Bhutanese painted thangka of the Jātakas, 18t–19th century

Jataka tales – The previous births of Gautama Buddha

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The Jātakas are a voluminous body of literature native to South Asia which mainly concern the previous births of Gautama Buddha in both human and animal form.

Some of these works are also considered great works of literature in their own right.

The Jātaka stories

In these stories, the future Buddha may appear as a king, an outcast, a deva, an animal—but, in whatever form, he exhibits some virtue that the tale thereby inculcates.

Often, Jātaka tales include an extensive cast of characters who interact and get into various kinds of trouble – whereupon the Buddha character intervenes to resolve all the problems and bring about a happy ending.

The Jātaka genre is based on the idea that the Buddha was able to recollect all his past lives and thus could use these memories to tell a story and illustrate his teachings.

Jātakas in the Buddhist traditions

For the Buddhist traditions, the jātakas illustrate the many lives, acts and spiritual practices which are required on the long path to Buddhahood.

They also illustrate the great qualities or perfections of the Buddha (such as generosity) and teach Buddhist moral lessons, particularly within the framework of karma and rebirth.

According to the traditional view found in the Pali Jātakanidana, a prologue to the stories, Gautama made a vow to become a Buddha in the future, in front past Buddha Dipankara.

He then spent many lifetimes on the path to Buddhahood, and the stories from these lives are recorded as Jātakas.

Jātakas are closely related to (and often overlap with) another genre of Buddhist narrative, the avadāna, which is a story of any karmically significant deed (whether by a bodhisattva or otherwise) and its result.

Jātakas in Buddhist Art

Jātaka stories have also been illustrated in Buddhist architecture throughout the Buddhist world and they continue to be an important element in popular Buddhist art.

Some of the earliest such illustrations can be found at Sanchi and Bharhut.

Characters & places

This is a list of characters and places connected with the Buddhist Jātakas.


or Sarabha is a part-lion and part-bird beast in Hindu mythology, who, according to Sanskrit literature, is eight-legged and more powerful than a lion or an elephant, possessing the ability to clear a valley in one jump. In later literature, Sharabha is described as an eight-legged deer.


was a wealthy merchant and banker, believed to have been the wealthiest merchant in Savatthi in the time of Gautama Buddha. Born Sudatta, he received the nickname Anathapindika, literally “one who gives alms (pinda) to the helpless (a-natha)”, due to his reputation of loving to give to those in need. He founded the Jetavana Monastery in Savatthi, considered one of the two most important temples in the time of the historic Buddha along with the temple Migāramātupāsāda. Anathapindika was the chief male lay disciple and the greatest patron of Gautama Buddha along with his female counterpart, Visakha. He is known as the male lay disciple of the Buddha who was foremost in generosity. Anathapindika is frequently referred to as Anathapindika-setthi, and is sometimes referred to as Mahā Anāthapindika to distinguish him from Cūla Anāthapindika, another disciple of the Buddha.

The Mahāvastu is a text of the Lokottaravāda school of Early Buddhism. It describes itself as being a historical preface to the Buddhist monastic codes (vinaya). Over half of the text is composed of Jātaka and Avadāna tales, accounts of the earlier lives of the Buddha and other bodhisattvas.

Four harmonious animals

Four harmonious Friends Thangka

The tale of the , four harmonious friends or four harmonious brothers is one of the Jātaka tales, part of Buddhist mythology, and is often the subject in works of Bhutanese and Tibetan art.

It is perhaps the most common theme in Bhutanese folk art, featuring on many temple murals, stupas, and as a decorative pattern on many daily utensils.

It is the best-known national folktale of Bhutan and is popular in Tibet and Mongolia: it is widely referred to in these .

The Wolf and the Lamb

is a well-known fable of Aesop and is numbered 155 in the Perry Index. There are several variant stories of tyrannical injustice in which a victim is falsely accused and killed despite a reasonable defence.

The Bear and the Gardener

is a fable of eastern origin that warns against making foolish friendships. There are several variant versions, both literary and oral, across the world and its folk elements are classed as Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 1586. The La Fontaine version has been taken as demonstrating various philosophical lessons.

The Brahmin and the Mongoose

is a folktale from India, and “one of the world’s most travelled tales”. It describes the rash killing of a loyal animal, and thus warns against hasty action. The story underlies certain legends in the West, such as that of Llywelyn and his dog Gelert in Wales, or that of Saint Guinefort in France. It is classified as Aarne-Thompson type 178A.

The Cock – the Dog and the Fox

The Cock, the Dog and the Fox is one of Aesop’s Fables and appears as number 252 in the Perry Index. Although it has similarities with other fables where a predator flatters a bird, such as The Fox and the Crow and Chanticleer and the Fox, in this one the cock is the victor rather than victim. There are also Eastern variants of this story.

