THE TALE OF PRINCE VESSANTARA

FREE DISPLAY

Until 9 September 2018

Gallery 29

The Buddha is believed to have had many lives before being born as Siddhartha Gautama. Stories of his past lives are known as jatakas ('birth stories'). They play an important role in teaching Buddhist values.

The Vessantara Jataka is the last and most popular of the jataka tales. Here the Buddha was born as Prince Vessantara of the Sivi Kingdom, a very generous man who gave away everything, including his wife and children, to help others. His actions demonstrate the virtue of generosity, which in Buddhism is one of the 'perfections' required to achieve enlightenment.

The tale is often illustrated in Southeast Asian and Sri Lankan art. Buddhists can gain merit by making and commissioning these images. This display, drawn from the Ashmolean's own collection, highlights a selection of Burmese and Sri Lankan drawings, paintings and woodcarvings of the story dating to the 19th century.

Characters

Vessantara, Myanmar

Vessantara

Prince of the Sivi kingdom. Previous incarnation of the Buddha

Maddi, Myanmar

Maddi

Vessantara's wife, whom he gave away to the god Sakka

Kanhajina and Jale, Myanmar

Kanhajina and Jali

Vessantara's daughter and son whom he gave away to Jujaka

Jujaka, Myanmar

Jujaka

Sought slaves for his wife

The hunter, Myanmar

The hunter

Assigned by the Cetan kingdom to protect the family

Sanjaya, Myanmar

Sanjaya

Vessantara's father, king of the Sivi kingdom

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