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Article: Ambikā or Kuṣmāṇḍinī

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Shravana Belgola

Sarvānubhūti and Kūṣmāṇḍinī at the entrance of a temple on Candra-giri, Shravana Belgola. These deities are considered the model for the later standard pairing of yakṣa and yakṣī. Each of the 24 Jinas has a pair of these deities to guard his teachings.

Sarvānubhūti and Kūṣmāṇḍinī
Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

In Karnatak, Ambikā is mostly known under the name Kūṣmāṇḍinī. There is evidence of her status as an independent deity in this region in the seventh century. She is the guardian deity of Shravana Belgola, the Digambara centre of pilgrimage.

The reasons for her connection with this holy place are not clear. For example, there is no temple in Shravana Belgola dedicated to Neminātha or Lord Nemi, the Jina with whom she is associated.

There is no mythic or iconographic connection between her and Bāhubali [the Jain saint closely associated with the site]. Her role as guardian of the shrine, therefore, either precedes the consecration of the Bāhubali icon in 981 A.D., or else further shows how the cults of the Jain goddesses in Karnataka are only loosely tied to those of the Jinas

Cort 2010: 348

There are several figures of Kūṣmāṇḍinī at Shravana Belgola, namely those in:

  • a cell in the temple to the eighth Jina, Candraprabha, in the village, next to the maṭha – seat of the bhaṭṭāraka
  • a cell in the pavilion behind the Bāhubali image on the large hill, Vindhya-giri
  • the Kattale Basadi, on the smaller hill of Candra-giri.

They are not prominent or large, and Kūṣmāṇḍinī is featured among other deities. But these images are the focus of sustained devotional activity.

Worship

Decorated Śvetāmbara figure of the goddess Ambikā, one of the most popular Jain deities among Śvetāmbaras and Digambaras alike. She is the yakṣī or female attendant deity of the 22nd Jina, Lord Nemi, but has long been a figure of worship in her own right.

Goddess Ambikā
Image by Shanammumbai © CC BY-SA 3.0

A variety of hymns praising Ambikā on her own have been composed in all the languages Jains have used. A noteworthy one is the stavana composed in Sanskrit by the famous Gujarati minister Vastupāla in the 13th century (Nawab 1937/1996 and Jhavery 1944: 328–329).

This deity is said to fulfil all the desires of right-believers and to remove all obstacles.

The 14th-century author Jinaprabha-sūri explains how all sorts of successes and powers will come to Jain believers who worship her using dedicated mantras, yantras and so on. He describes how they will get all sorts of wealth, children, wives and friends, and how they will not come under the power of all sorts of demonic influences. Ambikā, like other yakṣīs or female goddesses, is thus ascribed protective powers.

Ambikā's connection with motherhood means that worship of her may be performed to request her protection for children. A 14th-century manual on the Jain lay man’s daily conduct, the Ācāradinakara, indicates that ‘a prayer to the goddess Ambikā to guard the child’ (Williams 1963: 279) is part of the birth ceremony. Taking place shortly after a baby is born, this ritual is intended to protect the infant and keep it healthy.

Tantric rituals

This Rajasthani figure of the goddess Ambikā dates back to the 11th century. One of the most important and popular Jain deities, Ambikā is usually depicted with attributes of children and mangoes. She is the presiding deity of the Kharatara-gaccha sect.

Ambikā
Image by Andreas Praefcke © public domain

Worship of Ambikā is often done the Tantric way – the deity is invoked under several different names and visualised with the help of mantras to meditate.

At the end of the piece he writes to praise Ambikā, Jinaprabha gives a few mantras. He indicates that there are many more which he skips over so as not to make his work too big, but which can be learnt from one’s own teacher. They are worth remembering, he says, to ensure the protection of oneself and of others as well.

Various rites are performed with the help of yantras to appease evil forces and placate the goddess. Some of the names used for her may point to her destructive capacities if she is not properly worshipped. This is a way to gain her good will. Besides propitiatory rites, there are also gruesome ceremonies that suggest the terrifying form of the deity is visualised.

Such mantras and rites are given in hymns or in texts called kalpas, written in Sanskrit. These texts set out rituals and yantras for efficient and successful worship. Such works dedicated to Ambikā are available from the 12th century onwards. Examples are:

  • the Ambikāṣṭaka of Ambāprasāda, written around the 12th century CE
  • Jineśvara-sūri’s 12th-century Ambikā-devī-stuti
  • the Ambikātāḍaṃka, the Ambikātāṭaṃka and the Ambikā-stuti, all written between the 12th and 14th centuries (Tiwari 1989: page 29ff. with original Sanskrit texts on pages 148 to 153; Nawab 1937/1996: 175–181 and Jhavery 1944: 322–330).

When successful in their worship, the devotees have all their desires fulfilled. In the Ambikātāḍaṃka, it is clearly stated that worshipping Ambikā ensures that they will get children.

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