The Dog and Its Reflection

is one of Aesop’s Fables and is numbered 133 in the Perry Index. The Greek language original was retold in Latin and in this way was spread across Europe, teaching the lesson to be contented with what one has and not to relinquish substance for shadow. There also exist Indian variants of the story. The morals at the end of the fable have provided both English and French with proverbs and the story has been applied to a variety of social situations.

The Fox and the Crow (Aesop)

The Fox and the Crow is one of Aesop’s Fables, numbered 124 in the Perry Index. There are early Latin and Greek versions and the fable may even have been portrayed on an ancient Greek vase. The story is used as a warning against listening to flattery.

The Fox and the Sick Lion

is one of Aesop’s Fables, well known from Classical times and numbered 142 in the Perry Index. There is also an Indian analogue. Interpretations of the story’s meaning have differed widely in the course of two and a half millennia.

The Frightened Hares

Hares are proverbially timid and a number of fables have been based on this behaviour. The best known, often titled “The Hares and the Frogs”, appears among Aesop’s Fables and is numbered 138 in the Perry Index. As well as having an Asian analogue, there have been variant versions over the centuries.

The Wolf and the Crane

is a fable attributed to Aesop that has several eastern analogues. Similar stories have a lion instead of a wolf, and a stork, heron or partridge takes the place of the crane.

The Ass in the Lion’s Skin

The Ass in the Lion’s Skin is one of Aesop’s Fables, of which there are two distinct versions. There are also several Eastern variants, and the story’s interpretation varies accordingly.

The Lion – the Bear and the Fox

The Lion, the Bear and the Fox is one of Aesop’s Fables that is numbered 147 in the Perry Index. There are similar story types of both eastern and western origin in which two disputants lose the object of their dispute to a third.

The Tiger – the Brahmin and the Jackal

The Tiger, the Brahmin and the Jackal is a popular Indian folklore with a long history and many variants. The earliest record of the folklore was included in the Panchatantra, which dates the story between 200 BCE and 300 CE.

The Tortoise and the Birds

is a fable of probable folk origin, early versions of which are found in both India and Greece. There are also African variants. The moral lessons to be learned from these differ and depend on the context in which they are told.

The Twelve Sisters

The legend of or The Twelve Ladies, known as Nang Sip Song (นางสิบสอง) or as Phra Rot Meri (พระรถเมรี) in Thai and រឿងភ្នំនាងកង្រី​​ Puthisen Neang KongRei in Cambodia, a Southeast Asian folktale, and also an apocryphal Jātaka Tale, the Rathasena Jātaka of the collection. It is one of the stories of the previous lives of Buddha in which Rathasena, the son of one of the twelve women, is the bodhisattva.

The Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs

” is one of Aesop’s Fables, numbered 87 in the Perry Index, a story that also has a number of Eastern analogues. Many other stories contain geese that lay golden eggs, though certain versions change them for hens or other birds that lay golden eggs. The tale has given rise to the idiom ‘killing the goose that lays the golden eggs’, which refers to the short-sighted destruction of a valuable resource, or to an unprofitable action motivated by greed.

A Deer of Nine Colors

is a Chinese animated film produced by Shanghai Animation Film Studio. It is also referred to as “The Nine Colored Deer”.

The Ass and the Pig

is one of Aesop’s Fables that was never adopted in the West but has Eastern variants that remain popular. Their general teaching is that the easy life and seeming good fortune of others conceal a threat to their welfare.

King Kalābu, also known as King Kalinga, King Kalabha or King Kali is a mythical king in Buddhism. His name is extant in both Southern Buddhism and Northern Buddhism. In Chinese he is known as 歌利王, sometimes rendered 迦蓝浮王 or 卡拉補王.


was an ancient prince of Kalinga (Odisha) who has been mentioned clearly in the Chullakalinga Jataka and Kalingabodhi Jataka Buddhist records. Both the mention the tale of Chullakalinga in the light that the events happened in the lifetime of a Bodhisttva who might have been visited by Buddha himself later in the period of who was also Chullakalinga’s descendant. Chullakalinga existed before the birth of Buddha and his timeline could be cautiously placed around the 6th century B.C.E but this since the records about him are obtained from the narrations of Buddha himself, it is difficult to place the exact date which could vary immensely to the time before Buddha’s era.

Dasaratha Jataka

( Sanskrit: दशरथजातकम् / Pali:दसरथजातकं ) is a Jataka Tale found in Buddhist literature about the previous life of the Shakyamuni (Gautama) Buddha as a prince named Rama. It is found as 461th Jataka story in Khuddaka Nikaya of Sutta Pitaka in the Pali Canon. Apparently, this short story is a Buddhist adaptation of Hindu epic Ramayana. The Thai national epic, ‘Ramakien’, is claimed to be based on this Jataka.

Garuda’s abduction of Queen Kakati

Garuda’s abduction of Queen Kakati is a famous Buddhist tale about the former lives of the Buddha, called a Jataka.

