Jataka tales (Pali Canon)

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Jataka tales are included in the Khuddaka Nikaya section of the Pali Canon.


The Theravāda Jātakas comprise 547 poems, arranged roughly by an increasing number of verses. According to Professor von Hinüber,[1] only the last 50 were intended to be intelligible by themselves, without commentary. The commentary gives stories in prose that it claims provide the context for the verses, and it is these stories that are of interest to folklorists. Alternative versions of some of the stories can be found in another book of the Pali Canon, the Cariyapitaka, and a number of individual stories can be found scattered around other books of the Canon. Many of the stories and motifs found in the Jātaka such as the Rabbit in the Moon of the Śaśajātaka (Jataka Tales: no.316),[2] are found in numerous other languages and media. For example, The Monkey and the Crocodile, The Turtle Who Couldn't Stop Talking and The Crab and the Crane that are listed below also famously featured in the Hindu Panchatantra, the Sanskrit niti-shastra that ubiquitously influenced world literature.[3] Many of the stories and motifs are translations from the Pali but others are instead derived from vernacular oral traditions prior to the Pali compositions.[4]

At the Mahathupa in Sri Lanka all 550 Jataka tales were represented inside of the reliquary chamber.[5] Reliquaries often depict the Jataka tales.


Within the Pali tradition, there are also many apocryphal Jātakas of later composition (some dated even to the 19th century) but these are treated as a separate category of literature from the "Official" Jātaka stories that have been more or less formally canonized from at least the 5th century — as attested to in ample epigraphic and archaeological evidence, such as extant illustrations in bas relief from ancient temple walls.

Apocryphal Jātakas of the Pali Buddhist canon, such as those belonging to the Paññāsajātaka collection, have been adapted to fit local culture in certain South East Asian countries and have been retold with amendments to the plots to better reflect Buddhist morals.[6]


The standard Pali collection of jātakas, with canonical text embedded, has been translated by E. B. Cowell and others, originally published in six volumes by Cambridge University Press, 1895-1907; reprinted in three volumes, Pali Text Society, Bristol. There are also numerous translations of selections and individual stories from various languages.

Celebrations and ceremonies

In Theravada countries several of the longer tales such as "The Twelve Sisters" and the "Vessantara Jataka" are still performed in dance, theatre, and formal (quasi-ritual) recitation.[7]

List of Jatakas

Some of the more well-known Jātakas include:

  • Illisa Jataka — The Miserly Treasurer (Jat 78)
  • Kalakanni Jataka — What's in a Name? (Jat 83)
  • Mahasara Jataka — The Queen's Necklace (Jat 92)
  • Mahasupina Jataka — The Sixteen Dreams (Jat 77)
  • Manicora Jataka — The Virtuous Wife (Jat 194)
  • Dabbhapuppha Jataka — The Jackal's Judgment (Jat 400)
  • Nalapana Jataka — The Case of the Hollow Canes (Jat 20)
  • Vattaka Jataka — The Baby Quail (Jat 35)
  • Pañcavudha Jataka — Prince Five-weapons (Jat 55)
  • Alinacitta Jataka — The Elephant Who Saved a Kingdom (Jat 156)

See also


  1. Handbook of Pali Literature, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin, 1996
  2. Source: sacred-texts.com (accessed: Saturday January 23, 2010)
  3. Jacobs 1888, Introduction, page lviii "What, the reader will exclaim, "the first literary link [1570] between India and England, between Buddhism and Christendom, written in racy Elizabethan with vivacious dialogue, and something distinctly resembling a plot. . . ."
  4. "Indian Stories",The History of World Literature, Grant L. Voth, Chantilly, VA, 2007
  5. John Strong 2004, p. 51
  6. The tale of Prince Samuttakote: a Buddhist epic from Thailand
  7. Rev. Sengpan Pannyawamsa, Recital of the Tham Vessantara Jātaka: a social-cultural phenomenon in Kengtung, Eastern Shan State, Myanmar, Institute of Pali and Buddhist Studies, (University of Kelaniya), Sri Lanka


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