Originally the name of a spell taught to an ascetic by a Garuda king who had unwittingly torn up by its roots a banyan tree which grew at the end of the ascetic's walk. The ascetic taught it to a poor brahmin of Benares who had gone into the forest to escape his creditors and who ministered to the ascetic.
The brahmin became known as Ālambāyana after he learnt the spell. Having learnt it he left the forest and was walking along the banks of the Yamunā, when he came across a host of Nāgas, sitting, after their sports, round the Nāga gem which grants all desires. The Nāgas, hearing the man repeat the charm, fled in terror, believing him to be the Garuda, and he took possession of their jewel. Soon after, ālambāyana met an outcast brahmin with his son, Somadatta, and on their agreeing to show him the Nāga King, Bhūridatta, he gave them the jewel.
With the help of his spell Ālambāyana tamed Bhūridatta and went about giving exhibitions of the Nāga's skill. Bhūridatta was finally rescued by his brother Sudassana and his sister Accimukhī. In the contest of skill which ālambāyana had with Sudassana, Accimukhī assumed the form of a frog and let drip three drops of poison on her brother's hand, and these were allowed to fall into a hole specially prepared and filled with cow-dung. A flame burst out and ālambāyana was smitten with the heat. His skin changed colour and he became a white leper.
The story is told in the Bhūridatta Jātaka (J.vi.179-97).
The name Ālambāyana appears also as Ālambāna and as Ālamba.