Cave No. 17
Identification: Foucher (1921, narrative no. 20).—
King Sudāsa of Banaras got separated from his entourage while on a hunting expedition. As he rested, a lioness in heat approached him. The king understood her predicament and kindly obliged. The lioness became pregnant, gave birth to a child, and brought the child through the main street of the city to the king’s palace. The king accepted his son and named him Saudāsa, the successor of his throne, as he had no other offspring. Saudāsa was crowned after his father’s death. He appointed the best chefs to prepare meat dishes as he had inherited his great appetite for meat from his mother, the lioness. Once, he got a piece of meat he had not tasted earlier. What had happened was the drunken cook had dozed off and a dog had stolen the meat kept for the king. To cover up his carelessness, the cook served human flesh to the king, who quickly realised that all was not right. He demanded the truth from the cook, who immediately confessed. But the king had developed a taste for human flesh. To keep up the supply, the cook had to secretly kill humans. The citizens’ lives were at stake and they requested the king to tighten up their security.
One day the citizens caught the cook red-handed and presented him in the court, where Saudāsa confessed his approval behind the murders. The citizens, in turn, banished the king from the state. When he was staying in the forest, the king was once attacked by armed citizens; but he somehow managed to escape from them by assuming the form of a man-eating demon. He fled to the mountains and became the head of the man-eating demons. They decided to slaughter 500 kings for a luncheon, and they had already captured 499 kings. Saudāsa captured Sutasoma, the king of Indraprastha, when he was bathing in a forest pond. Saudāsa was taken by surprise when he saw Sutasoma weeping, for Sutasoma was famous for courage and bravery. When asked, Sutasoma explained that he was weeping because he had failed to keep his word given to a brahman prior to his bath; he had promised to present the brahman with alms. Saudāsa then released him to fulfil his promise. Thereafter, King Sutasoma paid alms to the brahman and returned to the man-eater. In admiration Saudāsa decided to give up his disastrous man-eating habit on Sutasoma’s advice. Even the other kings were set free and Saudāsa returned to Banaras. He managed to win back his royal dignity with the help of Sutasoma.—King Sutasoma was none other than the Buddha in a former existence.