Article: Malli

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Mallinātha or Lord Malli is the 19th of the 24 Jinas of the present cycle of time.

The word Jina means 'victor' in Sanskrit. A Jina is an enlightened human being who has triumphed over karma through practising extreme asceticism and teaches the way to achieve liberation. A Jina is also called a Tīrthaṃkara or 'ford-maker' in Sanskrit – that is, one who has founded a community after reaching omniscience.

Like most of the Jinas, Malli is not an historical figure. Yet among all the 24 Jinas, Mallinātha or Lord Malli stands apart. The treatment of the 19th Jina in myth mirrors theological debates on women and emancipation, as the gender issue is central.

The sect of the Digambaras holds that Malli was a boy in the last incarnation, like all other Jinas.

The Śvetāmbaras state that in the last incarnation Malli was born a girl. They devote a specific chapter of one of their canonical scriptures to the full biography of this Jina. To Śvetāmbara Jains, Malli is valued as a Jina but she is not considered a role model because of her former condition as a woman. This is because being born a woman is the consequence of partly negative behaviour in her previous birth.

Śvetāmbara Jains often write her name as Mallī, with long final i, to indicate this feminine gender. On the other hand, the form Malli, with short i, rather points to a masculine gender and is used by the Digambaras. It is also used in Mallinātha, the name that can be translated as Lord Malli, where gender is not an issue.

The main characteristics of Malli as a Jina, however, are identical in both sects. This point suggests that this information belongs to a time which predates the separation of the Jains into two traditions.

Basic information

Each Jina has standard biographical information found in various sources. Among the earliest Śvetāmbara canonical sources that provide biodata of all the 24 Jinas is the final section of the fourth Aṅga, the Samavāyānga-sūtra and the Āvaśyaka-niryukti. Among the earliest Digambara sources is a cosmological work, the Tiloya-paṇṇatti. Further, Mallinātha’s story is narrated at length in sources from both sects.

The main variation in sectarian accounts is the colour of Mallinātha’s body. According to the Śvetāmbaras it is dark blue, but it is golden for the Digambaras.

The biographical data can be categorised in a standard manner, and includes numbers, which are significant in wider Indian culture. These standard details can also be used to identify individual Jinas in art, since they are usually depicted as stereotyped figures. Pictures or statues of Jinaspresent them in either the lotus position or the kāyotsarga pose. Both of these imply deep meditation.

Parents

The important feature of a Jina’s father is that he is a king, from the kṣatriyacaste.

A Jina’s mother has an important role because she gives birth to a future Jina, and in practice a Jina is often called ‘the son of X’. Another reason for her importance is that the names given to the various Jinas are said to originate either in pregnancy-whims or in a dream their mothers had. This dream is specific, and adds to the traditional auspicious dreams that foretell the birth of a child who will become a Jina.

In the case of ‘Malli’ – ‘Jasmine’ – Śvetāmbara sources report that the mother wanted a bed covered with excellent and sweet-smelling jasmine flowers during her pregnancy.

Parents of Mallinātha

Mother

Father

Prabhāvatī

Kumbha

Places

Seeing thousands of pilgrims each year, Mount Sammeta – Sammeta Śikhara – in north-eastern India is one of the holiest places for Jains. Auspicious events – kalyāṇakas – connected with many Jinas occurred here, including the liberation of 20 Jinas

Peaks of Mount Sammeta
Image by CaptVijay © public domain

Of the five auspicious events that mark a Jina’s life – kalyāṇakas – four take place on earth and are associated with a specific village or town in the sources. Archaeological evidence often helps to identify the old names with modern places. Even when it is lacking, there is a tendency to carry out this identification process. Associating auspicious events with certain locations makes these places sacred to Jains, so that they are potential or actual pilgrimage places and temple sites.

Places associated with Mallinātha

Last incarnation and birth place

Initiation and omniscience

Emancipation

Mithilā

Sahasrāmravana, outside Mithilā

Mount Sammeta

The 14th-century Śvetāmbara monk Jinaprabha-sūri devotes one section of his work on Jain sacred places – the Vividha-tīrtha-kalpa – to Mithilā. The fact that four of the auspicious events in Mallinātha’s life took place there is among the elements that make it sacred. This location is identified with modern Janakpur, in today’s Nepal.

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