(Last Updated on : 12/03/2015)
Vessantara Jataka relates the story of Lord Buddha
's past lives. It is also called Great Birth sermon. It is about a compassionate prince named Vessantara, who gives away everything he owns, including his children.
When Gautam Buddha visited his father's kingdom after he achieved the supreme enlightenment, elders of the ruling dynasty did not pay him respect as they were older than 'Siddhartha Rajakumar'. Buddha miraculously appeared in the air above his relatives. His father was the first to bow down. Thereafter members of the dynasty then bowed down and accepted the religion. He narrates the story of King Vessantara.
Story of Vessantara Jataka
King Vessantara was the son of Sanjaya who was the king of Sivirattha and was born in the capital city of Jatuttara as a Bodhisattva. His mother was a princess and wished to become the mother of a future Bodhisattva who would be the next Buddha. After her death, the princess ascended to the celestial Kingdom and became one of the consorts of Lord Indra
. She lived happily till the day she had to be reborn again as a human. Indra gave her 10 boons and one of them was that she would be the mother of Bodhisattva who will achieve enlightenment in his next life. She came to the human world and was born to the court of a king who later married to King Sanjaya.
The Queen wished to sight-see in the capital city on the last day of her pregnancy. Her husband fulfilled the wish. She visited several districts. She gave birth in an emergency delivery in the merchant quarter. The new-born prince was thus named Vessantara, which means 'Born in the merchant quarter'.
He grew up to be a kind person who was willing to give away his belongings to others. He married princess Maddi. They had 2 children: Prince Jali and the Princess Kanhajina. Vessantara was crowned the King. One day he gave away the magical white elephant to envoys from Kalinga
as they were facing drought. This elephant had brought rain to his kingdom. The citizens of Vessantara's kingdom feared drought as they lost the elephant. They convinced King Sanjaya to resume control of the kingdom and banish his son Vessantara.
The king gave away his kingdom to his father. He went to live in the forest as a hermit with his wife Maddi and their two children. One of his loyal courtiers suggested that they should live at Vamka Mountain. They left the city on a four-horse chariot however on the way; he gave away his horses and four deities appeared in the form of stags to pull the chariot. Thereafter he also gave away his chariot.
The family arrived at the neighbouring kingdom of Ceti. The king was informed of their arrival and he rushed to greet the prince. He offered his throne but the prince declined. They also declined to stay in a palace. The king ordered a hunter to patrol the entrance to Vamka Mountain so that no one would disturb the family.
Jujaka was a greedy old Brahmin who lived as a beggar. He had a very beautiful and a hard working young wife, Amittada. When there was drought Amittada used to regularly bring water from the well for her old husband. The husbands of that village held as her as an example of a good wife. In a fit of jealousy, all the village women gathered by the well and beat up young wife, tearing her clothes.
From that day the girl refused to go to the well. Amittada harassed Jujaka telling him to find her some servants in order to go to the well. Jujaka met the hunter guarding the entrance to Vamka Mountain and applied some tricks. He met a rishi and tricked him too. The Brahmin Jujaka went to the forest to prince Vessantara while his wife Maddi was absent. He asked him for his two children which he gave away. Jali and Kanha hid in a lotus pond. Their father on finding them asked if they would help their father achieve his aim. Both agreed and became slaves of Jujaka. Vessantara told the Brahmin to bring his children to their grandfather but Jujaka disagreed. The Brahmin tied both children and dragged them like cattle. Vessantara could not stand this scene but he overcame all anger and let his children be taken away.
Maddi was unable to return as the passage to their resident was blocked by tigers. She wandered around all night looking for her children and finally collapsed before her husband. Vessatara thought she was dead so started lamenting. Then he realised she was alive. He told her what had happened. She praised him for his greatness when she came to know that her husband gave away their children. God Indra intervened and in disguise, asked for his wife Maddi, which Vessantara gave him as well. However Indra gave Maddi back to Vessantara as a trust.
The condition of the young prince and princess gathered the sympathy of a god and a goddess. They disguised as their parents and nursed both of them. They made the Brahmin take a wrong turn that led him into Sivi Kingdom. King Sanjaya saw two familiar faces and ordered to bring them to him. He recognized his grandchildren and paid their price. The prices of both of them were so high that only the wealthy king Sanjaya of Sivi could have bought them.
Jujaka became rich. He ate too much at his first meal. He died as his digestive system failed. In order to inherit his wealth King Sanjaya sent his men to find Jujaka's family. However, his wife and in-laws were afraid of the punishment for Jujaka's disloyalty and escaped thereby. A grand procession was arranged to meet his son and daughter-in-law. The Kingdom of Kalinga returned the white elephant. The family was reunited. All six of them collapsed.
With the intention of reviving the family the red rain poured down from Heaven. Vessantara was crowned as king and returned to his kingdom. He was also given a boon that his kingdom would never run out of treasure.
Lord Buddha revealed that his parents were Vessantara's parents. Maddi was reborn as his previous wife. Jali became his son Rahul. Kanha became the Bhikshuni, Ubolvanna. The loyal courtier became Ananda, his cousin and attendant. Jujaka became Devadutt, his enemy. White elephant became Maha Kassapaya.