Kinnaras and their female counterparts (kinnaris) were mythical creatures — half human, half bird and fairy-like — in Buddhist stories. In this Jataka, the Buddha recalls his past life with Yasodhara, his consort, in his princely life as Siddhartha.
Once the Buddha visited his father King Suddhodana’s palace with his disciples. But Yasodhara, his wife whom he abandoned to become an ascetic, refused to come into his presence. It was not anger or vanity that caused her to behave so. Rather, she thought that the Buddha would himself come to see her if he thought she was a virtuous woman.
When he noticed her absence, the Buddha decided to see her himself. Yasodhara had clad herself in yellow robes and bade her attendants do the same. When the Buddha sat down on the seat prepared for him, Yasodhara sat at his feet and paid her respects.
King Suddhodana began to praise her and related to the Buddha how she too had embraced an ascetic’s way of life although she lived in the palace. “It’s no surprise to me,” said the Buddha, “for in many previous lives she has been my companion — virtuous, brave and loyal.” He related a story from their past:
In a time long ago, when Brahmadatta was the king of Benares, the Buddha was born as a kinnara, by the name of Canda. He lived in the Himalayas, (where dwelt all the kinnaras) on a silver mountain, Canda-Pabbata, the mountain of the moon. His wife was the beautiful Candā and they lived happily.
These ethereal creatures always remained on the mountains and would come down only when the weather turned warm. One such time, Canda and his wife descended to the valleys below. They amused themselves eating flower pollens and making gossamer garments from delicate blossoms. Wearing the delicate clothes, they anointed themselves and began to swing from creepers that grew wild and abundant.
Canda was singing to his beloved in his honeyed voice, a song that echoed through the forests. Before long they came upon a stream. Laughing with delight they plunged into the clear, cool water and splashed about. After the refreshing dip, they wore their floral garments and spread a carpet of sweet smelling flowers on the pearl-white sand beside the stream to rest upon. Finding a piece of bamboo, Canda fashioned a flute from it and began to play a melody. Candā danced to the music, singing softly.
At this idyllic moment who should come by but the king of Benares himself! King Brahmadatta, after leaving the affairs of the state in his ministers’ hands, had retreated to the Himalayas to meditate.
However, he carried his arms with him — his five weapons: a sword, a spear, a bow, a battle axe and a shield. The king upon seeing the beautiful Candā desired to make her his wife. I’ll shoot her husband and make her mine, thought he. He hurled his spear at the hapless Canda, who fell on the flowers, crying out in pain. “My beloved Candā! I think this the end. My life is draining out of me. I can’t bear to leave you this way. Oh, how I yearn for you, my sweet one...” He lost consciousness and lay still. Candā, shocked at the sudden tragedy, began to weep. Then, King Brahmadatta showed himself and at once Candā knew it was he who had committed the dastardly deed.
Swiftly, she flew up (kinnaris were half birds, remember?) to the top of the mountains and addressed the king, “You evil man! You who cruelly took my beloved away from me without a thought shall pay for this! Your wife will know my pain and so will your mother. You too shall suffer this fate!’’
But Brahmadatta, tactless and foolish as he was, said, “Do not grieve for him who is no more. These forests and the mountains are not meant to be a home for a beautiful one like you. You shall live in royal splendour once I make you my queen!”
“What are you saying?” thundered Candā. “How dare you think such a wicked thought? Slaying my husband so cruelly and believing that I would consent to come with you? You vile being! I would rather kill myself than subject myself to such a fate.” When Brahmadatta saw her anger and sorrow, he went away defeated.
Candā at once returned to her husband’s still body and carried him to the mountain top. She gently placed his head on her lap and began to lament his passing. “What shall I do now, my beloved, now that you’re no longer here to roam these hills and dales? The river flows, the flowers spread their perfume and the Himalayas turn many-hued but it makes no difference to me!” As she wept, she took Canda’s hand in hers and... found it warm!
“Oh gods in heaven! Can you not hear my cries and see my grief? I beseech you, restore my dear husband to me.”
In heaven, Sakka, the king of gods, felt his throne heat up and immediately came down to the spot where the lifeless form of the kinnara Canda lay. He came in the guise of an ascetic and sprinkled some water from his pot on Canda’s face. Canda rose as if from a long, deep slumber. Overjoyed they fell at Sakka’s feet, who blessed them and warned them against venturing down the mountains.
The Buddha, after relating this story, told his listeners, “The kinnari Candā was none other than Yasodhara and I was the husband. She has always been virtuous, faithful and dedicated to me.”