Article: Malli

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

More details

Besides the basic information, the sources provide more details on various topics. These are almost infinite and vary depending on the sources. Such information differs between Śvetāmbaras and Digambaras. Here are only a few instances of extra detail.

All of the princes who become Jinas are carried on a palanquin to the park where they perform the ritual gesture of initiation into monastic lifedīkṣā. Mallinātha’s palanquin is named Jayantī. On this occasion, he is accompanied by one thousand kings.

Mallinātha performs a two-day fast. The next day he breaks his fast at the house of King Viśvasena.

Mallinātha reaches omniscience under a tree of the aśoka variety.

Śvetāmbara life of Malli

The earliest Śvetāmbara biography of Mallinātha or Lord Malli is narrated in their canonical scriptures. It forms the eighth chapter of the sixth Aṅga, called Nāyā-dhamma-kahāo in Prakrit or Jñāta-dharma-kathānga in Sanskrit. The inclusion of Malli’s story in a canonical scripture is probably a way to stress its importance and authoritativeness. Even so, this biography is not found in a work which focuses on the Jinas’ lives, such as the Kalpa-sūtra.

The account in the Jñāta-dharma-kathānga has become the standard Śvetāmbara biography. It is retold by later authors, whether in comprehensive biographies of all the Jinas or in individual works focusing on this particular Jina. Hemacandra's 12th-century Tri-ṣaṣṭi-śalākā-puruṣa-caritra is an example of the first kind. Mallinatha's biography is found on pages 52 to 71 in volume IV of Johnson's translation of Hemacandra’s work. Vinayacandra’s verse work Mallinātha-caritra is a representative of the second one.

Previous birth – ascetic but deceitful

This manuscript painting shows two monks fasting to death – sallekhanā – under the supervision of a monastic teacher. The teacher or mentor is present throughout the ritual, overseeing the stages of penance and renunciation that end in the 'sage's death'.

Fasting unto death
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

After listening to a Jain ascetic called Dharmaghoṣa, King Bala of Vītaśoka in Mahā-videha renounces worldly life, becomes a monk and reaches emancipation. His son, Mahā-bala, succeeds him on the throne.

Mahā-bala has six childhood friends:

  • Acala
  • Dharaṇa
  • Pūraṇa
  • Vasu
  • Vaiśravaṇa
  • Abhicandra.

All seven men were born on the same day and have grown up together. They are so close that they have decided that they will do everything with mutual consent.

After hearing an ascetic who had come to preach, Mahā-bala resolves to become a Jain monk. When he tells his friends they all decide to do the same.

The men are exemplary ascetics. Once they agree that whatever fast one practises, whether short or long, the others will do the same.

The monk Mahā-bala acquires a karma that determines his future birth as a woman – itthi-ṇāma-goyaṃ kammaṃ. This is the result of his behaviour, because he wants to outdo his friends secretly. If his six friends observe a one-day fast, he fasts for two days. If they keep a two-day fast, he fasts for three days and so on.

With the permission of their religious teacher, the seven monks perform various types of increasingly difficult fasts. When their bodies have become emaciated, they ask his permission to fast unto death. After this they are reborn as gods in the ‘Unsurpassable’ heavenAnuttara – called Jayanta.

Later on, the six friends are born as princes and become kings, each ruling a region of India.

Next lives of Mallinatha's six friends


Name as king










Kāśi, modern-day Varanasi










Mahā-bala, however, is reborn as a girl.

The account of the sixth Aṅga does not comment or analyse this any further. But in later sources, the mistake of Mahā-bala is named as deceit or treachery – māyā – which is one of the four main ‘passions’ – kaṣāya – in the Jain system. This is considered characteristic of women in general.

In Hemacandra's work Mahā-bala's ambiguous destiny is twice described as having been caused by his deceit. Hemacandra writes:

Because of penance mixed with deceit, he acquired woman-inclination-karma strī-veda and also the body-making-karma of a Tīrthakṛt because of the [guru-]sthānas, devotion to the Arhats, et cetera

Triṣaṣṭiśalākāpuruṣacaritra volume IV, page 53

He then describes it thus:

[Her mother] bore a daughter because of the female-birth karma produced by deceit in a former birth

page 54

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