3 | 2017
Indian Birth and Western Rebirths of the Jātaka Tales

The editors would like to thank the following institutions:

  • The Regional Council of Île de France.
  • The Embassy of India.
  • The Research Commission of the University of Paris 13, Sorbonne Paris Cité.
  • The Faculty of Law, Social and Political Sciences and the Centre forStudies and Research in Administrative and Political Sciences (CERAP), University of Paris 13, Sorbonne Paris Cité.
  • The Centre for Research on English Studies (CREA) of the University of Paris West Nanterre and the Centre for Research on Space/Writing (CREE) of the University of Paris West Nanterre.
  • The Team of Interdisciplinary Research on Cultural Areas (ERIAC) of the University of Rouen Normandy.
  • and the Society for Activities and Research on the Indian world (SARI).

for their generous support for this project.

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  • Michel Naumann, Ludmila Volná et Geetha Ganapathy-Doré  Introduction

Indian Birth and Western Rebirths of the Jātaka Tales

Travelling Tales: Migration, Translation, Adaptation and Appropriation of the Jātaka Katha

Subhendu Mund


In his Introduction to the re-issue of Fables of Bidpai: The Morall Philosophie of Doni, Sir Thomas North’s (1535-1601?) translation of the Italian writer Antonio Francesco Doni’s (1513-1574) The Moral Philosophia (1552), Joseph Jacobs writes: « The bare description of the "Morall Philosophic of Doni" will suffice to indicate how wide a traveller it had been before it reached these shores. It is the English version of an Italian adaptation of a Spanish translation of a Latin version of a Hebrew translation of an Arabic adaptation of the Pehlevi version of the Indian original. And this enumeration only indicates one of many paths which these fables took to reach Europe » (xi).
The travelling of these tales tells many a tale, because they kept being adapted to various cultures, times and histories.
Even in India, believed to be the origin of these tales, there has been a good deal of intertextuality through the overlapping of the stories in different frames.
This article studies these migrations, translations, adaptations and appropriations of the Jaātaka tales, while chiefly focusing on North’s translation of Doni.

Texte intégral

1In his Introduction to the scholarly re-issue of Fables of Bidpai: The Morall Philosophie of Doni,Sir Thomas North’s (1535-C1601) translation of the Italian writer Antonio Francesco Doni’s (1513-1574) The Moral Philosophia (1552), Joseph Jacobs (1854-1916), an Australian folklorist, literary critic, historian and a well-known scholar on the Jātakas, who had edited and brought out the scholarly re-issue, writes: « The bare description of the Morall Philosophic of Doni will suffice to indicate how wide a traveller it had been before it reached these shores. It is the English version of an Italian adaptation of a Spanish translation of a Latin version of a Hebrew translation of an Arabic adaptation of the Pehlevi [sic] version of the Indian original. And this enumeration only indicates one of many paths which these fables took to reach Europe » (Jacobs, xi).

2The travelling of these tales tells many a tale, because they kept being adapted to various cultures, times and histories. Even in India, the place of origin of these tales, there has been a good deal of intertextuality through the overlapping of the stories in different frames. It appears that the Jātakas migrated with the migrating people and it happened not only in countries and cultures elsewhere, but also in the subcontinent itself. In fact, the story of the migration of myths, tales, fables and legends has been as old as the story of the migration of human beings. In my article, I intend to illustrate the fabled migration of tales and myths and the migrations, translations, adaptations and appropriations of the Jātaka tales call for a study which is more about history and culture.

3The appropriation of Buddha, Buddhism, and the Jātakas has been spectacular in India, the place of its origin itself. The very inception of Buddhism was basically out of a revolt against Hinduism, more precisely Brahmanism, but it was very soon appropriated by the Hindu tradition in many different ways. Jagannath, the reigning deity of the famous temple in Puri in Odisha, an eastern state in India is believed to be a form of Buddha avatar, and that Puri is the shortened name of Dantapuri. Thus, Buddha gets appropriated in the mainstream avataravada of Vishnu as His ninth incarnation. The Brahma or the sacred substance which is inside the Darubigraha or the wooden idol of the deity is believed by many scholars to be a relic of Buddha. Jayadeva1, the famous 11th century Sanskrit Vaishanava poet of Odisha, in his Gita Govinda, has described Buddha as the ninth avatar [incarnation] of Vishnu. In his famous address at the « Parliament of Religions » in Chicago on 26 September 1893, Swami Vivekananda said « India worships him [Budha] as God incarnate on earth », and he himself worshipped him « as God incarnate on earth. » Buddha’s transformation as an avatar and his appropriation in the Brahmanic system have been narrated in a number of Hindu scriptures, notably in the Harivamsa (1.41), Vishnu Purana (3.18), Srimad Bhagavat Mahauuranam (1.3.24, 2.7.37, 11.4.23), Garuda Purana (1.1, 2.30.37, 3.15.26), Agni Purana (16), Naradiya Purana (2.72), Linga Purana (2.71), Padma Purana (3.252) and Parashara’s Brihat Parashara Hora Shastra (2:1-5/7)2. According to John Holt, « The replacement of the Buddha as the « cosmic person » within the mythic ideology of Indian kingship, occurred at about the same time the Buddha was incorporated and subordinated within the Brahmanical cult of Visnu » (The Buddhist Visnu 12).

