Jataka Tales and Storytelling
 

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"Jataka Tales and Storytelling" is a presentation at the Student  Life  Building, Northern Illinois University on 27 April 2001, sponsored by Center for Southeast Asian Studies, by Dr. Wajuppa Tossa, Prasong Saihong, and Phanida Phunkrathok.

THE PIOUS SON-IN-LAW1

Nai Dee was a rich farmer.  His rice fields stretched in all directions.  But Nai Dee did not approve of his new son-in-law, Thid Kham.  Thid Kham was a very pious man. He had spent many years in the monkshood and still retained his pious nature. One day as the father-in-law and his new son-in-law were walking Nai Dee began to brag.

"Look at all of these fields!  All of this is mine!  The rice is just being planted now, but when the harvest comes, I will be a very rich man."

Thid Kham looked over the rice field and spoke cautiously.

"Father-in-law this is not certain.  The rice grows well now, but a flood might come and spoil the crop.  Remember what the Lord Buddha has said,

"Dai dai nai lok luan anijang.  Nothing is certain."

The father-in-law did not like to hear this.  He was angry but kept silent.  Some weeks later the two walked again in the fields.

"See Thid Kham. There was no flood. The rice is blooming now. There is sure to be a good harvest!"

But Thid Kham still was cautious.

"This is not certain, father-in-law.  Yes, the rice is blooming.  But insects might come and eat the rice before it can be harvested.   Remember what the Lord Buddha has said,

"Dai dai nai lok luan anijang.  Nothing is certain."

His father-in-law was furious to hear these words from his son-in-law.   He waited until the rice was hanging heavy and ripe on its stalks.  Then he walked with Thid Kham to the fields again.

"Now will you stop your foolish sayings.  See, the rice is ripe. Floods did not come. Insects did not come.  This is certain. I am a rich man."

"I do not believe this is certain, father-in-law.  I can see that the grain is ripe.  But it is not harvested yet.  Fire might sweep through the fields and burn it all.  No, you must remember the words of the Lord Buddha,

"Dai dai nai lok luan anijang. Nothing is certain."

The father-in-law could hardly keep his temper.  As soon as the rice was harvested and stored in the granaries, he brought Thid Kham to see.

"Now LOOK. There was no flood, no insects, no fire.  This is now a certain thing. You can see for yourself!"

But still Thid Kham hesitated.

"Yes, I can see the rice.  But still mice may come and eat it.  I must repeat the words of the Lord Buddha,

"Dai dai nai lok luan anijang.  Nothing is certain!"

The father-in-law was furious.  He ordered some of the rice cooked and brought Thid Kham to his house.

"Here Thid Kham.  The rice grew, it bloomed, it ripened, it was harvested, and it was put in the storehouse, nothing bad has happened to it.  Now at least you must admit that this is a sure thing.  Eat a mouthful and you will see!”

Thid Kham lifted the rice to his mouth.  He was just about to taste it, but he paused.

"Father-in-law, I can see that the rice grew, it ripened, it was harvested and stored.  All this is true. Still I must repeat the words of the Lord Buddha to you,

Dai dai nai lok luan anijang.  Nothing is certain."

The father-in-law could not control his anger any longer.  He reached out his hand and slapped the bowl of rice from Thid Kham's hand.

"Then leave my house! You will never stop with this foolish saying!"

Thid Kham slowly picked up the rice bowl from the floor and looked at his father-in-law.

"But you can see for yourself the wisdom of our Lord Buddha's words, " said Thid Kham. 

"The rice was planted, it bloomed, it ripened, it was harvested, it was stored, it was cooked, and it was almost in my mouth. And yet it was lost to me. Surely no one here can doubt the truth of this saying,

Dai dai nai lok luan anijang. Nothing is certain."

And at last his father-in-law was silent.

"Yes, it is true.  Dai dai nai lok luan anijang. Nothing is certain." 

Even though the above story is not a Jataka tales, it is a good beginning as it puts us in the Buddhist mood.  The aim of this presentation entitled "Jataka Tales and Storytelling" is to share general cultural information on the Jataka tales and to relate relationships between the tales and storytelling. 

