Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Monkey Bridge

India is a land rich in stories and story-telling traditions - from mythology to folklore and inspiring stories about kings and queens, to stories about saints and poets, and freedom fighters, and makers of modern India - the list goes on and on in both the fiction and nonfiction categories.

The Monkey Bridge is a tale from a popular collection of stories from the Buddhist literature known as Jataka Tales or Jatak Katha. Jataka in Sanskrit translates to concerning birth,or as horoscope(jatakam) in modern wedding terminology that we might be familiar with. Jataka tales concern the birth of Buddha in different animal forms in order to impart moral values such as compassion, kindness, non-violence, charity, self-sacrifice etc. The stories date back to 3rd century BC.

"The Monkey Bridge" was an accidental find at my local public library. The illustrations looked interesting and the title, intriguing. A quick browse through the front pages, I found out it was a story from the Jataka Tales, and I knew this book was going home with me so I can read to my 4 yr old.

It is an age-old story about what nobility means to two very different kings - one is a human king ruling the city of Benares and another, a Monkey King who lives with a tribe of monkeys on a treasure tree that bears the sweetest fruit in the kingdom. The human king, filled with greed,wants to attack the monkeys in order to capture all of the tree's fruit. But he is moved by the Monkey King's nobility and leadership qualities. The monkey king demonstrates to the human king that the ultimate form of leadership lies in the willingness to sacrifice oneself in order to protect the subjects that depend on their king.

In the U.S., you can find "The Monkey King" in Hindi, (narrated by Saeed Jaffery in an audio book cum picture book formats at For folks in India, your local bookstore might carry the audio book.

Or, like Sathish suggested on the comment page, if you are interested in the Tamil version of the story or in any other Indian languages, you could always check out the website of Karadi Tales, a popular publisher of audioooks and picture books/rhymes for children in India.

Of course, if you are in the U.S, and you are curious about the book, "The Monkey Bridge" you could always check your local library in the multi-cultural section. Personally, it is interesting to me to note that "the Jataka story - The Monkey Bridge/King" itself is a great cultural bridge connecting the east to the west considering how far the story has traveled.

Like many, while growing up in India, I was also offered a staple diet of Panchatantra and Jataka Tales in the popular comic series format - Amar Chitra Katha. I was thrilled to offer a Jataka Tale to my 4 yr old in a neat picture book format. Although, I should admit, I was a little skeptical whether she would respond well to the book given the moral values are quite deep. But, she did enjoy the book, and in the end felt sorry for the Monkey King (empathy is an important value, isn't it?) And she liked it for its pictures and was a neat introduction to words like "Himalayas, Benares/Varanasi etc." The Monkey Bridge, by Rafe Martin, is a hidden multi-cultural gem!

External Resources for Jataka Tales:

1) The Baldwin Project's list

2) Story Videos:


sathish said...

Praba, The same story comes in audio book in tamil too. It is by The Karadi Tales. and the Audio is narrated by Nasser in a very nice manner. - they have some very interesting titles.

sathish said...

Wanted to add more --

Jataka tales are timeless - it is definitely a great read for children.

There are, not surprisingly, many different books on jataka tales in India by various people.

A good pick for discussion, Praba.

More on Karadi Tales -- The book about Monkey king is called Raja Kapilan in Tamil. The accompanying book for the audio book is also very nice and have some very good illustrations by Chetan Sharma and Samir Tendulkar.
In Hindi, it is narrated by Saeed Jaffrey and in a few other titles are narrated by Gulzar, naseeruddin shah etc..

I will probably blog about that on another day.

Thank you and have a great day.

Freshma said...

I suppose you know this already but i want to add my 5 cents worth. There is a series of books/audio cd's called Karadi Tales. Please review that when you get a chance. I've bought 2 from India to pass it on to my cousins but havent had a chance to hand it to them. I'm curious about them :)

Freshma said...

sathish beat me to it :)
should have read his comments first

Praba Ram said...

Hi Sathish -

Thanks for the comments. I have posted the link to Karadi on the post. That was very interesting to know that there are different books available on the same story.

Freshma, thanks for the comment. Karadi Tales seem to be a popular pick for many. We should definitely review them here like you suggested, because people won't know what to buy unless someone tells them which ones are good out there.

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