The Mahavastu (great story)

by J. J. Jones | 1949 | 502,133 words | ISBN-10: 086013041X

This page describes wooing of yashodhara which is Chapter VIII of the English translation of the Mahavastu (“great story”), dating to the 2nd-century BC. This work belongs to the Mahasanghika school of early Buddhism and contains narrative stories of the Buddha’s former lives, such as Apadanas, Jatakas and more..

Chapter VIII - The Wooing of Yaśodharā

When the Bodhisattva was distributing jewels to the maidens in the park, Yaśodharā came last of all when the beautiful things had all been given away.[1] And when the young prince saw Yaśodharā he kept his gaze fixed on her. He took off the costly necklace which he wore and which was worth a hundred-thousand pieces and gave it to Yaśodharā. With a smile she said, (73) “Is this all that I am worth?” The young prince, laughing, took off from his finger, his finger-ring, which was worth a hundred-thousand pieces, and gave it to her. And when he had thus distributed the jewels among the maidens he went to the palace.

The king asked his ministers, “On which of the maidens did the young prince fix his gaze?” They replied, “Your majesty, it was on the Śākyan Mahānāma’s daughter, named Yaśodharā. It was on her that the eyes of the young prince fell.”

Thereupon the king sent a message to Mahānāma requesting him to give his daughter to his son Sarvārthasiddha. But Mahānāma sent a message back to say, “I can not give Yaśodharā to the young prince. Because the lad has grown up among the women he has not advanced at all in the arts, in archery, in elephant-riding, in handling bow and sword, and in kingly accomplishments. In short, the prince has made no progress at all.”

When King Śuddhodana heard this he was distressed. “It is,” said he, “just as Mahānāma says. Out of too much affection for him I have not trained the lad in any art.” And sorrowfully the king entered his palace. The young prince saw his father and asked him, “Why are you sorrowful?” The king replied, “Let be, son. What is that to you?” “Nay, father,” said the lad, “I certainly must know the reason for it.” And the king seeing the young prince so much concerned, and being pressed for an answer, informed him of the cause of his sadness, saying, “This is what the Śākyan Mahānāma told me when I asked him to give his daughter to you. ‘Your son,’ said he, ‘has grown up among the women. He has nowise been trained in the arts, in archery, in skill with elephants, chariots and bows. I shall not give my daughter to him.’”

On hearing this the young prince said to his father, “Be not vexed, father. Cause a proclamation to be made in the towns and provinces that the prince will on the seventh day from this hold a tournament.[2] Let all come (74) who are skilled whether in knowledge of the arts, in archery, fighting, boxing, cutting, stabbing, in speed, in feats of strength,[3] in the use of elephants, horses, chariots, bows and spears, or in argument.”[4]

When King Śuddhodana heard this he was pleased, and he caused a proclamation to be made in the city of Kapilavastu and in the country that the prince would on the seventh day hold a tournament. All who were skilled in knowledge of the arts or in archery were to come. Messengers were also sent to other places to announce that on the seventh day Prince Sarvārthasiddha, the son of Śuddhodana, was holding a tournament, and that all who were skilled were to attend.

Thus the people hurried out from Kapilavastu, and the people from the provinces came too. From other places, also, men imbued with curiosity came to see the prowess of the young Śākyan princes and to see the feats of strength of Prince Sarvārthasiddha. And so many thousands had gathered together, and the princes hurried out from Kapilavastu.

Now an elephant which had been roaming outside the city entered Kapilavastu. It was sixty years old and endowed with perfect strength. Just then Devadatta was going out of Kapilavastu to the place of the tournament, mounted on a fine elephant. The straying elephant rushed at him. Devadatta, enraged, gave the sixty year old elephant one blow with the palm of his hand, and it fell dead there just at the city gate. And Devadatta, having killed the elephant, went out by the city gate.

A great crowd of people including Prince Sundarananda had come to the spot. The latter asked someone, “Ho, sir, what is this mass of men doing at the city gate?” The man replied, “This elephant was killed with one blow of the hand (75) by Devadatta as he was hurrying out. And now the elephant blocks the city gate. Devadatta could not drag it away, but passed on by leaping over it.”

Then Sundarananda alighted from his chariot and dragged[5] the elephant seven paces. When the crowd of people saw this, they cried, “Bravo! Behold the strength of Prince Sundarananda who has dragged the elephant seven paces from the gate and gone past it.”

The Bodhisattva in great majesty came on the scene and asked, “What is this great crowd of people doing at the city gate?” They replied, “O prince, Devadatta was going out from Kapilavastu and a roaming elephant came in at the gate and rushed at him. In anger Devadatta with one blow of his hand slew the elephant, which fell blocking the city gate. But Devadatta was not able to drag it away from the city gate and he went past by leaping over it. Sundarananda, however, dragged it seven paces. And now here is all this people packed in a dense crowd. How can they go out?”

