Buddhist Fables

Buddhist Classics

Life and Legends of Buddha

The Illustrated Jataka & Other Stories of the Buddha by C. B. Varma Introduction | Glossary | Bibliography

005 – The Story of Great Monkey

Story of Mahakapi, Bharhut

The Himalayas are always known for their varieties of flora and fauna. Furthermore, the manifold varieties of flora are known not only for their riches for medicinal purposes but also for their flavour. In the heart of a Himavat there was a large tree, which bore excellent fruits even bigger than the palmyra nuts having exceedingly sweet flavour; lovely hue and fragrance, which no man had ever seen or noticed before. This tree was also the abode of several monkeys; and the Bodhisatta was born as the king of those monkeys. He was much larger in size than his followers; and was more compassionate and virtuous than others.

One day, the monkey king noticed that a branch of the tree had grown just over the stream. It alarmed him, because some of the fruits might drop in the stream, which then might get carried away to the man’s world; and the men would then certainly come to have all the fruits for themselves. So, he instructed the monkeys not to let any fruit grow on that branch if they wished to enjoy the fruits for a longer period. Though the monkeys tried to follow the instruction of their master, yet, one fruit was left out. That fruit in course of time ripened and developed its fine colour, taste, smell and softness and became loose in its stalk and one day dropped into the stream. Being carried down by the stream it was stuck in the net-work of a fence of a king, who was having fun with his women there. The delightful and delicious aroma of the fruit soon spread all over the place.

Mahakapi-Jataka, Sanchi The King on the excursion trip with his women bathing and enjoying on the bank of the river

Its odour was quite different from the women’s perfumes and other cosmetics, decorative flowers and garlands or from the intoxicating drinks. It, however, charmed every visitor there. Bewitched with the smell of the fruits the women enjoyed its prolonged inhalations with half-shut eyes. The king, too, was charmed. So, they rolled their eyes all around to look for the source of the fragrance and finally detected it stuck in a net. The fruit was unique for its colour and odour; size and shape; and texture that no man had ever seen or heard before. So, the king got the fruit tested by his experts and having found it non-poisonous, he himself tasted it, and then remarked, “Nothing could surpass the flavour of this fruit”. He then ordered his men to hunt for the tree in and around the river-bank which bore the fruit. Soon the king’s men found out the tree laden with such luscious and delicious fruits. When they saw the monkeys enjoying those fruits, which their king wanted to have so eagerly, they attacked the monkeys mercilessly with volleys of arrows.

Witnessing the approaching attacking royal soldiers the Bodhisatta jumped on a mountain peak, which the other monkeys were not likely to copy. There, in order to save his friends he seized a strong rooted tall cane with his legs and bending it towards the tree jumped back and caught hold of the branch of the tree. He then called upon the other monkeys to use him as a bridge to jump upon the mountain peak. Taking advantage of the situation all the monkeys jumped on the mountain and darted away quickly. The monkey king was, however, terribly bruised and injured by being trampled by his mates when acting as a bridge for them. Soon he swooned. The king watched the flight of the monkeys; and also the plight of the monkey king. He was greatly moved by the exemplification of such insight; courage; valour; and sacrifice, which an animal had just displayed to save the lives of his subjects.

Mahakapi is acting like a bridge Mahakapi is acting like a bridge to help other monkeys escape;Mahakapi is being given the first-aid on a stretcher (below)

The king then ordered his men to delicately bring down the unconscious ape and gently place him on a couch and to render the best possible first aid.

When the great monkey regained his consciousness the king asked him to explain as to why did he endangered his life to save his subjects, who were rather meant to serve or sacrifice. Like a guru, he then said,

O King! Verily my body is broken

But my mind is still sound;

I uplifted only those

Over whom I exercised my royal powers for so long.

And before the king could utter some words of praise for the great monkey; he found him dead.

P.J. 407; (also called Rajovada Jataka); Jataka Mala 27.