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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Someone who withdraws from ordinary life to meditate and practise physical hardships in order to advance spiritually. Jain ascetics or mendicants beg for food from devout lay followers and wander the land.
Also used as an adjective to describe the practice of rigorous, even extreme, physical hardships in the belief that it leads to a higher spiritual condition.
Favourable or lucky. Auspicious objects bring good fortune and may predict good events or a bright future.
Grain or pulses cooked in water with salt, eaten once a day as part of dietary restrictions, especially among Śvetāmbaras.
Giving up or limiting food or specified foods for a period of time, usually as part of a religious practice. Fasting is a key part of Jainism, chiefly because it is believed to:
A public commemoration of a religious ritual. Often a celebration that involves holding a religious ceremony to mark an important event in a religion's history.
The language that developed in Gujarat, in western India. It is also spoken in neighbouring states. Also a term for someone or something associated with or coming from Gujarat.
Follower of the majority faith in India and an adjective describing something belonging to Hinduism. Hindus have numerous gods and diverse beliefs and practices, though many believe in the soul, karma, the cycle of births and liberation. Roughly a billion Hindus comprise the third largest religion in the world.
The terms stavan, stavana, stava, stotra and stuti are all used for a prayer, song, chant or hymn to a Jina, a god or any other holy figure. Religious songs are always hymns of praise in Jainism. These devotional songs may be performed during daily rites or on special occasions, such as completion of a fast or a wedding. The hymns may be performed:
An image of a deity or concept that is worshipped either as a god or as a representation of the deity.
Follower of the 24 Jinas or an adjective describing Jain teachings or practices. The term 'Jaina' is also used although 'Jain' is more common.
Action or act, thought of as physical in Jainism. Created by mental or physical action, karma enters the soul, which then needs religious restraints and practices to make it flow out. Karma can be both:
Both types of karma trap a soul in continual rebirth. A pan-Indian concept, karma has extremely complex, detailed and technical divisions and subdivisions in Jainism.
A sacred sound, syllable, word or phrase that is believed to produce spiritual change if recited correctly. A mantra can be recited aloud or silently, and is often repeated. Mantras are closely associated with religions that originated in India, such as Hinduism and Buddhism as well as Jainism. The chief Jain mantra is the Namaskāra-mantra, which is recited daily, while another mantra very popular in Indian culture generally is Auṃ.
An extraordinary event that cannot be explained by natural causes or human effort and therefore is believed to be caused by divine or supernatural powers.
A man who has taken a public vow to withdraw from ordinary life to formally enter religious life and advance spiritually. Frequently, monks perform physical austerities or undergo physical hardships in order to progress spiritually.
Sanskrit for 'homage formula', the Namaskāra-mantra is the fundamental religious formula of the Jains. A daily prayer always recited in the original Prākrit, it pays homage to the supreme beings or five types of holy being:
Note that chanting the mantra is not praying for something, material or otherwise. Also known as the Pañca-namaskāra-mantra or 'Fivefold Homage mantra', it is also called the Navakāra-mantra or Navkār-mantra in modern Indian languages.
A term for any of the dead vernacular languages of ancient and medieval India. It may be contrasted with classical Sanskrit, the language used by priests and the aristocracy. The Jains used a large variety of Prakrits, with the Jain canon written chiefly in Ardhamāgadhī Prākrit.
Sanskrit for 'worship' or 'homage'. All Jains perform rites of honour to the 24 Jinas. Rites of worship take place daily, with more elaborate ceremonies performed on holy days. Mendicant and lay Jains perform different rituals. Some sects worship images – mūrti-pūjaka – and others do not, and different sects have various practices. Focused on images or not, worship can be:
A sequence of actions that must be followed to perform a religious ceremony. The set of actions is largely symbolic, for example offering food to statues symbolises sacrificing to a deity. The ritual actions are often accompanied by set phrases.
A speech on a religious topic, usually delivered by a member of the clergy. Frequently a sermon has a moral lesson or is based on a sacred text.
The most common mystical diagram – yantra – in Jainism, which is believed to destroy karma and bring prosperity and good luck. There are nine parts, usually arranged in the shape of a lotus flower. The Five Highest Beings are depicted on five parts of the yantra. On the four other parts, there are sectarian differences.
Digambaras call it the navadevatā or navdevata or navpad. The other four elements for them are:
For Śvetāmbaras it is the siddhacakra or navapada or navpad, which has representations of:
British Library. Or. 13622. Vinaya-vijaya and Yaśo-vijaya. 17th to 18th centuries
British Library. Or. 2126 ms. A. Ratnaśekhara. 1467