The Mahavastu (great story)

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

This page describes jataka of amara (the smith’s daughter) which is Chapter XI 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 XI - The Jātaka of Amarā (the smith’s daughter)

The monks said to the Exalted One, “It was by means of his skill that the Exalted One won Yaśodharā.” The Exalted One replied, “This was not the first occasion on which I won Yaśodharā by means of my skill. There was another occasion also.” The monks asked, “Was there another occasion, Lord?” The Exalted One replied, “Yes, monks.”

Once on a time, monks, long ago, there was a village half a yojana[1] from Mithilā[2] called Yavakacchaka. Just outside Yavakacchaka was a smiths’ village. The daughter of the head smith there, named Amarā, was amiable, comely, clever and of ready speech. The son of the overseer of Yavakacchaka, named Mahauṣadha, was amiable, comely, virtuous and of great power. As he was crossing a field in the country he saw the smith’s daughter walking along and carrying some food. (84) Mahauṣadha asked her, “Lady, I pray you, who are you? What is your name?” Amarā replied, “My name is where the Tathāgata is.”[3] Mahauṣadha asked, “Lady, who are your parents[4]?” She replied, “Those who...”[5] Mahauṣadha asked, “Lady, where are you going?” She replied, “I am going...”[6]  Mahauṣadha asked, “In what direction, lady?” She replied....”[7]

Then the extremely clever Mahauṣadha addressed Amarā the smith’s daughter in a verse:

Surely Amarā is your name, and you are a smith’s daughter. In my mind I know[8] the truth, your home is to the south.

Now this young girl had her head and two eyes, all three of them, well smeared with ointment. Her clothes were spruce, and in her hand she had a pot containing a little rice-gruel.

Then the extremely clever Mahauṣadha addressed Amarā, the smith’s daughter, in a verse:

Why is your head and why are your eyes so well smeared with ointment? Why are your clothes so spruce? And why have you so little rice-gruel?

And Amarā, the smith’s daughter replied to the wise Mahauṣadha in a verse:

My head is well oiled and the ointment glistens, my clothes are spruce, and the rice-gruel is little, because there has been no rain.[9]

Then, monks, the wise Mahauṣadha addressed Amarā, the smith’s daughter, in a verse:

If now your oil and ointment are glistening[10] and your clothes are festive, yet other[11] people have had rain.

(85) Now the smith’s daughter was carrying a pot of soup for food, hiding it from the rain under her white cloak.[12] And the wise Mahauṣadha addressed Amarā, the smith’s daughter, in a verse:

As for the pot of food you carry protected beneath your white cloak, I ask you, sweet lady Amarā[13], for whom are you carrying it?

Then, monks, Amarā, the smith’s daughter, replied to the wise Mahauṣadha in a verse[14]:

Then, monks, the wise Mahauṣadha replied to Amarā, the smith’s daughter, in a verse:

Your father is thirty years old, your grandfather is...,[15] and you are ten years of age. Thus, my girl, do I gather.

Mahauṣadha asked:

Where is he gone, Amarā, at whose absence your mother is unhappy and disconsolate, and is seeking him high and low?

Then, monks, Amarā, the smith’s daughter, replied to the wise Mahauṣadha in a verse:

Where the dead breathe, and the burnt is burned again, and kin is struck by kin, thither is my father gone.

(86) Then, monks, the wise Mahauṣadha replied to Amarā’ the smith’s daughter, in a verse:

The smith’s bellows blow,[16] the coals glow again, metal is struck by metal—your father is gone to his smithy.

I pray you, lady, tell me the safe, the true, the straight and the easy way, and I shall go to Yavakacchaka.

Then, monks, the smith’s daughter replied to the wise Mahauṣadha in a verse:

Where the meal and the gruel[17] are, and the twin-leafed Judas trees.[18] Go[19] by the hand wherewith I eat, not by the hand wherewith I eat not.[20]

This is the way to Yavakacchaka; if you are clever find it.[21]

Then, monks, the wise Mahauṣadha replied to Amarā, the smith’s daughter, in verse:

Where the sparse[22] barley grows and the ebony tree[23] is in bloom, this[24] way I’ll take and go to Yavakacchaka.

