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).

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.

Temples

Karnataka is the region where the cult of Jvālāmālinī has developed most, with inscriptions showing that individual temples dedicated to her existed in the 12th to 13th centuries (Settar 1969: 311).

This goddess is associated with the site of Simhanagadde or Narasimharajapura in Karnataka, in Shimoga district, which has an important monastery – maṭha. There is an eight-handed image here in seated posture, which the monk Samantabhadra is said to have installed.

Other centres of Jvālāmālinī worship in Karnatak are:

  • Maleyur in Chamarajanagar district, also known as 'Kanakagiri kshetra', which houses images of Jvālamālinī, Kūṣmāṇḍinī and Padmāvatī
  • Nittur at Gubbi, near Tumkur has a temple possibly dating back to the 12th century which attracts many devotees (see Iyengar 254ff.).
  • a dedicated temple in Gerusoppe, in north Karnatak, where the iconography of the main idol resembles that of the Hindu goddess Mahiṣāsuramardinī (Iyengar 249).

Worship

Decorated figure of Jvālāmālinī in a Tamil Nadu temple. The yakṣī – female attendant deity – of the eighth Jina, Candraprabha, is swathed in rich fabric. The halo of flames and the attributes she holds in her eight hands help identify her.

Decorated image of Jvālāmālinī
Image by Ramesh Kumar © French Institute of Pondicherry

Jvālāmālinī is worshipped to gain protection and help, as are all Jain deities. She is the subject of many songs of devotion that praise her good qualities.

A popular hymn is the Sanskrit Jvālāmālinī-stotra (Nawab 1937/1996: 187–190; described in Jhavery 1944: 335–336), given according to the Śvetāmbara tradition. Written in prose, it provides the:

  • various names of the goddess
  • mantras to use for various aims, such as controlling or paralysing other people
  • relevant yantras.

Another such stotra can be read on page 212 of Nawab 1937/1996.

This deity has a fierce, terrifying aspect, as shown in the story involving the man who would be king. Thus Jvālāmālinī is often the subject of Tantric ceremonies.

Tantric rituals

The trident is a weapon associated with a variety of gods and goddesses in Indian religions, with the three points frequently symbolising significant trinities. The trident is a divine attribute of several Jain deities, including Jvālāmālinī.

Trident
Image by Frater5 © CC BY-SA 3.0

The connection of Jvālāmālinī with Tantric worship is shown in hymns of praise or in kalpas, which set out rituals and yantras for efficient, successful worship. The ceremonies include recitation of mantras, meditation and visualisation through yantras (see Nawab 1995: 190).

The most famous of the kalpas on Jvālāmālinī is the Jvālāmālinī-kalpa, written by Indranandin in the 11th century (Nawab 1995: 42–86). It narrates how the Digambara monk Helācārya, leader of a southern monastic lineage, saw that one of his female disciples, Kamalaśrī, was possessed by a fierce demon. He took her to the top of Nīla-giri Hill to ask for help from Vahnidevī – ‘Fire-Goddess’. This goddess gave him a mantra and instructed him in its use. She recited the mantra herself to drive out the demon from the possessed woman. The monk then began to teach others the worship of Jvālāmālinī, whose name of ‘Flame-garlanded’ is a clear reminder of the original goddess (Cort 1987: 246).

Written in Sanskrit verses, the Jvālāmālinī-kalpa is divided into ten chapters and needs further scholarly exploration.

Chapters of the Jvālāmālinī-kalpa

Chapter number

Number of verses

Contents

1

35

  • origin of the Jvālamālinī mantra
  • Helācārya and the nun Kamalaśrī
  • the moral qualities required from the practitioner

2

24

Description of the diverse types of beings who 'seize' – graha – one’s body and life and have to be propitiated by meditating on mantras and yantras

3

72

Mantras and gestures – mudrās – relevant to accomplishing various aims, such as controlling or paralysing others

4

43

How to draw the maṇḍalas used in Tantric rites

5

20

Process of applying oil to disturb malevolent spirits

6

46

Mantras and yantras to control other people

7

51

Tantric worship

8

34

Bath of Vasudhārā (?)

