The Mahavastu (great story)

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

This page describes jataka of the monkey (markata) which is Chapter XXV 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 XXV - Jātaka of the Monkey (Markaṭa)

“Further, monks, these were not the only occasions that I escaped from his control. On another occasion, also, did I do so.” (246) The monks asked, “Was there another occasion, Lord?” The Exalted One replied, “Yes, monks.”

Once upon a time, monks, long ago, there was a great forest near the sea-coast, a forest made beautiful by divers groves, with trees of various colours laden with flowers and fruits, including fig-trees. In this forest there was a monkey (markaṭa), lord of a large herd of monkeys. With this herd he lived in that forest, which was peaceful and secluded, the haunt of many hundreds of wild beasts and birds, but unfrequented by man.

Now the king of the monkeys happened to be perched on a tall, thickly branched and foliaged fig-tree, and eating figs. And a large crocodile[1] emerged from the sea and came to the spot, and lay down on the beach. The king of the monkeys saw him, and when he had seen him he felt pity for him. “Where,” he asked himself, “can these water creatures who live in the sea get flowers and fruits? What if I were to give him figs from this tree?” So he threw down from the fig-tree some plump,[2] ripe, lovely and luscious figs, and the crocodile ate them as they fell. The crocodile came again and again to the spot where the monkey was, and every time the monkey threw him figs from the fig-tree. The monkey and the crocodile thus grew to be fond of each other.

The crocodile’s wife, missing her husband, began to fret. “It must be,” thought she, “that my lord has taken another mistress. So he leaves me and goes to lie with her.” And she asked her husband, “Where do you lie down when you are away from me?” The crocodile replied, “Yonder, on the shore, in a place where there is a great forest. There I have a monkey friend, (247) and with him I lie down and chat.”

Then the female crocodile thought, “As long as that monkey lives, so long will my lord go to him, and lie down and chat with him. So I’ll have that monkey killed, and then my lord will no longer go to that place.” And she lay down and pretended to be ill. The crocodile asked her, “My dear, what is the matter? What ails you? What would you like? Tell me what I can give you, just say the word.” She replied, “Sir, I have a longing for the heart of a monkey. If I get the heart of a monkey, I’ll live; if not, I’ll die.” He said to her, “Be sensible. How can a monkey be found in the sea? If you have a desire for anything living in water I’ll get it for you.” But she replied, “I have no desire for anything but for the heart of a monkey. If you wish me to live, you’ll get me that.” He tried again and again to appease her. “Be sensible, my dear,” said he, “how can a monkey be found in the sea?” She replied, “Bring me the heart of that monkey friend of yours on the sea-shore.” He said, “Be sensible. That monkey is my comrade and friend. How can I tear his heart out?” But she replied, “If you cannot get me the heart of the monkey I cannot go on living.”

The crocodile, being completely under the sway of his wife, said, “I live in the water, while the monkey (markaṭa) lives on land and in the forest. Where he goes there is no way for me. How shall I manage to bring you the heart of that monkey?”

But, as the wise have said:—

Nobles have a hundred wiles, the brāhmans two hundred. The wiles of kings are a thousand; those of women without number.

(248) The female crocodile said to him, “These monkeys feed on fruits and are very fond of them. So say to the, ‘My friend, go to the shore across the sea. There you’ll find divers trees of various kinds laden with clusters of flowers and fruits, the mango, the rose-apple, the breadfruit, the bhavya,[3] the pālevata,[4] the kṣīraka,[5] the tinduka, and the fig-tree.[6] Come then, I’ll guide you, and you shall feast on these variegated fruits.’ Then when he is in your power, kill him, and bring me his heart.”

The crocodile assented, and said, “I’ll bring you the heart of that monkey. Be reassured, and do not fret any more lest you be sorry for it.”

Having thus consoled his wife the crocodile went to the place where the king of the monkeys dwelt in the forest. He was seen by the latter, who was delighted to see him, and asked him, “My friend, how is it you have been so long in coming to visit me? Had you no leisure, or were you troubled by illness?” The crocodile replied, “Friend, I had leisure, and I was not ill. But I have been on a visit to the shore across the sea.” The monkey asked him, “What was the farther shore like?” The crocodile replied, “My friend, the shore across the sea is delightful; it is adorned with thousands of varied trees laden with goodly fruits, the mango, the rose-apple, the breadfruit, the bhavya, the pālevata, the citron, the tinduka, the piyal,[7] the madhuka,[8] the kṣīraka and many other fruit-bearing trees, which are not to be found here. If you are willing, come, we will go[9] there to enjoy those variegated fruits.”