Before I discuss this topic in detail, I would like to explain why I am interested in the Buddhist Jataka tales and storytelling.   My major responsibility at Mahasarakham University in northeastern Thailand has been teaching English and American literature to graduate and undergraduate students.  My passion is doing storytelling performances. Both my work and my passion came together and mingled after my Fulbright term in 1991-1992.  I was translating Phya Khankhaak, the Toad King, during that year. The book was eventually published by Bucknell University Press in 1996. 2   

Not long after I returned to Mahasarakham to continue my teaching career, I discovered that children of Isan or northeast Thailand did not like to speak in their own local dialects. I was alarmed because if they do not speak now, it will be too late. The language may disappear or die out altogether. Besides the language, other rituals and customs associated with language may disappear as well. Thus, I began my storytelling project aiming to engender pride in local language and culture among people of all walks of life, particularly the young children. It became a three-year project beginning in 1995 and ending in 1998. At the onset of the project we had no grant to support us, but a Fulbright visiting scholar. We were lucky to get Dr. Margaret Read MacDonald, a folklorist, a specialist in children's literature, a librarian, and an internationally known storyteller. We trained 20 students to collect and adapt folktales for performance and to tell stories in the local dialects that they are familiar with.  Later, we received some financial support from the James W. H. Thompson Foundation to help with students' per diem during the visits to all provincial schools in Isan (northeast Thailand). We took the university students to each school and gave storytelling-theater performances in local dialects. Then we gave workshops to teachers so that they could teach and train their elementary school students to tell stories or to collect stories. We gave them a year interval. On our second visit, we asked the teachers to select one student from each class to tell stories to us. Students who could not speak local dialects became interested. We gave partial financial support to the best storyteller and the best story collector in each school to attend our storytelling camp in the summer of 1997. We received partial support from the James W. H. Thompson Foundation for this camp. As part of my job of teaching English, I also offered a course on storytelling in English for English majors and in other dialects for students of other majors. Each year we have had at least ten trained storytellers to help us in giving storytelling performances, workshops, and camps. As a result of the course and with the help of Dr. Margaret Read MacDonald, we brought some students to the United States to tell stories in English during university breaks. We received funding from the John F. Kennedy Foundation of Thailand for the first group of students. For the second group, the students' parents paid for their trips.  

After the project was over, I continued storytelling activities that had been part of the original project such as storytelling tours to schools, an annual storytelling festival and contest, annual workshops for teachers and other interested people, and storytelling camps for children and parents. In doing all these activities, we continued calling attention to the preservation of local dialects and literature. Some participants have been quite helpful to us. They would locate traditional storytellers in their communities for us. Then, we would go out to collect stories.   After awhile we would sort out some of these stories and adapt some for further storytelling performances.  Among these stories, we found many types such as fairy tales, legends, tricksters tales, fables, elaborate tales, tales of magic, cumulative tales, Jataka tales, and so on.  One of the storytellers that we interviewed was Phra Inta Kaweewong from Wat Sa-ahdsombun in Roi-Et.  At first, we thought most of his stories were folktales in general, but later we realized that many of them were Buddhist Jataka tales.  Thus, I became interested in more of these tales as they are appropriate to adapt for general audiences. 

 

The word Jataka is a Pali word (in Thai and Lao, it is called chadok) referring to the "life stories of the Buddha."   These stories were believed to be told by the Buddha to illustrate certain moral points in his sermons.  Later, when his disciples recorded them in the collection called the Dhamma or Buddhist teachings, the lives of some of Buddha's followers were included.   In Thailand and Laos, the Jataka tales are divided into five categories—nibat chadok, atthakatha chadok, dika chadok, panyaat chadok, and chadok mala. 3 

Nibat Chadok refers to stories in the Tripitaka (the Three Baskets of Dhamma - the Buddhist Scriptures, Book 27 and 28).  Nibat means Pali verse in the Tripitaka.  Each nibat consists of sections and each section consists of Jataka tales.  There are a total of 547 tales in the Nibat Chado. 4 

 

Atthakatha Chadok refers to stories recorded one thousand years after the Buddha's attainment of nirvana.  The stories were written in prose to explain certain Pali verses from the 547 tales in the Nibat Chadok.  Some of these stories were completely new and some were explanations or elaboration of short and unclear stories from the Nibat Chadok.  There are 547 stories in this collection as well.   

Dika Chadok refers to a collection of explanatory notes in simple Pali, comparing and contrasting the stories from the first two types and explaining Pali grammatical notes.   

Panyaat Chadok refers to prose stories in 50 sets of palm leaf manuscripts composed in Khmer by monks from Chiang Mai in northern Thailand .  These stories are not the Jataka tales in the Buddhist Scriptures.   Stories in this collection are mostly local folktales as well as folktales from Egypt and Persia.  The monks that related the stories made them sound like the Jataka tales for teaching purposes.    

