Fantasy Being Devoured by a She-tiger

Fantasy Being Devoured by a She-tiger comments Pier Paolo Pasolini’s script for his Indian film. The opening scene is based on the buddhist jataka that gives a lesson on compassion. 

Drawing of a she-tiger devouring a maharaja
Fantasy Being Devoured by A She-tiger 2019, mixed media, 50 x 50 cm

Appunti per un film sull’India (Notes for an Indian Film, 1968) documents Pier Paolo Pasolini’s preliminary research for a narrative film, that he never made to be shot in India. It is the story of the hardships that maharaja’s family endures after the maharaja’s decision to give his body to starving tiger cubs. 

There is an interesting autobiographical subtext in Pasolini’s unpublished notebooks I Quaderni rossi, written in 1946. Pasolini writes how he as a child saw in an illustrated booklet a picture representing a man lying prostate under the paws of a tiger, half swallowed, like a mouse in a cat’s mouth.

… I began to wish I was the explorer devoured alive by the wild animal. Since then, before asleep, I would fantasise about being myself be devoured… and then of course, although it would it was absurd, I would also devise a way to free myself and kill her [in Italian tigre is feminine]. 

What Pasolini does not mention, is that his opening scene of the Indian film is based on the well known Buddhist jataka tale (an educational story), which tells about life of bodhisattva (Prince Sattva) and gives a lesson about compassion. As an erudite man, he must have known the original jataka tale, which goes like this:

Prince Sattva, the son of King Maharatha became an ascetic and gained a few disciples. On his walk with his closest disciple, he comes to the edge of a cliff, at the bottom of which is a starving tigress about to eat her newborn cubs in desperation. The prince tells his disciple to go look for food and he will stay and try to figure out a way to save her and her young. While his disciple is gone, the prince reflects that while his disciple very well may not find food, his body is just so much flesh as the tradition states, and by giving it up, he can save the tigress’ purity and her cubs’ lives. He leaps off the cliff to his death, attracting the tigress’ attention with his impact, and she eats his body. His disciple returns, having not found food, and, upon discovering what the prince has done, rejoices in his good deed.