The Jatakas 

Vessantara, the giving King

Jatakas are stories of previous lifetimes of the Buddha. Vessantara was the last life before he became Prince Siddharta. Source (found may 2006)

In the kingdom of Sivi, there was a king called Sanjaya and he had a son called Vessantara known for his generosity from his birth. When Vessantara was born, a divine elephant left its young one for the prince in the royal stable.

The Vessantara grew, his fame and generosity spread all over the country. Whatever was asked of him, he gave without hesitation. In the course of time, he married a virtuous lady called Maddi, who bore him two children, a son called Jali and a daughter called Kanhajina.

Now at that time, the country of Kalinga had a very bad drought which caused a great famine and hardship to the people. In order to bring rains to his land, the king of Kalinga, at the request of his people, sent four Brahmanas to the city of Jetuttara in the Sivi kingdom to fetch the auspicious elephant of Vessantara, which brought prosperity to the Sivi kingdom. When the Brahmanas asked Vessantara for his elephant, he gave it away. The loss of this auspicious elephant infuriated the people. In great number did they come to the king, Sanjaya, and complained against Vessantara’s excessive generiosity and demanded his banishment from the land. The king agreed to banish his noble son, thinking that otherwise the people would kill his son and rise in revolt against him. He commissioned an agent to convey the people’s demand to Vessantara.

Receiving the king’s tidings, Vessantara remained unperturbed. He, however, asked that his banishment might be delayed for a day to enable him to perform the gifts of seven hundred and then he came to take leave of his parents.

Next morning, Vessantara had performed various gifts before he left the city with his wife and children. On the way some Brahamanas asked for the horses of their chariot which he gave him to them. As he proceeded, he gave his chariot to certain other Brahmanas. He then with his wife and children came walking to the Mount Vanka. His misfortunes still followed. A Brahmin came here from Kalinga to take his children to serve his wife as a servants. Though he loved his children dearly, he gave them away. Then came Sakra in disguise and asked for his wife. Hesitatingly he gave his wife to Saka. Pleased with this, Sakra revealed his self and gave boons to Vasantara. At the end he was happily reunited with his father and children.