The Story of Mahajanaka

Prince Mahajanaka is shipwrecked and is saved by Mani Mekhala

by His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand

dramatized by Shaun MacLoughlin

Some years ago the late King Bhumibol was inspired by the story of King Mahajanaka, a pre-incarnation of the Buddha.

He wrote a comic book based on this story from the Jataka.

Both Kings were keen ecologists, dedicated to the cultivation of mango trees.

Mani Makhela


Mani Mekhala
King Bad Fruit
Prince Poor Fruit
Poison Fruit – the evil courtier
Mahajanaka as boy
Mahajanaka as adult
His mother
The Brahma
and extras as companies allow

Playmaking is a collaborative venture. I hope therefore that my partners will forgive this Englishman’s ignorance of Thai culture and of the wisdom of Buddhism and will help him to learn.

The Production will be fluid and flexible. The dancers and / or extras can change costume and masks on stage, manipulate material and move props, and play such different parts as peasants, concubines, soldiers, shipwrecked sailors, mango pickers, monsters from the deep, etc, etc.

The production can also be modified to accommodate the number of cast, time for rehearsal, and number and creativity of props.    
Mahajanaka preparing for the Journey, painting by Chalermchai Kositpipat, 1995

The Script of the Story of Mahajanaka

The play opens with the Celestial beings Indra (the King of the Gods) and Mani Mekhala (the Goddess) up stage left and right on rostra or platforms or towers observing the action of the play.

Downstage left or right there is a small orchestra: wind, strings and percussion, playing something soothing, a simple melody that we shall later recognise as the music to Mani Mekhala’s and Mahajanaka’s song. The orchestra may enter the action when required.

Stage hands/dancers/extras bring on long strands of dark blue, black and grey silk (or silk like material). (Later this will be turned over to represent bright green mango trees with yellow fruit). The extras gently wave the silk to simulate the motion of the sea.

INDRA I am Indra, King of the Gods
MANI And I am the Goddess, Mani Mekhala.
INDRA We look down in love
MANI On this crazy world
INDRA Your salvation comes from Knowledge

And your knowledge comes from within.

INDRA But we can guide you
MANI Through the telling of stories

Thailand is rich in stories.

Between the strips of silk portraying sea, the silhouette of a sailing ship appears. We can see the mast, the poop and the bows. (Having these separate will help when the ship breaks up in the storm). Behind the ship, as if he is on it, is the enlightened being  The Mahajanaka, a magnificent figure of a man.
MANI Tonight we shall tell you the story of Mahajanaka, the great being, the enlightened one.
INDRA So that you too may become enlightened..
MANI Don’t laugh.
She wags her finger at some of the audience, hopefully making some of them laugh.
MANI It is possible – even for you.
INDRA The Mahajanaka was the rightful heir to the Kingdom of Mithila in India.
MANI Long long ago
So long ago not even the most powerful computer could measure the time
MANI He was sailing to Suvarnabhumi.
INDRA That’s present day Thailand,
To make his fortune to buy back his kingdom.
From here the music changes, becomes faster and more dramatic, the dancers begin to manipulate the silk sea violently into a storm. It gets darker. There is thunder and lightning.
INDRA Off the coast of Burma there was a violent storm.
MANI The ship was swamped by a great wave.
INDRA A tsunami
This was created by the Great Crab, who lives in the depths of the ocean.
INDRA Who plays with the sea
MANI And who makes the tides.

But today the great crab was disturbed by so many people’s evil deeds.

After seven days of plunging through the heavy seas the overloaded ship began to founder.
The silhouette of the ship rocks and other characters appear screaming and praying and begging God and Buddha and Mahomet. As well as other characters, cloth dolls, representing desperate and frightened people, are thrown into the sea. They have Thai and English notices on them, such as “greed”, “anger”, “lust”, etc.

They are devoured by fishes and sea monsters that are also hand puppets or papier maché or hinged cardboard cut-outs jaws, manipulated by the dancers or by dancers dressed as fishes and sea monsters. We also see the great claws of the great crab. As these rise above the sea, between the strips of material, a deep woodwind sounds an appropriate note.


Save me! Help!!!  Buddha help! Jesus save me! Allah!

Poison Fruit has a mask and/or face paint that makes him look like a snake


Help me! Help me!!!!!!!!!!!

But they disappear beneath the waves or are devoured by sea




Then he dived into the sea. And swam strongly

He swam for seven days and seven nights. He swam without hope of reward.

