The Jatakas, as we possess them, belong to the second of the three great
divisions of the Pali-Buddhist scriptures. The legends of the Jatakas are based on the
belief in the re-birth of Buddha in successive ages and his redemption of mankind from
sin. There are verses in all the Jatakas; these verses are canonical, the prose portion
being only a commentary, explaining how the verses came to be spoken.
Jataka legends can be traced even to the canonical Pitakas: the
Sukha-Vihara Jataka and the Tittira-Jataka are found in the Culla Vagga, and Kantivatta
Jataka. The Sutta and Vinaya Pitakas are generally admitted to be older than the
Council of Vesali (380 B.C.). The shrines of Sanchi and Amaravati represent scene
sculptured in their carvings, and the carvings of Bharhut have the titles of several
Jatakas engraved on them.
This shows the extensive popularity of the stories. These bas-reliefs
prove that these birth-legends were widely known in the 2nd century B.C. and were then
considered as part of the sacred annals of religion. These Jataka stories thus reflect and
illustrate the ideas against which religion and law was contending in the country.
They betray a low opinion of women and seem to have been designed, to
illustrate the wicked nature of women. The rigorous asceticism preached by Buddha and his
disciples affected to no small extent the position of women in society. Women came to be
considered as the root of all evil, and stories illustrating the snares of women and their
untrustworthy character were devised as a means of warning men against their evil
We have in the Punnika Jataka a man making love to his daughter, in
order to test her chastity.77 The Udanchani Jataka describes how a girl seduced a young
hermit.78 The faithfulness of a wife is often doubted. The Radha Jataka79 describes how
a Brahmin asks his two parrots to watch his wife's conduct during his absence; they note
her misconduct and report it to the Brahmin on his return.