2. Friendship among animals
Over a period of 2 decades, my work place became a refugee for wandering cats as time passed by. Many cats come and go, some stayed and leave generations behind. Such is my cat, we call her lily, white body with black patch ears. The black patch ears are like florets, part of a full bloom flower. She is about 10 years old now. Before her, was another female cat, we call her ‘Jeremy’ because she has masculine tendencies. Jeremy is rather aloof in character, never been closed to us, no one can really give her tender touch. We provide her with food and shelter instead and she stayed on, as lily grew up. It was recently about 1 year ago, Jeremy character seemed to go through changes. She became affectionate with lily, showing tenderness to her by licking lily and always staying around near to her. Thus, we concluded, finally, a breakthrough had occured and genuine friendship was established between two solitude shadows living in the same place but was never really able to acknowledge one another’s existence.
2.1 The theme of friendship in Jātaka stories
Jātaka are Buddhist tales of Gotama Buddha’s former lives. The tales are important for their elaboration of the continuous lives and actions of different important Buddhists. The relationships and friendships or enmity manifesting among these important Buddhists thus informed us that spiritual friendship cultivations transcend across lifetimes. The Buddhist path is a long process.
There are several Jātaka tales that depict the theme of friendship and in the above medallion relief of the Bharhut Stūpa, the tale(kurungamiga) informed us about how three friends, a turtle, a woodpecker and a deer helped each other out to escape from the grasp of a hunter. The tale as a form of skilful means of education, informed us on the dependable relationship among each of the different animals, thus with their bodily skills, helped one another out of the way of danger. The symbol of danger here is represented by the hunter, whom is greedy for their fresh.
From the aesthetic examination of the relief(synoptic narrative), we can see that the turtle is bitting on the trap which the deer’s leg was entrapped in. On the right, we see that the woodpecker was distracting the hunter and the center line made up from the tree and the pond, created a space which divided up the hunter from the 3 animal friends.
The three animals also represented the sea, the land and the sky. Each type of abstract space interwoven into one another by the interaction of the animals, thus forming a harmonious interplay. The medallion reliefs are extremely interesting in the sense that they give us a different aspect of perspective in reliefs. For example, looking at the bottom of the relief, we can see that the current or water and the turtle’s back are presented as a ‘top view’. Whereas the deer, the woodpecker are depicted as ‘side view’ and the hunter and the tree as ‘front view’. These gave us a sense of a highly animated scene, as our eyes does not rest on particular points but move itself around.
To read other stories from the Jātaka tales, you can read an illustrated version at
- More Jataka tales by Babbitt, Ellen C; Young, Ellsworth, ill
- Jataka tales : animal stories by Babbitt, Ellen C