Chadok Mala are the Mahayana Buddhist Jataka tales translated from Sanskrit texts.  Most of the stories have little details on the association of characters to the persons in the Buddha's lifetime.  These stories were composed to be parts of sermons for teaching.  Stories in this collection are about various classes of people (high, middle, and low class), describing their ways of life, their clothing, beliefs, and customs.  Some of these stories are used to help solve daily problems in people's lives as well.  There are altogether 34 stories; 27 of which are the same as those in the 547 stories in the Buddhist Scripture and 7 are new stories with no sources. 

The Jataka tales, no matter which types they are, were told, retold, and composed for one common purpose, to teach.   The Buddha, one of the world’s greatest teachers, once described his Dhamma teaching methodology as the four stages of lotus flower.  Each stage is compared to the level of human intelligence.  The approach to teaching whatever subject matter depends on the level of intelligence of each person. The first group is lotus flowers above the water; they are compared to the most intelligent group of people. In the teaching of the Dhamma, there is no need for any further explanation or illustration.  The Buddha could only give a few lines in Pali and they would be understood thoroughly.  The second group is the lotus flowers about to emerge from the water; they are compared to relatively intelligent people. There is need for further explanation.   In his teaching to this group of people, the Buddha might give the Pali text with some explanation.  The third group is the lotus flowers submerged in the water; they are compared to average people.  There is need for further explanation plus illustrations. And finally those flowers under the mud are compared to the people with little intelligence; there is no need to teach them. They will become the prey of fish and turtles.  

From the Buddha's analysis of human intelligence, I assume that "the illustrations" refer to stories he told to make his teaching points clear. Thus, we are grateful that there were quite a few average people in his time; otherwise, we might not have these great stories to tell.   Indeed, the Jataka book is one of the world's oldest and largest collection of folk tales.   However, when the Buddha gave illustrations, he would state that these were stories from his past lives. Thus, they are his life stories which have been called Jataka or chadok. The Buddha’s disciples later retold these stories in their sermons and teachings. More stories may have been added to the original collections to convince people to follow the teachings.  Thus, we have the many types of Jataka tales as mentioned earlier.   In the five hundred some stories, the Buddha was born a man, a good spirit, or one of the higher animals, and he is usually the hero of the story.  In each of his past life stories, the Buddha was called "the future Buddha or the Bodisat."    In the last ten lives before he was born as the historical Buddha, the Buddha was born a noble prince or king, accumulating the highest virtues befitting the Buddhahood.  In these ten lives (Phra Te-mii, Phra Chanok, Suwannasarm, Nemiiraj, Phra Mahosot, Phuritat, Chandra Kumarn, Narort, Witoon, and Phra Wetsandorn), there are many more sub-stories within the ten tales.5 

An example is the story called Jitjun, the Clever Turtle of Yamuna which is an episode in the story of Phurithat Jataka.  King Brahmadatta of Banares appointed his only son the second king.  After awhile he became suspicious that his son would overthrow him.  Thus, he sent his son in exile in the forest where he became an ascetic.  A naga maid named Manwika fell in love with the prince and they became husband and wife bearing two children, Prince Sakhon Brahmadatta and Princess Samutcha.   After King Brahmadatta died, the noblemen and ministers of Banares came to invite the Prince to king of Banares.   Manwika Naga decided to return to her Naga city and the Prince and his two children returned to Banares. One day when Prince Sakhon Brahmadatta and Princess Samutcha were playing near the lotus pond, a turtle emerged from the water and frightened the two royal children.  The king was so infuriated that he ordered his ministers to punish the turtle.  Each minister would suggest a way to punish the turtle, but the turtle would speak bravely that none of the punishment would hurt him.  When one of the minister who could not swim suggested that they throw the turtle and drown him, the turtle jumped up and pretended to be so scared.  So, they threw the turtle in the Yamuna River.  So the turtle was safe, but he swam down deep in the Naga city and created another mischief that caused Princess Samutcha to be married to a naga king, Thatarot who bore four sons and one of them was the Bodisat called Prince Phurithat.  And the main plot of the the story of Phurithat Jataka continues.

As the Buddha retold the Jataka tales, he was actually telling stories.  Thus, storytelling and the Jataka tales have been closely related since the stories were first retold. 

Besides retelling the Jataka tales to teach certain moral points to average people to make his teachings clear as mentioned above, the Buddha also retold stories to teach high rank people without embarrasing them.  