Then, monks, Amarā, the smith’s daughter, replied to the wise Mahauṣadha in a verse:

Go, brahman, along that way, there you will eat food.[25]
Sons thrive on their fathers; you will eat of their flesh.

Then, monks, the wise Mahauṣadha replied to Amarā, the smith’s daughter in verse:

The shoots thrive on the bamboo though it is but dry wood. I shall eat of their flesh. Thus I’ll go to your house.[26]

(87) Then, monks, Amarā, the smith’s daughter, addressed the wise Mahauṣadha in a verse:

Stay, brāhman, since there will be a sacrifice going on in our house. My mother will be offering a great sacrifice to the king of devas.[27]

Then, monks, the wise Mahauṣadha addressed Amarā, the smith’s daughter, in a verse:

Whatever sacrifice your mother will be performing to the king of devas, I shall take part in it. And so I’ll go to your house.

Then, monks, the wise Mahauṣadha asked her parents to give him Amarā, the smith’s daughter, to wife. But Amarā’s parents replied, “We shall not give our girl to one who is not a-smith.”

Now, monks, the wise Mahauṣadha was perfectly skilled in all the crafts. And he asked himself, “What is the most delicate piece of work that smiths do? Why, needles. The smith who can make needles is a master craftsman.” So Mahauṣadha made needles and enclosed them in a sheath. In the one sheath seven needles were enclosed. And all the eight needles were only one needle.[28] And that one needle was really eight needles.

Mahauṣadha took the needle to the smiths’ village to offer it for sale. Coming to the streets he called out, “Needles to sell! Who’ll buy?”

Flawless,[29] well-made, sharp of point, and smooth[30] needles do I sell in the village of the smiths. Buy of me.

(88) When the girl heard Mahauṣadha’s cry she ran out, and addressed him in a verse:

Knives are made here, and arrows and lances. Needles as well[31] are made here, and fish-hooks too.

You are drunk, fellow, or else out of your mind, if you wish to sell needles in a village of smiths.

Then the wise Mahauṣadha addressed Amarā, the smith’s daughter, in a verse:

It needs a skilful man to sell needles in a village of smiths, for master craftsmen know when a job is well or badly done.

If, lady, your father knew that these needles were made by me, he would invite me to take you[32] and all that is in your father’s house.[33]

Then, monks, Amarā, the smith’s daughter, addressed her father in a verse:

Listen, father, to what this skilled man is saying. He is a smith’s son, an adroit and clever maker of needles.

Then, monks, the father of Amarā, the smith’s daughter, when he saw the needle, was amazed. He took his daughter with him and addressed the wise Mahauṣadha in a verse:

Never have I heard of, never have I seen such needles. I am well pleased with your work, and I give you this girl of mine.

(89) The Exalted One said, “It may be again, monks, that you will think that at that time and on that occasion the wise Mahauṣadha was somebody else. You must not think so. Why? I, monks, at that time and on that occasion was he who was named Mahauṣadha. It may be again, monks, that you will think that at that time and on that occasion the head man of the smiths’ village was somebody else. But you must not think so. And why? This Sākyan here, Mahānāma, was at that time and on that occasion the head man of the smiths’ village. It may be again, monks, that you will think that at that time and on that occasion the village smith’s daughter named Amarā was somebody else. You must not think so. And why? Yaśodharā here, monks, at that time and on that occasion was the smith’s daughter. Then also did I win her by my skill just as I have done on this occasion.

Here ends the Jātaka of Amarā the smith’s daughter.

Footnotes and references:


See Vol. I, p. 7, n. 3.


See Vol. I, p. 239, n. 2.


I.e. “the home of the immortals.” Amarā. Cf. the riddle in J. 6. 364,

sāmi aham atītānāgate va etarahi va yaṃ n’atthi taṃnāmika,

“my name is that which neither is, nor was, nor ever shall be,”

Which Mahosadha interprets by replying,

loke amaram nānu n’atthi, tvaṃ Amarā nāma bhavissasīti,

“there is nothing in the world immortal, and your name must be Amarā.”


Literally “whose are you?” Keṣāṃ tvaṃ?


