Jatakas - The Buddhist Tales
The Jatakas are Buddhist parables and tales loose parallels of
the Panchtantra actually. They tell the tales of Buddha in his previous
lives (when he was called Bodhisattva or Buddha-to-be), which included
incarnations in the form of a snake and an elephant. These stories
reflect the travails and experiences that the he had to go through to
attain the wisdom of the Buddha.
The Stories Depicting Moral Values
In format the stories are similar to the Panchtantra and lead up to a
moral. Here again the morals are bigger than the stories. Being
Buddhist, the stories are less matter-of-fact than the Panchatantra and
sometimes deal with quite intricate esoteric messages.
For example there is a story in the Jatakas called the Kisa Gotami. The
story revolves around a woman who loses her only son. She goes to the
Boddhisattva to tearfully ask him to resurrect her son. He asks her to
get a bowl of wheat from a house where no one has ever died. As the
woman goes from house to house, searching in vain for a house in which
no death has occurred, she comes to the realization that death is a part
of life and has to be accepted as such.
So while the message of the Panchtantra is relatively commonsensical,
that of the Jatakas can be surprisingly profound.
References to sea voyages in the Jatakas are quite frequent, which
reveals Buddhism to be much more dynamic religion than Aryanism (which
forbade travel over sea). There are also certain interesting references
to navigation in the stories. In one of the stories a crow is used as a
pilot for a ship; the reason for which is that crows are known to fly in
the direction of land.
The Jatakas have been used as important and reliable source material
for ancient Indian history. This is despite the fact their
anti-brahminical bias for which historians tend to leave room (this was
because Buddhism was a reform movement against the heavily ritual-based
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