Now when the monkey, who lived on fruits and was fond of them, heard of those variegated fruits, there grew up in him a desire to go to that sea-shore. And he said to the crocodile,

(249) “As I am a land animal how can I go across the sea?” The crocodile replied, “I’ll take you across. You can get on my back, lie down there, and hold on to my head[10] with both hands.” The monkey said, “Very well, I’ll go if you think it’s all right.”[11] The crocodile replied, “Come down, I’ll take you.”

Then the monkey (markaṭa) came down from the fig-tree, got on the crocodile’s back and held on with both hands to his head. And the crocodile, carrying the monkey, started to cross the sea. But he had not gone far when he shook off the monkey into the water. The monkey asked him, “Why do you shake me off into the water?” The crocodile replied, “My friend, you do not know for what purpose I have brought you. It is because my wife has a longing for a monkey’s heart. It is to get a monkey’s heart that I have brought you along. Friend, my wife will eat your heart. That is why I have brought you.”

The monkey said, “I left my coveted heart on the fig-tree so that I could cross the sea lighter and not be too heavy a burden. Therefore, since it is your task to get a monkey’s heart, let us turn back here, and then I’ll bring down the monkey’s heart from the fig-tree and give it to you.”

The crocodile believed what the monkey had told him, and, taking him up once more, he turned back and in a short while came to the place in the forest which they had left. Then the monkey leapt from the crocodile’s back and climbed into the fig-tree. The crocodile said, “Friend, come down and bring that heart from the fig-tree with you.”

But, monks, the monkey (markaṭa) replied to the crocodile in verse

You are fat[12] and grown up, but you have no wit. Fool, do you not know that there is nobody anywhere without a heart?

(250) One should not disclose one’s secret purpose before one’s task is done. Clever people get to know of it, like the monkey on the sea.[13]

None of those mangoes, rose-apples and breadfruit, which are across the sea, for me. This ripe fig is enough for me.

The Exalted One said, “It may be again, monks, that you will think that at that time and on that occasion the monkey living in the forest on the sea-shore was somebody else. You must not think so. And why? I, monks, at that time and on that occasion was the monkey living in the forest on the sea-shore.

“You may think that the crocodile in the sea at that time and on that occasion was somebody else. You must not think so. And why? Wicked Māra here at that time and on that occasion was the crocodile in the sea. Then, too, did I, after I had fallen into his hands and power, escape from his control by my unique intelligence. And now also have I got out of the control of this wicked Māra.”

Here ends the Markaṭa-Jātaka.

Notes on the Markaṭa Jātaka:

Fausböll, No. 208, Suṃsumārajātaka. J. 2. 158 ff.

Footnotes and references:


Śuśumāra, Sk. śiśumāra, Pali suṃsumāra.


Vaḍḍavaḍḍa, see p. 228, n. 7.


Bhavya, see Vol. I, p. 205, n. 2.


Pali pārevata, the tree Diospyros embryopteris (P.E.D.). B.R. has Pālevata = pālīvata, a particular tree.


? Name of a plant = kṣīramoraṭa, “a creeper.”


Pippila, the holy fig-tree, Ficus Religiosa. The monkey’s fig-tree was the udumbara, Ficus Glomerati.


The Buchanania latifolia, in Bengal called Piya or Piyal.


The Bassin latifolia.


Gamyate, impersonal passive, unless we read gamyaṃ te, “you must go.”


Karkarīya. Senart assumes this to be a protuberance on the animats head shaped like a “vase,” karkari.


Yadi manesi, but this verbal form is very strange if from man. Perhaps we should read maṃ nesi, “if you will lead (take) me out.”


Vaḍḍa, see p. 228, n. 7.


This stanza is obviously a moralising inserted by the narrator. It breaks the sequence of the monkey’s reply.

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