The Mahavastu (great story)

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

This page describes jataka of the tortoise (kacchapa) which is Chapter XXIV 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 XXIV - Jātaka of the Tortoise (Kacchapa)

(244) The monks said to the Exalted One, “By means of his unique intelligence the Exalted One, when he was a bird, escaped after he had fallen into the hands, into the power, and into the cage of Māra.” The Exalted One replied, “On another occasion, also, did I, by means of my unique intelligence escape after I had fallen into the hands, the power, and the basket of Māra.” The monks asked, “Was there another occasion, Lord?” The Exalted One replied, “Yes, monks.”

Once upon a time, monks, long ago, near the city of Benares, in the province of Kāśi, there was a river called Paripātrika.[1] On its bank was a field belonging to a florist.[2] Now it happened on a time that the florist came to the field[3] to pick flowers. With his basket full of flowers for making into wreaths he hurried off in the direction of the village.

Just then a tortoise (kacchapa) came out of the water and started eating cow-dung not far away from the florist. It was seen by the florist, who reflected, “This tortoise will make me to-day a fine pot-full.”[4] So putting his basket of flowers on one side he caught the tortoise and put it in his basket.

But then the tortoise spoke to him in a human voice, saying, “Look, I am plastered with mud, so be careful that the mud will not spoil your flowers. Wash me in the water, therefore, then put me in the basket. In that way the flowers will not be spoilt.” The florist looked at it, and said, “This, truly, is a fine tortoise. I’ll go round and wash it in the water, and then these flowers will not be spoilt by the mud on it.”

As soon as it was in its native element the tortoise stretched out its four limbs and its neck,[5] and slipped out of the florist’s hands. It plunged into the river and came up again to the bank not far away and addressed the florist in verse:—

(245) The Pāripātri[6] is clean, but through delving in the earth on its banks as hard as I could, I am covered with mud. Wash me, florist, and put me in your basket.[7]

And, monks, the florist replied to the turtle in verse:—

The king has heaped much wealth on me; I have acquired the three precious things in abundance.[8] There, my fine tortoise you will be happy in my basket of garlands.

But, monks, the tortoise (kacchapa) replied in verse to the florist:—

The king may have heaped much wealth on you; you may have acquired the three precious things in abundance. You yet are talking like a drunkard; go and eat your fine tortoise in oil.

The Exalted One said, “It may be again, monks, that you will think that at that time and on that occasion that fine tortoise was somebody else. You must not think so. And why? I, monks, at that time and on that occasion was the tortoise. You may think that at that time and on that occasion the florist was somebody else. You must not think so. And why? Wicked Māra here, monks, at that time and on that occasion was the florist. Then, too, did I by my unique intelligence slip out of the florist’s hands, and now also have I escaped from the control of Māra by my unique intelligence.”

Here ends the Kacchapa-Jātaka.

Notes on the Kacchapa Jātaka:

Not in J., but the tortoise story at S. 4, 177 f. bears some resemblance to it.

Footnotes and references:


Otherwise unknown.


Or “wreath-maker,” mālākāra.


Mālākāro mālasyaiva taṃ velaṃ vanamālamāgatvā. The words mālasya eva are untranslatable, unless mālasya = mālāyās, and the meaning is “the wreath maker of a wreath.” Perhaps, however, the right reading should be—and this suits the context—mālāyās evaṃ artham (or arthāya), “for the sake of a wreath.”


Olaṃka, Pali uḷuṃka, “ladle, spoon,” Sk., udaṅka, “vessel,” “bucket.”


Literally, “its limbs with its neck (proboscis) as the fifth,” suṇḍikāpañcamañi aṅgāni. Śuṇḍikā is taken as = śuṇḍa.


Paripātrika, above.


Pelā, Pali peḷa, Class Sk. and BSk. peṭa, peṭī, and peḍa BSk. variant phelā, e.g. Mhvu. 2. 465.


Bahukā maye sañcitāsu rājñā trigaṇo bahuko samāgato. The translation follows the interpretation offered by Senart, who points out that trigaṇa is a synonym for trivarga, i.e. dharma, kāma, artha. But it is difficult to see the point of such a statement here. One is tempted to emend trigaṇo into triguṇam, “three-fold,” and read trigunaṃ bahukaṃ samāgataṃ, “I have found three times as much.”

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: