Article: Añjanāsundarī

Contributed by M. Whitney Kelting

The Jain satī Añjanā is also known as Añjanāsundarī. She is a major character in the Jain tellings of the Hindu Rāma story. In both Jain and Hindu sources, she is the mother of the demi-god Hanumān although there are significant differences between the versions. Outside the Rāmāyaṇa context, Añjanā's story has appeared in Jain popular literature for hundreds of years as an example of marital fidelity in a bad marriage.

Añjanā is usually considered to be a satī even though she is not one of the 16 satīs. Her story illustrates the spiritual powers to be gained from religious devotion and patient endurance in difficult situations, especially a bad marriage. These themes are commonly found in the stories of the satīs, who act as inspirations to Jain women.

Story of Añjana

This detail of a painting in a manuscript dating from 1726 shows groups of women in separate rooms. They watch a visitor arrive at the house but stay in their private apartments as custom commands

Women in a house
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Añjanā married Pavanañjay, but before the marriage was consummated he overheard a conversation that led him to reject her.

One of Añjanā's friends said that her husband was better than Pavanañjay. Añjanā's best friend defended Pavanañjay, but Añjanā remained silent throughout the argument between her friends. Pavanañjay interpreted his new wife's silence as a kind of rejection and was so insulted that he did not come to her on their wedding night to consummate the marriage.

Bewildered, Añjanā tried to figure out what she had done in this life or a past life that made her new husband indifferent to her. Her friends told her to complain to her husband or mother-in-law. She refused, saying that this was her fate.

Añjanā stayed with her in-laws and loved Pavanañjay from a distance even though he continued to reject her. Añjanā lived her married life without ever seeing her husband even once. Pavanañjay was a virtuous man in spite of his behaviour towards his wife. He also led a celibate life.

Reconciliation between husband and wife

After 21 years passed Pavanañjay went to war and left Añjanā without a word. He refused even her wifely farewell blessing. Añjanā began a strict fast to correct the bad karma that had led to her unhappy fate.

The night before the battle, Pavanañjay heard the pitiful wailing of a bird mourning its beloved. He felt pity for his wife and returned to his parents' house to see her for the first time. He arrived secretly at night and their marriage was then consummated. Pavanañjay left in the morning without seeing his parents.

Before he left to rejoin his fellow soldiers, Añjanā asked him how she could prove herself virtuous if she found out she were pregnant. Pavanañjay said that he could not admit to having come back from battle or he would be called a coward. However, he gave her a ring and told her to keep it safe in case of an emergency.

Añjana is cast out

Añjanā had amassed significant power – śakti – from the austerities of being celibate for 21 years and so she conceived a child that night.

When her pregnancy became visible, people started to talk. Pavanañjay's parents did not believe her story that he had secretly visited her the night before battle. When Añjanā showed them the ring, they claimed that she had stolen it. They drove her from their house in shame, thinking she was unfaithful, and sent her back to her parents' house.

When Añjanā's father heard that she was pregnant he assumed the child was illegitimate. He barred her from the palace of her birth.

Thus Añjanā and her best friend wandered the jungles until the child was born.

When Añjanā's uncle heard that she was in the jungle, he insisted that she come to live with him until Pavanañjay returned.

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