Article: Malli

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Birth as a Jina

In Indian culture, the lotus flower symbolises spiritual purity and detachment from the material world. It features in many stories, including a famous parable Mahāvīra tells about following the right path to truth.

White lotus
Image by Haha169 © public domain

The future destiny of Mahā-bala’s soul as a Jina is announced to the mother when she experiences the 14 auspicious dreams. These are dreamed by all women who bear the Jinas.

During her pregnancy, the mother develops a fancy for flowers of all sorts. She gets her wish and in due course gives birth to the ‘19th Tīrthaṃkara’. The baby is named Mallī – ‘Jasmine’ – in reference to the pregnancy whim.

Mallī turns into an extremely beautiful young lady. Through her clairvoyanceavadhi-jñāna – she recognises that her six friends who shared their previous lives as devout monks are in love with her. She uses a device to teach them right behaviour.

Princess Mallī orders a pavilion to be made, constructed with a central room surrounded by six connected rooms. She commissions a life-size statue of herself to be installed on a pedestal in the central room. The statue is hollow, with a hole at the top. The hole is covered with a lotus. Through this hole, Mallī drops food every day, then covers the hole with the lotus again. After a few days, the rotting food starts to stink.

The six kings come to Mallī's father asking to marry her. This part of the story has distinct incidents for each of the kings, with new characters coming into the tale.

Rebuffed by Mallī’s father and feeling humiliated, they all decide to attack and besiege Mithilā, his capital city.

Mallī advises her father to tell each of the kings that she will marry him, and that he should come at night to the pavilion. Messages are sent separately to each of them. Each of the kings arrives and is directed to a different room in the pavilion. When the king arrives he is overwhelmed by the beauty of Mallī but he sees the statue instead of the living woman. When Mallī herself enters, she removes the lotus cover. The princes are disgusted by the stench that billows from the lovely statue. Mallī explains that in the same way the body is bound to deteriorate and therefore one should not feel love or attachment to it. She recalls facts of their common previous births, which they remember fully when she talks of it.

Mallī decides to renounce worldly life. Designated so far in the story as ‘Princess Mallī’ or ‘this Mallī' with feminine gender, she is now called:

  • 'Mallī the Arhat
  • 'Mallī the Jina
  • Mallinātha or Lord Malli.

The six kings put their sons in charge of their kingdoms and follow the same path.

The further stages of Mallī's career are the usual ones for a Jina's life.

Two unusual details are noteworthy, however. These relate to the periods of time that a Jina usually spends in certain activities. The Jina Malli:

  • spends only a very small part of her life as a princess, namely 100 years out of a total of 55,000
  • takes initiation and reaches omniscience on the same day so there is no period as a wandering mendicant between the two events, and also no period of testing, which involves possible challenges to asceticism.

Digambara life of Malli

The earliest and standard Digambara biography of the 19th Jina is found on pages 305 to 312 of the 1968 edition of Guṇabhadra’s comprehensive 9th-century work Uttarapurāṇa. Another very similar version is that of Puṣpadanta’s Mahā-purāṇa, written in the 10th century in Apabhraṃśa Prakrit (Roth 1983: 51–57).

As an individual biography, Sakalakīrti’s Mallinātha-purāṇa can be mentioned. Written in Sanskrit in the 15th century, it is basically the same, but has an interesting passage. This describes how deluding karmasmohanīya-karmas – can be beaten by worshipping the ‘three jewels’ with the help of a diagram – yantra.

In all the Digambara biographies, the masculine gender is always used for the name Malli and the epithets that go with it.

Previous birth – an exemplary ascetic

This manuscript painting depicts the gods' lives of enjoyment in the heavens. The costly furnishings, jewels and rich clothing of the beautiful gods underline the pleasures of the topmost of the three worlds of Jain cosmology.

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

King Vaiśravaṇa of Vītaśoka goes to a forest, where he sees a magnificent tree and thinks it is a good comparison for him. When he comes back later, the tree has been struck by lightning and is now totally destroyed.

He realises that change and impermanence characterise all things and make them lose their power and beauty. The king puts his son on the throne, goes to a monk and takes initiation.

The former king is a perfect ascetic and forms for himself the karma that leads to future rebirth as a Jina. However, before this he is reborn among ‘Unsurpassable gods’Pañca Anuttara – in the heaven called Aparājita.

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