Article: Deities

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Māṇibhadra Vīra

Sitting on an elephant that is often shown with three trunks, this boar-headed being with four or more hands has become a familiar sight on side doors or niches in Śvetāmbara temples. He is worshipped only among Tapā-gaccha followers, and is the presiding deity of this monastic order.

Legendary accounts of Māṇibhadra Vīra stress his fighting character and role in defending both image worship and the Tapā-gaccha monastic lineage. For example, he is described as the reincarnation of a 16th-century lay man who defended image-worshipping practice against the followers of Loṅkā Śāh. In his subsequent birth he was a hero who defeated a bhairava who had been invoked by opponents of the Tapā-gaccha (Wiley 2004: 138).

According to another version (Shah 1982: 97):

Māṇek, a lay Jain follower of the Tapāgaccha, hailing from a place called Magarvāḍa, heroically fought against the supernatural obstruction of yoginīs created by monks of the Kharatara-gaccha, while he was on his way to Shatrunjaya and died. He was born as a demi-god, a Vīra. He then protected his fellow brethren of the Tapāgaccha and gradually overcame the other party.

There are Śvetāmbara shrines specifically dedicated to him at Magarvada and Aglor in north Gujarat, and at Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh.

Gaṇeśa

Linked with wealth, arts and sciences, knowledge and wisdom, Gaṇeśa has the head of an elephant and a pot belly, and is a very popular deity. Statues of him are common in Jain temples although there are none dedicated to him alone.

Gaṇeśa
Image by Charlotte Warren © CC BY-ND 2.0

The well-known elephant-headed, pot-bellied god of the Hindus is also a Jain god. Associated with wealth, arts and sciences, knowledge and wisdom, Gaṇeśa is very popular among Jains.

He never features as the main deity in a Jain temple, but it is quite common to see Gaṇeśa depicted either on the outside walls of western Indian temples or in cells at the entrance or sides.

Worship of this god may be a part of Jain worship during ceremonies (Cort 2001: 168).

Kula-devatās

The term kula-devatā or its synonym kula-devī means ‘clan or family deities’. These local deities are mainly goddesses, regarded as protective mothers – mātās. They are not part of what may be called the Jain pantheon, since they are not given places in the Jain universe, but are elements in the lives of many Jains.

Worshipping kula-devatās is considered compatible with being a Jain, and most families regularly travel to their original villages to perform worship at ancestral shrines. There are examples of goddesses, such as Sācikā-devī at Osian, Rajasthan, who have been included in the Jain fold. It is quite possible that many of the local deities Jains recognise were originally village gods and goddesses who had nothing to do with Jain values.

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