Vessantara Jatakaya on Stamps – Laos, Thailand and Sri Lanka

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One of my favourite areas to collect (and yes, I know I have too many) is the depiction of Jataka stories on stamps, something made easier by living in Asia. Each “Jatakaya” features a story about a previous birth of the Buddha in either human and animal form. Sri Lanka has issued several Jataka stamps in the past but recently, I got my greedy paws on some great issues from Thailand and Laos featuring the popular Vessantara Jatakaya.

The story in short is about this gormless muppet Vessantara who walks around giving away all his possessions, including his children. As a rather zealous antinatalist, I find this last point upsetting because duh, bringing new humans into this hellhole of a world without their permission is bad enough, but TO GIVE THEM AWAY LIKE THEY ARE YOUR FUCKING PROPERTY? I MEAN SERIOUSLY? However, since Vessantara also becomes the Buddha in a later life, I suppose we should refrain from calling him names. At least he didn’t try to chop their heads off because God asked him to.

So on 5 December 2001, Laos issued a gorgeous set of four stamps depicting scenes from the Vessantara Jatakaya. The relevant section/chapter of the Jatakaya is mentioned on the stamp.

200 K, Himavanta

200 K, Himavanta – Vessantara giving away the magical elephant which brings rain to his kingdom. Dude felt sorry for envoys from his neighbouring country of Kalinga who were facing a massive drought. Suffice to say, his own countrymen were not too pleased and demanded that he be banished. The pouring of water is meant to signify that the requested boon has been granted.

900 K, Vanapavesa

900 K, Vanapavesa – Although he got a chariot in which to leave the kingdom, our genius Vessantara gave that away too, so we find him and his family trudging through the forest, on foot.

3200 K, Kumarakanda 3200 K, Kumarakanda – Vessantara sends his children away to be slaves to a nasty old man, Jujaka who beats the crap out of them.

3600 K, Sakkapabba 3600 K, Sakkapabba – Sakka, the king of the Gods appears in disguise to ask Vessantara for the gift of his wife Maddi and Vessantara complies. This Maddi was obviously a spineless wench because she should have just kicked them both in the goolies and run off with her lesbian lover but to be fair, Sakka was only playing a trick. He gave her right back to Vessantara framing it as “a reward for all the generosity you have shown so far”. Wiley old fox that one.

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Sri Lanka 1983 Vesak stamps featuring murals by George Keyt

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George Percival Sproule Keyt (wtf kind of name is Sproule?) rocks my world. You don’t need to be an art connoisseur to understand that this man could paint.

Keyt’s work has been featured more than once on Sri Lankan stamp issues but for today I wanted to explore the 1983 Vesak issue. It features four of his murals from the Gotami Viharaya in Borella all of which depict various scenes from the Buddha’s life.

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Sri Lanka 1996 Therigàthà stamps marking Vesak

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This is the first in a series of posts which will take an in depth look at some of the most interesting Vesak stamps of Sri Lanka.

The four stamp set issued to commemorate Vesak in 1996 featured four scenes from the Therigàthà which is the ninth book of the Khuddaka Nikaya, which in turn is the fifth part of the Sutta Pitaka, which in turn appears in the first division of the Tipitaka, the sacred scriptures of Buddhism (and boy what a mouthful that was). It has a companion volume, the Theragàthà.

Sri Lanka - Theri Gatha - Vesak 1996

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Sri Lanka Vesak Stamps 2015

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Sri Lanka has been issuing Vesak stamps every year since the late 70s. The majority of these early issues are some of the most treasured in my collection because they depict some awesome bits of history, mythology and art and I tend to geek out over that type of thing. Unfortunately, most of the later ones have not been as interesting and this year is much the same.

We actually had two separate Vesak issues this year with a three stamp set commemorating Vesak and a separate one stamp issue commemorating the State Vesak Festival. Why this was necessary is beyond me and none of the stamps look particularly special.

2015 Vesak stamps

Date of issue: 20 April 2015

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