Jatakamala- An Ancient Gem
“The mind is everything, what you think, you become.” the Buddha
Harper Collins Publishers India held a lecture by A.N.D. Haskar on the ancient Sanskrit literature Jatakamala. Haskar had served as High Commission to Kenya and United States, ambassador to Portugal and Yugoslavia and he is best known and celebrated for his translation of Sanskrit texts. His notable works are Kama sutra, Three Satires to mention Kashmir, stories from Panchtantra and the list goes on. His latest work is translation of the classic Sanskrit literature Jatakamala. He has increasingly focussed on Katha, storytelling and narrative approaches on Sanskrit literature and manuscript archive. Many generations of oriental scholars have overlooked this rich tradition over ancient religious texts.
Rajiv Mehta chaired the event and according to Haskar also played a major role in helping him in his findings which led to the translation of Jatakamala. According to Haskar, in modern age Sanskrit has been associated, in public mind, mainly with religion and philosophy. But that’s not the case. Jatakamala has, both, religious as well as literary context. The last English translation was done more than a century ago and hence the time is right and ripe to look at it, especially for the values it projects. It has even greater relevance in modern times, which is marked by increasing acrimony and conflicts.
He further added that the book has two facets. The first one is ancient and the other is modern. For the ancient, Jataka’s are tales or parables about the previous incarnations of Buddha. They are found in Pali which could be dated as far back as 377 BC. A century later, the tales were taken to Sri Lanka by the Prince turned monk Mahender, son of the Great Ashoka. This is a reminder of old cultural ties between the two countries. The relation is reflected in current affairs and marked by the present visit of President of Sri Lanka. The relation has been over for two millennia’s and somewhere in that period, the Jataka tales, got into their Pali form. The scholar monk Buddha Ghosh has done tremendous work in the field. He further added that the Jatakamala, which is in the framework for the evening, is dated 4 century AD by historians. It has 35 Jataka tales which are not found anywhere in its Pali form.
The language used in the Jatakamala is refined and sophisticated. The stories are set in lively colourful background where they highlight the high ideas and values propagated by Buddha. Some of the verses appear in the Ajanta painting in the world famous Ajanta Caves. The book was very popular in India back then and has been mentioned by Xuanzang, the famous Chinese traveller.
The Jataka tales dignify the teaching and virtues of Buddha, which include compassion, forbearance, courage, veracity, charity, patience and friendliness, with all creatures. All the stages of Buddha’s life are presented in the book, the sea voyage and the forest fire, the battle scene and the royal hut, the charms of Harem and the horrors of hell. It gives solutions to dilemmas which we face in daily lives.