H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej put a modern twist on one of Buddhism's most sacred texts, the Story of the Mahajanaka. The story, based on the Mahajanaka Jataka, recounts the exploits of King Mahajanaka, ruler of the kingdom of Mithila, in Thai prose. His Majesty also wrote an English translation of the story and includes it alongside the Thai.
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The Buddha - incarnate protagonist of this tale, King Mahajanaka, valiantly faces challenges and trouble of every kind - from sinking ships to bloody succession feuds - and survives them all through his remarkable perseverance. The point of Mahajanaka is that perseverance is necessary to gain Buddhahood.
His Majesty wanted to retell the story in a way easily intelligible to modern readers. For many years he has been quietly writing the Thai and English text and overseeing the creation of the book's artwork. The art is based on the traditional Thai style of paintings and evokes an air of sacredness, intended to teach the faithful in the same way as the murals painted on the walls of a temple.
The most important scene is King Mahajanaka and his entourage entering the park when they come to two mango trees, one barren and the other heavy with fruit. The King samples some of the delicious mangoes. When he passes by the pair of trees again later, he finds that the tree heavy with fruit has been ripped apart and pulled down by unthinking subjects trying to reach its mangoes. In the original text, King Mahajanaka, distraught by his people’s greed and self - destructiveness, leaves the city and becomes a monk in order to seek the answer to the world’s failings trough meditation. His Majesty, however, felt King Mahajanaka first must fulfill his worldly responsibilities and continue to improve the lot of his people before he can withdraw and search for supreme tranquitily. In the end, King Mahajaka despairs that the people are all ignorant. They do not even know what is good for them. They like mangoes but destroy the good mango tree. He decides that only with the establishment of an institute of higher learning will his people know how to balance the demands of development with preservation.
Mithila is an analogy for modern – day Thailand. The ruler rules over a country that is modern in many ways and must face problems like pollution and the squandering of natural resources. His Majesty draws these parallels with modern times to give the story greater relevance for its readers. The profound changes industrialization and modernization have wrought on Thailand’s society and environment are something the Thais and indeed Hiss Majesty himself have long wrestled with.
The 36 paintings illustrated in the book were made by a group of professors and graduates from Silpakorn University. The artists consulted with His Majesty throughout the two years painting process to ensure they depicted the story in the way he had envisioned it.
Information from: "Thai Studies Through Games" Book 2 by Assist. Prof. Wadee Kheourai.