The text here is very corrupt. It reads yehi oṣiṇo teṣāṃ ahaṃ, “I belong to those by whom oṣiṇo”. Senart can make no sense out of this last word, and there is nothing in the apparatus criticus which could suggest a conjecture. It obviously hides an expression which enigmatically describes the occupation of a smith, for, as the verse passage immediately below shows, it is from this reply that Mahauṣadha deduces that Amarā was a smith’s daughter.


This passage again is corrupt, for the text, yacchatraṃ tana gacchāmi, makes no sense. One MS. reads yavacchakam which may be a corruption of Yavakacchaka, i.e. “I am going to Y.” But this sounds too straightforward a reply among the other riddles, though there need not be a riddle in this particular reply. In the verse following Mahauṣadha draws three conclusions from Amarā’s replies, namely, as to the girl’s name, her father’s occupation and the direction in which her home lies. For the text we may therefore read yena kṣetraṃ tena gacchāmi, “I am going to the field” sc. our field, or home. The next question, then, kahiṃgami “whither going?” i.e. in what direction, draws out the enigmatic reply saṃśritāyāṃtaṃ tahiṃgami. Unfortunately, the first of these two words is hopelessly corrupt, but, from Mahauṣadha’s interpretation of the reply in the verse, kṣetraṃ vo dakṣinādiśi, “Your home is to the south or right,” it must conceal some expression which could be interpreted in such a sense. Cf. below p. 83.

The difficulties in the text of this story are probably due to the fact that it is based on two separate Jātakas. The theme as a whole is that of Jātaka 387 (J. 3. 281 ff), where, however, both the Bodhisattva and his bride-to-be are unnamed. Mahauṣadha and Amarā appear by name in an episode in Jātaka 546 (J. 6. 364 ff.), but there Mahauṣadha assumes the guise of a tailor, and Amarā is the daughter of an impoverished merchant turned ploughman. This latter circumstance may give plausibility to the emendation suggested above yena kṣetraṃ tena gacchāmi,


See preceding note.


Reading prajāṇāmi for prajānāsi.


The translation here is tentative only as the text is very corrupt. Not only is the first pāda incomplete, sutailā. .. śīṣaṃ (which, after Senart’s suggestion, has been completed into sutailāñjitaṃ śīrṣaṃ), but the exact significance of lāsaka is uncertain. This word is Senart’s conjecture for alāsanam of the MSS. He, however, gives it the sense of “moving quickly,” i.e., “soon disappearing.” But, las, the stem of which it is a derivative, means primarily “to flash,” “glitter,” “shine,” etc. Hence the translation “glistens.”

The end of the verse, dhvāgū kṣudrā canodako (read nodakaṃ), has been interpreted on the analogy of Amarā’s reply to Mahosadha in J. 6. 364, “Kiṃ bhadde atibahalā yāgū’ti,” “udakaṃ no laddhaṃ sāmīti,” “Kedārehi udakaṃ no laddhaṃ bhavissati tnaññe ti,” “Why, madam, your gruel is very thick” (i.e., after the story, she had not enough water after giving some to Mahosadha to wash his hands. J. trans. 6, p. 183 is wrong in translating “there is very little [atibahala] rice here.”) “We got no water, master.” “You mean, madam, when your field was in growth you got no water on it.” The meaning of the verse in our text is thus taken to be that Amarā’s head and eyes were glistening and her clothes spruce, because they had not been marred by water, i.e. rain, the lack of which explained also the scantiness of the rice, or, alternatively, the thickness of the gruel.


Reading lāsakā for lolikā of the text.


Reading, with Senart, anye for alpe. Even so the point is not clear.


This is obviously from another story or from another recension of the previous one. We are definitely told on p. 84 that Amarā was carrying not soup but rice-gruel in her hand; and there is no question of hiding it from the rain. In the subsequent colloquy Mahauṣadha’s question and Amarā’s enigmatic replies follow pretty much the same pattern as those in the first version.


Text abhare (sic).


The text here again is hopelessly corrupt and Senart does not attempt a restoration. A passage would seem to be missing also, in the MSS. Mahauṣadha’s question is about the person to whom Amarā is carrying the food. The apparatus criticus, however, contains nothing which would seem to be part of an answer to this question. It hints rather at an enigmatic reply given by Amarā in answer to a question about the ages of different members of her family. And the next words of Mahauṣadha are a solution of her riddle.


