Contributed by Nalini Balbir
The god Brahmadeva or Brahmayakṣa has come to be identified with Brahmā, the yakṣa or male attendant deity of the tenth Jina, Śītalanātha or Lord Śītala. He has gained the status of an independent god worshipped as a deity in his own right. It is unusual for a yakṣa to have this role, especially as Brahmadeva's female counterpart, the yakṣī Aśokā or Mānavī is not considered an individual goddess.
As a god, Brahmadeva or Brahmayakṣa is a soul subject to the cycle of birth and can intervene in human affairs, unlike Jinas, who are liberated, perfect souls, completely detached from everyday human experience. Lay Jains worship gods partly to request help with worldly matters, ranging from issues of health and fertility, and passing examinations to business success. By the tenth century several of the śāsana-devatās had developed into independent gods at the centre of their own cults. This may be because of their connections with the major Jinas, links with a prominent pilgrimage centre or various stories of their powers.
Brahmadeva seems to be a clear example of an originally non-Jain god who was absorbed into the Jain fold in the course of time. He has gained a visible presence within Jain temples through his installation on the so-called Brahmadeva-stambhas. He is a guardian deity popular principally among Digambaras and is worshipped chiefly in southern India, particularly Karnatak.
Brahmadeva as an independent god in Jainism has gained importance because of his presence on the so-called Brahmadeva pillars, which are found in the precincts of Digambara temples, mainly in south India. A protective deity, at some point he has been identified or confused with Brahmā, the yakṣa of the tenth Jina, Śītalanātha or Lord Śītala, even though they look quite different. They are now generally considered to be the same divinity.
Initially, Brahmadeva seems to have been a powerful tribal god in coastal Karnatak. He ‘appears to have forced his entry into the fold of Jainism [...and] the Brahmadeva cult also began to gain in importance. Brahmadeva even became one of the Yakṣas, but he retained most of his former characteristics of the tribal war-god’ (Settar 1971: 35–36). This process can be said to go back to around the 15th century.
Literary evidence in Kannara shows that this Brahmadeva had become popular by the 16th to 17th century. For example, an inscription from the 16th century:
mentions that when the Caturmukha basti [temple] was erected at Karkala in the South Kanara or Mangalore District, the images of the Jinas were set up in the niches at each entrance of the outer enclosure of that temple, ‘together with Brahma and [the goddess] Padmāvatī to the left and right’ and provisions were made for the worship of all these
Settar 1971: 36–37
In addition, the 17th-century poet Candrama invokes him as follows: ‘I salute Brahma, the brave one, who having scattered the enemies with the hooves of his steed, climbed the hill and stood on the pillar, still looking for the foes’ (quoted in Settar 1971: 36). This statement refers to distinctive features of Brahmadeva’s iconography, suggesting that the Brahma-stambhas – the pillars associated with the deity – were a common sight by then.
Both yakṣas and yakṣīs are considered part of the entourage of the Jina image, technically known as parikara. Like all of the attendant deities, Brahmā has certain features that help to identify him and indicate his powers. These are described in, for example, texts on the iconography of the Jina, which outline the appearance of the Jina's attendants.
Being presented as a deity implies that Brahmā has special characteristics linked to the depiction of gods in art. This means he:
Both the principal Jain sects see Brahmā, the yakṣa of the tenth Jina, as having four faces, three eyes and eight hands, and sitting on a lotus flower. But such representations are rarely found in Jain temples. The usual images have one face and two or four hands.
The four-armed images grasp his attributes of a fruit, club and noose in a hand each. The fourth hand makes the gesture of granting safety – abhaya-mudrā.
In the case of idols with eight arms, the other four hands each hold a:
Brahmadeva is also frequently depicted riding a horse. Together with his attributes, which are weapons or weapon-like, this hints at his original identity as a warrior god. He thus fulfils his role as a guardian or protector deity.
The most prominent visible expression of Brahmadeva’s presence is the monolithic, freestanding stone pillars within the precincts of Digambara temples. A pillar is often so tall that it can be seen from a distance before the temple itself. Found mainly in south India, these are the Brahmadeva-stambhas or Brahma-stambhas.