4As we all know, there are about 550 Jātaka tales narrating the Bodhisattwa’s past lives, and in succession, they demonstrate the spiritual ascendance of ordinary animal-ness to the stage of the Buddha, the Knower. These tales supposedly told nearly three to four centuries before the Christ have been retold again and again and have travelled in time and space and have become integral parts of many a culture all over the world down the ages.

5Although the migration of the Jātakas had begun quite early, there was a sudden interest in the Indian scriptures and literatures during the colonial era as parts of Orientalist projects. I would like present here a very brief history of Jātaka translation and scholarship, especially and interestingly, many of whom were connected to Cambridge University. It is, in fact, Joseph Jacobs who provides most of the relevant sources in this area of study in his « General Notes » included in Complete Fairy Tales, a compilation of his lifetime collection of Celtic, Indian, and English fairy tales, recently collected in one e-book (2015). In the « General Notes », Jacobs tells a very interesting story about the beginning of this interest in « the collection of current Indian folk-tales » in the 19th century:

The credit of having begun the process is due to Miss Frere, who, while her father was Governor of the Bombay Presidency, took down from the lips of her ayah, Anna de Souza, one of a Lingaet family from Goa who had been Christian for three generations, the tales she afterwards published with Mr. Murray in 1868, under the title », Old Deccan Days, or, Indian Fairy Legends current in Southern India, collected from oral tradition by M. Frere, with an introduction and notes by Sir Bartle Frere. » Her example was followed by Miss Stokes in her Indian Fairy Tales (London, Ellis & White, 1880), who took down her tales from two ayahs and a Khitmatgar, all of them Bengalese -- the ayahs Hindus, and the man a Mohammedan.

6Besides the above two publications, there were many other collections of tales in English rendering, which generated from India; such as anonymously translated The Vetal Panchvishi: Or Twenty-five Stories of Vetal (1825, 1890), Wideawake Stories (1884), collected by Steel and edited and annotated by Captain (afterwards Major) Temple; anonymously published Tales of the Pandavs: By a Wandering Cimmerian (1884), Mr. Knowles’s Folk-Tales of Kashmir (1887), which had been the major source of English folk tales since Wideawake Stories; and folktales published in the several issues of Indian Antiquary, edited by Major Temple; M. Thornhill’s Indian Fairy Tales (1889); E. J. Robinson’s Tales of S. India (1885), Religion and Folklore of Northern India by William Crooke (who also edited North Indian Notes and Queries between 1890-96); Tales of the Sun: Or Folklore of Sothern India by Mrs. Howard Kingscote and Pandit Natesa Sastri (1890), Sir George Grierson’s Hatim’s Tales and Kashmiri Stories and Songs (to which Crooke appended a note on the folklore of the tales), and Kathleen M. Butt’s Ptahlith: Some Indian and Other Stories (1897), to name a few.

7This trend was reciprocated by contemporary Indian scholars as well. In the early colonial era, the early generation of the English-educated Indians writing or translating in English sought to showcase the uniqueness and importance of the Indian traditions by not only re-telling the myths, legends and folklore of their country. They also incorporated the traditionally Indian themes and techniques in their creative writing. Some of such early works are: Rev. Lal Behari Day’s Folk-Tales of Bengal (1883), and Tales of India (1921, republished as Folk Stories of Bengal, 1941); Rajah Soumendra Mohan Tagore’s translation of an anonymous work called Taravati: A Tale (1841), Pandit Sakgendi Mahalingam Natesa Sastri’s Tales of the Sun (1891), and Tales of Tenali Rama (1900); P. V. Ramaswamy Raju’s Tales of Sixty Mandarins (1886) and Indian Fables (1887);V. Mungaji’s The Brilliant Simantaka: Or the Most Striking Legend of an Antique Kohinoor (1889), Manmatha Nath Dutt’s Gleanings from Indian Classics (Vol. I: Tales of Ind, 1893; Vol. II: Heroines of Ind, 1893; and Vol. III: The Prophets of Ind, 1899), T. Ramakrishna [Pillai]’s Tales of Ind (1896), B. R. Rajam Iyer’s mythological stories published in the Prabuddha Bharata, and later included in Rambles in Vedanta (1896-98), anonymously written Hari Vijaya and Sivalila (1891), K. Raghunathji’s Nasiket Akhyan: Or the Journey of Nasiket to the Realms of the Dead (1892), and V. V. Parameswara Aiyer’s The Ideals of Truthfulness: Or The Story of Harischandra (1897).

