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193 Part 3  The Ja −takas and Biographies of Kings Among more than five hundred stories of the Buddha’s former lives, known as the jâtaka tales, several identify the future Buddha as a king. The history of Theravâda Buddhism in Southeast Asia, where such stories are widely known, provides ample examples of royal rulers who self-consciously sought to emulate in their own lives the ideal of future Buddhahood. Cultural representations of the future Buddha as king and of the king as a future Buddha are therefore common themes in the sacred biography of Buddhism in Southeast Asia. McGill’s essay presents a discussion of a set of paintings depicting the Buddha in his penultimate life as King Vessantara. Through stylistic and epigraphic analysis, McGill links these visual narratives painted on canvas to the production of a particular Thai artistic genre in the service of popular ritual performances and recitations of the same narrative, the Vessantara Jâtaka, as a royal occasion for making merit in order to encounter the future Buddha, Maitreya. His exploration of “Painting the ‘Great Life’ ” uniquely links the production of a particular art genre to ritual performances centered on a common biographical theme, namely the story of King Vessantara. Hudak describes the development from prose to poetry of a classical example of Thai literature. The narrative structure of this jâtaka story underwent changes by multiple authors and conflates in its intentionality the biographies of the future Buddha and of the Thai king Narai in the seventeenth century. Johnson presents both indigenous Thai and Western perspectives on the biography of King Mongkut in nineteenth-century Thailand. In doing so, he engages critical perspectives on the processes by which this royal biography is negotiated and draws attention to the simultaneous modern and traditional aspects this king combined in his life history. 194  Part 3 ...


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