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Article: Cakreśvarī or Apraticakrā

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:

  • the ‘lord of the disc’ – Cakreśvarī
  • the ‘one with a disc without rival’ – Apraticakrā.

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.


Detail of the dome of the Ranakpur temple in Rajasthan. The ceiling in the main hall features the 16 goddesses of magical knowledge – vidyā-devīs. Dedicated to the first Jina, R̥ṣabha, the Ranakpur temple is one of the foremost Jain pilgrimage sites.

Detail of the Ranakpur dome
Image by w3p706 – Fabian Heusser © CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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.

Cakreśvarī is also the tutelary deity of the Śvetāmbara monastic lineage of the Ancala-gaccha, along with another goddess named Kālikā.


The vajra is a double-ended thunderbolt that is a divine weapon in Indian mythology. To Jains, it is particularly associated with the yakṣī Cakreśvarī and with Śakra, the lord of the gods who reside in the Saudharma heaven.

Image by NelC - Nelson Cunningham © CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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:

  • may have more than two arms or hands
  • has a vehicle – vāhana
  • demonstrates attributes by holding various objects
  • may exhibit hand-gestures that symbolise a concept or attitude – mudrās.

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:

  • two, four, six, eight, ten, 12, 16 or 20 hands – Digambara
  • two, four, eight or 18 hands – Śvetāmbara.

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:

  • make the gesture of giving a boon – varada-mudrā
  • hold an arrow
  • carry a disc
  • grasp a noose.

Her left hands hold a:

  • bow
  • thunderbolt – vajra
  • disc
  • goad.

The sects also give her varying divine attributes. In her 12-hand form, her attributes are identical in the two traditions. They are:

  • discs in eight hands
  • thunderbolt in two hands
  • fruit and varada-mudrā in the two remaining hands.

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 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.


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.


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).

Tantric rituals

In golden colours, this manuscript painting shows Ṛṣabha. The first of the 24 Jinas, Ṛṣabha takes the lotus position of meditation. His jewels and headdress show he is a spiritual king, stressed by royal symbols, such as the elephant and parasol.

Worship of Ṛṣabha
Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The individual yakṣīs are also associated with magic or occult practices. Hence there are Tantric modes of worship associated with them as well. This implies propitiatory rituals meant to invite the benevolence of the deity. Unlike more orthodox Jain rites, worshippers invoke the goddess under her different names and visualise her using mantras to assist meditation. They perform various rites with the help of yantras, intended to appease evil forces and win the favour of the goddess.

Such mantras, yantras and ceremonies are given in works that may take the form of hymns of praise composed in Sanskrit. Of unknown date and authorship, the Cakreśvarī-aṣṭaka (Nawab 1937/1996: 184–185 and Jhavery 1944: 331–332) is one such example.

However, this type of worship is probably less prominent for Cakreśvarī than it is for other important yakṣīs such as:


  • Detail of the Ranakpur dome Detail of the dome of the temple at Ranakpur in Rajasthan. The intricate domed ceiling in the temple's main hall features the 16 goddesses of magical knowledge – vidyā-devīs. Dedicated to the first Jina, R̥ṣabha, the Ranakpur temple is one of the foremost Jain pilgrimage sites and famed for its beauty.. Image by w3p706 – Fabian Heusser © CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
  • Thunderbolt The vajra is a double-ended thunderbolt that is a divine weapon in Indian mythology. To Jains, it is particularly associated with the yakṣī Cakreśvarī and with Śakra, the lord of the gods who reside in the Saudharma heaven.. Image by NelC - Nelson Cunningham © CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
  • Mount Shatrunjaya temples The main Svetāmbara pilgrimage site, Mount Shatrunjaya in Gujarat, is one of the most famous temple-cities in India. Almost a thousand temples cluster on the hill, most of them completed in the 18th and 19th centuries. The site has been considered sacred for hundreds of years, however, with the earliest temple dating back to the sixth century.. Image by Amre Ghiba © CC BY-NC 2.0
  • Bhaktāmara-stotra opening The writing in red at the top left is an auspicious phrase, typical of the start of texts. In addition, the figure of a Jina or a god is often used as an auspicious opening. Featuring the first Jina Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha, this page is from an 18th-century copy of the Bhaktāmara-stotra.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Worship of Ṛṣabha In golden colours, this manuscript painting shows Ṛṣabha being worshipped. The first of the 24 Jinas, Ṛṣabha takes the lotus position of meditation. His jewels and ornate headdress show he is a spiritual king, a status underscored by the elephants, parasol and pedestal, standard symbols of royalty in Indian art. Figures sit or stand around him in attitudes of worship.. Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Further Reading

The Jaina Iconography
B. C. Bhattacharya
Motilal Banarsidass; Delhi, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh and Patna, Bihar in India; 1974

Full details

‘Medieval Jaina Goddess Traditions’
John E. Cort
volume 34: 2
December 1987

Full details

‘The Goddesses of Sravana Belgola’
John E. Cort
Svasti – essays in honour of Prof. Hampa Nagarajaiah for his 75th Birthday
edited by Nalini Balbir
Muddushree Granthamala series; volume 75
K. S. Muddappa Smaraka Trust; Bangalore, Karnataka, India; 2010

