Buddhist Fables

Buddhist Classics

Life and Legends of Buddha

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

060 – The Jewelled Serpent

Aggrieved by the death of their parents the two brothers took to the life of ascetics and dwelt on the bank of the river Ganga (Anglicised: the Ganges) by building leaf-huts. The elder one had his hut built on the upper side of the Ganga and the younger one on the lower side.

One day, Nagaraj, the king of the serpents came out of the river and crawled around. He was no ordinary snake as he had a wish-fulfilling gem (mani) kept in his throat (kantha): for which he was called Manikantha. Furthermore, he also possessed the power to assume any form. That day, rambling on the bank of the Ganga in the form of a human being he came by the hermitage of the younger brother and exchanged greetings with him. When invited, he entered inside the hut for a conversation. There they exchanged pleasant dialogues and soon became good friends. Since then, Manikantha became a frequent visitor to the hermit. As they were good friends they often cuddled each other before parting.

In course of time, the serpent king shed his human form and appeared before the hermit in his original form of a snake, which terrified the latter. And before parting, he cuddled the hermit in the serpent form in a routine manner.

The fear engendered by the embraces of the serpent made the hermit so frightened that he lost his hunger and became sickly and pale. So, one day, when he visited his elder brother with his emaciated and pale look, the latter enquired into the sudden break down in his health; and having learnt the whole story, he suggested that one could easily get rid of anybody by demanding his dearest possession. As the most precious possession of the snake was his mani, so, if he be approached for the gem, he would himself break away.

Next day, when the serpent was saying good-bye to the ascetic, the latter asked for his mani. The serpent, in turn, then bade adieu without embracing or kissing him. On the following day, too, when the snake appeared before him to enter the hermitage, he again asked for his gem. The serpent then left from outside without entering the hut. On the third occasion, when the hermit saw Nagaraja coming out of the river he shouted at him, “Give me your gem, o friend!”

The serpent then said:

Rich food and drink in plenty I can have
By means of the gem you crave.
You ask for too much;
Which I cannot give.
Nor shall I visit you again.
So long I shall live.

With these words the king of the serpents dived back to the water and never came back to the hermit.

Though scared, the hermit too loved the serpent king; and his absence made him suffer more than the fear and in a few days he looked sickly.

One day, the elder hermit paid a visit to his brother and found him aggrieved and sickly. Having learnt the reason for his grief he comforted him by saying that

To long for one, whose love you prize
When by begging you become hateful in his eyes.
Begging the gem made the serpent sore
That he disappeared to come back no more.

These words of the truth soothed the younger brother and he stopped grieving for the snake friend and concentrated on the ascetic practices.

(Ananda was the younger brother and the elder was the Bodhisatta).

See Manikantha Jataka Jataka Pali No.253.