Article: Jvālamālinī

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Samantabhadra

In another tale, Jvālāmālinī is connected with the biography of the philosopher Samantabhadra, who lived in the ninth century (Zydenbos 1994: 140–141).

After listening to stories of the eighth Jina, Candraprabha, from his teacher, Prince Śrīvarma becomes an ascetic, taking the name Samantabhadra. He is then afflicted by a disease that causes permanent hunger, which cannot be satisfied by any amount of food. Samantabhadra asks his teacher for permission to fast unto death, but is refused.

Instead, the teacher sends the monk to Kāñcī, where the king brings gigantic offerings to the Hindu deity Śiva, which remain unused. Samantabhadra says he will get the stone liṅga to eat it. He is left alone in the temple, eats the food and finally gets rid of his disease.

The king believes that Śiva has accepted his offerings and is happy. But Samantabhadra is now unable to eat large amounts of food, as he used to do, which makes the king suspicious.

Samantabhadra is a devotee of the goddess Jvālāmālinī so he meditates on her. The moment the king wants to open the temple doors, ‘the goddess sends out a blinding light from the liṅga and shows the people the moon in it’ (Zydenbos 1994: 141). The moon is the emblem of Lord Candraprabha. Impressed by this, the king becomes an ascetic and later writes many celebrated scriptures.

In this account Jvālāmālinī shows her respectful subordination to the Jina with whom she is associated, as in the final episode she displays his brightness, not her own.

Appearance

The goddess Jvālāmālinī in a temple in Melsittamur, Tamil Nadu. She sits on her divine mount of a buffalo or bull and holds her attributes in her eight hands. The flames around her head help identify her as the yakṣī of the eighth Jina, Candraprabha.

Jvālāmālinī
Image by Ramesh Kumar © French Institute of Pondicherry

Both yakṣas and yakṣīs are considered part of the entourage of the Jina image, technically known as parikara. Like all of the attendant deities, Jvālāmālinī has certain features that help to identify her and indicate her powers. These are described in, for example, texts on the iconography of the Jina, which outline the appearance of the Jina's attendants. For instance, Jvālāmālinī is described in the Candraprabha-purāṇa, written in Kannara by Aggal̥a in 1189 CE (Settar 1969: 317). References to her description are also found in various works or verses as late as the 16th to 17th century.

Being presented as a deity implies that Jvālāmālinī has special characteristics linked to the depiction of gods in art. This means she:

  • may have more than two arms or hands
  • has a vehicle – vāhana
  • demonstrates attributes by holding various objects
  • may exhibit hand-gestures that symbolise a concept or attitude – mudrās.

Jvālāmālinī's divine vehicle is a buffalo or bull, though there are regional variations. In her usual form she has eight hands, holding:

  • a disc
  • a bow
  • a noose
  • a hide or shield
  • a trident or piercing instrument
  • an arrow
  • a fish
  • a sword.

There may be slight variations in Jvālāmālinī's attributes depending on the region. As with other yakṣīs, several of these attributes are weapons or weapon-like. They indicate that the goddess is caught in the cycle of rebirths and is not free from passions and desires, and also point to connections with religious traditions other than Jainism.

Jvālāmālinī is often shown with flames around her. This halo of flame is a distinctive feature that agrees with the meaning of her name.

Images

This 1853 drawing of a sculpture from Pattadakal in Karnataka shows Jvālamālinī. One of the Digambara names for the yakṣī of the eighth Jina, Candraprabha, Jvālamālinī has developed as an independent goddess among the Digambaras, especially in south India

Jvālamālinī, yakṣī of Candraprabha
Image by British Library © British Library Board on www.Europeana.eu

The earliest image of the goddess Jvālāmālinī dates from the eighth century and is found at the Virupaksha temple of Aihole in Karnataka (Settar 1969: 312f. and plate I).

A 19th-century drawing of this figure is held in the British Library and presents Jvālāmālinī decked in rich jewellery and with symbols of royalty, such as a canopy. Her headdress is adorned with a small image of a Jina. She has eight arms and holds:

  • an arrow – bana
  • a trident – trisula
  • a disc – cakra
  • a sword – khadga
  • a bow – dhanus
  • a whip – kasha
  • a conchshankha.

The left hand resting on her thigh is damaged so it is unclear what she was holding originally. Her buffalo mount is carved below but is defaced.

The great majority of known images of Jvālāmālinī comes from south India, the region where this goddess is really popular.

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