Buddhist Fables

Buddhist Classics

Life and Legends of Buddha

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

008 – Silava Elephant

Silava in the forest

Once the Bodhisatta was born as an elephant in a Himalayan forest. He was white like silver. His eyes were like diamond balls. His mouth was red like the scarlet velvet. His trunk was like the silver flecked with red gold; and his four feet looked like the polished lac. Thus was his persona with consummate beauty and ten-fold perfections. When he grew up, he became the leader of eighty thousand elephants. Nonetheless, he preferred to lead the life of a recluse and live alone in a solitary forest.

One day, when walking in the forest he saw a man crying there with his out-stretched arms, as he had lost his way. Moved with compassion, the elephant advanced to help him. The man in turn was further terrified and thought, “a solitary elephant and a rogue are dangerous to be met with”. So, he ran faster and widened the distance. Watching him, thus, running the Bodhisatta halted. When the elephant stopped three times upon his running the man felt that the animal was not intending to harm him. The elephant then came near the man and calmed him by saying that he could help him reach Varanasi. He then lifted him with his trunk and placed him on his back and carried him first to his abode and offered him food. Next, he carried him out of the forest and set him on the high-road of Varanasi.

Arriving at Varanasi the ungrateful man first went to the ivory market to survey the prices of the ivory tusks of a living elephant. Next, he asked the sellers to keep the money ready as he would soon return with a good bargain. He then went to the forest again with all necessary provisions for the journey to approach the kind elephant. Reaching the Silava’s abode, he first greeted him with a false gesture of respect and then begged for his tusks. The elephant, who was then practising the dana-paramita, one of the ten perfections (parami), readily agreed to offer his tusk if the man could cut it off. The greedy man immediately took out his saw, as he had made all preparations to obtain the tusks. The gentle animal then bowed down to let the man cut off his tusks. Off with the tusks the man went to Varanasi and sold them in the market in a handsome price.

Silava and the greedy man

After a few days, again the greedy man came to the forest and requested the elephant for more tusks because the proceeds from the sale of the tusks, which he had carried earlier was not enough and was spent in clearing his old debts only. The elephant conceded to his request and again allowed him to cut off the rest of his trunks for sale.

But the man’s greed had no bounds. He soon returned to the forest to beg for more. As the elephant was already shorn off his tusks by then, the man, therefore, asked for the stumps of his trunks to make a better living. The gentle Silava, again acquiesced. The cruel and ungrateful man then climbed on his trunk , which was like the corded silver and climbed on his temples, which was like the snowy peak of the mount Kailash; dug the flesh away from his gums; and sawed off the stumps of the tusks and had his way. Thus, Silava breathed his last in severe pains.

The tree fairy

The man, however, had to pay the price for his sinister act. So, when he was returning, the earth burst asunder in a yawning chasm and there sprang a large flame of fire, which swallowed him through and through; and the wretch entered the bowels of the earth to be tormented in the hell.

A tree-fairy, who witnessed the whole scene uttered the following stanza:

Greed demands more, the more it gets

Not all the world can glut its appetite.

Silava (which means Virtuous in the Pali language) Elepahant is now
the logo of Indian Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC), Ajanta


Silava-Hatthi-Jataka.No.72; Cf. Milinda Panho 202, 29.