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Once a Peacock, Once an Actress

Twenty-Four Lives of the Bodhisattva from Haribhatta’s "Jatakamala"

Translated by Peter Khoroche

Once a Peacock, Once an Actress

Twenty-Four Lives of the Bodhisattva from Haribhatta’s "Jatakamala"

Translated by Peter Khoroche
Written in Kashmir around 400 CE, Haribhatta’s Jåtakamåla is a remarkable example of classical Sanskrit literature in a mixture of prose and verse that for centuries was known only in its Tibetan translation. But between 1973 and 2004 a large portion of the Sanskrit original was rediscovered in a number of anonymous manuscripts. With this volume Peter Khoroche offers the most complete translation to date, making almost 80 percent of the work available in English.
Haribhatta’s Jåtakamålå is a sophisticated and personal adaptation of popular stories, mostly non-Buddhist in origin, all illustrating the future Buddha’s single-minded devotion to the good of all creatures, and his desire, no matter what his incarnation—man, woman, peacock, elephant, merchant, or king—to assist others on the path to nirvana. Haribhatta’s insight into human and animal behavior, his astonishing eye for the details of landscape, and his fine descriptive powers together make this a unique record of everyday life in ancient India as well as a powerful statement of Buddhist ethics. This translation will be a landmark in the study of Buddhism and of the culture of ancient India.

288 pages | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2017

Asian Studies: General Asian Studies

Folklore and Mythology

Literature and Literary Criticism: Asian Languages

Philosophy: Philosophy of Religion

Religion: South and East Asian Religions


"Creative and absorbing. Peter Khoroche’s informed and scholarly translation, alongside his clean and evocative prose, shows that this collection has some great literary merits. Fortunately for us, his ability to carry a story and keep it fresh ensure that this collection is well worth reading in English too."

Orientalistische Literaturzeitung

“A delightful English rendering of a work hitherto available only to a relative few. . . . Khoroche’s appreciation for Haribhaṭṭa’s style seeps through the closing pages of the introduction, during which he orients readers toward the types of scenes—sometimes verdant, sometimes gruesome, but always extraordinarily detailed—that they are about to encounter. In the chapters that follow, Khoroche succeeds in transforming both the prose and verse of Haribhaṭṭa’s text into idiomatic yet elegant English.”

Reading Religion

“Reanimates classical stories of the Buddha’s past lives in vivid poetry and prose. While virtues like generosity and the Buddha-to-be’s extraordinary embodiment of them remain the work’s focus, Khoroche observes that Haribhatta’s descriptive powers give this text an almost cinematic quality, coupling ethics with artistry.”

Buddhadharma: The Practitioner's Quarterly

“The scholarship in this volume is impeccable. Peter Khoroche is a remarkably sensitive reader of Sanskrit, as one sees clearly from the fluent style he has chosen for this translation. The text itself is of major importance within the world of classical Buddhist literature and Buddhist art, and the stories that appear here are full of surprises even for scholars well versed in the Buddhist tradition. Khoroche has performed a great service in making a large selection from the Haribhaṭṭa text available to a wider audience.”

David Shulman, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

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