Contributed by Nalini Balbir
In the Digambara tradition the goddess Jvālāmālinī is the yakṣī or female attendant deity of the eighth Jina, Candraprabhanātha or Lord Candraprabha. She is a śāsana-devatā – ‘deity of the teaching’ – and is believed to help protect and spread the message of her Jina. She is also a popular goddess worshipped as an independent deity among Digambaras. Among the sect of the Śvetāmbaras she is known as Bhr̥kuṭi but has hardly any role in religious practice. Candraprabha's yakṣa, known as Vijaya to Śvetāmbara Jains and as Śyāma to Digambaras, does not have an individual role either.
As a goddess, Jvālāmālinī 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.
Jvālāmālinī has gained importance primarily among Digambaras in south India. She has close associations with Karnataka, where her worship has been established since at least the 12th century.
In addition to her role as yakṣī to the eighth Jina, Candraprabhanātha or Lord Candraprabha, Jvālāmālinī is considered to be a very powerful goddess, who can protect against evil and cure disease as well as bestow favours on devotees. The name Jvālāmālinī means ‘Flame-garlanded’ and points to her as a fire goddess.
In the Purāṇas of the Hindu religion there is a goddess with the similar name of Jvālā. In both traditions ‘the central theme appears to be the same, [namely] a fiery energy manifesting itself in the form of a Great Goddess to quell the evil’ (Settar 1969: 309).
According to the Vasudeva-ḥiṇḍī, a Prakrit work dating back to the first centuries CE, the most efficient magic power – vidyā – is Mahājvālā – ‘Great-flamed’ – (Jhavery 1944: 264), with which Jvālāmālinī can be identified. Among the Digambaras she seems to have become popular as a vidyā-devī – goddess of knowledge – and a yakṣī around the eighth century.
In folk stories (Dhāriṇī 1981 in Zydenbos 1994: 141), Jvālāmālinī helps people in trouble who perform austerities, especially fasts. However, fasting to gain her good will must be undertaken with ‘purity of purpose’, and, ultimately, it is obedience to the deity that counts. For instance, there was a man who performed austerities because he wanted to become a king. The goddess ‘told him that his effort was useless, and against her explicit order he turned to look at her in her fierce form, as a result of which he became mad’.
The extreme power and charm of Jvālāmālinī are often underlined in folklore. ‘She is said to cure all diseases, to ward off all kinds of snakes and untimely and unnatural death and above all to counter act the adverse influence of planets and ward off evil spirits of all kinds: she is described as Mahāvaśī – great subduing or controlling power’ (Jhavery 1944: 335).
How Jvālāmālinī came to be the yakṣī of the Jina Candraprabhanātha or Lord Candraprabha is unclear. However, several legends have been told about her (see Dhāriṇī 1981). These contain three main themes, namely that:
According to one story, there is a prince named Puṇḍarīka who becomes angry at his horse for its exhaustion. He begins beating it as a few girls leave a nearby temple. One of those girls, Kanakamālā or Kāñcanamāle, takes pity on the horse and boldly begins to scold the prince for his cruelty. Instead of taking offence at this, the prince is charmed by the girl and her behaviour, and he tells his mother, the queen, that he wishes to marry that girl. The queen then sends for Kanakamālā and her parents, and soon the royal wedding is arranged.
Some time after the marriage, Puṇḍarīka feels that he cannot give up some of his more cruel pastimes, such as hunting, because he believes they are part of his duty as a member of a warrior caste. This upsets his wife greatly, as she sees it as a form of violence, which is against Jain principles. So she spends increasingly long periods alone in the palace garden. One day, when she stands near the pond in the garden, she sees a palace under the water and a staircase leading down to it. When she descends the stairs into the palace, she sees a goddess on a throne, attended by numerous servants. Kanakamālā is awed by the splendour of the setting and humbly asks the goddess by which vrata – observance of vows – she has attained this divine state.
The goddess explains that she had become a deity by keeping a number of vows in honour of the Jina and the goddess Padmāvati. She instructs the princess how she too could become a goddess, namely through:
Some of the nymphs who attend the goddess then lead the princess back up to the garden. Kanakamālā devoutly follows all the instructions the goddess has given her, and after she dies she instantaneously becomes Jvālāmālinī (Zydenbos 1981: 139ff.; 1993: 23–24).