He simply persevered. And as he swam he meditated on the Buddhist perfections

Some heavenly female musicians join Mani and begin to strum the main theme that will develop into the song. Another of her ladies in waiting is painting Mani’s finger nails and another arranging her hair, so that Mani’s face is turned away from Mahajanaka.


At this time I was having too much fun in the gardens of paradise. I was not attending to my duty of looking after those who care for their mothers. I should always protect them from drowning. But my spirit communed with him on another level and we sang to each other across the waters.

Mahajanaka swims for 7 days

The music segues into the song 1 (Patience). Note: I need to work on this, but eventually I hope to make each song a progression through the 10 Buddhist perfections as Mahajanaka swims.

MANI:(SINGS) Lonely man
Why don’t you sink?
MAHAJANAKA:(SINGS) Because I don’t beg,
I prefer to think.
MANI:(SINGS) Why are you swimming,
Alone in the sea?
MAHAJANAKA:(SINGS) Let me tell you
My history.

The music ends. Mahajanaka swims to down stage left or right to observe the action. The dancers peel back the sea and the set becomes the throne room of Mithila.


INDRA:King Bad Fruit was Mahajanaka’s father and Prince Poor Fruit, the viceroy and commander of the army, was his uncle.
MANI:Poison Fruit was a jealous courtier whose venomous words did much damage.
King and Queen Madhubani \ Mithila Paintings
King Bad Fruit is carried on his throne and so is the Queen, the mother of Mahajanaka, seated on hers. She is a creature of exquisite beauty. She is very still during this opening passage of the play. On King Bad Fruit’s right is his brother, the commander of the army, Prince Poor Fruit.

Poison Fruit, whom we have already seen shipwrecked, is whispering in the ears of concubines, who then whisper in each others’ ears. Poison Fruit approaches the King.
Concubines Madhubani \ Mithila Paintings
POISON FRUIT: Your Majesty, may I have a word?
POISON FRUIT: I feel it is my duty
POISON FRUIT: I don’t want to speak evil . . .
BAD FRUIT: Come to the point.
BAD FRUIT: My brother?
POISON FRUIT: I don’t know how to say this.
POISON FRUIT: He’s plotting to kill you. He wants your throne.
BAD FRUIT: My brother.
POISON FRUIT: A Kingdom cannot be divided against itself. Brother against brother. Look at him. You can see he is plotting against you.
Mahajanaka is saved by the Goddess Mani Mekhala
Poison Fruit sidles away. The concubines whisper in the king’s ear. The Queen ignores them.

During this at the side of the stage Mahajanaka is still swimming.

Mani sings down to him and he sings up to her. Music Song 2 (venomous words are the opposite of Loving Kindness.)
MANI:(SINGS) Scandal is
A terrible thing
MAHAJANAKA:(SINGS) It poisons us.
We can hardly sing,
MANI:(SINGS) It’s ugly and
It breaks our heart
MAHAJANAKA:(SINGS) And those who love
It drives apart.

Suddenly the King shouts:

BAD FRUIT: (He is clearly frightened) I’ve heard enough. Traitor you have plotted against me – to kill me! (to the guards) Arrest him!
POOR FRUIT: Brother I am innocent.
BAD FRUIT: (He puts his fingers in his ears and calls to the guards) Gag him!
(To his brother) Brother, I beg you. Don’t add lies to your other sins.

The Guards chain him hand and foot and take him off to prison. The Prison walls are created by brown material or even cardboard that can later be torn or fall apart. However the guards take off his gag in prison. It is obvious that they have great respect for him. They leave.

POOR FRUIT: If I am innocent of high treason, let these chains fall from me and let the doors open.
There is thunder and flashing light.   The chains fall away. The Prince escapes. During the following song soldiers flock to him with arms and banners. And at the side of the stage Mahajanaka continues to swim between singing. Music and Song 3 (Truth)

Bad Fruit and Poor Fruit meet at the head of soldiers with weapons and banners, each signifying their armies.

INDRA: The people respected Poor Fruit. They flocked to him in great numbers. He challenged Bad Fruit:
POOR FRUIT: I was not your enemy. But you have made me so. Either give me your kingdom or come out and fight.

He turns towards his Queen who is being born towards him on a litter. She is now pregnant.

BAD FRUIT: My love, no one knows who will win this war. If I meet my death, take good care of our unborn seed.
QUEEN: I will my Lord.

She is born away again. Bad Fruit turns and confronts Poor Fruit.

