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.

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.

Images

  • Marudevī and the baby Ṛṣabha 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. . Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London
  • Marudevī has the auspicious dreams 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.. Image by Wellcome Trust Library © Wellcome Library, London

Further Reading

‘Stories from the Āvaśyaka Commentaries’
Nalini Balbir
The Clever Adulteress and Other Stories: A Treasury of Jain Literature
edited by Phyllis Granoff
Mosaic Press; Oakville, Ontario, Canada; New York, USA; London, UK; 1990

Full details

‘The Jain Sacred Cosmos: Selections from a Medieval Pilgrimage Text’
John E. Cort
The Clever Adulteress and Other Stories: A Treasury of Jain Literature
edited by Phyllis Granoff
Mosaic Press; Oakville, Ontario, Canada; New York, USA; London, UK; 1993

Full details

Gender and Salvation: Jaina Debates on the Spiritual Liberation of Women
Padmanabh S. Jaini
University of California Press; Berkeley, California, USA; 1991

Full details

‘From Nigoda to Mokṣa: The Story of Marudevī’
Padmanabh S. Jaini
Jainism and Early Buddhism in the Indian Cultural Context: Essays in Honor of Padmanabh S. Jaini
edited by Olle Qvarnström
Asian Humanities Press; Fremont, California, USA; 2003

Full details

Triṣaṣṭiśalākapuruṣacaritra: Lives of the Sixty-three Illustrious Persons
Hemacandra
translated by Helen M. Johnson
Gaekwad's Oriental series; volume 1
Oriental Institute; Baroda, Gujarat, India; 1931

Full details

‘Constructions of Femaleness in Jain Devotional Literature’
M. Whitney Kelting
Jainism and Early Buddhism in the Indian Cultural Context: Essays in Honor of Padmanabh S. Jaini
edited by Olle Qvarnström
Asian Humanities Press; Fremont, California, USA; 2003

Full details

The Image of the Hero in Jainism: Rsabha, Bharata and Bahubali in the Adipurana of Jinasena
George Ralph Strohl
PhD dissertation submitted to University of Chicago in 1984

Full details

Glossary

Bharata

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.

Digambara

'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.

Idol

An image of a deity or concept that is worshipped either as a god or as a representation of the deity.

Jain

Follower of the 24 Jinas or an adjective describing Jain teachings or practices. The term 'Jaina' is also used although 'Jain' is more common.

Jina

A 'victor' in Sanskrit, a Jina is an enlightened human being who has triumphed over karma and teaches the way to achieve liberation. A synonym for Tīrthaṃkara, which means 'ford-maker' or one who has founded a community after reaching omniscience through asceticism. The most famous 24 – Ṛṣabha to Mahāvīra – were born in the Bharata-kṣetra of the middle world, but more are found in other continents. There have been Jinas in the past and there will be some in the future.

Jina-mātā

Mother of a child who will become a Jina.

Jinaprabha

(1261–1333) Kharatara-gaccha monk famous for writing Vividha-tīrtha-kalpaGuidebook to Various Pilgrimage Places. He also visited the court of the Delhi Sultan Muhammad bin Tughlaq.

Kevala-jñāna

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.

Mokṣa

The 'liberation' of the soul from its body and thus from the cycle of rebirth because it has no karma and becomes omniscient. The ultimate aim of Jainism is to achieve mokṣa and become a liberated soul in siddha-śilā.

Nābhi

Father of the first Jina of this era, Ṛṣabha. His wife was Marudevī. Nābhi was one of the patriarchs – kulakaras – of his era.

Nigoda

The most basic form of vegetable life in which an infinite number of souls live together in a sub-microscopic body. Born and dying together, they breathe and eat together, and pervade the entire universe.

Pūjā

Sanskrit for 'worship' or 'homage'. All Jains perform rites of honour to the 24 Jinas. Rites of worship take place daily, with more elaborate ceremonies performed on holy days. Mendicant and lay Jains perform different rituals. Some sects worship images – mūrti-pūjaka – and others do not, and different sects have various practices. Focused on images or not, worship can be:

  • external or material – dravya-pūjā – involving offerings of food, drink and precious substances
  • internal or mental – bhava-pūjā – including singing hymns of praise, reciting mantras and meditating.

Renunciation

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.

Ṛṣabha

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.

Sāgāra

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.

Samavasaraṇa

Literally, Sanskrit for 'universal gathering'. A holy assembly led by a Jina where he preaches to all – human beings, animals and deities alike – after he has become omniscient. In this universal gathering, natural enemies are at peace.

Sect

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.

Sermon

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.

Shrine

A small structure holding an image or relics, which may be within a temple or building designed for worship. A shrine may be a portable object. Worshippers pray and make offerings at a shrine, which is often considered sacred because of associations with a deity or event in the life of a holy person.

Śrāvikā

'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.

Śvetāmbara

'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.

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