Saturday, January 12, 2008

The tale of Prince Vessantara

A two story lintel at the eastern entrance to Ta Prohm temple at Tonle Bati
Directly opposite the Churning of the Ocean of Milk lintel at the eastern entrance to Ta Prohm temple at Tonle Bati is a lintel that tells two stories in its carved narrative. To the left Prince Vessantara is pouring water over the hands of a smaller figure to signify the donation of the precious white elephant. To the right, the prince and his wife and two sons on a chariot begin their journey, preceded by attendants holding banners and parasols. Who was the prince you cry? ... well, he was the prince of Jetuttara, a small kingdom. Jetuttara had an auspicious white elephant that brought good rains and abundant food to the state. However, when the neighbouring state Kalinga had a chain of drought and famine consecutively for twelve years, the compassionate prince donated the elephant to Kalinga. Guess what, Jetuttara now had to suffer drought and famine, and the aggrieved citizens forced the King Sanjaya to banish Prince Vessantara from the state. Respecting his subject's sentiments and his father's command, Prince Vessantara left the kingdom with his wife Madri and two sons. It worked out well in the end, as the king repented and called his son and family back to the kingdom, with everyone living happily thereafter. This is one of the Jatakas, the stories of the Buddha's various incarnations, reflecting on his charitable and generous nature.

The charitable Prince Vessantara and his family are banished from the kingdom

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