Buddhist Fables

Buddhist Classics

Life and Legends of Buddha

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

018 – The Story of Nigrodha Deer

deer and the king’s archers, the Thai version

Once the Bodhisattva was born as a golden deer in a forest of Varanasi. His eyes were like round gems; horns like silver; and he was bigger in size than other deer. He headed a band of five hundred deer and was called Nigrodharaja. In the same forest there lived another golden deer Sakha, who, too, headed a band of five hundred deer.

As the king of Varanasi was very fond of the deer meet, he asked his men to bring him at least one deer every day. His men, one day, decided to catch all the deer of the forest and bring them to the royal garden to please the king. So, they besieged the forest from all directions by keeping the garden-path clear and approached the centre with noise and drum-beating. No wonder all the deer were forced to enter the royal park and were caged inside. When the king saw the two golden deer, too, in his park he was very pleased. Further, charmed by their elegance he granted them immunity from being killed. But no other deer enjoyed the similar privilege. So, whenever a royal hunter entered the park to kill a deer all the deer would run helter-skelter, which caused more damages to the herd. So, the two deer kings convened a meeting and resolved that one deer from each group had to go to the hunter for the slaughter on every alternate day. The agreement was, however, to be followed rigorously.

The king shooting the deer, the Thai version

One day a pregnant doe belonging to Sakha’s herd had her turn for the slaughter. As she was pregnant, she prayed her leader to postpone her turn until the young one was born. Sakha was inconsiderate and did not pay any attention to her request. Wailing, she went to Nigrodha, who complied with her request out of sheer compassion.

Next day, Nigrodha himself went to the execution block and showed his readiness for the slaughter. Surprised at the presence of the golden deer eagerly awaiting its slaughter despite the immunity granted, the king’s men reported the matter to the king.

The king was also surprised. He immediately arrived at the park and asked the deer king to explain the cause for his willingness to be killed. Nigrodha then said, “Sir! A pregnant doe came to me and prayed to let her turn fall on the other. So, to save the life of two deer, I decide to get killed.”

The king granting amnesty to the two deer, the Thai version

The king was moved by his compassion. He said, “O deer king! I am impressed with your loving kindness. I spare the life of the doe and yours.”

Nigrodha said, I thank you for that. But what shall happen to other deer, here?”

“I spare their lives too, said the king.
“The deer in your park shall thus gain immunity; but then what will happen to the deer living in your kingdom, queried the deer king.
“I will spare their lives too”, said the king.
“Sir! The deer will be safe in your territory; but then what will happen to other four-footed animals”, Nigrodharaja asked.
“From now onwards, I spare their lives, too”, promised the king.
“Sir, four-footed animals will thus be saved; but then what would happen to the birds”, asked the deer king in his naïve dignity.
The king said, “I spare their lives too”, answered the king.
“Sir! Birds will thus be safe, but then what will happen to the fishes”, questioned the deer.
“I save their lives too, O deer king”, the king assured
Thus the good deer by his compassion saved the lives of all the animals of the kingdom.

(Anand is identified with the king of Varanasi; and Devadatta with Sakha deer).

See Nigrodha-Miga Jataka Jataka Pali No.12.