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Article: Ambikā or Kuṣmāṇḍinī

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Images

Ninth-century image of the goddess Ambikā at Ellora, Maharashtra, one of the oldest surviving figures of this deity. The boy with whom Ambikā is often portrayed sits slightly in front of her and a lion – her divine vehicle – is on her right.

Ambikā figure in Ellora
Image by Y. Shishido © CC BY-SA 3.0

Among the earliest images of Ambikā are Akota bronzes from the late sixth century but these are rare. The two-armed goddess is the standard from the eighth to the 12th centuries whereas the four-armed or multi-armed forms become more common until the 16th century (Tiwari 1989: 26ff.)

Numerous images of Ambikā are available as independent sculptures or in temples of both Śvetāmbaras and Digambaras, all over India. Among the most famous ones are the figures in:

  • the Ellora Caves 32 and 33, carved in the ninth century
  • the Gujarati temples of Kumbharia, dated to 1062 CE
  • the temples of Mount Abu in Rajasthan and Taranga in Gujarat, which both date from the 12th century
  • Madhya Pradesh, especially in well-known Jain sites such as Deogarh (Bruhn 1969: 77ff.), Khajuraho, Canderi and Vidisha, which date back to the ninth to tenth centuries.

Plenty of images of Ambikā created from the ninth century onwards survive in Bihar, Bengal, Orissa, Tamil Nadu and Karnatak.

A fierce form of Ambikā is also worshipped in Tantric rites.

The 14th-century Śvetāmbara author Jinaprabha-sūri refers to images of Ambikā at several Jain holy places in northern and western India. He also states that Ambikā was the guardian deity of Mathurā. Figures of the goddess from the eighth to ninth century are available (Tiwari and Sinha 2011: 108).

Temples

Sandstone sculpture of the goddess Ambikā sitting on her divine vehicle of a lion, holds her divine attribute of mangoes in one of her four hands. Another hand rests protectively on the damaged figure of a small child on her knee.

Image of Ambikā
Image by Sailko © CC BY-SA 3.0

As a favourite Jain goddess, Ambikā has numerous temples dedicated to her. Tiwari gives some examples (1989: 145–146) of the many found throughout India.

One temple to Ambikā was constructed in the tenth to 11th century near Thān in Saurashtra, Gujarat.

An image of Ambikā in the Allahabad Museum in Uttar Pradesh is supposed to have been originally installed in the cella of the Patiān-dāi temple in the Satna district of Madhya Pradesh.

In south India too, there are many independent shrines dedicated to Ambikā. An example is the one to the south of the Vardhamāna temple at Tirupparuttikkunram in Tamil Nadu.

Girnar

This Śvetāmbara manuscript painting shows the 22nd Jina, Neminātha, or Lord Nemi, and his entourage – parikara. His yakṣa and yakṣī are male and female deities who protect his teaching and answer human prayers. The goddess Ambikā is Nemi's yakṣī.

Lord Nemi and attendants
Image by Wellcome Trust Library © Wellcome Library, London

There is a privileged association between this goddess and the holy place of Mount Girnar, in Gujarat. Ambikā is the yakṣī of the 22nd Jina, Neminātha or Lord Nemi, who is closely connected to this place because it is where he reached final liberation from the cycle of rebirths.

The Digambara temple to Kūṣmāṇḍinī at Mount Girnar dates back to the mid-eighth century CE. Textual evidence from the 14th century testifies to pilgrimages that various Jain dignitaries made to the temple on the mountaintop, and enables phases in the temple's development and history to be traced.

The 14th-century account of Ambikā’s legend by Jinaprabha-sūri, a Śvetāmbara monk, shows that her presence and cult at Girnar, in association with Nemi, was acknowledged beyond sectarian divisions. In this piece the author calls the goddess both Ambiā – Prakrit for Ambikā – and KohaṇḍideviPrakrit for Kūṣmāṇḍinī – using both forms of her name. He clearly states that she resides at the top of the hill, as the śāsana-devatā of Nemi.

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