Article: Deities

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Śrī or Lakṣmī

This detail from an invitation scroll shows the goddess Śrī being sprinkled with water by a pair of elephants. Lay communities frequently send highly decorated scrolls – vijñapti-patra – inviting mendicant groups to spend the rainy season with them.

Śrī and elephants
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Śrī, who resides in the lake at the top of Mount Himavant, is also the Jain goddess of wealth and prosperity. She is also known as Lakṣmī, more rarely Padmā or Ramā. She has the same names among Hindus. In the Jain universe she lives in the lower levels of the upper world, the home of gods and goddesses.

She is specially worshipped by lay Jains, among whom business is one of the main occupations, on the day known as Dhana-terasa – ‘Wealth Thirteenth’ – before the festival of Dīvālī. This is done through a pūjā that ‘involves sprinkling auspicious red powder and pañcāmr̥t or ‘five nectars’ of milk, curd, clarified butter, honey, and sugar onto silver coins’ (Cort 2001: 164).

Śrī or Lakṣmī is found in early sources, as she features among the 14 or 16 dreams announcing the birth of a future Jina, which the mother experiences while pregnant. As such, she is painted on manuscript pages or embroidered on cloth manuscript covers, and usually appears in larger size than the other dreams. Among items digitised on JAINpedia, noteworthy examples are:

Kṣetra-pālas

Idol of the bhairava Bhomiyaji at Sammeta Shikhara in Rajasthan. Bhairavas are local male deities who guard temple precincts as the word bhairava means ‘frightening, terrible’. They are often given fierce expressions and warlike attributes.

Bhomiyaji
Image by Romana Klee © CC BY-SA 2.0

This generic designation refers to deities who are considered ‘guardians of land or territory’. This means either a large area or, more narrowly, the temple precincts. They live in the lower levels of the upper world of the Jain universe.

There are three main classes of kṣetra-pāla gods among Jains:

As protective deities, the kṣetra-pālas are fierce and can be aggressive so devotees may placate them in religious ceremonies. They also have the power to grant wishes if worshipped correctly.

When kṣetra-pālas are shown in Jain temples, they are found mainly at the sides of doors, as if to protect the entrance.

Yoginīs

The yoginīs form a category familiar in other Indian religions. Thought of as guardians of land or territory, the 64 yoginīs are mostly seen as terrifying and therefore need to be pacified. Thus they appear in Tantric modes of worship and are invoked, with their images placed on yantras or maṇḍalas in various stotras (see for instance Nawab 1937/1996: 186 and Jhavery 1944: 333–335).

The available lists show variations in the names of the yoginīs. They feature in a number of Jain writings, which portray them as malevolent deities who can take possession of human beings. Texts from the 12th century relate how famous Jain teachers performed rites to free people from their evil influence.

In one example, Hemacandra is said to have persuaded the goddess Saindhava-devī at Broach or Bharuch in Gujarat to order the yoginīs to quit the minister Ambaḍa. He had fallen ill due to their influence (Jhavery 1944: 220).

In another case, Jinadatta-sūri is said to have won control over the yoginīs and other groups of deities as well (Jhavery 1944: 214).

According to another anecdote, the 64 yoginīs took over the 64 towers around the new Ahmedabad fort. Harassed by the deities, Sultan Ahmed Shah sought aid from the Jain teacher Ratnasiṃha-sūri, who was able to help him by using a mystical diagram.

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