9

25

Lustration ritual

10

17

Ceremony to gain success

Images

  • Candraprabha and attendants Bronze image of Candraprabha and his attendant deities. The emblem of the eighth Jina, the crescent moon, is clearly visible below his throne. Candraprabha sits in meditation under a royal canopy. His yakṣa Vijaya or Śyāma and yakṣī Jvālāmālinī sit either side and each hold a lotus stem and bud, symbolising spiritual purity.. Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
  • Jvālāmālinī Image of 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 – female attendant deity – of the eighth Jina, Candraprabha.. Image by Ramesh Kumar © French Institute of Pondicherry
  • Jvālamālinī, yakṣī of Candraprabha 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. Her legends and cult are centred in Karnataka.. Image by British Library © British Library Board on www.Europeana.eu
  • Decorated image of Jvālāmālinī Decorated figure of Jvālāmālinī in a Tamil Nadu temple. The yakṣī – female attendant deity – of the eighth Jina, Candraprabha, is swathed in rich fabric. The halo of flames and the attributes she holds in her eight hands help identify one of the most popular Jain goddesses. . Image by Ramesh Kumar © French Institute of Pondicherry
  • Trident The trident is a weapon associated with a variety of gods and goddesses in Indian religions, with the three points frequently symbolising significant trinities. The trident is a divine attribute of several Jain deities, including Jvālāmālinī.. Image by Frater5 © CC BY-SA 3.0

Further Reading

The Jaina Iconography
B. C. Bhattacharya
Motilal Banarsidass; Delhi, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh and Patna, Bihar in India; 1974

Full details

‘Medieval Jaina Goddess Traditions’
John E. Cort
Numen
volume 34: 2
December 1987

Full details

‘The Goddesses of Sravana Belgola’
John E. Cort
Svasti – essays in honour of Prof. Hampa Nagarajaiah for his 75th Birthday
edited by Nalini Balbir
Muddushree Granthamala series; volume 75
K. S. Muddappa Smaraka Trust; Bangalore, Karnataka, India; 2010

Full details

Śaktiśrī
Dhāriṇī
Vivekodaye Granthamale; Gudibande, Karnatak, India; 1981

Full details

The Jains
Paul Dundas
Library of Religious Beliefs and Practices series; series editor John Hinnels and Ninian Smart; volume 14
Routledge Curzon Press; London, UK; 2002

Full details

‘Jaina Goddesses and their Worship in Karnataka’
Iyengar Vatsala
The Jaina Heritage: Distinction, Decline and Resilience
edited by Julia A. B. Hegewald
Heidelberg Series in South Asian and Comparative Studies series; volume 2
Samskriti Publishers; New Delhi, India; 2011

Full details

Jaina Iconography
Jyotindra Jain
and Eberhard Fischer
Iconography of Religions – Indian Religions series; volume 13: 12 and 13
Institute of Religious Iconography, State University of Groningen; E. J. Brill; Leiden, Netherlands; 1978

Full details

Comparative and Critical Study of Mantrashastra (With Special Treatment of Jain Mantravada): Being The Introduction to Sri Bhairava Padmavati Kalpa
Mohanlal Bhagwandas Jhavery
Sri jain kala sahitya samsodhak (Jain Art Publication) series; volume 1
Sarabhai Manilal Nawab; Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India; 1944

Full details

Vividha Kalpa Saṃgraha: Mul, gujarātī bhāṣāntara, mantra-yantra-tantra no saṃgraha pariśiṣṭo sāthe
Nawab Sarabhai Manilal and Nawab Rajendra Sarabhai
Śrī Jaina kalā sāhitya saṃśodhana granthamālā series; volume 22
Amadāvāda; Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India; 1998

Full details

Śrī Bhairavapadmāvatīkalpa: śrīBandhuṣeṇa nī vistṛta ṭīkā tathā śuddha mantragarbhita 31 pariśiṣṭo sahita [aneka yantrakṛtio sāthe] dvitīya saṃvṛddhita āvṛtti [ādya sampādaka Sva. Prof. K.V. Abhyankar]
Malliṣeṇasūriviracita
Nawab Sarabhai Manilal; Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India; 1996

Full details

Padmāvatī ādi śāsana devoṃ kā astitva hī nahīṃ
Viradhīlāl Seṭhī
Jain Saṃskr̥ti Saṃrakṣaṇ Samiti

Full details

‘The Cult of Jvālamālinī and the Earliest Images of Jvālā and Śyāmā’
S. Settar
Artibus Asiae
volume 31: 4
1969

Full details

Jaina-Rūpa-Maṇḍana
Umakant Premanand Shah
Abhinav Publications; New Delhi, India; 1987

Full details

Jainism in Early Medieval Karnataka c. A.D. 500–1200
Ram Bhushan Prasad Singh
Motilal Banarsidass; Delhi, India; 1975

