Article: Malli

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Birth as a Jina

A highly polished stone image of the 19th Jina Mallinātha or Lord Malli in a temple in Tamil Nadu. The 12th-century statue's nudity and closed eyes indicate that is from the Digambara tradition. Worshippers have arranged offerings of flowers on the base

Idol of Malli
Image by ArugaNathan © CC BY-SA 3.0

The destiny of this king’s soul as a Jina is foretold to his mother when she experiences the auspicious dreams. Women who bear the Jinas have 16 dreams in the Digambara tradition.

The baby is born to King Kumbha and Queen Prabhāvatī. His mother chooses the name Malli because she liked to lie on a bed draped with flower garlands while pregnant. However, according to Puṣpadanta, Indra gives him this name.

After living one hundred years, Malli sees great preparations in the city for his marriage. Recalling his former life as a god, the prince contrasts the joy of detachment with this spectacle of worldliness. Malli finds what he sees is no more than a fake and duly renounces worldly life to become a monk.

The rest of his career follows the usual pattern for a Jina.

Iconographical evidence

Represented in art as highly stereotyped figures, Jinas take either the lotus pose or the standing kāyotsarga position. By default, features of masculine gender are conspicuous in standing Jina images. There is little definitive evidence of Śvetāmbara artists presenting Mallinātha or Lord Malli as female.

The question of the femininity of this Jina is addressed for the first time by Bhāvasena, a 14th-century Digambara writer. He cites his observations of artistic representations of Malli to support his position that this Jina could not have been female:

For example, no one in the world has ever perceived the [alleged] femininity of the images of the Lord Malli; on the contrary, those images are always depicted in masculine gender… The Lord under debate must be a man, because he is never portrayed as female in his images. This is like the images of Vardhamāna Mahāvīra, which are well known to be male in the tradition of both parties

Muktivicāra, stanza 20

translation by Jaini 1986: 217

In reply to this, it could be argued that Jina images are meant as material aids for meditation and thus show emancipated souls, not their physical features. One author who discusses the Digambara position regarding the impossibility of female emancipation remarks: ‘The Siddhas are neither male nor female’ (Strīnirvāṇa-prakaraṇa verse 26 in Jaini 1991: 70). This is echoed in modern perception. For example, Kelting (2001: 43) reports that when she asked one of her female informants why Mallinātha’s image looks like a man, she “almost dismissively said: ‘A Jina is not really a man or a woman, a Jina is beyond the specifics of its birth’.”

Physical evidence in art is not conclusive. There is only one instance of a sculpture that could represent Malli as female. It is a black stone statue from the 10th to 11th centuries kept at the Lucknow State Museum. It represents a ‘meditating female’ in the lotus meditation pose (Peaceful Liberators number 26, page 139). The head is missing but femininity is clearly shown by the breasts, the morphology of the body and the long plait falling to the bottom of the back. The lady is sitting cross-legged, with the palms of her hands on top of each other and a lotus flower atop them.

The only sign that suggests that this lady could be Malli is the water pot in a square on the pedestal. The water pot is the emblem of the 19th Jina and the symbol is in the usual place where Jinas’ emblems are found on statues.

Moreover, ‘it is a rare instance of an Indian sculpture of a nude female seated in meditation’ (Peaceful Liberators page 139).

Other sculptures of Mallinātha are ordinary depictions of a Jina standing or seated in meditation with occasional representation of this Jina’s emblem (Shah 1987: 160). They are available from all regions in India among Digambaras and Śvetāmbaras alike.

The same holds for the temples specifically dedicated to Mallinātha. Examples are:

  • one of the Digambara temples at Melsittamur in Tamil Nadu
  • the image in the Kere-Basti at Mudbidri in Karnataka
  • the Mallinātha temple on Mount Girnar in Gujarat (Hegewald 2009: 242, illustration number 482).

Hymns

Single devotional songs dedicated to Mallinātha or Lord Malli seem to be rather rare. But the 19th Jina is included in all the hymns praising the 24 Jinas.

One instance is the devotional song dedicated to this Jina in the Gujarati set of hymns composed by Yaśo-vijaya in the 17th century. This example can be found among the manuscripts digitised on JAINpedia. This is a general praise of the Jina and does not refer to individual biographical features.

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Related Manuscripts

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