The Mahavastu (great story)

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

This page describes jataka of the crow (kaka) 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 the Crow (kāka)

Note: Fausböll, No. 292.

The monks said to the Exalted One, “Behold, Lord, how King Śuddhodana was reconciled by the venerable Udāyin.” The Exalted One replied, “This, monks, was not the first occasion on which King Śuddhodana was reconciled by Udāyin here. There was another occasion also.” The monks asked, “Was there another occasion, Lord?” The Exalted One replied, “There was, monks.”

Once upon a time, monks, long ago, in the city of Benares, in the province of Kāśi, there ruled a king named Brahmadatta. He was virtuous and mighty, treated his subjects kindly, was liberal and generous, powerful and wealthy, and had a great army. His city of Benares and the province of Kāśi were flourishing, rich and peaceful, had plenty of food and were thickly peopled with happy subjects. Riots and tumults had been quelled, robbers were held in check, and trade thrived.

Here there dwelt a king of crows, named Supātra, with a flock of eighty thousand crows (kāka). Now this king of crows had a wife, named Supārśvā. This female crow conceived a longing for the king’s food,[1] and she told Supātra, king of the crows, of this longing. He replied, “I will give orders, and you shall eat of the king’s food.” And the king of crows spoke to his minister, saying, “Supārśvā would like some of the king’s food. So order the crows to bring some of the king’s food from the kitchen of King Brahmadatta.” The minister answered and said, “Sire, I’ll have some of the king’s food brought here.” And he gave orders to the crows (kāka), saying, “Go, bring food (126) from the kitchen of King Brahmadatta, so that the wife of Supātra, king of the crows, may eat of it.” But the crows answered, “The royal palace is guarded by men skilled with bow and arrow. A bird cannot get anywhere near the royal palace, and so we cannot bring any of the king’s food from the kitchen of King Brahmadatta.” Other crows were given the order, but they, too, would not dare. Among all the eighty-thousand crows there was not one that would dare to fetch some of the king’s food from the kitchen of King Brahmadatta. “We are afraid,” said they, “that if we go there we shall be killed by an arrow or a ball.”

Then the minister of the king of crows (kāka) said to himself, “Am I the minister of Supātra, king of eighty-thousand crows, if I cannot get this command of his executed? We have no courage.[2] I’ll go myself[3] and speak to King Supātra about it.” “Your majesty,” said he, “I will go there myself and bring some of the king’s food from his kitchen. If I am killed, well, let a life be sacrificed[4] rather than that I should not bring food to the wife of Supātra, king of crows.”

He was not spotted by the king’s men who were skilled with bow and arrow, as their attention was distracted. And so he came away from the kitchen of King Brahmadatta bearing in his beak excellent royal food of various kinds, good in colour and taste. Day after day he repeatedly stole some.

The cooks reported the matter to King Brahmadatta. “Your majesty,” said they, “a crow (kāka) trespasses in the kitchen, spoils[5] the king’s food, defiles it,[6] and cuts it to pieces. And while we are occupied with our work[7] we are interrupted[8] by the repeated[9] job of driving him off” The king gave orders to his counsellors, saying, “Spread a net over the kitchen so that the crow can not trespass in it.”

The wishes of devas are fulfilled by their thoughts, those of kings by the word of command; those of rich men are speedily fulfilled, and those of the poor are fulfilled by their own labours.[10]

(127) In accordance with King Brahmadatta’s order a net was spread over the kitchen, so that the crow (kāka) could neither alight nor trespass there. The crow considered how he could go on stealing the king’s food, and he said to himself, “What if I were to watch the road along which the food is brought[11] from the kitchen to the king?” And so, whenever he saw gruel or condiment or meat dishes or solid food or sesamum confection or any other kind of food on its way to be brought to the king, he went and took some in his beak. But then the king bade all the servitors and eunuchs to put covers over the dishes of food. So the servitors brought the food from the kitchen to the king with covers placed over it. Thus the crow was no longer able to steal any. He then said to himself, “How can I still go on stealing the king’s food for the wife of the king of crows?” So when King Brahmadatta sent morsels of food to his queens by the hands of the serving-maids the crow (kāka) snatched them from their hands. And King Brahmadatta heard that as the morsels were being taken in to the queens the crow snatched them from their hands. The king then ordered that a covering should be put over all the serving-maids as they took in the morsels.