8Now, let us turn to the Jātakas. In 1880, Thomas William Rhys Davids published Buddhist Birth-Stories (Vol. I, Trübner's Oriental Library, 1880), The Commentarial Introduction Entitled Nidana-Katha: The Story of the Lineage, translated from the Pāli Text edited by the renowned German scholar Professor Viggo Fausboll as a part of Trubner’s Oriental Series , and the translation of selected Jātakas from the original Pāli (several volumes, 1861-71). A new, revised edition by his wife Mrs. Rhys Davids was later on published and has been reissued in 1999. I. G. N. Keith-Falconer’s Kalilah and Dimnah: Or the Fables of Bidpai. Being an Account of Their Literary History, with an English Translation of the Later Syriac Version of the Same, and Notes was published by Cambridge University Press in 1885; and then Hugh George Rawlinson’s Indian Historical Studies, which also mentions the Jātakas came out in1913 (New edn., Asian Educational Services, New Delhi, 1999). It was followed by the more well-known Jātaka Tale: Selected and Edited with Introduction and Notes (1916) by H. T. Francis and E. J. Thomas, again published by Cambridge University (contains 110 tales with illustrations), and Dr. R. Morris in the Folk-lore Journal, Vols. II-V (Jacobs, « General Notes »).

9While Hugh George Rawlinson believed, and perhaps the only scholar to do so, that some of the Jātakas were borrowed from western sources (viz. « The Judgement of Solomon »), Thomas William Rhys Davids believes that a number of tales and stories in the West have a striking resemblance to the Jātaka tales. In the sections called “Buddhist Birth Stories” (Introduction), he states that the Jātakas migrated to the other countries/languages. And concludes, « … in many instances this resemblance is simply due to the fact that the Western stories were borrowed from the Buddhist ones » (iii). However, Joseph Jacobs strongly believes that most of the tales and stories of the world communities owe their origin to the Jātaka tales. In his Fables of Bidpai (1888), he has given a genealogical table of the various versions of the Jātakas, and according to his enumeration [done in 1888] the tales have been translated into thirty-eight languages in 112 different versions, twenty different ones in English alone. He points out elsewhere that the extent of the influence of these tales can be judged from the fact that « the tale of The Three Caskets, used by Shakespeare in the Merchant of Venice » has been borrowed from the legend of Barlaam and Josaphat (« General Notes »).

10However, much before the upsurge of orientalist enthusiasm happened during the colonial rule, the intellectual world free from any imperialist agenda and orientalist patronage had already started looking at the migration of the ancient Indian tales with admiration, and even the image of the Buddha that emerged out of the stories made him a Prophet of sorts even in the Christian world. Barlaam and Josaphat: English Lives of Buddha (1896), « edited and induced » by Joseph Jacobs chiefly dwells on the near canonization3 of Buddha in the West. It may sound surprising but Barlaam and Josaphat (Latin: Barlamus et Iosaphatus) are two legendary Christian martyrs and saints, based on the life of the Buddha. » The fact that by its means Buddha had been, if only informally, canonized a Saint of the Church, would be enough to attract attention to it » (Preface viii).

11This shows to what extent the Jātaka Katha had been influential in the rest of the world, even the most dominant Christian world. G. N. Keith-Falconer, who had translated and published for Cambridge University The Fables of Bidpai as Kalilah and Dimnah: Or the Fables of Bidpai. Being an Account of Their Literary History, with an English Translation of the Later Syriac Version of the Same, and Notes (1885) appropriately talks about « the wanderings and transformations of a book which has probably had more readers than any other except the Bible » (Preface ix). In his Introduction, Keith-Falconer further informs, « Originating in India and forming a part of Buddhist literature » (xii), the Jātakas had started migrating very early:

Already at the beginning of the 2nd century a.d. Indian stories had begun to travel East and North. Along with Buddhism, they penetrated straight into China, where they found a ready reception. Stan. Julien discovered two Chinese encyclopedias containing a number of Indian tales translated into Chinese. The oldest of these encyclopedias was finished in a. d. 668. From one of these collections, he has selected a number of such tales and published them in a French translation under the title, Les Avadanas, Contes et apologues Indiens (Paris, 1859). Similarly, they reached Tibet, and thence Mongolia. Anton Schieffer has published in the Bulletin de lAcadémie impériale des sciences de St.-Pétersbourg. German renderings of a number of Buddhist tales…. (xiii)

12Although the migration and translation of the Jātakas in many different forms and languages had already become a very popular intellectual activity since the ancient times, the West participated more actively after the Crusade. Jacobs as well as most other compilers, translators and researchers agree [and it may sound very preposterous] that nearly all the stories, tales, fables, etc. in the rest of the world owe their origin to the Jātakas and its subsequent adaptations like the Panchatantra, Hitopadesha, Kathasaritasagar, even the mahakavyas like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata; and the Vishnu Purana; which were eventually adapted to, even appropriated by the various communities in accordance with their own culture and religious predilections. Besides, the art of storytelling, especially creating Frame Stories, is also supposed to be the gift of India to the world. According to Jacobs,

In making Buddha the centre figure of the popular literature of India, his followers also invented the Frame as a method of literary art. The idea of connecting a number of disconnected stories familiar to us from The Arabian Nights, Boccaccios Decamerone, Chaucers Canterbury Tales, or even Pickwick, is directly traceable to the plan of making Buddha the central figure of India folk-literature. (« General Notes »)

13In his long, well-researched Introduction, Joseph Jacobs informs us that the full name of the original translator of the tales–perhaps the first Western translator–was Antonio Francesco Doni. A « journalist » by profession, Doni was born in Florence on 16 May 1513. He wrote The Moral Philosophia in 1552 while in Venice, but it was published in 1568. Author of I Mondi (1553), Doni was a « novelist as well as a fabulist », and was included in Roscoe’s Italian Novelists, in which the translation of eight of his novels were included. However, he is more known for his translation of Plutarch (1579) which is universally recognized as « the source of Shakespeare’s picture of the Koman world. » For fear from the Inquisition, he escaped to Ancona and died at Montselice in September 1574.

14Sir Thomas North (1535–1604), the second son of the Edward North, the first Baron North of Kirtling, was an English Justice of the Peace, military officer and translator. Generally regarded as an early exponent of the English prose especially through his rendering of several texts, he translated, in 1557, Antonio de Guevara’s Reloj de Principes [commonly known as Libro áureo] (1529), a compendium of moral counsels chiefly compiled from the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, under the title of Diall of Princes. His English translation of Plutarch’s Parallel Lives [also known as Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans], from the French of Jacques Amyot (1579) is significant for being a source text used by William Shakespeare for many of his plays, Julius Caesar, Coriolanus, and Antony and Cleopatra, where he follows the Lives most closely. Shakespeare even borrows whole speeches directly from North’s work4. The first edition of the book was dedicated to Queen Elizabeth and was followed by another edition in 1595, containing some more biographies. A third edition of his Plutarch, with a supplement of other translated biographies, was published in 1603, probably when he was still alive. According to the 11th edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica, « [i]t is almost impossible to overestimate the influence of North’s vigorous English on contemporary writers, and some critics have called him the first master of English prose. » In English Prose (1916), Charles Whibley sums up North in the following words:

The prose never flags: whether serious or gay, philosophic or narrative, it still keeps its high level of progress. Its colour and inventiveness are characteristic of the author and of the age; a fine body and wholesome substance distinguish it from the work of most of North’s contemporaries.

15In the “Prologue”, North shows his awareness of the migration of the tales he was going to present before his readers: « A worke first compiled in the Indian tongue, and aftervvardes transferred into divers and sundrie other languages: as the Persian, Arabian, Hebrue, Latine, Spanish, and Italian: and now reduced into our vulgar speeche » (13). Written in the 16th century English, which may now be called archaic, North’s narrative is more intent on being didactical than aesthetic, but his rendering reads quite well. Organized in three parts, North’s rendering has his own comments and even analyses at places; and that he truly « englishes » the Indian tales is evident from his anglicizing many terms and habits. For example, in the very first tale, North puts the protagonist as « a husbandeman of Persia » (17), and also uses words like « courtier ». However, he does not seem quite conscious of the origin of the tales, and as a result, he follows the geographical or cultural locations of the source text from where he translated. Thus in the tale of « three great Fishes », it is « upon the borders of Hungarie there was a certayne Lake » (132).