BAD FRUIT: I accept your challenge. Do your worst.
Oriental Battle scene, silk screen on cloth
A martial arts dance ensues in which Bad Fruit’s army is vanquished and in which Bad Fruit is slain. This can be conveyed in a similar manner to the shipwreck with music, puppets, cardboard cut outs, etc, being manipulated. The music arrives at a dying fall. There are corpses and broken armaments strewn across the stage. Poor Fruits army marches off triumphantly.

Bad Fruit’s body is carried off and as the other bodies and broken armaments and discarded banners are removed, The Queen appears in dirty old clothes, carrying a basket with rice.  
INDRA: As soon as the Queen knew her royal consort was no more, she collected gold in her basket and covered it with rice. She disguised herself in dirty old clothes to make her escape.

One of Poor Fruit’s soldiers is checking passers by. Will he recognize the Queen? He doesn’t and he lets her past. 

Music and Song 4 (Duty):

MANI: (SINGS) Always we
  Should do our duty.
MAHAJANAKA: (SINGS) The righteous path
Is full of beauty.
MANI: (SINGS) We should always
We abolish fear.
INDRA: The being in the royal womb was not an ordinary being, but was destined for enlightenment.

The Queen peers in several directions undecided where to go.

INDRA: But where was she to go? It was time for me, the King of the Gods, to lend a hand. So I disguised myself as a mortal. I became a Brahmin Guru.

As he climbs down from his tower he puts on a white false beard, powders his hair white and dons a mortal’s clothes. He approaches the Queen

INDRA / BRAHMIN: Will you do me the honour of staying in my humble abode with my wife and me ?
QUEEN: Thank you, but before I can rest I have to leave Mithila.
BRAHMIN: My daughter, you are already a hundred leagues from Mithila.
QUEEN: How is that?
BRAHMIN: Your sense of duty has lent you wings.
(PAUSE) Now you must rest. You must nurture the great life within you.
QUEEN: You are very kind.
BRAHMIN: I will tell the people you are my long lost younger sister, who I have found again.
QUEEN: Thank you.

The Queen retires inside a tent to give birth. Candles are placed outside the tent.


Then we return to the sea, where Mahajanaka continues to swim, and to the music and the song 5 (Renunciation and Perseverance)

MANI:(SINGS) Our journey between

A mystery

MANI:(SINGS) Soon You were born
On a glorious morn
MAHAJANAKA:(SINGS) Life is a prison
And death makes us free

We give our word
MANI:(SINGS) That alone

Is our reward
He continues to swim. Meanwhile the baby in swaddling clothes is brought out of the tent. The Brahmin played by a different actor from the actor playing Indra enters. The action is as described by Indra, who also apppears as himself.
INDRA: Eleven days after his birth the jatakarma ceremony welcomes the baby into the world. The Brahmin places a small amount of ghee and honey on the baby’s tongue and whispers the name of God in his ear. The Brahmin and the Queen celebrate the name-giving ceremony (namakarana) by dressing the baby in new clothes, and naming him Mahajanaka.
Mahajanaka rises from the sea swim and crosses the stage to join his mother.    
INDRA: Now the young Mahajanaka enters our story. At sixteen he has become a fine young man and he demands that his mother tells him, who is his father.
QUEEN: Your father was King Badfruit of Mithila. He was slain by your uncle, Prince Poorfruit, who stole the throne.
MAHAJANAKA: Do you have any of the wealth that belonged to my father?
QUEEN: Of course! When I made my escape disguised as a poor woman, I hid three kinds of valuables under the rice in my basket. They were rubies, perals and diamonds. Each one is enough to buy back your throne./td>
MAHAJANAKA: Give me half the assets. I shall sail to the land of Suvarnabhumi and bring back an enormous wealth. Then I shall win back the throne that belonged to my father.
He crosses to the sea and continues to swim.
As I swam I remembered what had brought me to this pass. I reflected with the Goddess Mani on the ten Buddhist perfections. Particularly on the strength and energy needed for my marathon swim.

(SINGS) As strong as
The lion


(SINGS) As brave as
His mate


(SINGS) Our hearts
Lift us up


(SINGS) To a
Heavenly State.


(SINGS) Our energy carries us
Over the sea.


(SINGS) To realise
Our destiny.
He swims off stage. The silhouette of the sailing ship that we saw at the beigining re-appears. Sailors are loading it with provisions and merchants are directing them.
He took leave of his mother and went to embark. On that very day, there happened an illness in the body of King Poor Fruit. He retired and could not get up again anymore.

Meanwhile about seven hundred merchants boarded the ship.

