Contributed by M. Whitney Kelting
Brāhmī and Sundarī are a pair of Jain satīs best known as the daughters of the first Jina, Ṛṣhabanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha. They are numbered among the 16 satīs or soḷ satī and are in every Jain satī list even though their story is brief. As virtuous women who are role models for Jain women, satīs are characterised by their religious devotion and, often, marital fidelity and patient acceptance of suffering.
The story of Brāhmī and Sundarī was first given in the Ādipurāṇa of Jinasena, which tells the story of the life of the first Jina. A longstanding favourite among both Digambara and Śvetāmbara Jains, the story has frequently been part of collections of tales intended to offer moral examples.
The tale of Brāhmī and Sundarī is usually retold as an example of the acute desire for renunciation and the perils of denying someone the chance to become an ascetic.
Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha had two wives, who each had a set of twins. The first, Sumangala, had a son, Bharata, and a daughter, Brāhmī. The second wife is called Sunanda by Śvetāmbara Jains and Sudana in Digambara sources. She had a son, Bāhubali, and a daughter, Sundarī.
When Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha became a mendicant, his elder son Bharata took over as head of the family. This meant that Brāhmī needed his permission to renounce and he gave this to her. Then Brāhmī took initiation from her father and became the first nun.
Sundarī asked her brother Bāhubali if she could renounce and he granted her permission. Because Bāhubali was a monk, he told Sundarī that she needed to ask Bharata for permission as he was now the head of the family. Bharata refused her request. Sundarī obeyed him and became the first Jain lay woman.
After many years away, Bharata returned and saw that Sundarī was very gaunt. He was told that she eaten only dry food – āyambil – since she had been denied ordination. Seeing that she had renounced already in her heart, Bharata gave her permission to renounce.
Brāhmī and Sundarī were the joint leaders of the order of nuns under Ṛṣabha. When they died, both of them either attained enlightenment in Śvetāmbara sources or were reborn as gods according to the Digambaras.
Grain or pulses cooked in water with salt, eaten once a day as part of dietary restrictions, especially among Śvetāmbaras.
One of the hundred sons of the first Jina Ṛṣabha, Bāhubali is one of the most revered Jain saints. After fighting with his half-brother Bharata, he renounced the world and finally conquered his pride to reach enlightenment. He is always shown in the kāyotsarga pose in art and immense freestanding statues of him are a feature of southern India.
One of the Lands of Action or Karma-bhūmi in the first continent, Jambū-dvīpa, in the Middle World where humans live. Bharata is also the name of the eldest son of the first Jina, Ṛṣabha, who succeeded his father as king.
Sanskrit for 'universal monarch'. There are 12 in the continent of Bharata in each progressive and regressive half-cyle of time. They have 9 treasures and 14 jewels they can use to conquer their enemies and become 'universal monarchs'. The cakravartin form one of the five groups of '63 illustrious men' in Jain mythology.
'Sky-clad' in Sanskrit, used for one of the two main divisions of Jainism, in which monks are naked. There are some differences of doctrine or belief between these two sects and to some extent their followers consider themselves as belonging to distinct branches. Divisions can be fierce in practical matters, for example, over the ownership of pilgrimage places, but all sects see themselves as Jains.
Follower of the 24 Jinas or an adjective describing Jain teachings or practices. The term 'Jaina' is also used although 'Jain' is more common.
Omniscience, enlightenment or perfect knowledge – the highest of the five types of knowledge, where one knows everything wherever and whenever it is. It is extremely difficult to attain, equivalent to the 13th stage of spiritual purity in the guṇa-sthāna. Digambaras believe only men can achieve it whereas Śvetāmbaras believe that both men and women can become enlightened.
A man who has taken a public vow to withdraw from ordinary life to formally enter religious life and advance spiritually. Frequently, monks perform physical austerities or undergo physical hardships in order to progress spiritually.
A woman who has taken a public vow to withdraw from ordinary life to enter religious life and advance spiritually. Frequently, nuns perform physical austerities or undergo physical hardships in order to progress spiritually.
The act of being appointed as a member of the clergy of a religion. It is a formal ceremony that consecrates a believer into the holder of a religious office.
To deliver a speech on a religious topic, usually given by a prophet or member of the clergy. It may be a formal task of a religious office or open to all believers in a religious faith. Often covering social and moral subjects, preaching may be intended to:
Giving up something. A lay person who becomes an ascetic renounces the life of a householder within society, instead choosing the physical hardships of being a monk or nun. The formal renunciation ceremony in Jainism is dīkṣā.
First Jina of the present age. His symbolic colour is gold and his emblem the ox or bull. There is little historical evidence of his existence. Jains believe that he established many social institutions, such as marriage and the caste system, and introduce crafts and agriculture to the people.
Sanskrit term meaning 'with a home’ – that is, a ‘householder’ or lay Jain. A synonym for a lay person, emphasising that he or she is a member of a household, with responsibilities to the family, community and society that a Jain mendicant does not have.
Someone who is declared by a religious organisation or by popular acclaim to be of outstanding goodness and spiritual purity, usually some time after his or her death. The person's holiness is often believed to have been demonstrated in the performance of miracles. Saints are frequently held up as examples for followers of a religious faith.
'Virtuous woman', who is worshipped for her admirable qualities. Satīs demonstrate religious devotion and loyalty to husbands and family, especially in difficult times. Some satīs renounce to become nuns while others remain householders. There are many satīs but there is a group of Sol Satī or 16 satī who are particularly venerated by Śvetāmbara Jains.
An organised group of believers in a religion, often distinguished from other groups within the same religious faith who have differences of doctrine or practice.
A speech on a religious topic, usually delivered by a member of the clergy. Frequently a sermon has a moral lesson or is based on a sacred text.
'Hearer’ of the teaching. This commonly refers to the Jain lay woman, who follows the teachings of the 24 Jinas and is not a member of the clergy or a religious order. The masculine form is śrāvakā.
'White-clad’ in Sanskrit, the title of one of the two main divisions of Jainism, in which both male and female mendicants wear white robes. There are some differences of doctrine or belief between these two sects and to some extent their followers consider themselves as belonging to distinct branches. Divisions can be fierce in practical matters, for example, over the ownership of pilgrimage places, but all sects see themselves as Jains.
British Library. Or. 2105 ms. C. Bhadrabāhu. 1449
Also known as Śvetāmbara Jain Rāmāyaṇa. Beta 1689. Wellcome Trust Library. Hemacandra. 1601