A column is located at the entrance of a temple or in front of colossal images of the Jain saint Bāhubali. At the top of the pillar sits the figure of Brahmā. The idol has a different appearance from the yakṣa Brahmā, in that ‘he is usually seated, holding a club or sword and a fruit, or with one hand in the safety-granting gesture – abhaya-mudrā’ (Hegewald 2011: 148). A carving at the base of the column shows Brahmadeva standing or riding a horse and carrying a sword in his right hand.
Instances of such pillars in Karnatak are the:
It seems that such columns are a development of the traditional kind of monolithic pillar known as māna-stambha – ‘pride pillar’. These had at the top a Jina statue with four faces – a catur-mukha or cau-mukha Jina. The figure of a yakṣa at the top could be a replacement (Settar 1971: 31). Inscriptions written on the pillars bearing yakṣas refer to them mostly as māna-stambhas. In common parlance, they have come to be called 'Brahmadeva-stambhas'.
It is not known when this move from Jina to yakṣa happened, but this practice is evidenced only in Karnatak or south India. The earliest images of a yakṣa atop a column in this region depict Sarvāhṇa, who was installed and worshipped in Jain temples from the seventh to the 12th centuries. He is a muscular and pot-bellied figure shown standing on a round base, with an elephant at his feet and a miniature Jina in his crown. Images of him started to be installed at the top of monolithic pillars in the tenth century.
Evidence of Brahmadeva columns is found mainly in western and southern Karnatak.
One of the hundred sons of the first Jina Ṛṣabha, Bāhubali is one of the most revered Jain saints. After fighting with his half-brother Bharata, he renounced the world and finally conquered his pride to reach enlightenment. He is always shown in the kāyotsarga pose in art and immense freestanding statues of him are a feature of southern India.
A term for a Jain temple common in Southern India.
Formally recognised leaders within a religion. The clergy often perform rituals, lead worship and instruct believers in religious principles. Lay men and women usually complete formal study before being initiated into the clergy. Clerics are active among lay believers, often living in society. They may have specific roles or ranks and may progress through a hierarchy to become top leaders of the religious organisation.
Religious activity centred around a deity or saintly figure. Religious rituals are performed regularly to the god or goddess, who may be represented in images or relics or found in natural features such as springs and trees. Shrines and temples are frequently built at the site of a cult and pilgrims arrive to worship the deity.
A god or divine figure, often with physical powers beyond those of a human and with superhuman abilities.
An enthusiastic follower of a religion. Can also describe a keen enthusiast of an individual, concept or activity.
'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.
Conventions or rules governing how images, symbols and the placement of elements and figures are used in art to represent ideas and convey meaning. Also the term for the academic study of such artistic conventions.
An image of a deity or concept that is worshipped either as a god or as a representation of the deity.
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.
State in south-west India.
A plant noted for its beautiful flowers, which has symbolic significance in many cultures. In Indian culture, the lotus is a water lily signifying spiritual purity and detachment from the material world. Lotuses frequently feature in artwork of Jinas, deities, Buddha and other holy figures.
The hall of a Jain temple. Creating an approach to the inner shrine, the temple hall usually has columns and ritual equipment. It may display idols if the temple belongs to a murti-pujaka sect. The hall is where the congregation gathers for rituals of worship, to hear sermons and readings of sacred texts and to sing hymns and perform dances.
The yakṣī or female attendant of Pārśva. Along with other yakṣiṇī, Padmāvatī has become an independent figure over the centuries and is worshipped in her own right. She is particularly associated with Karnataka in southern India.
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:
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.
Someone who is declared by a religious organisation or by popular acclaim to be of outstanding goodness and spiritual purity, usually some time after his or her death. The person's holiness is often believed to have been demonstrated in the performance of miracles. Saints are frequently held up as examples for followers of a religious faith.
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.
A building reserved for public worship or prayer, usually dedicated to one religion and run by members of that religion's clergy.
The vehicle of a Hindu god or goddess. Usually an animal, the vāhana fulfils one or more roles and may:
The vāhana may also have its own divine powers or be worshipped in its own right.
The male attendant of a Jina, one of the pair of guardian or protector gods for each Jina. The śāsana-devatā protect his teachings – śāsana – and can appease evil powers. The yakṣa and yakṣī's closeness to the Jina and their divine powers mean they are popular subjects of worship.