Of Beggars And Buddhas: The Politics Of Humor In The Vessantara Jataka In Thailand

Hardcover | February 21, 2017

byKatherine A. Bowie

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The 547 Buddhist jatakas, or verse parables, recount the Buddha’s lives in previous incarnations. In his penultimate and most famous incarnation, he appears as the Prince Vessantara, perfecting the virtue of generosity by giving away all his possessions, his wife, and his children to the beggar Jujaka. Taking an anthropological approach to this two-thousand-year-old morality tale, Katherine A. Bowie highlights significant local variations in its interpretations and public performances across three regions of Thailand over 150 years.
            The Vessantara Jataka has served both monastic and royal interests, encouraging parents to give their sons to religious orders and intimating that kings are future Buddhas. But, as Bowie shows, characterizations of the beggar Jujaka in various regions and eras have also brought ribald humor and sly antiroyalist themes to the story. Historically, these subversive performances appealed to popular audiences even as they worried the conservative Bangkok court. The monarchy sporadically sought to suppress the comedic recitations. As Thailand has changed from a feudal to a capitalist society, this famous story about giving away possessions is paradoxically being employed to promote tourism and wealth.

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From the Publisher

The 547 Buddhist jatakas, or verse parables, recount the Buddha’s lives in previous incarnations. In his penultimate and most famous incarnation, he appears as the Prince Vessantara, perfecting the virtue of generosity by giving away all his possessions, his wife, and his children to the beggar Jujaka. Taking an anthropological approac...

Katherine A. Bowie is a professor of anthropology and the director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. She is the author of Rituals of National Loyalty: An Anthropology of the State and the Village Scout Movement in Thailand.
Format:HardcoverDimensions:264 pages, 9.25 × 6.13 × 0.98 inPublished:February 21, 2017Publisher:University Of Wisconsin PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0299309509

ISBN - 13:9780299309503

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Extra Content

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations                
Acknowledgments                 
Note on Transliteration                      
 
Introduction: Of Monarchs, Monks, and Peasant Masses                 
 
Part I: Diversity in Humor
1 Central Thailand: Humor Defeated            
2 Northeastern Thailand: Humor Diverted                
3 Northern Thailand: Humor Delighted                    
 
Part II: The Politics of Diversity
5 Jujaka as Trickster: The Peasant Imaginaire            
6 Jujaka as Threat: Consolidating Control                 
7 Jujaka’s Rebirth under Global Capitalism              
 
Conclusion: The Journey’s End                     
 
Notes              
Bibliography              
Index              

Editorial Reviews

“This fascinating, innovative study helps us grasp significant intersections of narrative, politics, and performance in Thai Buddhist culture.”—Stephen C. Berkwitz, author of South Asian Buddhism: A Survey