Tales from India

Week 7: India and Japan - Assignments - Reading - Resources - Images


Jataka Tales: The Demon with Matted Hair

Reading time: (3 minutes).

The story continues: now the Prince is firmly stuck, trapped in the Demon's matted hair. Wherever he struck the Demon, he got completely entangled. It looks a lot like the same motif of the "tar baby" in the story of Bre'r Rabbit. But the Prince is no Bre'r Rabbit: he is going to triumph over this Demon, no matter what difficulties he may find himself in!

Thought the Demon to himself : "Here's a lion of a man! A noble man! More than man is he! Here he is, caught by a Demon like me; yet he will not fear a bit. Since I have ravaged this road, I never saw such a man. Now, why is it that he does not fear ?"

He was powerless to eat the man, but asked him : "Why is it, young sir, that you are not frightened to death ?"

"Why should I fear, Demon?" replied he. "In one life a man can die but once. Besides, in my belly is a thunderbolt; if you eat me, you will never be able to digest it; this will tear your inwards into little bits, and kill you: so we shall both perish. That is why I fear nothing." (By this, the Bodhisatta meant the weapon of knowledge which he had within him.)

When he heard this, the Demon thought : "This young man speaks the truth. A piece of the flesh of such a lion-man as he would be too much for me to digest, if it were no bigger than a kidney-bean. I'll let him go!"

So, being frightened to death, he let go the Bodhisatta, saying : "Young sir, you are a lion of a man! I will not eat you up. I set you free from my hands, as the moon is disgorged from the jaws of Rahu after the eclipse. Go back to the company of your friends and relations!"

And the Bodhisatta said: "Demon, I will go, as you say. You were born a Demon, cruel, blood-bibbing, devourer of the flesh and gore of others, because you did wickedly in former lives. If you still go on doing wickedly, you will go from darkness to darkness. But now that you have seen me you will find it impossible to do wickedly. Taking the life of living creatures causes birth, as an animal, in the world of Petas, or, in the body of an Asura, or, if one is reborn as a man, it makes his life short."

With this and the like monition he told him the disadvantage of the five kinds of wickedness, and the profit of the five kinds of virtue, and frightened the Demon in various ways, discoursing to him until he subdued him and made him self-denying, and established him in the five kinds of virtue; he made him worship the deity to whom offerings were made in that wood; and having carefully admonished him, departed out of it.

At the entrance of the forest he told all to the people thereabout; and went on to Benares, armed with his five weapons. Afterwards he became king, and ruled righteously; and after giving alms and doing good he passed away according to his deeds.

And the Teacher, when this tale was ended, became perfectly enlightened, and repeated this verse:

Whose mind and heart from all desire is free,
Who seeks for peace by living virtuously,
He in due time will sever all the bonds
That bind him fast to life, and cease to be.

Thus the Teacher reached the summit, through sainthood and the teaching of the law, and thereupon he declared the Four Truths. At the end of the declaring of the Truths, this Brother also attained to sainthood. Then the Teacher made the connexion, and gave the key to the birth-tale, saying: "At that time Angulimala was the Demon, but the, Prince of the Five Weapons was I myself.


Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • why did the demon become afraid of the young man?
  • what did the Prince of the Five Weapons say to the demon after their battle was over?
  • what finally happened to the demon in the end?

Source: Indian Fairy Tales (1890), by Joseph Jacobs, illustrated by John Batten. Weblink..


Modern Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Mythology. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:52 PM