Contributed by M. Whitney Kelting
A satī is a virtuous woman, usually showing her virtue through fidelity. In Hindu contexts, this faithfulness centres on the satī's husband, but in Jain contexts it revolves around fidelity to the Jain religion. Although Jains call many virtuous Jain women satīs, among Śvetāmbara Jains there is a group of satīs called the soḷ satī or 16 satīs. These Jain satīs are revered as role models for women and their stories are widely known. Even though the general group of satī grows over time, the group of 16 satīs is unchanging.
As examples of the ideal Jain woman, lists of the satīs' names are believed to invite good fortune. These lists therefore have ritual functions, serving as blessings and auspicious recitations. The Bharahesara nī Sajjhāy – a list of virtuous Jain men and women – is a major element in Śvetāmbara Jains' morning confession or rāīa pratikramaṇ. This indicates the moral authority and religious influence of the notion of the satī.
Jains conventionally group 16 satīs together. This list probably stems from a short hymn, often called Brāhmī Candanbālikā after its first line.
The 16 satīs are usually listed as follows:
Though there are occasional changes in the order of the names, this list is remarkably stable in Jain tradition.
Several of these 16 satīs, such as Candanbālā and Rājīmatī, are significant figures in traditional stories and feature in elements of Jain rituals in addition to their status as satīs. On the other hand, some of the best-known and most revered satīs, such as Rohiṇī, Añjanāsundarī and Mayṇāsundarī, are not included in the 16 satīs. The 16 satīs is a fixed list so other satīs, including later popular ones, are not included.
The 16 Jain satīs include five satīs shared with Hinduism. They are:
The very popular satī Añjanāsundarī is also a Hindu satī. Jains define satīs in ways that invoke ideals that are also found in Hindu satī notions about women's fidelity and moral strength. However, there are important differences in the concept of the satī between the two faiths.
The same satī may appear in both Hindu and Jain versions but with subtly different emphases. For example, Jainism has a long tradition of telling the Hindu Rāma story and so Rāma's wife Sītā appears in a wide array of Jain texts. However, the Jain versions of these satī tales conform to Jain ethics and virtues by stressing renunciation, non-violence and the veneration of Jinas and Jain monks.
Jains share with Hindus common ideas relating to satīs, such as:
A major exception is the Hindu satīmātā and her death on her husband's funeral pyre. Jains clearly reject any ideas of bodily self-sacrifice for two reasons. Firstly, the passion involved in such an act goes against the Jain ideal of detachment. Secondly, they reject the self-immolation because of its profound violence.
The Jain satīs embrace austerities for their own benefit and that of others, but do so with the expectation that ultimately these austerities will work towards their own liberation. This fidelity to religion often leads to renunciation of the worldly life in favour of nunhood, but not always.
The ideal of the devoted wife is a powerful part of the model woman for Jains, especially regarding the wife's virtue. This aspect is found in many Jain satīs. In contrast to Hindu satīs, Jain satīs include virtuous women whose virtue becomes plain in their renunciation both before and after marriage.
The notion of the virtuous woman is very influential in the Jain faith. Lists of exemplary Jain womanhood provide female Jains with models of religious devotion and behaviour. The satī lists are also used in important rites familiar to nearly all Śvetāmbara Jains.
There are two ritual uses associated with lists of satīs.
The most important is the recitation of the Bharahesara nī Sajjhāy as part of the morning confession – pratikramaṇ. The Bharahesara nī Sajjhāy is a list of 100 virtuous Jain men and women and is a fixed part of the daily ritual. Its key role suggests that the virtues of women alongside those of virtuous men are valuable in the rites of karma reduction. All Śvetāmbara mendicants recite the confession every day and pious lay people and fasters also make a morning confession.
Secondly, satī lists establish a catalogue of female virtue that can be used as a type of auspiciousness. The Brāhmī Candanbālikā, Soḷ Satī no Chand and other satī lists usually function as auspicious texts – māṅgalik. Recounting one of these lists blesses the start of a sermon or other religious event. Jains also often recite the lists in the morning to begin the day auspiciously.
In addition, some individual satīs in the 16 satīs are associated with independent rituals. For example Candanbālā is linked to the Candanbālā Fast and Rājīmatī is both the model for women's renunciation and is linked to the Saubhāgya Pañcamī Fast.
The principle of non-violence that is one of the five chief vows of Jainism.
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:
Acknowledgement or declaration of the truth of a statement. In religious terms, it usually refers to admitting sin or wrongdoing to at least one other person in a ritual. It is normally a necessary step before absolution, which is formal release from guilt or consequences of wrongdoing.
Not feeling attached to any things, people or emotions in the world, whether positive or negative. Jains believe that detachment from the world is necessary to progress spiritually towards the ultimate aim of freeing the soul from the cycle of rebirth.
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:
Follower of the majority faith in India and an adjective describing something belonging to Hinduism. Hindus have numerous gods and diverse beliefs and practices, though many believe in the soul, karma, the cycle of births and liberation. Roughly a billion Hindus comprise the third largest religion in the world.
The majority faith in India, often called Sanātana Dharma or Eternal Law. With no single named founder, Hinduism has a pantheon of gods and a range of different beliefs. Most Hindu traditions revere the Veda literature but there is no single system of salvation or belief, although many Hindus believe in the soul, karma, the cycle of births and liberation. Large Hindu communities exist in southern Asia, with smaller groups across the world.
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.
'Passion' that causes activity, which results in new karma binding to the soul. It must be eliminated by restraints or austerities so the soul can be liberated. Passion may be attraction – rāga – or aversion – dveṣa – and has degrees of intensity. There are traditionally four passions:
Also one of the 14 'gateways' or categories of investigation of mārgaṇā – 'soul-quest'.
Believers in a religion who are ordinary worshippers, not clergy or members of religious orders. In Jainism, lay people are often called 'householders', indicating that they live in houses and have domestic responsibilities, unlike ascetics.
'Introspection’ in Sanskrit. The elaborate ritual of confession and repentance that involves reciting liturgical texts and performing set gestures at dawn and dusk. It is one of an ascetic's six daily duties – āvaśyaka. For many lay people, pratikramaṇa is the essence of Jainism.
A pile or heap of wood or similar that has been collected together to be burned, especially when used to cremate a dead body.
An avatar of Viṣṇu, the preserver or protector who is one of the three major Hindu gods. Rāma is a prince of Ayodhyā and is often shown with blue skin, holding a bow and arrow. The epic poem Rāmāyaṇa recounts his adventures as he searches for his wife Sītā, who has been kidnapped by Rāvaṇa. Blending Jain values into the story, the Jain Rāmāyaṇas cast him and other figures in the tale as some of the 'great men' of Jain Universal History.
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.
A sequence of actions that must be followed to perform a religious ceremony. The set of actions is largely symbolic, for example offering food to statues symbolises sacrificing to a deity. The ritual actions are often accompanied by set phrases.
'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 devoted Hindu wife who sacrifices herself on her husband’s funeral pyre and is thereafter worshipped as a goddess by her relatives. The violence and passion involved in such a death are rejected by 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.
Austerity or asceticism in general. A tapas is an act of austerity or self-discipline that produces bodily heat – tapas – that burns up karma. Austerities may be internal – mental – or external – physical. Both lay and mendicant Jains practise austerities. Fasting is the most common external austerity for lay people these days.