Buddhist Fables

Buddhist Classics

Life and Legends of Buddha

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

046 – Mahajanaka’s Renunciation

Mahajanaka Jataka, Ajanta

When Mahajanaka of Mithila died his eldest son Aritthajanaka became the king and his younger brother Polajanaka became the Viceroy. But some confusion made the younger brother rebellious. Then a war followed in which the elder brother was killed. But before Polajanaka could usurp the throne the chief queen, who was then in a family way escaped with her unborn son and plenty of gems to a far off land, where she lived with some ascetic like his sister. There, she delivered the prince, who was named after his grandfather. When the prince was sixteen he decided to capture his father’s kingdom. So, to raise money and muster up troops he sailed to the Suvannabhumi (Myanmaar). On the way, the boat capsized and he strove hard to survive on the sea to reach the shore. On the seventh day a celestial nymph named Manimekhala saw him struggling hard to survive and was impressed by his valour and strong determination. So, she gave him the offer to take him to his destination to realise his ambition. When Mahajanaka accepted the offer she tossed him in the air like a flower and held him up in the air and flew to Mithila where she placed him in a mango grove. When being placed there, Mahajanaka was in his deep slumber.

The people celebrating the coronation of Mahajanaka, Ajanta King Mahajanaka riding on an elephant, Ajanta


Toilet scene of the lady. Sivali is dressing her best to impress Mahajanaka.

She looks impatient as she places her legs in an awkward position, Ajanta


That was the time when king Polanajasaka, the king of Mithila died. As he had no son and as he had wished on his death-bed that his successor had to be acceptable to the princess Sivali his ministers had sent a royal chariot accompanied with bands and beating of drums to look for an ideal groom all around. Finally, they located a person sleeping under a tree. The royal chaplain saw the auspicious marks on his feet and recommended him for the royal invitation. Further, when Mahajanaka solved all the riddles to impress the princess and pass the tests to qualify as the king of Mithila. he was married to the the princess. So, he became the ruler of Mithila. Sivali bore him a son named Dighavukumara.

One day, strolling in the royal mango-grove the king noticed that a fruit-laden mango tree was ravaged by the people, however, a barren tree on the other side was left untouched; and lay in peace. So, the quest for peace in the king became intense in his heart and he resolved to give up all the fruits of riches and worldly life. Since then he led the life of a recluse. Pretty Sivali, however, tried to win him over in many ways. She dressed her best and used the best of the cosmetics to allure him but failed. Detached, the king eventually renounced the royal life and retired as a hermit in a forest.

He who does all a man can do is free from guilt towards his kin

The lord of heaven acquits him too and he feels no remorse within.

(Cowell 36)

So, I will ever do my best to fight through ocean to the shore

While strength holds out I still will strive nor yield till I can strive no more.

(Cowell 37)

Sivali in her best dress and cosmetics to allure Mahajanaka, Ajanta Mahajanaka looks detached when Sivali is trying to allure him, Ajanta

Mahajanaka is identified with Bodhisatta; and Sivali with Rahulamata. This Jataka exemplifies the viriya-paramita (“Perfection of Valour”).

Mahajanaka Jataka Jataka Pali No. 539