Article: Jvālamālinī

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.

Name and roles

Bronze image of Candraprabha and his attendant deities. The emblem of the eighth Jina, the crescent moon, is clearly visible below his throne. His yakṣa Vijaya or Śyāma and yakṣī Jvālāmālinī sit either side and each hold a lotus stem and bud.

Candraprabha and attendants
Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

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-devīgoddess 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).

Stories

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:

Kanakamālā

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).

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