Contributed by M. Whitney Kelting
Candanbālā, also known as Candanā, was the head nun under Mahāvīra and is one of the 16 satīs – soḷ satī. Her story is especially well known because she appears at a key moment in Mahavira's progress to becoming a Jina. For both Digambara and Śvetāmbara Jains, Candanbālā is one of the many Jain satīs whose lives are examples of the ideal path for women. She also demonstrates virtues that should be imitated by both men and women. Her story features the quintessential gift to the worthy recipient – supatra dāna – offering food, clothes and medicine to a Jain mendicant as alms.
Among Śvetāmbaras, Candanbālā's story is re-enacted as part of the fast-breaking ritual associated with the Candanbālā Fast. The three-day fast is completed when the faster feeds a Jain mendicant before breaking her own fast. In addition to reducing karma, the Candanbālā Fast is believed to improve the faster's beauty and marriage prospects.
Princess Vasumatī is born in the city of Campa. When Campa is sacked in a war, a camel trader grabs the princess and her mother, who dies immediately. He offers Vasumatī as a slave in the market, where a Jain merchant named Dhana sees Vasumatī and realises that she must be a kidnapped princess. He buys her and decides to raise her as his own daughter until her family finds her. He and his family call her 'Candanbālā', which means 'Hair like Sandalwood', because of her beauty.
As Candanbālā grows more beautiful, the merchant's wife, Mulā, becomes jealous of her. She orders the servants to shave off Candanbālā's hair, bind her with chains and lock her in a distant corner of the house. For three days, whenever the merchant asks after Candanbālā, his wife lies to him that she is outside or asleep.
When Dhana finally convinces the servants to tell him where Candanbālā is, he finds her shaven-headed and chained, with tears in her eyes. She has not eaten or drunk for three days. He searches for something for her to eat but there is only a winnowing basket full of lentils. Candanbālā vows that she will eat only after first giving food to a guest.
At this very moment the 24th Jina Mahāvīra comes seeking alms. He has been fasting for five months and 25 days, awaiting a suitable donor. He has vowed to accept food only from a princess who is now a slave, standing on the threshold with her head shaved, dressed in white, crying while sorting lentils in a winnowing basket.
Candanbālā stands in the doorway of her room with the winnowing basket full of lentils and calls to Mahāvīra that he should take alms. He refuses because she is not crying. She begins to weep. Because Candanbālā then meets all the conditions of his vow, he returns to take alms.
At the fulfilment of Mahāvīra's vow, the gods shower them both with gold, Candanbālā's chains break off, her long beautiful hair miraculously returns and she is known instantly to be Princess Vasumatī.
Food, money, medicine, clothing or anything else given to another person as a religious or charitable act. Asking for and giving alms is a significant part of Jainism, as it forms a daily point of contact between lay people and mendicants. Seeking, donating and receiving alms are highly ritualised ceremonies in the Jain tradition, and spiritual purity is essential for both giver and recipient. Giving alms is a way for lay Jains to gain merit – puṇya.
Someone who withdraws from ordinary life to meditate and practise physical hardships in order to advance spiritually. Jain ascetics or mendicants beg for food from devout lay followers and wander the land.
Also used as an adjective to describe the practice of rigorous, even extreme, physical hardships in the belief that it leads to a higher spiritual condition.
Favourable or lucky. Auspicious objects bring good fortune and may predict good events or a bright future.
An essay explaining a text. Commentaries on the scriptures are common in the Jain tradition and there are various types, including the:
Giving, specifically alms-giving to mendicants.
An active follower of a religion, especially one who passes on teachings to others.
A donor gives freely. He or she may give alms to a mendicant or money to an institution. This donation may be for specific items or purposes, such as the creation of art. A donor, sponsor or patron may be named or pictured in the artwork.
Giving up or limiting food or specified foods for a period of time, usually as part of a religious practice. Fasting is a key part of Jainism, chiefly because it is believed to:
The terms stavan, stavana, stava, stotra and stuti are all used for a prayer, song, chant or hymn to a Jina, a god or any other holy figure. Religious songs are always hymns of praise in Jainism. These devotional songs may be performed during daily rites or on special occasions, such as completion of a fast or a wedding. The hymns may be performed:
Follower of the 24 Jinas or an adjective describing Jain teachings or practices. The term 'Jaina' is also used although 'Jain' is more common.
The Book of Ritual attributed to Bhadrabāhu. It has three sections:
A significant sacred text for Śvetāmbara Jains, the Kalpa-sūtra has a central role in the annual Paryuṣaṇ festival.
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.
The 24th Jina of the present age. His symbolic colour is yellow and his emblem the lion. Mahāvīra or 'the great hero' is his title. His birth name was Vardhamāna, meaning 'ever increasing'. His existence is historically documented but the two main sects of Digambara and Śvetāmbara Jains have slight differences in their accounts of his life.
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 ritual in which a faster ends his or or her fast.
Sanskrit for a 'right or good action'. Similar to a merit in Buddhism, it helps to reduce karma.
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.
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.
A fragrant wood from trees in the Santalum genus, which is often made into oil, paste, powder or incense. Widely used in religious ceremonies across Asia, sandalwood paste and powder are used to mark or decorate religious equipment, statues or images, priests and worshippers. Also used for carvings, sandalwood produces a highly prized oil used in cosmetics and perfumes.
'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.
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.
'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.
A Western academic term used for the largely medieval texts that hold the Jain legendary history of the world. Recounting the life stories of the '63 Great or Illustrious Men', the writings are intended to provide role-models for later Jains. The main texts of Jain Universal History are the:
Vows are extremely important in Jain religious life. Mendicants take the compulsory Five Great Vows – mahā-vratas – as part of their initiation – dīkṣā.
Lay people can choose to take 12 vows, which are divided into:
All of these vows are lifelong and cannot be taken back. The sallekhana-vrata is a supplementary vow to fast to death, open to both ascetics and householders.