  Once King Brahmadatta of Banares was very talkative.  He was so talkative that none of his ministers could give any advice or suggestions.  Thus the story of "The Talkative Turtle" or "Kacchapa Jataka" was told to him

An example is the story called Jitjun, the Clever Turtle of Yamuna which is an episode in the story of Phurithat Jataka.  King Brahmadatta of Benares appointed his only son the second king.  After awhile, the king suspected that his son would overthrow him.  Thus, he exiled his son to the forest where he became an ascetic.  A naga maid named Manwika fell in love with the prince and they became husband and wife bearing two children, Prince Sakhon Brahmadatta and Princess Samutcha.   After King Brahmadatta died, the noblemen and ministers of Benares came to invite the Prince to become king of Benares. Manwika Naga decided to return to her Naga city and the Prince and his two children returned to Benares.  

One day when Prince Sakhon Brahmadatta and Princess Samutcha were playing near the lotus pond, a turtle emerged from the water and frightened the two royal children.  The king was so infuriated that he ordered his ministers to punish the turtle.  Each minister suggested a way to punish the turtle, but the turtle would speak bravely that none of the punishments would hurt him.  When one of the ministers who could not swim suggested that they throw the turtle and drown him, the turtle jumped up and pretended to be very scared.  So, they threw the turtle into the Yamuna River.  So the turtle was safe, but he swam down to the Naga city and created another mischief that caused Princess Samutcha to be married to a naga king, Thatarot with whom she bore four sons. One of the sons became the Bodisat called Prince Phurithat.  And the main plot of the story of the Phurithat Jataka continues. 

As the Buddha retold the Jataka tales, he was actually telling stories.  Thus, storytelling and the Jataka tales have been closely related since the stories were first retold. 

Besides retelling the Jataka tales to teach certain moral points to average people to clarify his teachings, the Buddha also retold stories to teach high rank people without embarrassing them.    

Once King Brahmadatta of Benares was very talkative.  He was so talkative that none of his ministers could give any advice or suggestions.  Thus the story of "The Talkative Turtle" or "Kacchapa Jataka" was told to him.6  In this story, a turtle and the two swans were friends.  One day, the two swans invited the turtle to visit their home in a far away land.  The turtle wondered how he could go there without wings.  The two swans told him, "We can take you, if you will only hold your tongue and say nothing to anybody."  The two swans had the turtle bite the middle of a stick. Then, they took the two ends of the stick and flew up into the air.  Then, some villagers called out, "Look, two swans are carrying a turtle!"  The turtle did not like this so he called out to them, "If my friends choose to carry me, what is it to you, you wretched slaves!"  Then, the turtle fell and split in two!  Once, the king heard the story, he refrained from talking too much, and "became a man of few words." 7

The Buddha also told stories from his past life to relate relevant events in his lifetime.   For example, once the Buddha's cousin, Devatta, wanting to harm the Buddha by feeding alcohol to a bull elephant, and then releasing it to charge at the Buddha.  Ananda, the Buddha's most faithful disciple, threw himself between the Buddha and the elephant.   But the Buddha was able to subdue the elephant and save Ananda's life.  After the incident, the Buddha related a similar story that had happened in his past life about the Great Golden Geese. 8

Once King Samyama and Queen Khema reigned in Benares.  Queen Khema had a dream that she saw two gold-colored geese.  She wanted to see them in real life so she told the king about this.  The king at once ordered his hunter to catch the geese.  After he patiently observed the golden geese, the hunter was able to trap the Goose King with a snare.  The other geese including the Goose King's captain flew away.  When the captain realized that the Goose King was trapped, he returned to stand near his king.  The hunter was surprised to see that only one goose was trapped, but there were two geese awaiting their fate.   Then, the captain told him that the trapped goose was his king and he would not leave.   He said to the hunter, "You must not take him.  I too am gold-colored.  If you desire his feathers, take mine; if you want to tame him, tame me instead; if you wish to make money, make it by selling me.  He is my king and I serve him.  I cannot leave him to face an evil fate alone while I fly to safety."  The hunter was in awe and raising "his joined hands to his forehead in respect, he stood joyously proclaiming the virtues of the two birds."  He decided to free the Goose King.   Then, the captain asked why the hunter caught the Goose King.   The hunter told them that he received an order from the king.  So, the captain suggested that the hunter take them to the king so that the hunter could receive honor and fortune in return.  Once there, the hunter told the king about what had happened.   Then king welcomed the two geese and gave treasures to the hunter.  Then the king asked the goose captain to give a sermon to the assembly, but the goose captain said he was only a servant and could not give a sermon "when to my left sits my king, wise and virtuous of character and beautiful to behold, while on my right sits the mighty King of Benares."  The king understood that the captain was "an example of loyalty and service" to his lord.  Then, the king of Benares "begged the bird to preach his wisdom to the gathering."  After the sermon, the king let the birds go. 

