The Garland of Birth Stories from the Buddha’s past lives as the Bodhisattva

A total of 33 of the 34 episodes from Arya Sura’s Jatakamala are portrayed in the first 135 panels on the upper register of Borobudur’s first gallery balustrade. This entire panel series extends all the way from Borobudur’s eastern entrance to the southwest corner of the monument.

“Jataka means ‘previous births’ and mala ‘garland;’ the idea being that the stories of the difficult deeds accomplished in the former lives of the Bodhisattva (afterward the Buddha) are strung (or collected) together in one place,” wrote the 8th century Chinese pilgrim I-Tsing. “The object of composing the Birth stories in verses is to teach the doctrine of universal salvation in a beautiful style, agreeable to the popular mind and attractive to readers.”
Each of the Jatakamala stories presents emphasizes one aspect of the requisite perfections (paramitas) that a Bodhisattva must master on his or her way to achieving enlightenment. For a detailed explanation of the perfections of the Bodhisattva, see Buddhism 101.

The following tales from Arya Surya’s Jatakamala are based on J. S. Speyer’s English-language translation, which was published in 1896. In addition, many of the photographs of the Borobudur reliefs that appear in our modern rendition of these timeless stories are from “A Garland of Birth Stories” by Marie Musaeus Higgins, which was published in 1914.

Table of Contents:

The Tigress
The King of the Sibis
Small Portion of Gruel
Head of a Guild
The Invincible One
The Hare
The Sage Agastya
Prince Visvantara
The Sacrifice
Lord of the Devas
The Brahman
Lord of Fishes
The Quail’s Young
The Story of the Jar
The Childless One
The Lotus Stalks
The Treasurer
The Holy Swan
The Great Ape
The Ruru Deer
The Monkey Chief
The Brahmaloka Inhabitant
The Elephant
The Buffalo
The Woodpecker