The Story of the Horse-King and the Merchant Simhala in Buddhist Texts


  • Naomi Appleton Oriental Institute, Oxford



Aśvarāja story, Sinhalese, Siṃhala story, Horse King in Buddhist Texts


The Asvaraja story relates the adventures of a caravan of merchants shipwrecked on an island of demonesses and rescued by a flying horse, the asvaraja, ‘king of horses’. The Simhala story continues this narrative to include the chief merchant, Simhala, being followed home by a demoness, who tries to get him back before seducing and eating the king. Simhala is crowned king and invades the island. Each story has many versions, both Mahayana and non-Mahayana. This paper examines five key versions: birth story with ‘ocean of samsara’ metaphor; political and quasi-historical narrative of the invasion of Sri Lanka by the Sinhalese; warning that ‘all women are demonesses’; glorifi cation of the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara; and Newar warning of the dangers of travelling to Tibet. Each version reveals some of the issues that its community is preoccupied with.

Author Biography

Naomi Appleton, Oriental Institute, Oxford

DPhil. candidate in Buddhist Studies Oriental Institute, Oxford University


Appleton, N., 2004. Seduced by Samsara, Saved by a Flying Horse: A Study of the Asvaraja and Simhala stories. MPhil thesis, University of Wales, Cardiff .

Bays, G. (trans.), 1983. The Voice of the Buddha: The Beauty of Compassion (based on a French translation of the Tibetan Lalitavistara Sutra by Foucaux with emendations). California: Dharma Publishing.

Beal, S. (trans.), [1884] 1981. Si-yu-ki: Buddhist Records of the Western World. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Beal, S. (trans.), [1875] 1985. The Romantic Legend of Sakya Buddha: A Translation of the Chinese Version of the Abhiniskramanasutr. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Bernhard, F. (ed.), 1965. Udanavarga. Go ttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

Burnouf, E., 1890. Legendes Bouddhiques II. (Unpublished translation of the Karandavyuha Sutra held at the Bibliotèque Nationale, Paris).

Chandra, L. (ed.), 1999. Karanda-Vyuha-Sutra, or The Supernal Virtues of Avalokitesvara. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan.

Chavannes, E., [1910–35] 1962. Cinq Cent Contes et Apologues: Extraits du Tripitaka Chinois. Paris: AdrienMaisonneuve.

Cowell, E. B. (ed.), 1895–1907. The Jataka or Stories of the Buddha’s Former Births. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Reprinted (London: Pali Text Society, 1973).

Cowell, E. B. & Neil, R. A. (eds), 1886. The Divyavadana: A Collection of Early Buddhist Legends. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dresden, M.J. (ed. and trans.), 1955. ‘The Jatakastava or “Praise of the Buddha’s former births”’. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, vol. 45, part 5, pp. 397–508.

Ensink, J. (trans.), 1952. The Question of Rastrapala. Zwolle: J.J.Tijl.

Fausbøll, V. (ed.), 1877–96. The Jataka Together with its Commentary Being Tales of the Anterior Births of Gotama Buddha. London: Trübner and Co. Reprinted (Oxford: Pali Text Society, 1991).

Finot, L. (ed.), 1957. Rastrapalapariprccha: Sutra du Mahayana. The Hague: Mouton.

Geiger, W. (trans.), 1912. The Great Chronicle of Ceylon. Oxford: Pali Text Society.

Grey, L., 2000. A Concordance of Buddhist Birth Stories, 3rd edn. Oxford: Pali Text Society.

Huber, E., 1906. ‘Études de Littérature Bouddhique V: Les Sources du Divyavadana’. Bulletin de L’Ecole Francais D’Extreme-Orient, vol. 6, pp. 1–43.

Iwamoto, Y. (ed.), 1967. Bukkyo Setsuwa Kenkyo Josetsu. Kyoto: Hozokan.

Jones, J.J. (trans.), 1949–56. The Mahavastu (3 vols). London: Luzac.

Kuznetsov, B.I. (ed.), 1997. Rgyal Rabs Gsal Ba’i Me Long (The Clear Mirror of Royal Genealogies). Leiden: E.J. Brill.

Lewis, T. (trans.), 1995. ‘Story of Simhala, the Caravan Leader’. In Buddhism in Practice, D. S. Lopez (ed.), pp. 151–69. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Lewis, T., 2000. Popular Buddhist Texts from Nepal. New York: SUNY Press.

Lienhard, S., 1985. Die Abenteuer des Kaufmanns Simhala. Berlin: Museum für Indische Kunst (unpublished translation by Frances Wilson).

Lienhard, S., 1993. ‘Avalokitesvara in the Wick of the Night-Lamp’. Indo-Iranian Journal, vol. 36, pp. 93–104.

Meech-Pekarik, J., 1981. ‘The Flying White Horse: Transmission of the Valahassa Jataka Imagery from India to Japan’. Artibus Asiae, vol. 43, pp. 111–28.

Mette, A., 1997. Die Gilgitfragmente des Karandavyuha. Swisttal-Odendorf: Indica et Tibetica.

Mills, D. E. (trans.), 1970. A Collection of Tales from Uji: A Study and Translation of Uji Shui Monogatari. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Oldenberg, H. (ed. and trans.), 1879. Dipavamsa. Oxford: Pali Text Society.

Panglung, J.L., 1981. Die Erzählstoff e des Mulasarvastivada-Vinaya. Tokyo: The Reiyukai Library.

Ramanujan, A.K., 1991. ‘Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation’, In Many Ramayanas, P. Richman (ed.), pp. 22–49. California: University of California Press.

Regamey, C., 1965. ‘Le Pseudo-Hapax Ratikara et la Lampe Qui Rit dans le “Sutra des Ogresses” Bouddhique’. Études Asiatiques, vols 18–19, pp. 175–206.

Rockhill, W. W. (trans.), 1883. Udanavarga: A Collection of Verses from the Buddhist Canon. London: Trübner.

Schlingloff , D., 1988. Studies in the Ajanta Paintings. Delhi: Ajanta Publications.

Senart, E. (ed.), 1882–97. Le Mahavastu. Paris: Impremerie Nationale.

Sørensen, P. K. (trans.), 1994. Tibetan Buddhist Historiography: The Mirror Illuminating the Royal Genealogies. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

Tatelman, J., 2000. The Glorious Deeds of Purna: A Translation and Study of the Purnavadana. Surrey: Curzon Press.

Tatelman, J. (ed. and trans.), 2005. The Heavenly Exploits: Buddhist Biographies from the Divyavadana, vol. 1. New York: New York University Press (Clay Sanskrit Library)

Thompson, S., 1977. The Folktale. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Tuladhar-Douglas, W., 2006. Remaking Buddhism for Medieval Nepal: The Fifteenth-century Reformation of Newar Buddhism. London: Routledge.

Vaidya, P.L. (ed.), 1961. Mahayana-Sutra-Samgraha. Darbhanga: The Mithila Institute.

Walters, J.S., 2000. ‘Buddhist History: The Sri Lankan Pali Vamsas and their Commentary’. In Querying the Medieval: Texts and the History of Practices in South Asia, R. Inden et al. (eds), pp. 99–164. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Watson, B. (trans.), 1993. The Lotus Sutra. New York: Columbia University Press.

Wenzel, H., 1888. ‘A Jataka Tale from the Tibetan’. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, vol. 20, pp. 503– 11.




How to Cite

Appleton, N. (2007). The Story of the Horse-King and the Merchant Simhala in Buddhist Texts. Buddhist Studies Review, 23(2), 187–201.