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Ranjini Obeyesekere

This article discusses three stories from the Jātaka Collection, a compendium of Buddhist folk stories—some of which date back to the third century bce. The collection as it exists today was complied, scholars believe, between the first and fifth centuries ce. Since that time it has been translated back and forth into many languages and has become part of the popular culture of the Asian Buddhist world.

The three stories the author has selected are from a fourteenth-century ce Sinhala text and focus around the theme of ‘friendship.’ They deal with three different forms of friendship as experienced in medieval Indian and Sri Lankan societies.

Series:

Nita Kumar

In this article I try to establish the class, gendered and provincial nature of friendship practices and discourses of ordinary people, such as artisans and workers, as well as making a case for friendship as performative.

There is a real history that constitutes elite and non-elite classes in India and their relationships and values. One of these values is dharma or a reasoned intuition of ‘what is appropriate’; another is the idea of enactment or play. I look at my interactions with my informants and friends, as well as a variety of other data about them, to argue that their understanding of ‘friendship’ is striking, not in that it permits an individualistic freedom in relationships, but in its elastic assumption that roles are performances. Not only was I, in the field, enacting friendship for ulterior research motives, but my informants, too, were likewise ‘performing friendship.’ Performing friendship was all there was to do.