Article: Deities

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Yakṣas and yakṣīs

Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva sits in the lotus pose commonly used for Jinas. Above his head five serpent heads fan out while his half-snake attendant gods stand either side. The yakṣas hold fly-whisks, which, along with his jewellery, underline his status.t

Pārśva attended by yakṣa and yakṣī
Image by Cactusbones – Sue Ann Harkey © CC Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0

With complex origins, this group of divinities has come to be considered as the male and female attendant deities to the 24 Jinas. Living in the lower world, they have names and individual characteristics, such as vehicles and divine attributes, though these vary in the different Jain sects. They have special roles as protectors of the Jinas' message and as intermediaries between devotees and the Jinas. Information on the yakṣas and yakṣīs is explored in a detailed article.

Some of the yakṣas and yakṣīs have developed cults of their own, which are celebrated either throughout India or chiefly in given regions. These are mainly the goddesses:

The only male yakṣa who can compare with them as an independent deity is Brahmadeva.

Dik-pālas

This manuscript painting shows the king of the Saudharma paradise with his court. Called Śakra by Śvetāmbaras and Saudharma by Digambaras, Indra – meaning 'king' – rules the lowest of the heavens – kalpa. He plays a key role in the kalyāṇakas.

King of the Saudharma heaven
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

The Dik-pālas – 'Guardians of Directions' – form a category found in many Indian religions. There are eight or ten Jain Dik-pālas, depending on whether the deities of the upper and lower directions are included. The sect of the Digambaras does not include these deities, so there are always eight Digambara Dik-pālas.

These deities, who live in the lower world, serve the Jinas. The best known is Śakra, who intervenes at key points in the Jinas’ biographies.

There is a lot of variation in the attributes given to them in the available sources, namely ritual texts (Bhattacharya 1974: 109–116). Images of Dik-pālas depicted individually or in groups are carved on the outside walls or on the ceilings of temples in western India and Karnatak (Shah 1981 with plates). Recent research in eastern India has yielded interesting examples of Dik-pālas depicted as the entourage – parikara – of Jina images (Mevissen).

Dik-pālas

Dik-pāla

Direction

Summary

1

Indra
 or Śakra

east

  • the elephant Airāvata is his divine vehicle
  • a vajra or thunderbolt is his attribute
  • his wife is Śacī

2

Agni


south-east

  • a ram is his divine vehicle
  • a spear is his attribute
  • he bears seven flames
  • his wife is Svāhā

3

Yama


south

  • a buffalo is his divine vehicle
  • a staff is his attribute
  • his wife is Chāyā

4

Nairr̥ta

south-west

  • a corpse or goblin is his divine vehicle, he wears a tiger-skin and holds a club or sword and a bow – Śvetāmbara
  • a bear is his divine vehicle and his divine attribute is a club – Digambara

5

Varuṇa

west

  • a dolphin or fish is his divine vehicle
  • he wears the ocean and holds a noose

6

Vāyu

north-west

  • a deer is his divine vehicle
  • he holds a thunderbolt or banner

7

Kubera

north

  • a man is his divine vehicle
  • his attributes are gems and a club
  • he has a chariot named Puṣpaka – Digambara

8

Iśāna

north-east

  • a bull is his divine vehicle
  • his attributes are a bow and trident
  • he has the symbol of a skull – Digambara

9

Brahmā

upper regions

  • four-headed
  • a swan is his divine vehicle
  • his attributes are a book and lotus
  • Digambaras do not accept him

10

Nāga

lower world

  • a lotus is his divine vehicle
  • his attribute is a snake
  • Digambaras do not accept him

Nava-grahas

Figures of the Nava-grahas – 'Nine Planets' – in a shrine outside the main temple at Karandai, Tamil Nadu. The Nava-grahas are one of the classes of gods – the Jyotiṣkas – who live in the lower world of Jain cosmology.

Nava-graha statues
Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

The Nava-grahas – 'Nine Planets' – are known in all the religious traditions that arose in India. They are part of the Jain universe as they form one of the classes of gods – the Jyotiṣka-devas.

As gods allotted homes in the lower world of Jain cosmology, they have been described in cosmological, iconographical and ritual texts. But descriptions of the Jyotiṣkas are not systematic in Śvetāmbara works and may be unavailable in Digambara sources. They are depicted as gods or humans in painting and sculpture.

Nava-grahas

English name

Indian name

Summary

Sun

Sūrya

  • rides on a chariot drawn by seven horses
  • holds two lotuses as his attributes

Moon

Candra

  • rides on a chariot drawn by ten white horses
  • holds an urn of nectar as his attribute

Mars

Mangala

  • stands on the earth
  • holds a shovel as his divine attribute

Mercury

Budha

  • a swan is his divine vehicle and he holds a book
  • or rides a lion and holds a sword, shield and club while making the gesture of giving a boon – varada-mudrā

Jupiter

Br̥haspati

  • a swan is his divine vehicle and he holds a book
  • or has four hands holding a rosary, staff and water pot and making the gesture of giving a boon

Venus

Śukra

  • a snake is his divine vehicle
  • an urn is his attribute

Saturn

Śani

  • a tortoise is his vehicle
  • an axe is his divine attribute

God who creates eclipses

Rāhu

  • a lion is his vehicle
  • an axe is his divine attribute

Comet

Ketu

  • a cobra is his divine vehicle
  • a cobra is his attribute

Their presence is more collective than individual. Eastern Indian sculpture shows that some or all of them can be carved as the entourage – parikara – of Jina images, either as astral symbols or as figural representations (see Mevissen).

In Tamil Nadu, images of the nine planets are often depicted outside the main temple in a specific enclosure, where they may take non-human forms.

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