Part of the canon of sacred Buddhist literature, this collection of some 550 anecdotes and fables depicts earlier incarnations -- sometimes as an animal, sometimes as a human -- of the being who would become Siddhartha Gautama, the future Buddha. Traditional birth and death dates of Gautama are 563-483 BC. The Jataka tales are dated between 300 BC and 400 AD.
Many of the tales are set in or near Benares, now called Varanasi, a city in north central India on the Ganges River. One of the world's oldest cities, Varanasi is the most sacred place for Hindus. Buddhists and Muslims also have important religious sites nearby. According to tradition, Buddha began his teaching at Sarnath a short distance from this city.