Article: Soḷ satī

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.

Identifying the 16 satīs

This detail from a manuscript painting shows Princess Rājīmatī on her wedding day, awaiting her fiancé Prince Nemi. He decides to renounce the world and become a monk when he hears the cries of the animals about to be slaughtered for the marriage feast. T

Rājīmatī awaits her fiancé
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

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:

  1. Brāhmī
  2. Sundarī
  3. Candanbālā
  4. Rājīmatī
  5. Draupadī
  6. Kausalyā
  7. Mṛgāvatī
  8. Sulasā
  9. Sītā
  10. Subhadrā
  11. Śivā
  12. Kuntī
  13. Damayantī
  14. Puṣpacūlā
  15. Prabhāvatī
  16. Padmāvatī.

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.

Differences between Jain and Hindu satīs

The 16 Jain satīs include five satīs shared with Hinduism. They are:

  1. Draupadī
  2. Kausalyā
  3. Sītā
  4. Kuntī
  5. Damayantī.

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.

In Hindu contexts, the faithfulness that is at the heart of a woman's identification as a satī centres on her husband, but in Jain contexts it revolves around loyalty to the Jain religion.

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:

  • pativratā – a wife who vows to be devoted to her husband
  • saubhāgya – the auspiciousness of a wife whose husband is alive.

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.

Ritual uses of satī lists

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 confessionpratikramaṇ. 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.

References in Jain writings

Jains label many virtuous Jain women satīs but the soḷ satī or 16 satīs form a special class. The group of 16 satīs is the subject of several well-known texts.

The category of soḷ satī probably derives from a short hymn listing 16 satīs, routinely called Brāhmī Candanbālikā after its first line. Śvetāmbara Jain mendicants often recite it in the morning.

In the early 18th century Udayratna wrote a longer hymn, the Soḷ Satī no Chand. It includes one verse for each of the 16 satīs and suggests that their names should be recited in the morning. This hymn is widely published in hymnbooks.

In addition, the concept of the 16 satīs is often used as an organising principle for collections of satī stories.

Other lists of virtuous Jains

A Jain lay woman holds up her hands and bows her head in devotion. Jains do not ask for things when they pray. For Jains praying is always joyful and means reverencing the qualities and example of the Jinas

Woman praying
Image by Chandu Shah © Chandu Shah

Although over time popular satīs are added to fresh lists and collections, the members of the 16 satīs remain the same. The notion of the 16 satīs has led to the creation of similar lists of virtuous figures in Jain literature.

The traditional Bharahesara nī Sajjhāy includes a list of virtuous men followed by a list of 47 virtuous women, called satīs. It includes all of the 16 satīs and forms an important part of the morning confession.

There is an extensive commentary written for this text, the Bharateśvara Bāhubalī Vṛttiḥ. Composed in 1453, the commentary includes separate accounts for each person named in the text.

The Bharahesara nī Sajjhāy must have been created before this commentary but could be considerably older.

There are later hymns listing virtuous men and women that are clearly modelled on these earlier lists. One example is Jñānvimal-sūri's Satāsatī nī Sajjhāy, dating back to the late 17th or early 18th century.

Images

  • Rājīmatī awaits her fiancé This detail from a manuscript painting shows Princess Rājīmatī on her wedding day, awaiting her fiancé Prince Nemi. He decides to renounce the world and become a monk when he hears the cries of the animals about to be slaughtered for the marriage feast. This famous episode is first told in the medieval text, the Uttarādhyayana-sūtra. . Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Woman praying A Jain lay woman holds up her hands and bows her head in devotion. Jains do not ask for things when they pray. For Jains praying is always joyful and means reverencing the qualities and example of the Jinas.. Image by Chandu Shah © Chandu Shah

Further Reading

‘Women in Jainism’
Nalini Balbir
Religion and Women
edited by Arvind Sharma
McGill Studies in the History of Religions series
State University of New York Press; Albany, New York, USA; 1993

Full details

Gender and Chastity: Female Jain Renouncers
Sherry Fohr
PhD dissertation submitted to University of Virginia in 2001

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

‘Thinking Collectively About Jain Satīs’
M. Whitney Kelting
Doctrines and Dialogues: Studies in Jaina History and Culture
edited by Peter Flügel
Advances in Jaina Studies series; volume 1
Routledge Curzon Press; London; 2006

Full details

Heroic Wives: Rituals, Stories and the Virtues of Jain Wifehood
M. Whitney Kelting
Oxford University Press USA; New York, USA; 2009

Full details

The Unknown Pilgrims: The voice of the sādhvīs – the history, spirituality, and life of the Jaina women ascetics
N. Shāntā
translated by Mary Rogers
Sri Garib Dass Oriental series; volume 219
Sri Satguru Publications; New Delhi, India; 1997

Full details

The Heart of Jainism
Margaret Sinclair Stevenson
Munshiram Manoharlal; New Delhi, India; 1984

Full details

Glossary

Ahiṃsā

The principle of non-violence that is one of the five chief vows of Jainism.

Ascetic

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.

Auspicious

Favourable or lucky. Auspicious objects bring good fortune and may predict good events or a bright future. 

Commentary

An essay explaining a text. Commentaries on the scriptures are common in the Jain tradition and there are various types, including the:

  • bālāvabodha
  • bhāṣya
  • cūrṇi
  • niryukti
  • ṭīkā.

Confession

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.

Detachment

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.

Fast

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:

  • help destroy karmas that bind to the soul
  • gain merit – puṇya.

Hindu

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.

Hinduism

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.

Hymn

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:

  • solo or in groups
  • as a form of meditation
  • as a rite offered as part of worship.

Invocation

A formula or prayer calling upon a deity or authority to bring blessings and protection. Invocations are frequently found at the beginning of Jain texts.

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.

Kaṣāya

'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:

  • anger – krodha
  • pride – māna
  • deceit – māyā
  • greed – lobha.

Also one of the 14 'gateways' or categories of investigation of mārgaṇā – 'soul-quest'.

Laity

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.

Pratikramaṇa

'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.

Pyre

A pile or heap of wood or similar that has been collected together to be burned, especially when used to cremate a dead body.

Rāma

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.

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.

Rite

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.

Satī

'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.

Satīmātā

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.

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.

Tapas

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.

EXT:mediabrowse Processing Watermark

Related Manuscript Images

http://www.jainpedia.org/themes/people/women-in-the-jain-tradition/sol-sati/mediashow/print.html - All text is © JAINpedia / Institute of Jainology 2020 under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 licence The Jain universe online at www.jainpedia.org

Unless images are explicitly stated as either public domain or licensed under a Creative Commons licence, all images are copyrighted. See individual images for details of copyright.