After telling the story, the Buddha related that the hunter was Channa, his companion, that the king of Benares was his disciple, Sariputta, and that Queen Khema was the nun with the same name.  His chief companion, the goose captain, was Ananda.  "Both . . . had shown his loyalty and his willingness to sacrifice himself for the Buddha." 

After the time of the Buddha, his disciples have told Jataka tales of all types to explain moral points as well.    Later these stories are told to convince listeners to follow proper conduct or behavior appropriate to each community. Of course, these stories are entertaining as well as didactic and that is why they work.   In the family, parents tell these stories to teach their children to behave properly.   In schools, teachers tell these stories for disciplinary reasons.   

Some of these stories have been embedded in rituals.  One example is the story of the previous life of the Buddha as the Vessantara prince. 9   As the Prince was a selfless giver, the recitation of the story is implicitly persuading the participants to be selfless givers as well. In Thailand, Laos, Burma and Cambodia, the recitation of Prince Vessantara is the main Buddhist festival of the year. Festivities center on its recitation by monks. In Thai, the story is known as Mahachad, 'the Great Jataka', and the main religious festival is called Bun Phra Wet (Phra Wet = Vessantara).  The recitation of the story starts early in the morning and ends at about eight in the evening and must be completed within one day.   First, there is a sermon on the battle with Mara, the god of death and desire, followed by a recitation of a thousand verses of Pali text. Pali verse is chanted by a monk (or monks). Then the audience throws puffed rice at the Buddha image installed in the public prayer hall. Then the monks 'translate' the sacred Pali text into comprehensible Thai. As the monks are reading the story, people donate some money to the temple. The money is used to repair the temple or to get necessary supplies for the temple.  The festival usually takes place in March during the dry season which is also the hottest time of the year. The symbolism of the water-giving powers of Vessantara's magic albino elephant has a special potency at this time of year when farmers wait in anticipation for the life-giving rains and their return to planting rice in rain-soaked fields. The back- ground information for this explanation is taken from Bun Phra Wet in Laos.10

As mentioned earlier, the Jataka tales have been a great resource for storytellers all over the world.  In storytelling, it is our duty to be responsible for what stories we tell as these stories are so effective and long-lasting in listeners' minds and ways of life. Thus, stories that we tell must be appropriate to tell to a general audience, both young and old. Most of the time, Jataka tales are our most convenient choices.  However, if we choose any story from the Scripture to tell, we must tell it with respect.  Other stories, that have been adapted or localized, we can tell in fun and more lively manners. 

Some Jataka stories have been changed depending on the places and people who tell them.  For example the Jataka tale of the Talkative Turtle told by people in northeast Thailand and Laos is quite different from the one from the original story. 

    The Swans and the Turtle11

Once a couple of swans, a husband and a wife, sighted a pond full of fish.  So, they flew down to have some fish, not knowing that a turtle was guarding the pond.

"Why are you eating fish in my pond without asking for my permission?"  asked the turtle.

"Oh, does this pond belong to you?"  asked the swans.

"Yes, I have been guarding this pond for along time," said the turtle.

"We are so sorry. We thought nobody owned this pond," apologized the swans.

"Since, this pond belongs to you, may we have some fish in your pond?"   politely asked the swans.

"Now that you asked, you may have some fish in this pond." said Turtle.

After that, the swans visited the turtle everyday.  Soon they became fast friends.  One day the swans thought they would do something nice for the turtle in return for sharing fish with them. 

"Friend Turtle, we appreciate your sharing the fish with us.   We would like to do something nice for you in return.   Is there anything we can do for you?"

The turtle always had a dream that he could travel in the air and enjoy looking at the scenery from a different angle.  So he said, "Are you sure?"

"Yes," said the swans.

"I dream that I could fly high in the air and enjoy the scenery below," the turtle told his friends.

"Oh, that is not a problem for us.  We can help you fly," said the swans.

"How?  I don't have wings like you. I have this heavy shell on my back with these four short legs," said the turtle. 

So, the swans explained, "Well, we can get a good size stick and hold on to the two ends with our beaks.  You could bite hard on the middle.  Then, you can fly with us."

The turtle could hardly wait to fly with the swans. 

"Yes, let's go, let do that now," he said.

The swans held on tight to the two ends of the stick and the turtle bit hard in the middle.

Before the swans took off, they said to their friend.

"Friend Turtle, be sure to keep biting on the stick. Don't ever open your mouth no matter what happens.  Or, you may fall onto the ground.  And we won't be able to help you."

"Yes, I promise not to open my mouth," said the turtle. 

So, the swans flapped their wings and slowly lifted the turtle in the air. 

The turtle looked down and saw the pond getting smaller and smaller.