16Bidpai or Bidpay (also Pilpai, Bidlai), popularly accepted in the non-Indian renderings as the narrator of the tales, also arouses curiosity. In fact, he was somehow believed to have been the author of the Panchatantra. As this name first appears in an Arabic version of these fables, they are called the fables of Bidpai. The source word is probably in Sanskrit, meaning “wise man” or “court-scholar”. After the publication of Das der Buch Beyspiele (1483), the Italian translation of Panchatantra, one of the earliest books to be printed after the invention of the printing machine, the name of Bidpai became universally accepted as the author/narrator of these Indian tales.

17It may be appropriate to mention here another very popular English transalation of the tales, from another source. Kalilah and Dimnah: Or the Fables of Bidpai. Being an Account of Their Literary History, with an English Translation of the Later Syriac Version of the Same, and Notes by I. G. N. Keith-Falconer published by the Cambridge University Press in 1885, as the descriptive title indicates, had taken the Syrian version as the source and in a way, closer to the original than that of North. [12 tales of Indian and Buddhist origin: chapters 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17 and 18). Keith-Falconer believes that the original [Indian] name of Bidpai is « Baidaba »: « A Brahman philosophor [sic] Baidaba (Bidpai, Pilpai) determines, if possible, to restore him [King Dabshalim] to the paths of moderation and justice » (Introduction 62).

18In his very elaborately researched Introduction, Keith-Falconer affirms, « All that we know for certain is that it originated in India and belonged to the Buddhist literature » (xvi). He adds « a concise account of the literary history of this collection of tales », as « many readers may be interested in the wanderings and transformations of a book which has probably had more readers than any other except the Bible » (viii-ix). He further informs that these tales travelled from India « not later than 570 A.D. into Persia ». From Pehlevi, the literary dialect of Persia, « the book was rendered about A.D. 570 into Syriac by an ecclesiastic named Bud (or Bod), and about A.D. 750 into Arabic by “Abdullah Ibn al-Mokaffa” ». He further informs that « The Greek version, made about A.D. 1080 by Symeon son of Seth, gave rise to an old Italian one first published in 1583 », and that he has translated from the later Syriac version « of the tenth or 11th century »… « ascribed to a Christian priest » (xiv). Providing detailed genealogical facts, he says, « A Hebrew translation of the Arabic, of uncertain date and authorship, was the parent of a Latin one, made between A.D. 1263 and 1278 by John of Capua, a converted Jew, and styled by him Directorium humanae vitae [Guide for Human Life]. This Latin version became the source text for numerous renderings, including German, Spanish, Italian, French, English, Danish and Dutch », a major one being Einleitung zur Pantschatantra (Leipzig, 1859), the German translation by Theodor Benfey (1809-1881) (xiv).

19In his review (1889) of Joseph Jacobs’s scholarly re-issue of North’s The Fables of Bidpai, Richard Gottheil had made some significant observations:

Perhaps no one book in the world’s literature has had such a unique history as the collection of stories which goes under the name of « Kalilag and Damnag. » Originating above two thousand years ago in the pious circles of the followers of Gautama and destined only for a small band of the faithful, they have, by means of their inherent humanity, traveled thousands of miles beyond their original home, had formed a sort of human bond between different peoples divided by nationality, religion, and history, and have been translated into almost every human tongue. No one can doubt their inherent power; and the study of the journeying of these Buddhistic tales is one of the most fascinating to the philologist and litterateur alike. (67)

20It may be necessary to decipher the roots of the two words Kalilah/Kalilag and Dimnah at this point. According to Keith-Falconer, Kalilah represents « Karataka » in Sanskrit, which means « crow. » The change of Sanskrit “r” to “l” may be due to the fact that the Pehlevi signs for “r” and “l” are quite or almost identical. The change of “t” to “k” is not so surprising when we remember that “t” is a plosive consonant like “k”. Words which in Pehlavi end in “k” exhibit instead an “h” when they pass into modern Persian, and it appears that the Arabic translator was guided by the same habit of language here. Similarly, Dimnah represents the Sanskrit « Damaaaka », a name which Benfey interprets to mean « tamer. » The change of Sanskrit “a” to “i” in the Arabic version is attested by the Old Spanish [Dymnay], John of Capua [Dimna], Raimund of Beziers [Dimna], as well as by our modern Syrian version (270).