Full details

Simhanagadde (Jvālamālinī) Kṣetra kā Saṃkṣipt Paricay
Aryika Suprakashmati
Bastimath Enarpura; Enarpura, India; no date

Full details

Jainism: A Pictorial Guide to the Religion of Non-Violence
Kurt Titze
Motilal Banarsidass; Delhi, India; 1998

Full details

‘Jaina Sculptures and Paintings in the United Kingdom’
Maruti Nandan Prasad Tiwari
Kalā: the Journal of Indian Art History Congress
volume III
1996 to 1997

Full details

Jaina Art and Aesthetics
Maruti Nandan Prasad Tiwari
and Shanti Swaroop Sinha
Aryan Books International; New Delhi, India; 2011

Full details

The Concept of Divinity in Jainism
Robert J. Zydenbos
Centre for South Asian Studies of the University of Toronto; Toronto, Canada; 1993

Full details

‘Jaina Goddesses in Kannada Literature’
Robert J. Zydenbos
Studies in South Asian Devotional Literature: Research Papers 1988–1991
edited by Alan W. Entwistle and Françoise Mallison
Manohar Publishers and École Française d'Extréme-Orient; New Delhi, India and Paris, France; 1994

Full details

‘Göttinverehrung im Jainismus’
Robert J. Zydenbos
Aspekte der Weiblichen in der indischen Kultur
edited by Ulrike Roesler
Indica et Tibetica series; volume 39
Indica et Tibetica; Swisttal-Odendorf, North-Rhine-Westphalia, Germany; 2000

Full details

Glossary

Ascetic

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.

Candraprabha

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.

Caste

Hindu society is traditionally divided into numerous jātis or classes, which are usually grouped into the four varṇas – often called 'castes' – of:

  • Brāhmaṇa – priest
  • Kṣatriya – warrior
  • Vaśya – merchant or farmer
  • Śūdra – labourer.

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.

Common Era

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.

Conch

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.

Cult

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.

Deity

A god or divine figure, often with physical powers beyond those of a human and with superhuman abilities.

Devotee

An enthusiastic follower of a religion. Can also describe a keen enthusiast of an individual, concept or activity.

Dhyāna

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.

Disciple

An active follower of a religion, especially one who passes on teachings to others.

Fast

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:

  • help destroy karmas that bind to the soul
  • gain merit – puṇya.

Hindu

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.

Hymn

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:

  • solo or in groups
  • as a form of meditation
  • as a rite offered as part of worship.

Iconography

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.

Idol

An image of a deity or concept that is worshipped either as a god or as a representation of the deity.

Jain

Follower of the 24 Jinas or an adjective describing Jain teachings or practices. The term 'Jaina' is also used although 'Jain' is more common.

Jina

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.

Karnataka

State in south-west India.

Kaṣāya

'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:

  • anger – krodha
  • pride – māna
  • deceit – māyā
  • greed – lobha.

Also one of the 14 'gateways' or categories of investigation of mārgaṇā – 'soul-quest'.

Liṅga

Symbol of the Hindu god Śiva, probably representing divine energy. It usually takes the form of a stylised phallus or column.

Mantra

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.

Maṭha

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.

Mendicant lineage

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.

Monk

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.

Padmāvatī

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.

Possession

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.

Prākrit

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.

Pūjā

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:

  • external or material – dravya-pūjā – involving offerings of food, drink and precious substances
  • internal or mental – bhava-pūjā – including singing hymns of praise, reciting mantras and meditating.

Rite

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.

Sallekhanā

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.

Samyak-cāritra

'Right conduct'. A person who has faith in the principles of Jainism and knows them should put them into practice. This is the third of the Three Jewels vital for spiritual progress.

Sanskrit

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.

Scripture

Set of sacred texts that believers accept as authoritative within a religion. Synonymous with canon.

Śiva

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.

Tantra

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.

Tapas

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.

Temple

A building reserved for public worship or prayer, usually dedicated to one religion and run by members of that religion's clergy.

Vāhana

The vehicle of a Hindu god or goddess. Usually an animal, the vāhana fulfils one or more roles and may:

  • be the deity's emblem
  • symbolise positive attributes associated with the deity
  • represent evil powers over which the god has triumphed
  • help the divinity to perform duties.

The vāhana may also have its own divine powers or be worshipped in its own right.

Vidyā

Knowledge, especially magic knowledge or power.

Vrata

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:

  • aṇu-vratas – 'Five Lesser Vows'
  • guṇa-vratas – three supplementary vows
  • śikṣā-vratas – four vows of spiritual discipline

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. 

Yakṣī

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.

Yantra

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.

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