At that time and on that occasion Kapilavastu was surrounded by seven walls. The Bodhisattva alighted from his chariot and with his own native[6] strength he hurled the elephant out of the city over the seven walls. When they saw the prowess of the Bodhisattva several thousands of devas and men shouted “Bravo!”

And the Bodhisattva went out. So, too, did King Śuddhodana with his Śākyan retinue and the Śākyan Mahānāma.

Then an exhibition was given by Prince Sarvārthasiddha at which he displayed his feats in all the arts. There was no one to equal him either in fighting or in boxing. In the last competition[7] they shot arrows[8]. In a space ten kos[9] long there were seven palm-trees. These seven palm-trees had been erected at intervals of a kos. At the far end of the palm-trees a drum was hung up. (76) One man shot through the trunk of one palm-tree, another through the trunk of two. Devadatta’s arrow pierced the trunks of two palm-trees and stuck in the third. Sundarananda’s arrow pierced the trunks of three palm-trees but fell to the ground between the third and the fourth.

Thereupon the Bodhisattva fetched the bow of his grandfather, King Siṃhahanu, of the race of devas. And he threw down the bow in the middle of the arena, saying, “Whosoever can draw[10] this bow let him have it.” All the men tried this bow in their hands but no one was able to draw it. All the Śākyan princes tried, the Koliyan princes tried, the Licchavi princes tried, and other princes also tried, but no one was able to draw the bow.

Then the Bodhisattva seized the bow. After honouring it with a fragrant garland out of reverence for his grandfather, he drew the bow. And as the bow was being drawn all Kapilavastu heard the sound, and devas and men cried “Bravo!”

With one arrow the Bodhisattva shot through the seven palm-trees and the drum, the arrow then entering the earth.[11] Devas and men cried “Bravo!” A celestial shower of blossoms was poured down from heaven by thousands of devas. When they saw the prince’s feat of strength and the force of his intelligence, and realised that he was fully trained in strength, efficiency[12] and wisdom, the whole kingdom of Śākya, and other kings as well, rejoiced. For great was the good fortune won by the Śākyans and King Śuddhodana to whom such a Great Man had been born.

When the Bodhisattva had gone forth from home, had awakened to the unsurpassed perfect enlightenment and had set rolling the excellent wheel of dharma, (77) the monks heard of this performance. And they said to the Exalted One, “With the Exalted One the long-lost fist of the Śākyans was found[13] again.” The Exalted One replied, “Monks, it was not then only that I recovered the long-lost fist of the Śākyans. There was another occasion also.”

Footnotes and references:


The two sentences interpolated here from the context on the next page and enclosed in brackets, are omitted in translation.


Literally, “give an exhibition” darśanaṃ dāsyati.


The text has bahāhukke, which is Senart’s doubtful reading of the MSS, but which is an inexplicable word to him. A plausible emendation is balākāra, “use of force.” In a parallel context immediately below the word used is balaparākrama.


? Upavitarkeṣu from upavitarka.


Kaḍḍhita past part, of kaḍḍhati—‘a dialectic form supposed to equal Sk. karṣati, cf. Prakr. kaḍḍhai “to pull, tear,” khaḍḍā [? khaḍḍhā] “pit,” “dug-out”; see Bloomfield, J.A.O.S. xiv. p. 465” (P.E.D., which, however, makes no reference to our text.). “To drag away”, immediately above, is apakarṣayitum.


Mātāpitṛkena. Senart, however, renders “fort comme père et mère.”


Literally “exhibition,” nidarśana.


Bāṇā vidhyanti. Vidhyanti is from vyadh on the analogy of Pali vijjhati, which is both active and passive. We might expect here bāṇais, i.e., “they shot with arrows.” But as vyadh, “to pierce” is especially used in the sense of “to shoot” sc. with arrows, bāṇā may be legitimately nominative as the subject of vidhyanti taken as a passive form. Cf. Vol. I, p. II. n. 3.


See Vol. I, p. 36, n. 2.


Literally “to fill,” pūrayitum. Cf. Semitic (Hebrew and Syriac, e.g.) use of root ml’ “to be full,” causative “to fill,” for “to draw” a bow.


Miss I. B. Horner has called the translator’s attention to an article by A. K. Coomaraswamy, entitled “the Symbolism of Archery,” in Ars Islamica Vol. 10 (1943), where allusion is made to a similar competition in archery in the Mahābhārata (1. 76 ff.). There, also, the arrows of the winner, Arjuna, not only penetrate the target, but pass through and hit the ground.


Ṛddhi—not necessarily “magic power” here.


Literally “was known” jñāta. That is, before Siddhārtha none of Siṃhahanu’s descendants had had the strength of hand to draw the bow.

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