The ship sailed seven hundred leagues in seven days.

We now see King Poor Fruit lying on his death bed surrounded by his courtiers






The Great Crab that caused the tsunami and the ship wreck, now responds to Mahajanaka’s courage and enlightenment. He desires to make amends. He bears up Mahajanaka. The Great Crab represents knowledge and wisdom, one of the ten perfections of the Buddha. It is as if Mahajanaka in this time of trial is supported by his insight.

(SINGS) From worldly values

(SINGS) We take our flight

(SINGS) This is the way

(SINGS) We gain insight.

The Great Crab that caused the tsunami and the ship wreck, now responds to Mahajanaka’s courage and enlightenment. He desires to make amends. He bears up Mahajanaka. The Great Crab represents knowledge and wisdom, one of the ten perfections of the Buddha. It is as if Mahajanaka in this time of trial is supported by his insight.




Meanwhile King Poor Fruit was lying on his death bed. He had no son, only one daughter, Sivali Devi a beautiful and astute girl

Your Majesty, after your death, to whom should we entrust the throne?

To the one who can please our daughter, and who can past these tests:
1. Who can tell which is the head of the four sided throne?
2. Who can string the bow that requires the strength of a thousand men?
3. who can discover the sixteen great treasures?

Princess Sivali Devi
Then King Poor Fruit passed away to heaven.

The courtiers gave the first challenge to the Chief Minister but neither he now any other was able to pass these three tests.
Mani lifts Mahajanaka out of the sea and carries him to Mithila. This effect will be achieved by her and her handmaidens throwing sparkling confetti that will blow around them like a heavenly storm, through which she leads him.
Mani Mekhala was inspired by this challenge.

She was moved by generosity, the first of the ten perfections. She picked up the Great Being, as lightly as one would pick a bunch of flowers. She cradled him to her breast, as a loving mother would cradle her child; and she carried him to Mithila.






(SINGS) Give to people

(SINGS) Nothing will lack

(SINGS) Giving is having

(SINGS) Hold nothing back.
Mani lays Mahajanaka down.
In Mithila she laid him down in a mango grove. This is created by her handmaidens, peasants, possibly Hanuman type monkeys, etc, drapimg green and yellow strips over the towers to portray mango trees. Mahajanaka goes to sleep. Soon a silhouette of the chariot arrives and the courtiers arrive, carrying a large white umbrella, and examine Mahajanaka’s feet.
Mahajanaka is exhausted by seven days of swimming, so he soon falls asleep. Meanwhile the courtiers send a royal chariot to look everywhere for an ideal groom. Finally, they locate Mahajanaka sleeping under a tree. The courtiers examine his feet, whereby they recognize the signs of royalty.

Musicians sound trumpets and Mahajanaka awakes.

They see that he is not only a future king, but also destined to be emperor of four continents. They command musicians to sound their instruments. At the noise, Mahajanaka awakes. Seeing all the people around him, he recognizes that the white umbrella of kingship has come to him. He asks where the king might be. When told that he has died, he agrees to accept the kingdom.
There are auspicious marks on the soles of the feet of a divinely endowed being
The Marriage ceremony between Mahajanaka and Sivali Deva takes place.
Further, he solves all the challenges to impress the princess and is able to marry her. Thus he becomes the ruler of Mithila, and Sivali bears him a son. During his seven thousand year reign he and Mani Mekhala continued to sing of the Buddhist perfections.
Mani and he sing among the mango trees.


(SINGS) Gentle as a fountain.


(SINGS) Yet lasting as a mountain


(SINGS) The king who resolves


(SINGS) Will always evolve

Mahajanaka sits down and the gardener brings him fruit and flowers.
One day the royal gardener brought wonderful flowers and fruit. The King liked them so much that he wanted to see the garden. There he saw two beautiful mango trees. One was full of perfectly ripe mangos, while the other was completely without fruit. He took one of the fruits and enjoyed its delicious sweet taste.

The action is as the picture below.

King Mahajanaka is saddened by the utter ignorance of his people in this painting by Preecha Thaothong
When the people saw that the king had eaten the first fruit, they knew it was all right for them to eat. The peasants, greedy people, concubines and monkeys devoured the mangoes, ripped off the branches and uprooted it. They ignore the tree that does not fruit.

The King returned and explained how he would tend and propagate the other mango tree.

From then on he decided to lead the life of a humble monk and to rule his kingdom from the simple beauty of nature and among a community of self sufficient peasants.
The play ends with everybody who has participated taking a curtain call.