He was so happy, but he kept his mouth shut.

He saw the top of the trees for the first time in his life.

He was so happy, but he kept his mouth shut.

"Oh, this is so much fun.  I can't wait to tell my other turtle friends that I CAN FLY."

He was so happy, but he kept his mouth shut. 

As they flew past a ricefield, they saw a boy and a girl walking their buffaloes to graze on grass in the ricefield.  The boy looked up and saw . . . 

he pointed up and alerted his friend to look up.

"Look two swans are carrying a turtle," he said.

The girl looked up and said, "No, a turtle is carrying two swans."

"No, two swans are carrying a turtle," the boy insisted.

"Can't you see a turtle is carrying two swans!" she said. 

When the turtle heard what the argument was about, he thought,

"Yes, the girl is right. TURTLE IS CARRYING TWO SWANS."

He was so proud of himself, but he kept his mouth shut. 

But then the boy's voice came loud and clear.

"No, two swans are carrying a turtle," said the boy, pointing up.

The turtle's pride was hurt so he opened his mouth to argue with the boy. 

"Turtle is carrying two swans . . ."  

Turtle's body smashed onto the ground.  Turtle’s blood and guts went all over and it splashed on the boy's armpit as he was pointing.

"Oh, this smells bad."  The boy tried to wash and scrub his armpit, but no matter how hard he scrubbed and washed, the smell was still there. 

The girl did not get it as badly as the boy. 

Since then boy’s or men's armpits smell and the smell is called ຂີ້ເຕ່າ (khi tao) which means . . . “turtle's excrement.”  

Girl’s or women's armpits do not smell as bad, at least this is true in northeast Thailand and Laos. 

 
 

The last set of the Jataka tales are those that are not in any Buddhist Scriptures or in the five types mentioned above, yet the tellers claim that they are the Buddha's birth stories.   One example of this type of Jataka tale is found in Phya Khankhaak, or the Toad King 13 

which is a Thai/Lao fertility myth, celebrating "the battle victory of a human king, Phya Khankhaak" over the highest god, Phya Thaen, to bring peace and prosperity to all creatures in the universe.    

At the beginning the teller makes a claim that Phya Khankhaak, the Toad King is a Buddhist Jataka tale by saying:  

I will tell the story of a past life of the Buddha
While he was revolving in the Cycle of Life on Earth    14

Then at the middle of the story, after the victory of the Toad King's army, Phya Khankhaak gave a sermon to teach the rain god, Phya Thaen.  The teaching is clearly in the style of the historical Buddhist teachings.    

Like the Buddha in his last meditation before attaining enlightenment.
As the Lord was approaching his most enlightening phase in his meditation,
Phya Mara, the great tempter,
The conqueror of great magical knowledge and power
Appeared to lure the Buddha in his mediation,
As he had done to every Enlightened One before.
Mara was obsessed with great jealousy for the Enlightened One,
Fearing that the Buddha Lord
Might become most distinguished of all in his enlightenment.
Thus, Mara mounted his great elephant named Mekkhala Luang
And led his army to bait the meditating Buddha     
15

At the end, the teller reconfirms the authenticity of the tale as a true Jataka            tale by relating a list of characters in the story to persons in the Buddha's lifetime. 

Now let me summarize this final chapter of this great Buddhistic legend
In a Jataka collection of didactic verse tales.
Those who are wise should memorize this ancient story     
Related to chronicles for teaching Dhamma, the right principles.
The original king Phya Ek-karaj the great
Was later reincarnated as the Buddha's father.
As for the original queen of Phya Ek-karaj,       
She was reborn as Nang Yasotharaphimpha, the Buddha's wife.
The Naga and the Garuda Kings blessed with great magical powers
Were reincarnated as the greatly renowned disciples, 
Mokkhanla and Saribut.
Those countless numbers of soldiers,
Subjects, and citizens were reborn
As Buddhists who practice and observe the Buddha's Teachings.
Finally, His Majesty Phya Khankhaak,   
The meritorious ruler at that time,
Was reincarnated as the great world renowned Buddha, truly.
This is a true account of Phya Khankhaak        
Which has been recited in the fifty lives        
Of the Buddha-to-be, dear readers.16

With that, I would like to end this presentation with a short version of  Phya Khankhaak, the Toad King, focusing on the episode entitled,  "The Gathering of the Toad King's Army." 17   Normally, by telling this episode of the story,  it is symbolic of the rain request ceremony and it rains.   So, here it is:

