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Article: Cakreśvarī or Apraticakrā

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

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The main Svetāmbara pilgrimage site, Mount Shatrunjaya, is one of the most famous Indian temple-cities. Almost a thousand temples cluster on the hill, most of them completed in the 18th and 19th centuries, though the site has long been considered holy

Mount Shatrunjaya temples
Image by Amre Ghiba © CC BY-NC 2.0

The earliest image of the goddess Cakreśvarī with an identifying caption is considered to be the sculpture on the façade of temple number 12 at Deogarh, which is dated 862 CE. The peak creation period for surviving Cakreśvarī figures is the tenth to 12th centuries, especially in central India. Sites such as Deogarh or Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh have yielded individual images of her, pointing to the existence of independent worship at that time.

Important images are the:

  • 11th-century Cakreśvarī with 20 arms preserved in the Sahu Jaina Museum at Deogarh (Tiwari and Sinha 2011: 92 and plate 122)
  • four-armed Cakreśvarī seated on a human garuḍa, found in temple number 19 at Deogarh (Bruhn 1969: figure 250).

Another one is the Cakreśvarī in cave temple 30 at Ellora, Maharashtra, dating from the ninth century. There she has 12 arms and rides on a garuḍa in human form. South Indian images rarely show the eagle as a vehicle, but the disc is always present.

In western India, noteworthy figures of Cakreśvarī are a:

  • marble image with eight arms in a niche to the left of the steps leading to the Caumukha Tunka in Shatrunjaya (Jhavery 1944: 330) in Gujarat
  • four-armed image in the temple of Vastupāla and Tejaḥpāla on Mount Girnar, also in Gujarat.

Describing Ayodhyā as a Jain holy place in section 13 of his 14th-century Vividha-tīrtha-kalpa, Jinaprabha-sūri, the Śvetāmbara author, implies that there was an idol of her and of the yakṣa Gomukha in a shrine at Shatrunjaya.

In the 11th century the worship of Cakreśvarī is said to have led the businessman Jāvaḍa Śeṭh to rediscover an image of R̥ṣabhanātha or Lord R̥ṣabha. This subsequently led to the re-establishment of Shatrunjaya as a holy place (Cort 1987: 241).

Cakreśvarī is thus associated with this major pilgrimage centre for Śvetāmbara Jains. She is considered the site's protective deity and there is a small shrine to her there. The development of her cult is linked to the growth of the pilgrimage site.

Bhaktāmara-stotra

This highly decorated manuscript page is from an 18th-century copy of the Bhaktāmara-stotra, one of the most popular Jain prayers. The figure in the centre is the first Jina Ṛṣabha. An auspicious image of a Jina or god often appears at the start of a text

Bhaktāmara-stotra opening
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Cakreśvarī appears as a major figure in many of the stories relating to the Bhaktāmara-stotra, one of the most famous Jain hymns.

Dedicated to the first Jina, Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha, the hymn has given rise to numerous accounts demonstrating the positive effects of reciting it. The tales featuring Cakreśvarī all show how she is instrumental in helping the devout Jain who is meditating on this hymn and reciting its verses. When she is satisfied with his devotion, she appears in front of him, gives him a boon and then disappears. This boon reverses the worshipper’s difficult position and determines his future success in life.

Worship

Evidence from the tenth century demonstrates that at that point the worship of independent yakṣīs was already well established and important.

Devotees call upon these individual divinities to remove all sorts of obstacles and bestow success in all areas of life. Independent hymns of praise develop as a form of literature. One instance is the Cakreśvarī-stotra, written by Jinadatta-sūri in the 12th century (Nawab 1937/1996: 182–183; Jhavery 1944: 331–332).

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