By this time King Brahmadatta had become very impatient. “Pshaw,” said he, “what sort of crow (kāka) is this insolent, cawing, impudent and thieving crow that it cannot be kept off by the archers, but spies on what is going on in here[12] and flies down?” And the king made an order, saying, “To him who can catch this crow and bring him alive to me I will give a rich reward.”[13] King Brahmadatta communicated this order to his whole court.

(128) Now a certain serving-maid on being sent by King Brahmadatta went and took a morsel to his queen, with her garments thrown over her. The crow saw her, and he said to himself, “How shall I steal the food from her hands? What if I were to hang on[14] to the tip of the nose of this maid? Then in fright she will drop the food from her hands, and I shall take it and go away.” So he alighted where the maid was and held on to her nose, scratching and cutting it. The frightened maid dropped the food and seized the crow in both her hands. Taking the crow with her the maid, her nose streaming with blood, went to King Brahmadatta and said to him, “Here is that mischievous crow caught.” King Brahmadatta was pleased with the maid, and he said to her, “It was a smart piece of work for you to catch the crow.” And he gave her a rich reward.[15] He scolded the crow (kāka) and said, “But it was not a smart piece of work when you trespassed in the royal palace.”

But the crow addressed King Brahmadatta in verse:

In Benares, sire, there dwells a king of crows, Supātra, who has a following of eighty-thousand crows.

His wife Supārśvā yearns and wishes for meat, the exquisite cooked food in the king’s kitchen.

And when I heard his command I did his behest. It was to honour the king, her husband, that I wounded the nose of your maid.

Then, monks, King Brahmadatta was pleased with the minister of the king of crows, and he said, “This minister of the king of crows had no lands nor wealth nor (129) any other means. But seeking subsistence with his beak, he did his duty to the king of crows at the risk of his own life.”

And, monks, King Brahmadatta, addressed his company of ministers in verse:

Such an one is worthy to eat the food of a king, who, like this crow, was faithful unto death to the king of crows.

King Brahmadatta directed that the crow (kāka) should have some of the king’s food every day. A dish was filled with excellent and varied royal food and set aside for the crow, who daily ate some of it himself and took some to the king of crows. Orders were given to the court that no one was to molest the crow as he came to and went from the royal palace.

The Exalted One said, “It may be again, monks, that you will think that at that time and on that occasion, Supātra, the king of crows, was somebody else. You must not think so. And why? I was the king of crows. She who was the wife of the king of crows, named Supārśvā, was Yaśodharā. He who was the minister over the eighty-thousand crows was Kālodāyin. King Śuddhodana was King Brahmadatta. Then, too, was he propitiated by Kālodāyin, just as he has been on this other occasion.”

Here ends the Jātaka of the Crow (kāka).

Footnotes and references:


Rājabhojanena, instr. For this BSk. use of the instr. see Edgerton Gram. § 7. 32.


Puruṣakāraka, “manly performance” (Edgerton, B.H.S.D.). Senart, “emploi,” “mission.”


Svakam = svayam, as also in the next sentence.


Yaṣṭa for iṣṭa. One MS. has the latter form, but Senart thinks that he is justified in retaining the “barbarous” form, as it is found elsewhere in the Mhvu. Edgerton, Gram. § 34. 13, gives examples from other BSk. texts, and compares AMg. jaṭṭha.


Literally “makes it something left over,” ucchiṣṭha, cf. Pali ucchiṭṭha.


Viṭṭāleti, “makes unclean or untouchable” (B.H.S.D.).


karme, loc. of a-decl. of karman. Cf. Pali.


Literally, “thrown off”, utkṣiptā.


karmehi, “by the jobs.” For form see n. 3.


This proverbial distich has already been met with. See vol. 1, p. 213, and 2, p. 92.


Allipīyati. See vol 2, p. 419, n. 1.


Reading antandṛṣṭvā “looking within” for antandṛraṣṭvā of the text, which is inexplicable, although Senart does not remark on it nor include it in his index. Possibly the syllable ra is a printer’s error.


Abhicchādana. The word ācchāda is used in the next page in the same sense. See also vol. 2, p. 95, n. 1, vol. 3, p. 33 n. 3; p. 36 n. 2.


Lagnati for lagati, formed from the pp. base lagna; cf. Pali laggati from lagga. On p. 429, of vol. 2 (text) occurs the apparently passive form laggati. See vol. 2, p. 382, n. 1, where lagnati should read lagati. See B.H.S.D.


Ācchāda, see n. 2.

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