The king and queen of Inthapatthanakhon gave birth to a meritorious son who was as ugly as a toad. The prince was named Khankhaak, which means toad. When Khankhaak was twenty years old, Indra came to make him handsome, give him the most beautiful wife, and built him the most splendid castle. Realizing the prince's merit, the king resigned from the throne to allow his son to become king.   Phya Khankhaak became a powerful king, with all the kings from all human, demon, animal, and angel lands as his protectorates. Every creature in the universe came to pay tribute and homage to Phya Khankhaak, but neglected to pay tribute and respect to Phya Thaen, the rain god. This behavior so humiliated Phya Thaen that he became infuriated with Phya Khankhaak. Phya Thaen then refused to let the naga play in his lake in heaven. As a result, the whole universe was faced with the catastrophe of drought.  After asking the Naga King for the cause of the drought, Phya Khankhaak organized a great army of humans, animals, demons, and angels and marched up to heaven to fight Phya Thaen.

At this point, a particular type of song called soeng is used to recruit all kinds of creatures to march to fight Phya Thaen, the Rain God. 

Oh, oh, what a woe!   Thaen has been our foe,

For he refused to bestow rain to earth.

Come all of us.   Let us go to fight Thaen.

From that crowd come wasps, hornets, and bees.

Those beautiful creatures are deer with bright eyes.

Those with golden bodies are beautiful angels or devata.

This crowd of beings are frogs and toads of all kinds.

Those dignified animals are garuda, naga, and lions.

Oh, oh, what a woe!  Thaen has been our foe,

For he refused to bestow rain to earth.

Come all of us.   Let us go to fight Thaen.

Those approaching are woodmites, termites, dogs and bears.

And these are eagles, porcupines, civet cats, and tigers.

Those splendid creatures are pheasants and swans.

Those cheerful creatures are apes, monkeys, elephants and horses.

Those in the front row are flying lemurs and cuckoo birds.

Oh, oh, what a woe!  Thaen has been our foe,

For he refused  to bestow rain to earth.

Come all of us.   Let us go to fight Thaen.18




When the army was ready, Phya Khankhaak marched up to heaven to fight Thaen. After a long, perilous, and miraculous battle, Phya Khankhaak won. He then taught Phya Thaen to be just and to bestow rain to the universe seasonally. After enjoying Phya Thaen's heaven for a few months, Phya Khankhaak came back to rule the fertile earth happily. Every once in a while, Phya Khankhaak would recount the story of how he led a great army to fight with Phya Thaen and how he enjoyed spending some time in heaven after his victory. Later, many people retraced Phya Khankhaak's way to heaven and went to learn all kinds of magical knowledge and power. They came back to earth and began to test their powers. They fought until everyone on earth was completely destroyed. Corpses piled up and became a mountain. At the foot of the mountain grew a lake called Nongkasae. The story ends with the narrator relating each character to a person in the historical Buddha's lifetime.

 

Notes

   1. The Pious-Son-In-Law was retold by Dr. Margaret Read MacDonald, Adapted from THAI TALES: FOLKTALES OF THAILAND by Supaporn Vathanaprida. (Libraries Unlimited, 1994).

       2. Phya Khankhaak, the Toad King: An Isan Fertility Myth in Verse, translated by Wajuppa Tossa; original transcription by Phra Ariyanuwat, Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 1996.

       3. Sap Prakobsuk, Wannakhadichadok (Buddhist Literature, the Jataka Tales), Bangkok: Odean Store, 1984, pp.14.

       4. Loc. cit.

       5.   Ibid, p.  to be recheck.  p.?

       6. V. Fausboll, edited in the original Pali, translated by T. W. Rhys Davids, Buddhist Birth Stories or Jataka Tales, N.Y.: Arno Press, 1977, pp. 8-11.

        More of the Buddhist Jataka Tales could be found in the following sources:

The Golden Deer, is the same story as Golden Foot, inspired by Nazli Gellek, adapted by Karen Stone, illustrated by Rosalyn White, [Emeryville, Calif.] : Dharma Pub.,
c1993.
Golden Foot is one of the series of the Jataka Tales Series published by the same press.  Among these are Heart of Gold, The Spade Sage, A Precious Life, Three Wise Birds, Courageous Captain, The Best of Friends, The King and the Goat, The Hunter and the Quail, The Parrot and the Fig Tree, The Proud Peacock and the Mallard, Great Gift and the Wish-Fulfilling Gem, A King, a Hunter, and a Golden Goose, The Rabbit Who Overcame Fear, The King and the Mangoes, The Value of Friends, The Rabbit in the Moon, The Power of a Promise, The Magic of Patience, The Fish King's Power of Truth.

A Treasury of Wise Action : Jataka Tales of Compassion and Wisdom. Berkeley, CA : Dharma Publishing, 1993.

