Ja 419 Sulasājātaka
The Story about (the Courtesan) Sulasā (8s)

In the present a maid is allowed to wear her mistress’ costly ornament. A thief seeing it tries to kill her and take it, but she kills him instead. The Buddha tells a story of a courtesan who saved a thief from execution, but later the thief planned to kill her for her ornaments, until she tricked and killed him first.

The Bodhisatta = Devatā,
the pair (the woman and the thief) = the same in the past (ubho).

Keywords: Theft, Trickery, Devas, Women.

“Here is a golden necklace.” {3.435} The Teacher told this tale while dwelling in Jetavana, concerning a female servant of Anāthapiṇḍika. The story is that one feast-day, when she was going with a number of fellow-servants to a pleasure-garden, she asked her mistress Paṇṇalakkhaṇadevī for an ornament to wear. [3.261]

Her mistress gave her an ornament of her own, worth a hundred thousand pieces. She put it on and went along with the other servants to the pleasure-garden.

A certain thief coveted the ornament, and with the design of killing her and taking it he began talking to her, and in the garden he gave her fish, flesh and strong drink. “He does it, I suppose, because he desires me,” she thought, and at evening when the others lay down to rest after their sports, she rose and went to him. He said: “Mistress, this place is not private; let us go a little farther.” She thought, Omitting na, with other MSS. “Anything private can be done in this place, no doubt he must be anxious to kill me and take what I am wearing, I’ll teach him a lesson,” so she said: “Teacher, I am dry owing to the strong drink, get me some water,” and taking him to a well asked him to draw some water, showing him the rope and bucket. The thief let down the bucket. Then as he was stooping to draw up the water, the girl, who was very strong, pushed him hard with both hands and threw him into the well. “You won’t die that way,” she said, and threw a large brick upon his head. He died on the spot.

When she came back to the town and gave her mistress the ornament, she said: “I have very nearly been killed today for that ornament,” and told the whole story.

The mistress told Anāthapiṇḍika, and he told the Tathāgata. The Teacher said: “Householder, this is not the first time that servant girl has been endowed with wits rising to the occasion; she was so before also, it is not the first time she killed that man; she did it once before,” and at Anāthapiṇḍika’s request, he told a story of the past.

In the past when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, there was a beautiful woman of the town, called Sulasā, who had a train of five-hundred courtesans, and whose price was a thousand pieces a night.

There was in the same city a robber named Sattuka, {3.436} as strong as an elephant, who used to enter rich men’s houses at night and plunder at will. The townsmen assembled and complained to the king. The king ordered the city-watch to post bands here and there, have the robber caught and cut off his head. They bound his hands behind his back and led him to the place of execution, scourging him in every square with whips. The news that he was taken excited the whole city.

Sulasā was standing at a window, and looking down on the street she saw the robber, loved him at sight and thought: “If I can free that stout fighting-man, I will give up this bad life of mine and live respectably with him.” In the way described in the Kaṇaverajātaka [Ja 318] [His freedom was arranged by providing the governor with a substitute, who was executed in the place of the robber.] she gained his freedom by sending a thousand pieces to the chief constable of the city and then lived with him in delight and harmony.

The robber after three or four months thought: “I shall never be able to stay in this one place, but one can’t go empty-handed, Sulasā’s ornaments are worth a hundred thousand pieces, I will kill her and take them.” So he said to her one day, “Dear, when I was being hauled along by the king’s men, I promised an offering to a Tree Devatā on a mountaintop, who is now threatening me because I have not paid it, let us make an offering.” “Very well, husband, prepare and send it.” “Dear, it will [3.262] not do to send it, let us both go and present it, wearing all our ornaments and with a great retinue.” “Very well, husband, we’ll do so.”

He made her prepare the offering and when they reached the mountain-foot, he said: “Dear, the deity, seeing this crowd of people, will not accept the offering; let us two go up and present it.” She consented, and he made her carry the vessel. He was himself armed to the teeth, and when they reached the top, he set the offering {3.437} at the foot of a tree which grew beside a precipice a hundred times as high as a man, and said: “Dear, I have not come to present the offering, I have come with the intention of killing you and going away with all your ornaments, take them all off and make a bundle of them in your outer garment.” “Husband, why would you kill me?” “For your money.” “Husband, remember the good I have done you, when you were being hauled along in chains, I gave up a rich man’s son for you and paid a large sum and saved your life, though I might get a thousand pieces a day, I never look at another man, such a benefactress I am to you, do not kill me, I will give you much money and be your slave.” With these entreaties she spoke the first verse:

1. “Here is a golden necklace, and emeralds and pearls,
Take all and welcome, give me place among your servant girls.”

When Sattuka had spoken the second verse in accordance with his purpose, to wit,

2. “Fair lady, lay your jewels down and do not weep so sore,
I’ll kill you, else I can’t be sure you’ll give me all your store,”

Sulasā’s wits rose to the occasion, and thinking: “This robber will not give me my life, but I’ll take his life first by throwing him down the precipice in some way,” she spoke the two verses:

3. “Within my years of sense, within my conscious memory,
No man on earth, I do protest, have I loved more than you.

4. Come hither, for my last salute, receive my last embrace,
For never more upon the earth shall we meet face to face.”

Sattuka could not see her purpose, so he said: “Very well, dear; come and embrace me.” Sulasā walked round him in respectful salutation three times, kissed him, and saying: “Now, husband, I am going {3.438} to make obeisance to you on all four sides,” she put her head on his foot, did obeisance at his sides, and went behind him as if to do obeisance there, then with the strength of an elephant she took him by the hinder parts and threw him head over heels down that place of destruction a hundred times as high as a man. He was crushed to pieces and died on the spot. Seeing this deed, the deity who lived on the mountain-top spoke these verses:

5. “Wisdom at times is not confined to men
A woman can show wisdom now and then. [3.263]

6. Wisdom at times is not confined to men,
Women are quick in counsel now and then.

7. How quick and keen she was the way to know,
She slew him like a deer with full-stretched bow.

8. He that to great occasion fails to rise
Falls, like that dull thief from the precipice.

9. One prompt a crisis in his fate to see,
Like her, is saved from threatening enemy.”

So Sulasā killed the robber. When she descended from the mountain and came among her attendants, they asked where her husband was. “Don’t ask me,” she said, and mounting her chariot she went on to the city. {3.439}

After the lesson, the Teacher identified the Jātaka, “At that time the two then were the same two now, the deity was myself.”