Jataka tales are a vast body of literature based in India concerning Buddhas’ birth and early life. In these tales, Buddha appears as an animal, king, an outcast, or even as a god. In all these forms, the story teaches good moral and religious values through the life of the Buddha character. These textual divisions are taken to be precursors of Buddha’s legendary biographies that were scripted years later. The stories explain how practicing different virtues or perfections is essential to Buddhist ways of achieving enlightenment (Greenblatt 190). Although much of the Jataka content is peculiar to Buddhism, the collection of these tales has stories circulated outside communities that practice Buddhism and the stories are transformed to fit the society.
As commonly known, Jataka tales are a collection of various narratives held by tradition to record many of the past lives of Siddhatta Gotama and Buddhists. These stories are preserved in the entire Buddhism branch. Every tale starts by noting the occasion that led to its telling and ends with the character; usually, Buddha identifies the characters’ lives in the introduction part of the story as those of the recent past. These stories form an important part of Buddhist literature and art as they explain the former existences of the Buddha in both non-human and human forms. While these stories seem to be true, they, to some extent, resemble fables and folktales altered to meet the didactic and religious roles of Jatakas (Greenblatt 200). The stories have been and are a source of entertainment and inspiration for various artistic endeavors and a good vehicle for teaching ever since the existence of Buddha. The works have been passed from generation to generation by the help of artistic authors who tried to change them to fit into the religious realm.
The authors of the Jataka transformed folk stories and fables to suit their didactic and religious purposes in different ways. Jataka story authors have transformed folk narratives to suit their didactic and religious purposes by putting Buddha as a protagonist in almost all stories. In these tales, Buddha appears as either a tree fairy, human being, or supernatural being that exhibits a virtuous quality. All through the story, Buddha is portrayed to be righteous and of goodwill to other characters. Most of the stories deemed Jataka tales have an extra-canonical work of more than five hundred narratives. That gives meaning to obscure verses. Authors altered folklores to inculcate some religious virtues of Buddha. For instance, in some stories, the Buddha can be presented as an outcast, an elephant, or even a god, but he exhibits some religious virtues regardless of the form.
In the Jataka tales, authors incorporate various characters in the tale who interact and find themselves in various troubles. In the process, the Buddha character intervenes to resolve the problems and bring a happier ending. Moreover, these stories often maintain Buddhist morality, but their retellings have some amendments to fit their cultural and religious beliefs. This shows how the authors of the Jataka tales could have amended the same folklore and fables to fit their religious purposes and serve as religious stories.
Authors represented Buddha characters as supernatural beings who possessed supernatural powers, for instance, changing something that seemed to be bad luck to good luck. These short narratives often revolve around the lives of Buddha before get got to enlightenment, in which he is portrayed as just and generous. In whichever form Buddha is presented in these stories, they are meant to convey lessons on moral and religious behavior. And by trying to portray such good morals, the authors achieve their religious and didactic purposes (Greenblatt 288). Instead of narrating mere stories, the authors of Jataka stories transformed the folklores to meet the religious standards of Buddhism, for instance, by communicating things like Buddhahood, karma, and merit. Jataka stories often try to maintain the morality, generosity, and wisdom of Buddha, so Jataka authors often try to change the fable and folktales to meet their didactic and religious purposes by making them portray and maintain the Buddhist morality of the pali equivalents. They also developed visually effective and ingenious ways of telling tales without losing the Buddhism elements and making them easily understandable.
In conclusion, Jataka tales occupy a unique place in Indian cultural and religious history. This notion stems from the perception that they are derived from fables and folktales. Although the Jataka authors scripted the stories in the form, they are currently known, as they are mentioned by name and represented through a sculpture of the 3rd century. They get their name from the content or what they portray, which revolves around Buddha and his good virtues. Jataka authors used different means to transform folktales to meet their didactic purses. One of them was basing the stories on religious virtues, especially using Buddha as a righteous character in the stories. The stories are also transformed to have religious and moral lessons besides revolving around the virtuous life of Buddha.
Greenblatt, Stephen. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, the Major Authors. Volume B, the Romantic Period through the Twentieth Century and After. Norton, 2006.