Henny Penny

, more commonly known in the United States as Chicken Little and sometimes as Chicken Licken, is a European folk tale with a moral in the form of a cumulative tale about a chicken who believes that the world is coming to an end. The phrase “The sky is falling!” features prominently in the story, and has passed into the English language as a common idiom indicating a hysterical or mistaken belief that disaster is imminent. Similar stories go back more than 25 centuries; it continues to be referred to in a variety of media.


The Jātakas are a voluminous body of literature native to South Asia which mainly concern the previous births of Gautama Buddha in both human and animal form. According to Peter Skilling, this genre is “one of the oldest classes of Buddhist literature.” Some of these works are also considered great works of literature in their own right.

Kalinga II

Kalinga II was a powerful monarch and possibly an emperor from around the speculated era towards the end of 7th century BCE. He was the son of Chullakalinga, the youngest son of Kalinga I who had married a virtuous princess from Sagala (Madra). Kalinga II ascended the throne of the ancient state of Kalinga after the death of his paternal uncle Mahakalinga. Kalinga II finds mention in early Buddhist Jataka records of Chullakalinga Jataka and Kalingabodhi Jataka. He had spent most of his young life in the forests of Himavat where his father lived in exile. Trained with qualities of a king by his father and maternal grandfather, he was asked by Chullakalinga to go back to take the charge of his ancestral kingdom.

Mahakapi Jataka

The is one of the Jataka tales or stories of the former lives of the Buddha, when he was still a Bodhisattva, as a king of the monkeys

Sibi Jataka

Shibi Jataka is one of the Jataka tales detailing episodes of the various incarnations of Buddha. Each Jataka tale illustrates the Buddhist ideals of Dharma and sacrifice in various forms. Tradition states that these tales were narrated by Buddha himself during his ministry in India to emphasise that by the constant practice of virtuous deeds one reaches the status of Nirvana or enlightenment.


, from Pali: Maṇikakkha (မဏိကက္ခ), is considered to be the earliest extant play in modern-day Myanmar, complete with dialogue, song lyrics, and stage directions. The storyline of Manikhet is based on the Sattadhanu Jataka, the 20th story in the Paññāsa Jātaka, a non-canonical collection of stories of the Buddha’s past lives from Lan Na.

Moon rabbit

The or Moon Hare is a mythical figure in East Asian and indigenous American folklore who lives on the Moon, based on pareidolia interpretations that identify the dark markings on the near side of the Moon as a rabbit or hare. In Aztec culture, there is also a tale for the rabbit being in the Moon. In East Asian folklore, the rabbit is seen as pounding with a mortar and pestle, but the contents of the mortar differ among Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese folklore. In Chinese folklore, the rabbit often is portrayed as a companion of the Moon goddess Chang’e, constantly pounding the elixir of life for her and some show the making of cakes or rice cakes; but in Japanese and Korean versions, the rabbit is pounding the ingredients for mochi or some other type of rice cakes; in the Vietnamese version, the Moon rabbit often appears with Hằng Nga and Chú Cuội, and like the Chinese version, the Vietnamese Moon rabbit also pounding the elixir of immortality in the mortar. In some Chinese versions, the rabbit pounds medicine for the mortals and some include making of mooncakes. Unrelated Moon folklore from certain native cultures of the Americas also has rabbit themes and characters.

Paññāsa Jātaka

The Paññāsa Jātaka, is a non-canonical collection of 50 stories of the Buddha’s past lives, originating in mainland Southeast Asia. The stories were based on the style of the Jātakatthavaṇṇanā, but are not from the Pāli Canon itself. The stories outline the Buddha’s biography and illustrate his acquisition of the perfections (pāramitā), with a strong focus on generosity (dāna).

Prince Sattva

was one of the previous incarnations of Gautama Buddha, according to a jataka story.


is a Rishi mentioned in Indian scriptures from the late first millennium BCE. According to the Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, he was a boy born with the horns of a deer who became a seer and was lured by royal courtesans, which led to the yajna of King Dasharatha. His story also occurs in the Buddhist Jatakas, where he is mentioned as the son of Bodhisatta and was tried to be seduced by royal courtesans.

Sariputra in the Jatakas

Sariputra, one of the two chief disciples of Gautama Buddha is frequently described in the Jataka, a collection of Buddhist texts which describe the previous reincarnations of the Buddha and his closest disciples. The Jatakas depict a multitude of previous lives in which Sariputra interacted with previous reincarnations of the Buddha and Mahamoggallana, the other of the two chief disciples. Such frequent relations in the past are consistent with the Buddhist theory of karma, with the consequences of the present being intricately linked to causes and actions committed in the past. Sariputra also interacts with the reincarnations of Ananda, the chief attendant of the Buddha, and Devadatta, a cousin and arch-rival of the Buddha.

The Wolf of Zhongshan

is a popular Chinese fairy tale that deals with the ingratitude of a creature after being saved. The first print of the story is found in the Ming Dynasty Ocean Stories of Past and Present published in 1544.

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