Full details

The Jina Images of Deogarh
Klaus Bruhn
E. J. Brill; Leiden, Netherlands; 1969

Full details

The Jains
Paul Dundas
Library of Religious Beliefs and Practices series; series editor John Hinnels and Ninian Smart; volume 14
Routledge Curzon Press; London, UK; 2002

Full details

‘Jaina Goddesses and their Worship in Karnataka’
Iyengar Vatsala
The Jaina Heritage: Distinction, Decline and Resilience
edited by Julia A. B. Hegewald
Heidelberg Series in South Asian and Comparative Studies series; volume 2
Samskriti Publishers; New Delhi, India; 2011

Full details

Jaina Iconography
Jyotindra Jain
and Eberhard Fischer
Iconography of Religions – Indian Religions series; volume 13: 12 and 13
Institute of Religious Iconography, State University of Groningen; E. J. Brill; Leiden, Netherlands; 1978

Full details

Life in Ancient India as depicted in Jaina Canon and Commentaries: 6th Century BC to 17th Century AD
Jagdischchandra Jain
Munshiram Manoharlal; Delhi, India; 1984

Full details

edited by Muni Jinavijaya
Singhi Jain series; volume 10
Shantiniketan; Bombay, India; 1934

Full details

Vividha Kalpa Saṃgraha: Mul, gujarātī bhāṣāntara, mantra-yantra-tantra no saṃgraha pariśiṣṭo sāthe
Nawab Sarabhai Manilal and Nawab Rajendra Sarabhai
Śrī Jaina kalā sāhitya saṃśodhana granthamālā series; volume 22
Amadāvāda; Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India; 1998

Full details

Śrī Bhairavapadmāvatīkalpa: śrīBandhuṣeṇa nī vistṛta ṭīkā tathā śuddha mantragarbhita 31 pariśiṣṭo sahita [aneka yantrakṛtio sāthe] dvitīya saṃvṛddhita āvṛtti [ādya sampādaka Sva. Prof. K.V. Abhyankar]
Nawab Sarabhai Manilal; Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India; 1996

Full details

‘Chakreśvarī in Karnatak Literature and Art’
S. Settar
Oriental Art (N.S.)
volume 17

Full details

Umakant Premanand Shah
Abhinav Publications; New Delhi, India; 1987

Full details

Jainism in Early Medieval Karnataka c. A.D. 500–1200
Ram Bhushan Prasad Singh
Motilal Banarsidass; Delhi, India; 1975

Full details

The Jain Saga: 63 Illustrious Persons of the Jain World, Brief History of Jainism
translated by Helen M. Johnson
edited by Muni Samvegayashvijayji Maharaj
Acharya Shrimad Vijay Ramchandra Suriswarji Jain Pathshala; Ahmedabad, Gujarat and Mumbai, Maharashtra, India; 2009

Full details

Jainism: A Pictorial Guide to the Religion of Non-Violence
Kurt Titze
Motilal Banarsidass; Delhi, India; 1998

Full details

‘Jaina Sculptures and Paintings in the United Kingdom’
Maruti Nandan Prasad Tiwari
Kalā: the Journal of Indian Art History Congress
volume III
1996 to 1997

Full details

Jaina Art and Aesthetics
Maruti Nandan Prasad Tiwari
and Shanti Swaroop Sinha
Aryan Books International; New Delhi, India; 2011

Full details

Triṣaṣṭiśalākapuruṣacaritra: Lives of the Sixty-three Illustrious Persons
translated by Helen M. Johnson
Gaekwad's Oriental series; volume 2
Oriental Institute; Baroda, Gujarat, India; 1937

Full details

‘Jaina Goddesses in Kannada Literature’
Robert J. Zydenbos
Studies in South Asian Devotional Literature: Research Papers 1988–1991
edited by Alan W. Entwistle and Françoise Mallison
Manohar Publishers and École Française d'Extréme-Orient; New Delhi, India and Paris, France; 1994

Full details

‘Göttinverehrung im Jainismus’
Robert J. Zydenbos
Aspekte der Weiblichen in der indischen Kultur
edited by Ulrike Roesler
Indica et Tibetica series; volume 39
Indica et Tibetica; Swisttal-Odendorf, North-Rhine-Westphalia, Germany; 2000

Full details


Common Era

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:

  • solo or in groups
  • as a form of meditation
  • as a rite offered as part of worship.


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 formula or prayer calling upon a deity or authority to bring blessings and protection. Invocations are frequently found at the beginning of Jain texts.


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-kalpaGuidebook 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.

Mendicant lineage

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:

  • external or material – dravya-pūjā – involving offerings of food, drink and precious substances
  • internal or mental – bhava-pūjā – including singing hymns of praise, reciting mantras and meditating.


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:

  • be the deity's emblem
  • symbolise positive attributes associated with the deity
  • represent evil powers over which the god has triumphed
  • help the divinity to perform duties.

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.

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