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Story of The Sacrifice of Vessantara
The Illustrated Jataka & Other Stories of the Buddha by C.B. Varma
038 - The
Sacrifice of Vessantara
The lineage of the
Sivis is best known for its charity and sacrifices in the Indian
traditions since time immemorial. Once, the Bodhisatta was born as
Vessantara (Sanskrit: Vishvantara) in the dynasty of the Sivi in the
kingdom of Jetuttara. King Sanjaya was his father; and Queen Phusati was
his mother. He appeared to be a child prodigy because he spoke on the very
day when he was born. Interestingly, on the same day a white elephant was
also born. This elephant, who was given the name Pacchaya, was gifted with
the supernatural power to make the rain fall.
for charity was so intense that the earth trembled when he pledged to make
a great gift at the young age of eight. At sixteen he married Maddi
(Sanskrit: Madri). He had two children: Jali and Kanhajina.
At that time there was a great draught in Kalinga. So, eight Brahmins from Kalinga came to Vessantara to beg for his white elephant to make the rain fall in their country. Vessantara acceded to their request and donated the elephant. When the people of Jetuttara heard of this news they were terribly disturbed. Agitatingly, they went to the king and asked him to punish the prince by banishing him to the forest of Vankagiri. The will of the people eventually prevailed and Vessantara had to go on exile much to the unwillingness of the king. Before setting out he obtained the king’s consent to hold an alms-giving ceremony called the “Gifts of Seven Hundreds (Sattasataka). On the occasion he gave away seven hundred pieces of seven hundred kinds of things to the needy people.
Vessantara, driving his chariot
When Vessantara took leave of his parents and was preparing to depart his wife Maddi insisted to accompany him with her children Jali and Kanhajina.
They left the palace
in a royal chariot drawn by four horses. On the way four brahmins met him
and begged for his four horses. After giving the four horses to the
brahmins when he began to fasten the girth tightly round his waist to put
himself under the yoke and to drag the carriage there appeared four yakkhas
in the form of red deer. They put their shoulders under the yoke like
well-trained excellent horses and drew his carriage. When Maddi was
staring at them with joy and surprise the Bodhisatta said,
Lo! the influence
of the benevolent forest
Of the hermitage
That the best of the deer
To the forest-guests
The queen, however,
When they were thus involved in the pleasant conversation they encountered one more brahmin beggar, who begged for the carriage. So, Vessantara had to part with his carriage, too. He then lifted his son Jali in his arms, and Maddi lifted Kanhanjana; and thus they continued their jouney on foot. The sun was scorching. So, The cloud overspread overhead to act as a canopy. The trees extended their branches to offer them delicious fruits as an offering to their virtue of charity. When they longed for water the lotus ponds appeared before them to quench their thirst. Further, the yakkhas shortened their path to protect them from exertion. Thus, treading through Suvannagiritala, Kantimara, Mount Aranjagiri, Dunnivittha, the capital of Cheta (where his uncle ruled), Gandhamadana, the foot of Mount Vipula to the river Ketumati (where a forester offered them food) and then by crossing the river Nalika along the bank of lake Muchalinda and further crossing a dense forest they finally reached Vankagiri.
Vissakamma, the Engineer of Sakka had already built two hermitages for them in the forest. One was for Vessantara and the other was for the rest of the family. The power of Vessantara was so strong that no wild animal came near their hermitages. Happily, they spent four months.
One day, one old
Brahmin named Jujaka came to the hermitage when Maddi had gone to the
forest to bring some fruits for the family. Accosting Vessantara he begged
for his two children because Amittatapana, his wife had demanded for two
slaves for herself. As Vessantara was widely known for his dana-paramita
charitability) the greedy Brahmin was intent on exploiting the situation.
Vessantara tried to convince the Brahmin to change his mind in several
ways. Yet, he insisted on accepting nothing but the two children. Knowing
Jujaka’s mind the children were extremely terrified and ran away to a
nearby pond and hid themselves. They, however, re-appeared when their
father called them. And by then Vessantara had finally agreed to the shrew
demand of Jujaka. The brahmin, then chanting some phrases of benediction
to the donour ordered the children to accompany him. The children, who did
not want to leave glued to the feet of their father to ask Jujaka to wait
at least until the arrival of their mother. But shrewd and mean Jujaka
without wasting time fastened the hands of the two delicate children with
a creeper and forcibly dragged them to his destination. The bleeding and
bewailing children, however, screamed,
When Maddi returned late in the evening and did not find her children around, she asked Vessantara of their whereabouts. But Vessantara kept silence. She then repeated the same question several times, yet Vessantara did not utter a single word. So, she again went inside the forest and looked for the children for whole night. Next morning, when she returned she fainted. Vessentara then helped her regain consciousness. That was the time he apprised her of the whereabouts of the children and narrated the story. By then Maddi had mustered up the courage to endure the trauma. Surprisingly, she praised Vessantara’s great act of dana-sila (Conduct of charity).
trembled the earth. And so did mount Sineru with all its resplendent gems.
Surprised, Sakka, the lord of the devas
inquired into the cause. When he learnt the cause of the quakes owing to
the sacrifice of Vessantara he visited the hermitage next morning to test
the firmity of his vow in the guise of a mendicant and begged him for his
wife. Even then Vessantara did not lose the firmness of his mind and
nodded to donate Maddi as well. Besides, no anger sprang even in the heart
of Maddi. She did not wail. She rather looked stupefied and stood like a
statue with her eyes fixed on her husband with a fresh load of suffering.
Admiringly, Sakka then
Though a house-holder
Yet giving up the most beloved children and wife in charity
With such detachment;
there be a greater exemplification of magnanimity?
Now, it was the time
for Sakka to reveal his identity. He gave Maddi back to Vessantara.
Furthermore, he offered eight boons to the great donor, which included the
reunion of his family; his recall to the father’s kingdom; and his
ability to benefaction.
In the meanwhile,
Jujaka had traveled sixty leagues and having lost his way he reached
Jetuttara, though he intended to reach Kalinga. His rugged appearance and
harsh behaviour with the two delicate children attracted the royal guards,
who brought him before the king. King Sanjaya, when
saw his grand-children and learnt their story he bought them back
from the cruel brahmin in lieu of handsome gifts and seven-storeyed
palace. But Jujaka could hardly enjoy those riches as he died of
over-eating in a few days. The king along with Phusati, Jali and his army
then marched to Vankagiri to bring back his son and the daughter-in-law.
The white elephant
Pacchaya also joined the procession as he had just returned from Kalinga
as no one could subdue him there.
Finally, after a month
of merry-making in the forest they all returned to the kingdom, happily.
(Devadatta is identified with Jujaka and his wife Amittapana as Chincha; Sanjaya as Suddhodhana and Phusati as Mahamaya; Rahula with Jali, Uppalavanna as Kanhajina Rahulamata as Maddi; and Vessantara as the Bodhisatta).
Jataka Jataka Pali No.547;
Cf.Vishvantara-Jataka Jataka Mala
9; Cariyapitaka 1.9; Avadanakalpalata
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