Article: Marudevī

Contributed by M. Whitney Kelting

Marudevī is best known as the mother of the first Jina, Ṛṣabhanatha or Lord Ṛṣabha. Like other mothers of Jinas – Jina-mātās – Marudevī experienced the auspicious dreams that herald the birth of a Jina.

Accounts of Marudevī's life and her religious importance vary between the Digambara and Śvetāmbara sects of Jainism. These versions reflect the sects' different views of women. Śvetāmbaras hold that Marudevī was the first person to reach liberation in this era while Digambaras believe that she has no significance beyond being the mother of a Jina.

Śvetāmbara and Digambara stories

The two main Jain sects of Digambaras and Śvetāmbaras give different weight to Marudevī's religious significance. Their versions of her life story echo their contrasting approaches to the potential for women's enlightenment.

There is some written evidence that Marudevī was worshipped in the medieval period. There are also images of her seated on an elephant in the temples at Śatruñjaya and Rāṇakpur.

Svetambara traditions

This detail of a manuscript painting shows the first Jina Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha as an infant with his mother Marudevī. The births of Jinas are usually depicted in this way in Jain art.

Marudevī and the baby Ṛṣabha
Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Among Śvetāmbara Jains, Marudevī is known to be the first person to achieve liberation in this era. Her story is cited as proof that lay women are capable of achieving emancipation.

In Śvetāmbara texts, Marudevī's past life was as a nigoda and she gained enlightenment in her first life as a human.

Some Śvetāmbara traditions have Mahāvīra's last sermon focusing on Marudevī.

Digambara traditions

In Digambara accounts, however, the first person to be liberated was one of Marudevī’s grandsons, a son of Ṛṣabhanatha or Lord Ṛṣabha. Marudevī herself has no particular relevance for Digambaras beyond her role as a Jina-mātā.

In Digambara texts, Marudevī was a woman on another continent in the Jain universe in the life before she was reborn as Marudevī.

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