Great Jataka Tales By Noor Inayat Khan

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Great Jataka Tales

Summary: In a small forest, a hare convinces his friends—a monkey, a jackal and a water-weasel—to share their food with the hungry. But when the hare finds nothing to eat, and a fairy disguised as an old man comes asking for food, what does the hare do?

The king of monkeys asks his tribe to keep the delicious mangoes in their forest a secret from humans. But what happens when Brahmadatta, the king of humans, discovers the fruit and wants more of it?

A king spots the mysterious and beautiful deer, Sarabha, deep in the woods. He wishes to capture it but falls into a deep chasm on the way. Will Sarabha rescue him?

The twenty stories in Great Jataka Tales, retold by the remarkable writer Noor Inayat Khan, have been drawn from the Buddha’s former lives and the legends around him. These tales bring alive a world from long, long ago: a world that shows the importance of courage, compassion, non-violence and love. Written in simple, dramatic prose and beautifully illustrated in full colour, these magical stories will enchant a new generation of readers.

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EXCERPT

The Fairy and the Hare

A young hare once lived in a small forest between a mountain, a village and a river. My children, many children run through the heather and the moss, but none as sweet as he. Three friends he had: a jackal, a water-weasel and a monkey.

After the long day’s toil, searching for food, they came together at evening, all four, to talk and think. The handsome hare spoke to his three companions and taught them many things. And they listened to him and learned to love all the creatures of the woods, and they were very happy. ‘My friends,’ said the hare one day, ‘let us not eat tomorrow, but the food we find in the day we will give to any poor creature we meet.’ This they all agreed to. And the next day, as every day, they started out at dawn in search for food.

The jackal found in a hut in the village a piece of meat and a jar of curdled milk with a rope tied to each handle. Three times he cried aloud: ‘Whose is this meat? Whose is this curdled milk?’ But the hut was empty, and hearing no answer, he put the piece of meat in his mouth and the rope of the jar around his neck, and away he fled to the forest. And laying them at his side he thought: ‘What a good jackal I am! Tomorrow I shall eat what I have found if no one comes this way.’
And what did little water-weasel find on his rounds? A fisherman had caught some sparkling golden fish, and after hiding them under the sand he returned to the river to catch more! But the water-weasel found the hiding place, and after taking the fish out of the sand, he called three times: ‘Whose are these golden fish?’ But the fisherman heard only the rippling of the river and none answered the water-weasel’s call! So he took the fish into the forest to his little home, and thought: ‘What a good water-weasel I am! These fish I shall not eat today, but perhaps another day.’

Meanwhile, monkey-friend had climbed the mountain, and finding some ripe mangoes, he carried them down into the woods and put them under a tree, and he thought: ‘What a good monkey I am!’ But the hare lay in the grass in the woods, and his beautiful eyes were moist with sadness. ‘What can I offer if any poor creatures should pass by the way?’ he thought. ‘I cannot offer grass, and I have neither rice nor nuts to give.’ But suddenly he leaped with joy. ‘If someone comes this way,’ he thought, ‘I shall give him myself to eat.’

Now, in the sweet little wood lived a fairy with butterfly-wings, and long hair of moonlight rays. Her name was Sakka. She knew everything that took place in the wood. She knew if a small ant had stolen from another ant. She knew the thoughts of all the little creatures, even of the poor little flowers, trampled over in the grass. And she knew that day that the four friends in the wood were not eating, and that any food that they might find was to be given to any poor creature they might meet. And so Sakka changed herself into an old beggar man, bent over, walking with a stick.

She went first to the jackal and said: ‘I have walked for days and weeks, and have had nothing to eat. I have no strength to search for food! Pray give me something, o Jackal!’
‘Take this piece of meat, and this jar of curdled milk,’ said the jackal. ‘I stole it from a hut in the village, but it is all I have to give.’
‘I will see about it later,’ said the beggar, and she went on through the shady trees.

Then Sakka met the water-weasel and asked: ‘What have you to give to me, little one?’

‘Take these fish, o beggar, and rest awhile beneath this tree,’ answered the water-weasel.

‘Another time,’ the beggar replied, and passed on through the woods.
A little farther Sakka met the monkey and said: ‘Give me of your fruits, I pray. I am poor and starved and weary.’

‘Take all these mangoes,’ said the monkey. ‘I have plucked them all for you.’

‘Some other time,’ replied the beggar and did not stay.
Then Sakka met the hare and said: ‘Sweet one of the mossy woods, tell me, where can I find food? I am lost within the forest and far away from home.’

‘I will give you myself to eat,’ replied the hare. ‘Gather some wood and make a fire; I will jump into the flames and you shall then have the flesh of a little hare.’

Sakka caused magic flames to rise from some logs of wood, and full of joy the hare jumped into the glowing fire. But these flames were cool as water, and did not burn his skin. ‘Why is it,’ said he to Sakka, ‘I do not feel the flames? The sparks are as fresh as the dew of the dawn.’

Sakka then changed herself into her fairy form again, and spoke to the hare in a voice sweeter than any voice he had ever heard. ‘Dear one,’ she said, ‘I am the fairy Sakka. This fire is not real, it is only a test. The kindness of your heart, O blessed one, shall be known throughout the world for ages to come.’ So saying Sakka struck the mountain with her wand, and with the essence which gushed forth she drew the picture of the hare on the orb of the moon.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Noor Inayat Khan was born on 1 January 1914. She grew up in Europe and when World War II started, she became a secret agent. Noor joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force in 1940, and was later recruited by the Special Operations Executive. She was the first female wireless operator to be sent from Britain into occupied France in 1943. Noor’s work helped save the lives of many, but sadly, she was captured by the Nazis and killed in 1944. Noor was posthumously awarded military honours by France and Britain, the Croix De Guerre and the George Cross.

Twenty Jataka Tales was published in 1939.


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