Article: Mayṇāsundarī

Contributed by M. Whitney Kelting

The wife of King Śrīpal, Madanasundarī is the model wife of the Śvetāmbara Mūrti-pūjāk Jain satī tradition. She is usually called Mayṇāsundarī or Mainasundarī in modern versions of her story.

The story of Śrīpal and Mayṇāsundarī is widely known from the Śrīpal Rājā no Rās, written in Gujaratī by Vinaya-vijaya and Yaśo-vijaya in 1682. It is the basis of many forms of the story, which remains popular in the present day.

The tale of Śrīpal and Mayṇāsundarī is frequently re-enacted in rituals associated with the siddhacakra and the Āyambil Oḷī fast. The story forms the major element in the twice-yearly Āyambil Oḷī festival, which is chiefly associated with married women.

The tale of Mayṇāsundarī makes her the paramount model of a Jain woman. Her actions in the tale – revealing religious devotion, teaching proper religious practice to her family and readiness to accept wifely duties – create a happy and healthy family life after early difficulties. Even so, Mayṇāsundarī is not on the lists of satī, such the 16 satīs – soḷ satī – or those satīs listed in the Bharahesvar Bahubali Sajjhay. However, she is called a satī in all accounts and is widely named in Jain popular culture as a key virtuous woman.

Story of Śrīpal and Mayṇasundarī

Long ago in Ujjain, there were two sisters, Mayṇāsundarī and Sursundarī. They were the daughters of the two wives of King Prajāpāḷ of Ujjain. Mayṇāsundarī was raised as a Jain and Sursundarī as a Hindu.

When it was time for them to marry, King Prajāpāḷ let his daughters pick their husbands. Sursundarī chose a husband according to her taste and her father's wishes, but Mayṇāsundarī refused. She gave her father a lecture on how she would be married to the husband that fate and karma selected. Prajāpāḷ became angry and decided to prove that it was he and not fate or karma that would determine his daughter's destiny.

Marriage to the king of the lepers

This detail of an 18th-century manuscript depicts women fetching water from a stream. Wearing lots of jewellery, the women perform this daily task by carrying heavy pots on their heads

Women fetching water
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Earlier, when a coup in Campa city had killed King Ajitsen, Queen Kamaḷprabhā and Prince Śrīpal had fled the palace. They found refuge hiding among a community of seven hundred lepers. Śrīpal caught leprosy and the lepers then named him their king.

Queen Kamaḷprabhā was a Jain and consulted a Jain monk, who assured her that her son would have a religious wife – a dharma patnī – and that his leprosy would go away.

Soon after Mayṇāsundarī's refusal to choose a groom, Śrīpal and the seven hundred lepers arrived in Ujjain. The king invited Śrīpal, king of the lepers, to the palace and offered him Mayṇāsundarī in marriage.

Śrīpal said, "You should not marry such a beautiful girl to someone like me."

But the king replied, "No – she said her karma will determine her fate, so she will marry you."

Thus Śrīpal and Mayṇāsundarī were married.

Mayṇāsundarī's mother was so upset that she left her husband and returned to her brother's house. In her last conversatīon with Mayṇāsundarī, she told her to never give up her religion.

Mayṇāsundarī insisted on joining Śrīpal in the jungle with the lepers, rather than staying at home in the safety of the palace.

People began to speak scornfully of Jainism since it had led Mayṇāsundarī to show disrespect to her father and to marry a leper.

Navkār-mantra and fasting

This manuscript painting of a Svetāmbara siddhacakra shows the five highest beings in Jain belief, depicted in different colours. The petals in between contain Sanskrit mantras praising the 'four fundamentals'. It is a visual summary of key Jain doctrines

Siddhacakra
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

After the wedding Mayṇāsundarī insisted that she and her new husband worship an image of Ṛṣabhanatha or Lord Ṛṣabha, the first Jina, and get the blessing of a Jain monk. When she performed the rite of worship a flower fell from the offering to the image into the folds of her sari, which was an auspicious sign.

After completing the ritual the couple went to seek the blessing of Candra-sūrijī.

Mayṇāsundarī told the monk, "People are saying bad things about Jainism because of my marriage to a leper."

She asked the monk what she could do to help people understand the truth about Jainism and requested a mantra.

The monk told Mayṇāsundarī to recite the Navkār-mantra and to perform nine sets of nine āyambil fasting days twice a year. This would take four and a half years. "At the end of this fast," he said, "you will see that your husband is a prince."

Śrīpal and Mayṇāsundarī together performed this series of fasts, thereafter called the Navpad Oḷī fast or the Āyambil Oḷī fast. After they completed the fast Śrīpal was cured of leprosy. Then he was revealed to be not merely the king of the lepers, but Prince Śrīpal, son of King Ajitsen.

The water left over from their rites of worship was then used to cure all the other seven hundred lepers.

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