6 October 2022

#42. Viśvantara 

3 min read

Cave No. 16

(No photo.) Identification: Chakravarti in Yazdani (vol. III, 1946, p. 96).—

Prince Viśvantara practised extreme form of charity. He never refused donation to anybody. He owned an esteemed elephant and rode often to inspect the donation halls. Once, brahmans from a hostile neighbouring kingdom asked the elephant in donation. Viśvantara gave away the elephant without much ado. But, his subjects did not like the extremity of his generosity. They feared that the royal coffers will get emptied soon, which could be fatal for the kingdom’s welfare.

The citizens issued a warrant of exile to the prince. Viśvantara’s wife, Madrī, insisted that she will too follow him with the children. Viśvantara gave away all his personal belongings to the beggars and bade farewell to the king and the queen. He departed from the city on a chariot accompanied with wife, son, and daughter.

On reaching the forest, they came across other brahmans, who asked for his horses in donation. The prince gave away the horses. As he was to pull the chariot himself, four yakṣas disguised as deer put themselves to the yoke.

On the way, another brahman appeared and begged for the chariot. The was only too happy to oblige. The prince now walked on foot carrying the kids in the arms. They reached a hermitage in a forest. They spent half an year there in solitude.

One day, when the princess had gone away to gather food, a brahmin came to Viśvantara. He begged for the kids saying that he needed some slaves. The prince begged for some time to let his wife return. But the brahmans were not willing. So, the prince poured water, thus giving legal sanction for his children as alms. The wicked brahmin happily whisked them away.

Madrī had the premonition. She got weird visions. She wanted to return home as soon as possible. But she was held back by a lion on the way. Somehow when she managed to reach home she found her children missing. She began weeping. Viśvantara attempted to calm her down by explaining the motive. It was when the earth trembled. But Lord Indra now decided to test the true limits of Viśvantara’s charity. He descended from the heaven as a brahman and demanded the hands of Madrī in donation. Without the slightest hesitation, Viśvantara poured water over the brahman’s hand and legally sealed the donation of the last of what belonged to him.

Deeply moved, Indra assumed his real form. There was rain of flowers from the sky. Indra returned Madrī to him. Other brahmans too appeared there urged by Indra. They returned the children back. Overcome by Viśvantara’s magnanimity, the king and the subjects reinstated him as the crown prince.—Prince Viśvantara was none other than the Buddha in a former existence

—Source: Singh 2019, 31-33; Schlingloff 2013, I, 195-196

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