Article: Candanbālā

Contributed by M. Whitney Kelting

Candanbālā follows Mahāvīra

After Candanbālā's true identity is revealed, Mahāvīra tells the merchant, who had become like a father to her, to protect her until Mahāvīra becomes enlightened and she can renounce.

Later, Candanbālā renounces the life of a lay Jain under Mahāvīra. She then becomes his first female disciple and the head of the order of nuns under him.

At the end of her life Candanbālā achieves enlightenment, according to Śvetāmbara versions. In Digambara accounts of the story, she is reborn as a male god in one of the heavens.

References in Jain writings

Although Candanbālā, called Candanā in earlier texts, is first introduced in the fifth-century Kalpa-sūtra, her story became a moral one some while later. Since Candanbālā's life story emphasises the merits of giving alms in the right way, it has appeared in collections of sermons and moral tales for hundreds of years. It is one of the most popular tales of satī or virtuous women in the present day, often found in independent versions as well as in collections of stories. A popular Śvetāmbara episode recounts Candanbālā's reaching omniscience.

Candanbālā is named as the nuns' leader under Mahāvīra in the Kalpa-sūtra, but her story does not develop until the āvaśyaka commentaries of the seventh and eighth centuries. The earliest telling of her story is found in Jinadāsa's Āvaśyaka-cūrnī as a story demonstrating the merits of proper alms-giving. The version in modern texts and contemporary retellings follows the model given above. However, earlier versions of the story have Candanbālā weeping when Mahāvīra arrives.

Like many Jain satīs, Candanbālā's story appears in Śubhaśila-gaṇi's 15th-century Bharateśvar Bāhubalī Vṛttiḥ and the later popular texts based on these collections. In the 18th century the Upadeśaprasāda, a popular collection of sermons, includes Candanbālā's story because it shows the rewards of being a donor.

There are many hymns, including sajjhāys and stavans, that tell the story of Candanbālā. Hers is the most widely retold satī narrative in contemporary publications. The tale is found in every satī collection and there are books dedicated to her story alone. The Candanbālā story is the subject of several Jain DVDs and comic books as well, suggesting her ongoing popularity with younger as well as older Jains.

Mṛgavatī and the snake

This manuscript painting shows Candanā or Candanabālā and Mṛgāvatī. Though Mṛgāvatī is the junior nun, she has achieved omniscience and thus can save her sleeping teacher from being bitten by the black snake under the bed

Mṛgāvatī saves Candanā from a snake
Image by Wellcome Trust Library © Wellcome Library, London

In Śvetāmbara tellings from the medieval period forwards, there is an episode recounting the omniscience of Candanbālā. This popular episode is first found in the 12th-century universal history text by Hemacandra, the Triṣaṣṭi-śalāka-purūṣa-caritra.

One night after Candanbālā has become the leader of the order of nuns, the nun Mr̥gāvatī innocently returns late to the mendicants' lodgings. As a result of the profound nature of her apology to Candanbālā and her resulting loss of ego, Mr̥gāvatī reaches omniscience. This allows her to see a snake moving in the darkness towards the arm of Candanbālā, who is asleep. Mr̥gāvatī lifts the sleeping woman's arm so the snake cannot bite her.

Candanbālā wakes up and asks how Mr̥gāvatī could see the snake in the perfect darkness. She recognises that Mr̥gāvatī has attained omniscience. The power of this realisation leads to Candanbālā's also reaching omniscience.

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