Nelāyako, an unknown word, but possibly representing a corruption of a compound ending in -āyuko, “aged.”


Śvasanti, the same word as for “breathe” above.


Senart prints saptābhiraṅgā, but has to say that dbhiraṅga is a word unknown to him. On the basis of Amarā’s riddle in J. 6. 365, however, it would seem justifiable to amend our text into yena śaktū viḍaṅgā which would correspond exactly to the Pali yena sattu bilaṅgā. The Commentary explains sattu by sattuāpaṇaṃ and kanjiyāpaṇaṃ, “cake-shop” and “gruel-shop.” Viḍaṅga is the plant Embelia ribes, or we may read vilaṅga, the plant Erycibe panniculata (Erycibe paniculata?), either of which forms, according to the P.E.D., may be the origin of the Pali bilaṅgā, “sour gruel.”


Palāśa, “Butea frondosa.”


Reading vrajasi for vrajesi.


Senart’s text is yena aśeśi na tena vrajesi na tena aśesi. He says of aśeśi (aśesi) that it is obviously corrupt. It obviously hides, however, some form of “to eat.” Cf. the corresponding Pali at J. 6. 365 Yenādāmi from ad, “to eat.” The translation has, therefore, been made on the tentative restoration of the line into yena aśnāmi tena vrajasi na yena na aśnāmi.


Translated as part of the verse on the analogy of the corresponding Pali.


Or “wild,” kadāhkyā, “having a bad name.”


Kovidāra = Koviḷāra, Bauhinia variegata, also one of the trees in heaven. See Vol. I, p. 27.


Reading imam for vāmam, as Senart suggests. Amarā’s directions both here and on p. 84 point to the right, not to the left (vāma).


Reading bhaktam for bhakto.


Senart is satisfied that the text is correct here, but the sense is obscure. The comparison of the bamboo and its shoots to a father and his son is clear. Perhaps, the idea is that Amarā directs Mahauṣadha to the exact spot by enigmatically referring to a bamboo growing there.


I.e. Indra. Note the strange use of the instrumental devarājena to denote the recipient of the sacrifice. In the next verse we have the regular genitive devarājasya.


I.e., so fine were the needles that the sheath containing them was fine enough to form a needle itself.


? nikkaṭṭakacchā. Senart explains by saying that kaccha denotes some kind of flaw, while nikkaṭṭa is from niṣ-kṛṣ, “to draw out.” This is highly problematical. The corresponding adjective in J. (3. 282) is akakkasa “smooth,” i.e. a-karkaśa “not rough” (see P.E.D. and J. trans. p. 178). But the Commentary’s gloss—paṭalassa vā tilakassa vā odhino vā abhāvena, would seem to make “flawless” a better translation of the Pali. It is only with diffidence, however, that it is suggested that nikkaṭṭakaccha in our text conceals some compound of karkaśa.


? vaṭṭayāsika. Senart is doubtful of the reading and ignorant of the sense of the last part of this compound. It is interesting to note, however, that the Commentary glosses apharusam, the corresponding term in by vaṭṭatāya.


Reading iha eva dāni, (= idāni) for—tāni of the text.


Reading tvayā ca me pravāreya for svayaṃ va me pra°, “he would present me with you” or “invite me to take you.” J.3. 284 has tayā ca maṃ nimanteyya. (Nimanteti “to invite,” with instrumental of the object to which one is invited.) For this use of pravāreti, pravārayati = nimanteti, see P.E.D. s.v., where the present instance and that at 1. 348 (text) are to be added to the BSk. citations.


The reading here is suspect. Senart prints prattaṃ te ca pitu varaṃ, and translates “ton voeu serait accordé par ton père.” To this it may be objected that pitu is genitive or dative, and, also, that the only wish alluded to in the story so far is that of Mahauṣadha to gain Amarā. Two MSS. read for prattam, paṃca, which would seem to be a remnant of the traditional text as preserved in J. 3. 284, Yañ c’atth’ aññaṃ ghare dhanaṃ ti. On this analogy Senart’s text has been emended to yaṃ te ca pitu ghare.

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