21A study in the translation, migration, and adaptation of the Jātakas reveals numerous problems due to inaccurate translations and interpretations. For example, even Jātaka Tales: Selected and Edited with Introduction and Notes (1916) done by such accomplished scholars as H. T. Francis and E. J. Thomas, contains several errors. In the tale entitled « The Ten Slave-Brethren », they translate the Sanskrit word « Jara » [« A huntsman » (his name was Jara, or Old Age), 324] has been wrongly translated: in Indian narratives, Jara is a popular name of a tribal person or a tribe. It is because of the use of the letter « a » which stands for various pronunciations, Francis and Thomas translated the word as « Old Age ». Most of the time, the translators/interpreters did not know how a particular Indian word was pronounced. So while the tales were travelling various language zones, the original pronunciation was irreconcilably distorted. Some Sanskrit words have multiple meanings. A slight mistake in pronunciation, as in this case, would give a different meaning altogether. And such errors were perpetuated and multiplied because of the erroneous transference of the spelling and the preferred pronunciation in the host language. It is not yet clear why the narrator of Panchatantra was famously called « Bidbai ».

22The Jātaka tales and their myriad avatars demonstrate wonderful features of adaptation and appropriation in the host languages and cultures. Interestingly, even in the subcontinent of their origin, the tales have been the fountainhead of inspiration to many a literary creations, even scriptural writings. I wish to draw attention to a story called “Rama and Sita” (325-31), which differs from Valmiki’s Ramayana. In this tale, the locale is Benares, not Ayoddhya. Dasaratha, the king had « sixteen thousand wives », and that « the eldest and queen-consort bore him two sons and a daughter, the elder son was named Rama-pandita, or Rama the Wise, the second was named Prince Lakkhana, or Lucky, and the daughter’s name was the Lady Sita » (325)5.

23I would like to present in this part of the article an example which clearly demonstrates the extent of migration, appropriation, and adaptation of the Jātakas. The story I have selected is “Kachchhaa Jātaka”, more popular as Tortoise and the Geese6. An Indian version of the story appears in the Panchatantra, where a tortoise lives with its friends in a lake that is likely to dry up. The tortoise had made friends with a pair of geese. They take pity on its probable suffering in the days to come and suggest the tortoise fly off with them to safety. They will hold a stick in their beaks and the tortoise would bite the stick while the geese fly. The tortoise had been advised to keep its mouth shut during the flight, lest he should fall until they reach their destination. However, in the midway, when some people, in a place they are passing, jeer at the sight, the tortoise gets annoyed and opens its mouth to shout back at them. Needless to say, it falls down the moment it opens its mouth. After its fall, it is cut up and eaten.

24This tale was eventually included in The Tales of Bidpai and travelled westward via translations into Persian, Syriac, Arabic, Greek, Hebrew and Latin. The last of these began to be translated into other European languages at the end of the middle ages. Doni’s tale is closer to the original, a version of which can also be seen in the Jātaka Tales (1916) by Francis and Thomas, but in North, the tale has been told differently by expanding it and colouring it with the seaside. French fabulist Jean de la Fontaine added it to his fables as La Tortue et les deux canards (x 3). For him the story illustrates human vanity and imprudence. His tortoise tires of living in the same place and decides to travel. Two ducks [not geese] offer to fly her to America, but while on their way, the tortoise hears people below describe her as « the queen of tortoises » and sounds in agreement. In the Mongolian version, it is not a tortoise but a frog, jealous of geese that can migrate to a warmer climate. While being carried thus by the geese, the frog shouts in excitement and tells his clan about his great fortune and falls, back to where he belongs. In the Russian, Vsevolod Garshin’s (1855-88) story Frog the Traveller (1887) was adapted into a cartoon in 1965. There the frog falls because it wants to tell those below that the traveling was its own idea and not that of the ducks that carry him. Unlike in most variants, the frog falls into a pond and survives to boast of its supposed travels (Epitome of the Pāli Canon 205-07).