Someone who withdraws from ordinary life to meditate and practise physical hardships in order to advance spiritually. Jain ascetics or mendicants beg for food from devout lay followers and wander the land.
Also used as an adjective to describe the practice of rigorous, even extreme, physical hardships in the belief that it leads to a higher spiritual condition.
The eighth Jina of the present age. His symbolic colour is white and his emblem the crescent moon. There is no historical evidence of his existence.
Hindu society is traditionally divided into numerous jātis or classes, which are usually grouped into the four varṇas – often called 'castes' – of:
Relating to ritual purity, castes are hereditary and probably based on occupation. Members of different castes performed particular socio-economic roles and did not mix or eat the same food. People outside the caste system were usually looked down upon.
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.
Emblem of the 22nd Jina Neminātha. It is also associated with his cousin, the Hindu deity Kṛṣṇa. He received it from Susthita, the god presiding over the island of Gautama-dvīpa, in exchange for the worship and fast he had undertaken. The conch is used as a musical instrument to summon warriors before a battle. Though Kṛṣṇa’s conch is very heavy, the young Prince Nemi could meet the challenge of lifting it.
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.
An active follower of a religion, especially one who passes on teachings to others.
Giving up or limiting food or specified foods for a period of time, usually as part of a religious practice. Fasting is a key part of Jainism, chiefly because it is believed to:
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:
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.
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.
State in south-west India.
'Passion' that causes activity, which results in new karma binding to the soul. It must be eliminated by restraints or austerities so the soul can be liberated. Passion may be attraction – rāga – or aversion – dveṣa – and has degrees of intensity. There are traditionally four passions:
Also one of the 14 'gateways' or categories of investigation of mārgaṇā – 'soul-quest'.
Symbol of the Hindu god Śiva, probably representing divine energy. It usually takes the form of a stylised phallus or column.
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.
Taken from the Sanskrit term for the dwelling of an ascetic, the term maṭha is nowadays often rendered as mutt in English. Associated with Digambara Jains, maṭhas are complexes of buildings centred on a temple and are similar to a Christian monastery. They usually comprise a manuscript library, mendicant dwelling-hall and pilgrim facilities, such as a refectory and dormitory. A maṭha is the seat of a bhaṭṭāraka, a clerical leader. Most maṭhas are in southern India.
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 man who has taken a public vow to withdraw from ordinary life to formally enter religious life and advance spiritually. Frequently, monks perform physical austerities or undergo physical hardships in order to progress spiritually.
The yakṣī or female attendant of Pārśva. Along with other yakṣiṇī, Padmāvatī has become an independent figure over the centuries and is worshipped in her own right. She is particularly associated with Karnataka in southern India.
Supernatural event during which a human being, animal or object is controlled by a spirit or god, leading to noticeable changes in behaviour or health.
A term for any of the dead vernacular languages of ancient and medieval India. It may be contrasted with classical Sanskrit, the language used by priests and the aristocracy. The Jains used a large variety of Prakrits, with the Jain canon written chiefly in Ardhamāgadhī Prākrit.
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:
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.
The progressive eradication of passions and other negative features in order to reach total spiritual purity. In practice, it is the ritual of fasting unto death.
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.
Set of sacred texts that believers accept as authoritative within a religion. Synonymous with canon.
The principal destroyer or transformer deity in the Hindu religion. One of the triad of major Hindu gods, along with Brahmā the creator and Viṣṇu the preserver or protector. Śiva is often depicted with a third eye, a crescent moon on his forehead, matted hair and smeared with cremation ashes.
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.
Austerity or asceticism in general. A tapas is an act of austerity or self-discipline that produces bodily heat – tapas – that burns up karma. Austerities may be internal – mental – or external – physical. Both lay and mendicant Jains practise austerities. Fasting is the most common external austerity for lay people these days.
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:
The vāhana may also have its own divine powers or be worshipped in its own right.
Knowledge, especially magic knowledge or power.
Vows are extremely important in Jain religious life. Mendicants take the compulsory Five Great Vows – mahā-vratas – as part of their initiation – dīkṣā.
Lay people can choose to take 12 vows, which are divided into:
All of these vows are lifelong and cannot be taken back. The sallekhana-vrata is a supplementary vow to fast to death, open to both ascetics and householders.
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.