Buddhist Fables

Buddhist Classics

Life and Legends of Buddha

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

055 – Champeyya

Champeyya, Ajanta

Once Bodhisatta was born as a Naga king Champeyya in the Champa river as a result of his desire to enjoy the royal life of the Naga world. He was married to an extremely pretty princess Sumana and enjoyed all sorts of luxuries and comforts. But soon he developed detachment to the royal life-style. He aspired to lead a life of recluse to practise Sila-Paramita (perfection of the righteous conduct). Sumana, the queen consort was alarmed and tried to dissuade him from such aspirations. Yet, her best allurements and efforts could not change the mind of the king and one day he eventually abdicated the throne to lead a life of an ascetic much to the grief of his pregnant consort. He retired on an ant-hill to practise his holy fast for certain number of days; and to dedicate his life to the service of the others.

When he lay deep in his meditation on the ant-hill a snake charmer caught sight of him. Certainly the large snake was a prized prey for him. He pronounced his mantra to subdue the snake. The mantra, however, failed to have any effect on the Naga.

Champeyya and Sumana with the baby, Ajanta

Yet, the snake pretended as if he was overpowered by the charm. The charmer put him in the basket and took him from one place to other and made him dance to his tunes on every road-side passing through Avanti, Savatthi and Vidisa until he reached Varanasi, the kingdom of king Uggasena.

Naga king Champeyya and his consort Suman in the royal palace. The king appears to be detached and dispassionate

In the meanwhile Sumana, the pregnant queen, who could not bear the pangs of separation from her husband ignored the advice of all including the royal physician and wandered from place to place to look for her beloved husband. On the way, she gave birth to the new king. Nonetheless, she kept on wandering for several years until one day, she could find out the serpent king dancing to the tune of a snake charmer in the court of Varanasi.

The sudden appearance of his wife with her son clad like a beggar shocked the serpent king. So, he abruptly stopped dancing to the surprise of all including the king.

Naga king Champeyya and his consort Suman in the royal palace.
The king appears to be detached and dispassionate, Ajanta
The snake charmer is showing his tricks and Varanasi people are watching, Ajanta

Now, Sumana made a formal request to king Uggasena to help her husband free at least for the sake of her son; and narrated her story. The king was impressed and acceded to her request. He got the Naga king released to join his family. The serpent king then invited him to visit the Naga world. The Varanasi king accepted the invitation and enjoyed his hospitality for seven days.

(Champeyya is identified with the Bodhisatta; Sumana with Yasodhara; Uggasena with Sariputta; and the snake charmer with Devadatta).

The surprise moment when the serpent king stopped dancing at the sight of ill-clad Sumana and his son; and Uggasena expresses his surprise at the discontinuation of the dance, Ajanta

See Sankhapala Jataka Jataka Pali No.506.