25Interestingly, the tale of Tortoise and the Geese is still of interest to contemporary writers who adapt it from their own versions. It appears in Chinua Achebe’s (1930-2013) Things Fall Apart (1958) although somewhat differently. Ekwefi, Okonkwo’s second wife, tells this story to the children. The tortoise, which is a West African trickster figure, hears of a feast being given by the sky-dwellers to the birds and persuades them to take him with them, winged in their feathers. There he tells his hosts that his name is « All-of-You » and when they provide the food, with the assurance that « This is for all of you », claims the entire feast. The enraged birds claim their feathers back and leave. However, a parrot agrees to take a message to the tortoise’s wife to pull the bedding from his house and leave it on the ground. Instead, the parrot tells her to bring out all the hard things so that when the tortoise jumps down its shell is broken. He survives, however, and the broken shell is glued together. This provides the explanation of why the tortoise’s shell is so uneven (Chapter 11 96-99). Much the same story is now claimed by the Swazi people and the Kikuyu [the largest ethnic group in Kenya]. (206)

26Thus, the translation and migration of the Jātakas during the last two thousand and five hundred years or so have demonstrated wonderful adaptation and cultural appropriation and show that tales can go beyond spatiotemporal dimensions and keep acquiring fresh lives. One may not accept that a large corpus of the tales and stories in the rest of the world have been borrowed from the Jātakas, but we have to remember that most of the adaptation had been spontaneous, without any nationalist or racial bias, and they have eventually become the integral parts of various cultures. Besides, the Jātaka Katha has been universally accepted as the earliest specimen of Frame Stories, and this, in my opinion, is also something to celebrate. This kind of narrative style has also influenced the puranas and mahakavyas to a great extent and has even formed the structure of the bhasha literatures in the recent times. These tales, which are easily the early artifacts of many of the world literatures, have perhaps influenced the episodic character in the respective literatures. Thus, the Jātakas, which perhaps evolved as didactic narratives in the ancient India, have had essential to the evolution of literatures of the world.


Achebe Chinua, Things Fall Apart, London, Heinemann, 1958.

Budge Ernest Wallis, Baralam and Yewasef, Vol. 2, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2014 [1923], Available online: <https://books.google.fr/books?isbn=1107643716>, Accessed: September 19, 2016.

Davids Thomas William Rhys, Fausbøl Viggo Buddhist Birth-Stories (Jātaka Tales). The Commentarial Introduction Entitled Nidana-Katha: The Story of the Lineage, New Delhi/Madras, Asian Educational Services, 1999.

Edgerton Franklin, The Panchatantra Reconstructed, Vol. 1 Text and Critical Apparatus, Vol. 2 Introduction and Translation, New Haven, American Oriental Series, 1924.

Epitome of the Pāli Canon, [s.l.], Lulu Com, 2012, Available online: <https://books.google.fr/books?isbn=1300327154>, Accessed October 29, 2015.

Fausbøl Viggo, The Dasaratha-Jātaka, being the Buddhist Story of King Rama. The Original Pāli Text with a Translation and Notes, Kopenhagen, Hagerup, 1871, Available at: <http://www.sacred-texts.com/bud/j4/j4025.htm>, Accessed September 19, 2016.

Francis Henry Thomas, Thomas Edward Joseph, Jātaka Tales: Selected and Edited with Introduction and Notes, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1916.

Gottheil Richard, « Review of The Earliest English Version of the Fables of Bidpai, “The Morall Philosophie of Doni”, by Sir Thomas North by Joseph Jacobs », Hebraica, 1889, vol. 6, no 1, p. 67-69, Available online: <http://www.jstor.org/stable/527430>, Accessed: October 28, 2015.

Holt John, The Buddhist Visnu: Religious Transformation, Politics, and Culture, New York, Columbia University Press, 2004. Reprint: New Delhi, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 2008.

Jacobs Joseph, Barlaam and Josaphat: English Lives of Buddha, London, David Nutt, 1896. Available online: <barlaamjosaphate00jacouoft>, Accessed: September 19, 2016.

Jacobs Joseph, « General Notes », in Complete Fairy Tales. (Indian Fairy Tales, Celtic Fairy Tales, English Fairy Tales, More English Fairy Tales…), [s.l.], Osteon-Press, 2015, Available online: <https://books.google.fr/books?isbn=1772464414>, Accessed: October 6, 2015.

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North Sir Thomas, Fables of Bidpai: The Morall Philosophie of Doni, London, David Nutt, 1570. Scholarly reissue edited by Joseph Jacobs, Edinburgh/London: Ballantyne/Hanson & Co., 1888.

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1 The Gita Govinda a very popular work of Sanskrit poetry by Jayadeva, the 11th century poet from Odisha, begins with his composition Dasakritikrite or Dasavatara shloka, in which he includes the Buddha as the ninth avatara of Vishnu: « Nindasi yajnavidhe-rahaha srutijatam/sadaya-hrudaya darsitapasughatam/Kesava dhrita Buddhasharira/ Jaya Jagadisha Hare » [O Keshava (Vishnu)! In the form of Buddha, the Enlightened One, you had compassion in your heart. You condemned the ritualistic practices of the Vedas and the killing of innocent animals. Hail O Jagadish! Lord of the universe! (Translation mine.)]