Babbit, Ellen C., Jataka Tales; Animal Stories, illustrations by Ellsworth Young. New York,
Appleton-Century [c1912]

________. More Jataka Tales, illustrations by Ellsworth Young. New York: The Century co., 1922.

Jones, John Garrett. Tales and teachings of the Buddha : the Jataka Stories in Relation to the Pali Canon,  London ; Boston : G. Allen & Unwin, 1979.

Khan, Noor Inayat. Twenty Jataka Tales, illustrated by H. Willebeek Le Mair. Rochester, Vt. : Inner Traditions International : Distributed to the book trade in the U.S. by
American International Distribution Corporation, [1991].

Wray, Elizabeth, and others, Ten Lives of the Buddha; Siamese Temple Paintings and Jataka Tales, New York: Weatherhill [1972].

       7.  Ibid., p.  (to be checked)

        8.  Carl W. Ernst, The Golden Goose King, Chapel Hill, NC: Parvardigar Press, 1995

        9. The Perfect Generosity of Prince Vessantara:  A Buddhist Epic.  Cone, Margaret and Richard F. Gombrich, trans.  Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1977.  Here is the summary of the story of Prince Vessantara.

The story takes place in India, the source of the original story. In brief, it is about a prince, Wetsandorn in Thai, Vessantara in Pali. Prince Vessantara is the son and heir of Sanjaya, King of the Sivis, and of Queen Phusati. The prince lives in the capital with his wife Maddi (Matsi in Thai) and their small son and daughter. His generosity is unique. He owns a magic white elephant that guarantees plentiful rain, important in an agrarian economy. But he gives it away to a brahmin emissary from another kingdom, which enrages the citizens. They compel King Sanjay to force Prince Vessantara and his wife, Maddi, who insists on accompanying him and their children, to go into exile. Before leaving, the prince gives away all of his possessions, making the "gift of the seven hundreds'. After a long journey on foot, they reach a spot in the mountains, where they settle down. Husband and wife make a vow to live in chastity. Shortly, a vile old brahmin (a member of India's highest caste) by the name of Jujaka, who is nagged at home by his young wife demanding that he find her servants, arrives to ask Vessantara for his two children. He gives them up in another act of detached generosity while his wife is off gathering food in the forest. In one of the most touching scenes in the narrative, Maddi swoons in grief upon learning of the loss of her children. (This is one of the reasons the story is so popular among women.) The next morning the king of the gods, Sakka (Indra) is afraid that Vessantara will next give away his wife and be left completely alone. So he comes in the disguise of a brahmin and asks for her, only to give her back immediately. Having received her back as a gift, Vessantara is no longer allowed by social convention to dispose of her. Subsequently, Jujaka and the children come to the court of King Sanjaya, where he ransoms his grandchildren and Jujaka, much to the delight of the listener, dies of gluttony. The king takes his retinue to the mountains and invites Vessantara and Maddi to return, and they do so in a grand procession. As in all traditional Indian stories, the story has a happy ending. The family is reunited, all of Prince Vessantara's possessions are returned to him, and they all live happily ever after.

For more information on the story of Prince Vessantara and the use of the classic epic in modern Thai literature, please go to the following site:

http://www.seasite.niu.edu/Thai/literature/sridaoruang/matsii/matsii2.htm

      10.  Photo by Bounhome Vongdavanh and story by P. Phouangsaba, "Boun Phravet Festival" in  Visiting Muang Lao Magazine,   July-August 1999, p. 19.

      11.  A Jataka tale adapted from the version by Phra Inta Kaweewong from Roi-et, retold in English by Wajuppa Tossa and Prasong Saihong.

When this Jataka story is told by a famous American storyteller, Dianne Ferret, at the annual storytelling festival in Joneborough in Tennessee in October 1998, it was the story of Turtle and Eagles.

       12. Turtle of Koka was retold by Margaret Read MacDonald in Folktales and Storytelling by Wajuppa Tossa and Margaret Read MacDonald, Mahasarakham, Thailand: Aphichatkanphim, 1996.

      13.  Phya Khankhaak, the Toad King, p. 31.

       14.  Phya Khankhaak, the Toad King, p. 35.

       15.  Phya Khankhaak, the Toad King, p. 115.

       16.  Phya Khankhaak, the Toad King, p. 134.

       17.  Folktales and Storytelling,  p.   56.

       18. This version of the verse was composed by Wajuppa Tossa in Folktales and Storyteling,  pp. 54-56.   The original version of the story is from Phra Ariyanuwat Khemajari, Phya Khankhaak, 1970.