JĀTAKASTAVA, a Khotanese religious poem in praise (Skt. stava-) of the Buddha’s former births (Skt. jātaka-). It is entirely preserved in a single manuscript that was recovered from the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas (Qianfodong) near Dunhuang (q.v. at iranica.com) in northwestern China and is now kept in the British Library. The text, written in formal Late South Turkestan Brāhmī (q.v.) script, occupies fols. 1v-39r and is followed by a colophon in cursive script on fol. 39 (ms. Ch. 00274: Bailey, KT I, pp. 198-219; facs. of fol. 1v and 39r in Stein, 1921, pl. cl; complete facs. in Bailey, 1938, pp. 145-83; ed. Dresden, 1955, with tr., grammatical sketch, survey of parallels of the stories and gloss.; corrections and additions in Dresden, IIJ 14/1-2 1972, pp. 104-6; cf. Emmerick, 1992, p. 24).

The work, which is written in Late Khotanese and whose title is known from the text itself (stanza 3 and colophon, fol. 39r2), is dedicated to the well-being of the Khotanese King Vīśa’ Śūrrä (st. 5) and must thus date from this king’s reign (967-78 C.E.). Its aim is to extol the virtues of the Buddha by means of extremely concise summaries (one to five stanzas each) of fifty-two edifying episodes from fifty-one jātaka stories (two episodes are taken from the story of Prince Viśvantara, sts. 141-43 and 161-63); for most of the stories, parallels have been traced elsewhere in Buddhist narrative literature. The Khotanese Jātakastava is presumably an original composition based on Indian sources and not a real translation, though it is presented as such (cf. Dresden, 1955, pp. 402-3). No precise parallel text has been identified: the Sanskrit Jātakastava of Jñānayaśas belongs to the same literary genre but is a different text (Sanskrit and Tibetan texts in Bailey, 1939; rev. Sanskrit and tr. in Shackleton Bailey, 1954).

The praise of the jātakas that forms the main body of the work is preceded by a prologue (sts. 1-10) and followed by an epilogue (sts. 164-69). Most of the summaries close with such short formulas of praise as “Therefore, to you then homage more than a hundred myriad times” (v. 15d), or “Therefore to you, O good being, from me at your feet homage” (v. 29d) and the like, but occasionally the praise extends to half a stanza or to a whole stanza, as in st. 19. Accordingly, the two stanzas that follow the fifty-first story—the future Buddha’s gift of his own flesh to ransom a pigeon—are also best regarded as the relevant, otherwise missing, praise (sts. 159-60) and not as an “interlude” as suggested by M. J. Dresden (1955, pp. 401, 444).

The colophon informs us that the text was copied or ordered to be copied by a follower of Vajrayāna (Diamond Vehicle) Buddhism called Cā Kīmä-śanä (i.e., Chinese Zhang Jinshan), whose name also occurs in the Khotanese Vajrayanist poems of ms. Ch. i.0021b of the year 971 C.E. (see Skjærvø, 2002, pp. 550-56) and in the Chinese devotional text of ms. Ch. i.0021a of the year 982 C.E. (see Bailey, 1944, p. 11; for the datings see Hamilton, 1979, p. 51). His signature is found in Sogdian script at the end of the colophon (kyms¡ʾn without the family name) as well as in the last preserved folio of the Khotanese version of the medical text Siddhasāra by Ravigupta (cw kymšʾn, ms. Ch. ii.002, fol. 156v: see Bailey, 1938, p. 67). The Kīma-śanä mentioned without a family name in the burlesque poem of ms. P 2745 (Bailey, KT II, pp. 92-93; ed. Kumamoto, 1995, pp. 243-45, with tr. and comm.) could be the same person.



D. R. Shackleton Bailey, “The Jātakastava of Jñānayaśas,” in Asiatica: Festschrift Friedrich Weller zum 65. Geburtstag gewidmet von seinen Freunden, Kollegen und Schülern, ed. J. Schubert and U. Schneider, Leipzig, 1954, pp. 22-29.

H. W. Bailey, Codices Khotanenses: India Office Library Ch. ii 002, Ch. ii 003, Ch. 00274 Reproduced in Facsimile with an Introduction, Copenhagen, 1938.

Idem, “The Jātaka-stava of Jñānayaśas,” BSOS 9/4, 1939, pp. 851-59.

Idem, “The Colophon of the Jātaka-stava,” Journal of the Greater India Society 11/1, 1944, pp. 10-12.

Idem, Khotanese Texts [KT] I-VII, Cambridge, 1945-85 (several reprs. with corrections).

M. J. Dresden, The Jātakastava or “Praise of the Buddha’s Former Births”: Indo-Scythian (Khotanese) Text, English Translation, Grammatical Notes and Glossaries, Philadelphia, 1955.

R. E. Emmerick, A Guide to the Literature of Khotan, 2nd ed., Tokyo, 1992.

J. Hamilton, “Les règnes khotanais entre 851 et 1001,” in Contributions aux études sur Touen-houang, ed. M. Soymié, Genève, 1979, pp. 49-54.

H. Kumamoto, “Miscellaneous Khotanese Documents from the Pelliot Collection,” Tokyo University Linguistics Papers 14, 1995, pp. 229-58.

P. O. Skjærvø, Khotanese Manuscripts from Chinese Turkestan in The British Library: A Complete Catalogue with Texts and Translations, with contributions by U. Sims-Williams, Corpus Inscr. Iran. II/V/Texts VI, London, 2002.

M. A. Stein, Serindia: Detailed Report of Explorations in Central Asia and Westernmost China, Oxford, 1921, 5 vols.

(Mauro Maggi)

Originally Published: December 15, 2008

Last Updated: April 13, 2012

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