Article: Marudevī

Contributed by M. Whitney Kelting

Story of Marudevī

This detail from a manuscript painting shows Marudevī experiencing the auspicious dreams. Carrying the baby who will become Ṛṣabha the first Jina, Marudevī has 14 dreams, according to the Śvetāmbara sect, 16 according to the Digambaras.

Marudevī has the auspicious dreams
Image by Wellcome Trust Library © Wellcome Library, London

Marudevī is married to King Nābhi. On the night she conceives the baby who becomes the first Jina of this era, Marudevī has the auspicious dreams that foretell the birth of a Jina. In Marudevī's case, the bull is the first dream rather than the elephant and therefore she named her son after it, calling him Ṛṣabha. This is why the emblem of Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha is the bull.

Ṛṣabha reaches adulthood, marries and has a hundred children including Bāhubali, Bharata, Brāhmī and Sundarī. After this he decides to renounce the householder life to become the first Jain mendicant. He soon reaches enlightenment.

According to Śvetāmbara accounts, Marudevī rides an elephant to hear the sermon being given by some newly enlightened teacher. When she arrives she sees the holy man is her son, Ṛṣabha. Marudevī looks down from her elephant and sees the splendour of the universal assembly of a universal ruler. When she realises the universal ruler is her own son, she attains omniscience and then dies, achieving liberation.

References in Jain writings

Although Marudevī is mentioned briefly in the Āvaśyaka-niryukti attributed to Bhadrabāhu, the oldest story about her is in Jinadāsa's Āvaśyaka-cūrnī.

Marudevī's tale is further elaborated in Śilāṅka's Cauppanna-mahāpurisa-cariyaṃ. Hemacandra's 12th-century Trī-ṣaṣti-śalāka-puruṣa-caritra tells Marudevī's story in the context of his longer account of the life of Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha.

In the Digambara Jinasena's Ādipurāṇa, Marudevī is described at length but only in her role as Jina-mātā and wife of Nābhi.

Marudevī is often named as the mother of Ṛṣabha in hymns but the story of her enlightenment is found only in the narrative literature.

Jinaprabha mentions the worship of Marudevī in the description of Mount Shatruñjaya in his 14th-century Vividha-tīrtha-kalpa. In his Caturviṃśati-prabhandhaḥ, Rajaśekhara-sūri describes the great Jain scholar-monk Hemacandra visiting the shrine of Marudevī while on pilgrimage to Shatruñjaya.

Many of the discussions of Marudevī in Śvetāmbara philosophical literature focus on the question of how she achieved enlightenment in her first human life and related features of Jain karma theory.

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