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- See Also Jataka Tales
The Jātakas (Sanskrit जातक) (also known in other languages as: Burmese: ဇာတ်တော်, pronounced: [zaʔ tɔ̀]; Khmer: ជាតក (cietɑk); Lao: ຊາດົກ sadok; Thai: ชาดก chadok) refer to a voluminous body of literature native to India concerning the previous births (jāti) of the Bodhisattva. These are the stories that tell about the previous lives of the Buddha, in both human and animal form. The future Buddha may appear in them as a king, an outcast, a god, an elephant—but, in whatever form, he exhibits some virtue that the tale thereby inculcates.
[[File:thanka of the Jataka Tales.jpg|thumb|250px|Bhutanese painted thangka of the Jatakas, 18th-19th Century, Phajoding Gonpa, Thimphu, Bhutan)] In Theravada Buddhism, the Jatakas are a textual division of the Pali Canon, included in the Khuddaka Nikaya of the Sutta Pitaka. The term Jataka may also refer to a traditional commentary on this book.
The Caitikas claimed that their own Jatakas represented the original collection before the Buddhist tradition split into various lineages. [[File:Meister des Mahâjanaka Jâtaka 001.jpg|thumb|250px|Mahajanaka renouncing the worldly life, from the Mahajanaka Jataka. 7th century, Ajanta Caves, India)] According to A.K. Warder, the Jatakas are the precursors to the various legendary biographies of the Buddha, which were composed at later dates. Although many Jatakas were written from an early period, which describe previous lives of the Buddha, very little biographical material about Gautama's own life has been recorded.
The Jataka-Mala of Arya Shura in Sanskrit gives 34 Jataka stories. At Ajanta, Jataka scenes are inscribed with quotes from Arya Shura,with script datable to sixth century. It had already been translated into Chinese in 434 CE. Borobudur contains depictions of all 34 Jatakas from Jataka Mala.
According to Professor von Hinüber, only the last 50 were intended to be intelligible by themselves, without commentary.
Alternative versions of some of the stories can be found in another book of the Pali Canon, the Cariyapitaka, and a number of individual stories can be found scattered around other books of the Canon.
For example, The Monkey and the Crocodile, The Turtle Who Couldn't Stop Talking and The Crab and the Crane that are listed below also famously feature in the Hindu Panchatantra, the Sanskrit niti-shastra that ubiquitously influenced world literature.
Sanskrit (see for example the Jatakamala) and Tibetan Jataka stories tend to maintain the Buddhist morality of their Pali equivalents, but re-tellings of the stories in Persian and other languages sometimes contain significant amendments to suit their respective cultures.
Within the Pali tradition, there are also many apocryphal Jatakas of later composition (some dated even to the 19th century) but these are treated as a separate category of literature from the "Official" Jataka stories that have been more-or-less formally canonized from at least the 5th century — as attested to in ample epigraphic and archaeological evidence, such as extant illustrations in bas relief from ancient temple walls.
Apocryphal Jatakas of the Pali Buddhist canon, such as those belonging to the Paññāsajātaka collection, have been adapted to fit local culture in certain South East Asian countries and have been retold with amendments to the plots to better reflect Buddhist morals.
In Theravada countries several of the longer Jatakas such as Rathasena Jataka and Vessantara Jataka, are still performed in dance, theatre, and formal (quasi-ritual) recitation. Such celebrations are associated with particular holidays on the lunar calendar used by Cambodia, Thailand and Laos.
The standard Pali collection of jatakas, with canonical text embedded, has been translated by E. B. Cowell and others, originally published in six volumes by Cambridge University Press, 1895-1907; reprinted in three volumes, Pali Text Society, Bristol. There are also numerous translations of selections and individual stories from various languages.
- Jacobs, Joseph (1888), The earliest English version of the Fables of Bidpai, London Google Books (edited and induced from The Morall Philosophie of Doni by Sir Thomas North, 1570)