Buddhist Fables

Buddhist Classics

Life and Legends of Buddha

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

044 – The Temptation of Isisanga

The old ascetic (top left). The doe drinking water (bottom).
The old ascetic nursing the baby Isisanga (centre). Alambusa (right).

Once upon a time there lived a young man in an erudite family. He was well-versed in various arts and crafts. Yet, he did not lead a life of a house-holder as he preferred to become an ascetic. So, he built a hermitage on the bank of the river Ganga in the Himalaya and lived there.

One day, a doe drank water in the place where the ascetic had just taken bath. The water there was mingled with the ascetic’s semen. So, no sooner than she drank the water she conceived the ascetic’s baby. The ascetic soon noticed the changes taking place in the doe’s body, and knew what had happened to her. So, he took care of her. In course of time, the doe delivered a male baby, who was called Isisanga.

The sage brought him up with fatherly affection and when the boy was young enough to learn he taught him spiritual practices, too. The boy was very receptive. Soon he proved his excellence in meditation and other spiritual pursuits.

Realising his abilities and potentialities the sage cautioned him by saying,

In this Himalayan region the women are as fair as flowers
But they may be devastating if you fall in their powers.

After imparting these instructions the ascetic died.

The doe drinking the water where Isisanga had taken a holy dip

By and by, Isisanga became an ardent ascetic and perfected the most arduous penance and virtuousity, which shook the Sakka’s abode. Shaken and frightened by the practices of the young lad, Sakka sent the most gorgeous and voluptuous heavenly nymph to the young ascetic to entice him. Her name was Alambusa. Though a subject of the heavenly king, she pleaded exemption from carrying out such an order as she considered it to be a heinous act. Yet, insisted by her lord, she descended the earth with all her beauty and exuberance to charm and seduce Isisanga. She made a sudden appearance before him when he was walking to the river to have his holy bath. Dazzled at such a heavenly beauty and allured by her elegance he forgot everything but to remember to sing every word of praise for her voluptuous looks right from her hair to her feet. Knowing that she was just about to succeed in her mission, she did not waste a single moment and invited him to follow her by her amorous glance. She then entered his cottage. The young ascetic, unmindful of all his vows, tailed her inside and plunged into her embrace.

When the ascetic could arouse from her embrace, three years had elapsed; and all his spiritual achievements had vanished. Thus, realising his irreparable losses he started wailing. The kind nymph then revealed her mission with an apology and shared his mourning. The ascetic wore no malice against her and pardoned her.

After the conclusion of her mission, she boarded the golden chariot and flew back to her heavenly abode. When congratulated and commended by Sakka for having accomplished her task so meticulously, she was not pleased to the surprise of the lord of the devas. Further, when Sakka offered her to ask for any boon she said,

O Lord of Heaven! If thou desire any boon to bestow
Then never ask me to make any saint violate his vow.

Note: The old ascetic is identified with the Bodhisatta.

See Alambusa Jataka Jataka Pali No. 523.