Contributed by Nalini Balbir
The yakṣī Cakreśvarī or Apraticakrā is one of the best-known Jain goddesses. She is a śāsana-devatā – ‘deity of the teaching’ – and is believed to help protect and spread the message of her Jina. She is the yakṣī of the first Jina, Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha, and a very popular deity who has developed a separate identity as a powerful goddess. Her male counterpart, the yakṣa Gomukha, does not have an independent status.
As a goddess, Cakreśvarī or Apraticakrā 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.
Śvetāmbara Jains call this goddess Cakreśvarī while Digambaras know her as Apraticakrā, but this distinction is not watertight. Each sect gives her different attributes, but the disc – cakra – is her distinctive symbol, connected to the two versions of her name. In sculptures as well as paintings she is shown holding it in at least one of her hands. She has close associations with Mount Shatrunjaya, a major Śvetāmbara pilgrimage centre. She is also linked to the popular Jain hymn called the Bhaktāmara-stotra.
This goddess is known as:
In this case, there is a close connection between the yakṣī’s name and her most important symbol. This association can be said to underline her unrivalled power or supremacy.
In addition, Cakreśvarī as a vidyā-devī or 'goddess of knowledge' is sometimes called Vaiṣṇavī, the consort of Viṣṇu, whose main emblem is the disc.
Apraticakrā or Cakreśvarī is mainly known as the yakṣī – attendant goddess – of the first Jina, Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha. But like many yakṣas and yakṣīs she is at the crossroads of categories. She is also the fifth among the 16 mahā-vidyās or vidyā-devīs, who represent types of magical power or knowledge.
She is ‘parallel in concept to the Hindu goddess Vaiṣṇavī’ (Bruhn 1969: 23), who is the female energy of Viṣṇu. He is the protective, preserver deity of the Hindu triad of major gods and Vaiṣṇavī has similar associations.
Both yakṣas and yakṣīs are considered part of the entourage of the Jina image, technically known as parikara. Like all of the attendant deities, Cakreśvarī has certain features that help to identify her and indicate her 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 Cakreśvarī has special characteristics linked to the depiction of gods in art. This means she:
Cakreśvarī’s vehicle is Garuḍa, a mythical eagle. Her symbol is the disc – cakra – which is one of the main Indian weapons.
Cakreśvarī is given varying numbers of hands by different traditions within the two main Jain sects, as follows:
According to the Nirvāṇa-kālikā, she has eight hands. Ascribed to the first quarter of the 11th century, this treatise deals with the installation of images and contains a lot of information about iconography. It states that her four right hands:
Her left hands hold a:
The sects also give her varying divine attributes. In her 12-hand form, her attributes are identical in the two traditions. They are:
A 14th-century work says:
On both sides [of the frame of the jina image] there should be yakṣa, yakṣī, lions, elephants, caurī, and in the middle the goddess Cakreśvarī. These should occupy fourteen, twelve, ten, three, and six parts respectively of the whole [frame]
Vatthusāra-payaraṇa II. 27
quoted in Fischer and Jain 1978, volume II, page 22
Written in the 12th century, Hemacandra’s standard Śvetāmbara version of the lives of the 24 Jinas contains a paragraph for each pair of gods attendant on the Jinas. Here is the description he gives of Cakreśvarī:
Apraticakrā, gold-color, with a garuḍa-seat, with one right arm in varada-position and the others holding an arrow, disc, and noose, her left arms holding a bow, thunderbolt, disc, and goad
Hemacandra, Triṣaṣṭiśalākāpuruṣacaritra I.3.279ff.
Johnson’s translation, volume I, page 211
There is also a terrifying form of Cakreśvarī depicted in Tantric texts. She has the same attributes but ‘is visualized as three-eyed with dreadful appearance’ (Tiwari and Sinha 2011: 91).
The period of time starting with the year when Jesus Christ was traditionally believed to have been born. Using CE is a more secular way of dating events in a multinational, multi-religious world.
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.
Sanskrit for 'meditation', one of the six internal austerities or tapas that help purify the soul of karma. Meditation is deep thought about religious doctrine or mental focus on spiritual matters over a period of time. An important part of many religions, meditation is especially important in Jain belief because it forms key elements of religious practice and spiritual development.
'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.
A large vulture-like bird, which is the divine vehicle of the yakṣī Cakreśvarī and also of the Hindu god Viṣṇu. Garuḍa is the enemy of snakes.
The westernmost state in India, which is a stronghold of Śvetāmbara Jainism.
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 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:
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.
Follower of the 24 Jinas or an adjective describing Jain teachings or practices. The term 'Jaina' is also used although 'Jain' is more common.
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.
(1075–1154) Kharatara-gaccha monk. Later biographers give accounts of his miraculous powers, including raising the dead. He is one of the four Dada-sūris or Dada-gurus – 'granddad gurus' – of the Kharatara-gaccha, who are worshipped in western India.
(1261–1333) Kharatara-gaccha monk famous for writing Vividha-tīrtha-kalpa – Guidebook to Various Pilgrimage Places. He also visited the court of the Delhi Sultan Muhammad bin Tughlaq.
Bordering on the Arabian Sea, Māhārāṣṭra in central India is the third-largest and the richest state in India. Its capital is Mumbai and the official language is Marathi.
A sacred sound, syllable, word or phrase that is believed to produce spiritual change if recited correctly. A mantra can be recited aloud or silently, and is often repeated. Mantras are closely associated with religions that originated in India, such as Hinduism and Buddhism as well as Jainism. The chief Jain mantra is the Namaskāra-mantra, which is recited daily, while another mantra very popular in Indian culture generally is Auṃ.
Ascetics are initiated into a tradition handed down from a named religious teacher. Religious instructions and principles are passed on orally and in writings from one generation of mendicants to the next, continuing the monastic lineage.
A journey to a place of religious significance. Some religions encourage pilgrimage as ways to advance spiritual progress and deepen the faith of those who make the trip – pilgrims.
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.
A classical language of India, originally used by priests and nobility. Sanskrit has a rich literary and religious tradition. With only a few thousand native speakers nowadays, it is predominantly used in Hindu religious ceremonies and by scholars.
An organised group of believers in a religion, often distinguished from other groups within the same religious faith who have differences of doctrine or practice.
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.
'White-clad’ in Sanskrit, the title of one of the two main divisions of Jainism, in which both male and female mendicants wear white robes. 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.
Jain Tantric worship aims to control other people or counter evil influences. Tantric rituals try to placate the aggressive side of a deity's nature, encouraging the divinity to behave benevolently. If not worshipped correctly, the vengeful deity may cause harm. The devotee invokes the deity under his or her various names, places images of the deity on yantras – mystical diagrams – and meditates, repeating mantras.
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 chief protective god in Hinduism and one of the triad of major deities, along with Brahmā the creator and Śiva the destroyer or transformer. Viṣṇu is the preserver or protector, and is often shown as dark blue, with four arms, holding a lotus, mace, conch and wheel. He has a thousand names and ten avatārs, the best known being Rāma and blue-skinned Kṛṣṇa.
The female attendant of a Jina, also called yakṣinī. 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.
Sanskrit for 'instrument' or 'machine', a yantra is a mystical diagram used in religious rituals. Yantras are typically formed of symmetrical, concentric circles and may also have the diagram of a lotus in the middle of numerous squares. Containing the names of the Jinas and sacred mantras, such as oṃ, yantras are meditation aids.