2 For more details, see, John Holt, The Buddhist Visnu: Religious Transformation, Politics, and Culture, New York, Columbia University Press, 2004. Reprint: New Delhi, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 2008; « Singh, Nagendra Kumar. Buddha as Depicted in the Puranas », in Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Vol. 7, New Delhi, Anmol Publications, 1997, p. 260-275.

3 The interesting transformation of Buddha or Bodhisattva into a Christian saint demonstrates to what extent tales can get adapted and appropriated by other cultures. The legend of Barlaam /Baralam and Josaphat/Yewasef tells how an Indian king called Abenner or Avenier persecuted the Christian Church founded by the Apostle Thomas. When astrologers predicted that his own son Josaphat would one day become a Christian, the king kept the young prince in isolation. Nevertheless, somehow Josaphat met the hermit Saint Barlaam and converted to Christianity. In spite of the anger and persuasion of Abenner, Josaphat kept his faith. It so happened that eventually the king also embraced Christianity, and abdicated the throne to Josaphat, and retired to the desert to become a hermit. Josaphat himself later abdicated and joined his teacher Barlaam. 
The tale derives from a second to 4
th century Sanskrit Mahayana Buddhist text, via a Manichaean version, then the Arabic Kitab Bilawhar wa-Yudasaf (Book of Bilawhar and Yudasaf), current in Baghdad in the 8th century, from where it entered into Middle Eastern Christian circles before appearing in European versions. The two were entered in the Eastern Orthodox calendar with a feast-day on 26 August, and in the Roman Martyrology in the Western Church as “Barlaam and Josaphat” on 27 November.
Ioasaph (Georgian 
Iodasaph, Arabic Yūdhasaf or Būdhasaf) is derived from the Sanskrit Bodhisattva. The Sanskrit word was changed to Bodisav in Persian texts in the 6th or 7th century, then to Budhasaf or Yudasaf in an 8th century Arabic document (possibly Arabic initial "b" changed to “y” by duplication of a dot in handwriting). This became Iodasaph in Georgia in the 10th century, and that name was adapted as Ioasaph in Greece in the 11th century, and then as Iosaphat or Josaphat in Latin. (D. M. Lang, The Life of the Blessed Iodasaph: A New Oriental Christian Version of the Barlaam and Ioasaph Romance, Jerusalem, Greek Patriarchal Library, Georgian MS 140, BSOAS 20.1/3 (1957).

4 For a detailed analysis of North’s translation of Plutarch on Shakespeare, see, George Wyndham, « North’s Plutarch », in Essays in Romantic Literature, London, Macmillan and Company, 1919, Available online: <http://www.shakespeare-online.com/essays/northshakespeare.html>, Accessed: September 22, 2016.

5 In an authentic version called The Dasaratha-Jātaka, being the Buddhist Story of King Rama. The Original Pāli Text with a Translation and Notes edited and translated by the noted German scholar M. Viggo Fausbøl (Copenhagen, 1871), a commentary is added: « At that time the king Suddhodana was king Dasaratha, Mahāmāyā was the mother, Rāhulā’s mother was Sītā, Ānanda was Bharata, and I myself was Rāma-paṇḍita. » For more details, visit <http://www.sacred-texts.com/bud/j4/j4025.htm>, Accessed September 19, 2016.

6 For greater details, see, Epitome of the Pāli Canon, [s.l.], Lulu Com, 2012, p. 205-207. Available at: <https://books.google.co.in/books?id=3176AwAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&hl=fr&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>, Accessed October 29, 2015.

Pour citer ce document

Subhendu Mund, « Travelling Tales: Migration, Translation, Adaptation and Appropriation of the Jātaka Katha » dans « Indian Birth and Western Rebirths of the Jātaka Tales », « Lectures du monde anglophone », n° 3, 2017 Licence Creative Commons
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Quelques mots à propos de :  Subhendu Mund

BJB Autonomus College & IIT Bhubaneswar
Subhendu Mund is a well-known Odia poet, critic, lyricist, translator and lexicographer. He is also a universally acclaimed scholar in the area of Indian English literature and Odia literature and culture studies. He has published, besides fifty research papers, thirty-two books in Odia, English and in Kannada translation. Subhendu Mund is the Chief Editor of the Indian Journal of World Literature and Culture, and the Vice-President of the Indian Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies (since 2008). After forty years of teaching and educational administration, Dr Mund is now an independent scholar living in Bhubaneswar (India).