supposed to touch each other. Vessantara told her the what had happened. After Maddi learnt that her husband gave away their children, she praised him for his greatness.

Fearing that Vessantara would have given away his wife as well, God Indra intervened and in disguise, asked for his wife Maddi, which Vessantara readily gave him as well. Then Indra gave Maddi back to Vessantara as a trust, for all his acts of benevolence and generosity had been perfect. [ 3 ]

A god and a goddess felt sympathy for the young prince and princess. They disguised themselves as their parents and helped nurse Jali and Kanha. They made Jujaka take a wrong turn and led him to into Sivi Kingdom and through the palace gate. King Sanjaya saw two familiar faces and ordered royal guards to bring them to him. He recognized his grandchildren and paid for their price. Kanha's price was higher than her brother's, as her father wanted no one to buy her from Jujaka. In fact, both Jali and Kanha's prices were so high that only the wealthy king Sanjaya of Sivi could have bought them.

Jujaka became extremely rich. At his first meal as a rich man, he ate too much. His digestive system failed and he fell dead upon his plate. King Sanjaya sent his men to find Jujaka's family to inherit his wealth; however, his wife and in-laws were afraid of the punishment for Jujaka's treason, so they escaped.

Sanjaya arranged a grand procession to meet his son and daughter-in-law. The Kingdom of Kalinga also returned the white elephant, now that Kalinga had become prosperous again, abating the anger of the people of Sivi. Jali led the army and men to his parents' residence and the family was reunited. After the most happy moment, all six of them collapsed.

The red rain poured down from Heaven to revive the family. This rain "soaks those who want to be soaked, but will not fall on those who want to stay dry." Vessantara was crowned as king again and returned to his kingdom. Indra blessed Sivi Kingdom with a seven-gem rain. Vessantara allowed people to keep those gems for themselves and the leftover went into the Kingdom treasury, which he used for his charity. He was also given the blessing of never running out of treasure for his charity.

Lord Buddha explained that each figure had been reborn as people surrounding him. His parents were Vessantara's parents. Maddi was reborn as his former wife. Jali became Rahul, his son. Kanha became Ubolvanna, the Bhikuni (female monk). The loyal courtier who informed him of the place he should stay became Anada, his cousin and attendant. Jujaka became Devadutt, his arch enemy. The white elephant became Maha Kassapaya.

Festivals and arts

The Vessantara Jataka is celebrated in temples during a Buddhist festival known as Thet Mahachat (Thai. เทศน์มหาชาติ ), from Maha Jati or "Great Birth", in Central Thailand [ 4 ]. Boun Pha Vet in Laos [ 5 ] and as Bun Phawet (Bun Phra Wes), Bun Duan Sii (Merit-making of the fourth month) or Thet Phawet in Isaan. It is also an important celebration as well in Cambodia [ 6 ] and Myanmar. [ 7 ]

The Thet Mahachat is very popular both in rural and urban communities, often with dance and drama performances, as well as festive parades and processions through the towns. During this Buddhist festival the monks give a sermon of all chapters of the Vessantara Jataka, accompanied by rituals and cultural performances. Because of its central role on the Thet Mahachat or Boun Pha Vet celebrations, the Vessantara Jataka is an important part of the traditional folklore in many areas of the South east Asian region. Some of the scenes, especially the mismatched couple formed by Jujaka, the old Brahmin, and his nagging young wife Amittada, are avidly followed by the average people during the festival. [ 8 ] While it has lost its traditional importance in some areas, in others it has gained in popularity. [ 9 ]

Scenes of the Vessantara Jataka are engraved on Angkor Wat murals. They are also often found depicted on the walls of Buddhist temples throughout Southeast Asia. This story is also depicted in ancient patterns on matmi silk cloth. [ 10 ]

Bibliography
  • Phraya Anuman Rajadhon (1888–1969), Thet Maha Chat. Promotion and Public Relations Sub-Division, Fine Arts Department, Bangkok, 1990
  • Richard Gombrich & Margaret Cone, The perfect generosity of Prince Vessantara. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1977.
References External links
  • Full text of The wheel of the law. Buddhism, illustrated from Siamese sources by the Modern Buddhist, a Life of Buddha, and an account of the Phrabat
  • Jataka influence in Southeast Asian culture (Vietnamese)
Categories:
  • Jataka
  • Buddhist literature
  • Southeast Asian culture
  • Burmese folklore
  • Cambodian folklore
  • Lao folklore
  • Thai folklore

Vessantara Jataka: 1 definition

Vessantara Jataka, 1 Definition(s)

Vessantara Jataka means something in Buddhism. Pali Check out some of the following descriptions and leave a comment if you want to add your own contribution to this article:

1 Definition(s) from various sources:

Vessantara (the Bodhisatta) was the son of Sanjaya, king of Sivi, and queen Phusati, and was so called because his mother started in labour as she passed through the vessa street in the city of Jetuttara, and he was born in a house in the same street. He spoke as soon as he was born (Cf. BuA.228). On the same day was also born a white elephant named Paccaya. At the age of eight, Vessantara wished to make a great gift and the earth trembled. He married Maddi at the age of sixteen, and their children were Jali and Kanhajina.

At that time there was a great drought in Kalinga, and eight brahmins came from there to Vessantara to beg his white elephant, which had the power of making rain to fall. He granted their request, and gave the elephant together with its priceless trappings (J.vi.488f. gives the details of these). The citizens of Jetuttara were greatly upset that their elephant should have been given away, and demanded of Sanjaya that Vessantara should be banished to Vankagiri. The will of the people prevailed, and Vessantara was asked to take the road along which those travel who have offended. He agreed to go, but before setting out, obtained the kings leave to hold an almsgiving called the Gift of the Seven Hundreds (Sattasataka), in which he gave away seven hundred of each kind of thing. People came from all over Jambudipa to accept his gifts, and the almsgiving lasted for a whole day.

When Vessantara took leave of his parents and prepared for his journey, Maddi insisted on accompanying him with her two children. They were conveyed in a gorgeous carriage drawn by four horses, but, outside the city, Vessantara met four brahmins who begged his horses. Four devas then drew the chariot, but another brahmin soon appeared and obtained the chariot. Thenceforward they travelled on foot, through Suvannagiritala, across the river Kantimara, to beyond Mount Aranjaragiri and Dunnivittha, to his uncles city, in the kingdom of Ceta. The devas shortened the way for them, and the trees lowered their fruit that they might eat. Sixty thousand khattiyas came out to welcome Vessantara and offered him their kingdom, which, however, he refused. He would not even enter the city, but remained outside the gates, and, when he left early the next morning, the people of Ceta, led by Cetaputta, went with him for fifteen leagues, till they came to the entrance to the forest. Vessantara and his family then proceeded to Gandhamadana, northwards, by the foot of Mount Vipula to the river Ketumati, where a forester entertained them and gave them to eat. Thence they crossed the river to beyond Nalika, along the bank of Lake Mucalinda, to its north eastern corner, then along a narrow footpath into the dense forest, to Vankagiri. There Vissakamma had already built two hermitages, by order of Sakka, one for Vessantara and one for Maddi and the children,

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