Definition - What does Jataka mean?
Jataka is a type of literature from India also known as the Jatakas or the Jataka tales. They contain stories of the previous lives of Gautama Buddha. These include Buddha in both animal and human forms. These stories are extremely popular and are valued in all branches of Buddhism.
The Jataka tales are important because, in every story, Buddha exhibits some virtue to inspire and set an example for all humanity. These texts clearly illustrate the concept of reincarnation, which is also important in Hindu and yogic philosophy.
Yogapedia explains Jataka
The Jataka tales are some of the earliest examples of Buddhist literature, dating from around the fourth century B.C.E. They are believed to be precursors to the famous biographies of Buddha, which were composed later.
Some of the Jataka tales are contained in the Pali canon of Buddhist literature. There are 35 tales that were collected for the purpose of teaching and they make up the "Carriya Pitaka," or “Basket of Conduct.” The Theravada Jatakas are made up of 547 poems that include commentaries to give context to the verses.
There are many variations of the Jatakas, all with their own emphasis. In the Sanskrit and Tibetan Jatakas, for instance, the stories maintain their teachings of Buddhist morality, whereas the Persian retellings often contain more cultural amendments.