Contributed by Nalini Balbir
The yakṣī or female attendant deity of the 23rd Jina, Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva, is Padmāvatī. As a śāsana-devatā – ‘deity of the teaching’ – she is believed to help protect and spread the message of her Jina. Padmāvatī is one of the most important Jain goddesses among both Digambaras and Śvetāmbaras and is worshipped all over India. She is the focus of individual worship partly because of her associations with wealth.
As a goddess, Padmāvatī 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.
Padmāvatī is assigned different attributes and divine vehicles by the two main sects of Jainism. However, among both she is frequently linked to the snake, the emblem of her Jina, Pārśva. Padmāvatī is particularly significant among Jains in Karnataka, especially the Digambara centres of Hombuja or Humcha and Shravana Belgola.
Pārśva attended by yakṣa and yakṣī
Image by Cactusbones – Sue Ann Harkey © CC Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0
Padmāvatī is the yakṣī of the Jina Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva. She is linked to wealth and snakes, and can cure snakebites, which happen quite frequently in India. Although Padmāvatī's origins are unclear, she was probably originally a local clan deity.
Padmāvatī's male counterpart, the yakṣa, is known as Dharaṇendra to Śvetāmbaras and Pārśva or Mātanga to Digambaras. With a snake as his emblem, the 23rd Jina is closely associated with snakes and is usually depicted with a hood of snake-heads. The snakes refer to Pārśva's relationship with his yakṣa, whom Śvetāmbara Jains believe is the reincarnation of the snake Dharaṇendra. Before he became a monk, Prince Pārśva saved the snake from death and, later, Dharaṇendra sheltered the meditating ascetic from torrential rainfall. However, whereas the yakṣa’s association with the Jina is well rooted in tradition, this is not the case with Padmāvatī.
Instead, Padmāvatī's identity as Pārśva's yakṣī is the result of various interactions and influences. It is believed that her connection with the 23rd Jina is rather late, as it is not seen in art before the tenth century. She may have replaced the earlier snake-goddess Vairoṭyā, who is the 13th of the 16 vidyā-devīs. But this is unclear.
Padmāvatī has connections with snakes, being credited with the ability to cure snakebites, which may be one of the reasons she became associated with Pārśva. She is also a goddess of wealth, which is another connection with this Jina.
She is likely to have been originally a clan deity – kula-devī – who was integrated into the Jain system of values. Inscriptions from Karnatak show that members of local ruling families in the medieval period often stated that they were devotees of Padmāvatī (Cort 1987: 243).
Both yakṣas and yakṣīs are considered part of the entourage of the Jina image, technically known as parikara. Like all of the attendant deities, Padmāvatī 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.
Being presented as a deity implies that Padmāvatī has special characteristics linked to the depiction of gods in art. This means she:
Padmāvatī's divine vehicle varies according to the two main Jain sects. The Śvetāmbaras consider her vehicle to be either the snake or cockerel and depict her with four hands, holding a lotus, noose, fruit and goad. Here is how the 12th-century author Hemacandra describes her:
The goddess Padmāvatī, with a kurkuṭa-serpent for a vehicle, gold colored, carrying a lotus and a noose in her right hands, a fruit and a goad in her left hands, became the second messenger-deity of Lord Pārśva.
Triṣaṣṭiśalākāpuruṣacarita IX.3. 363–365
Johnson’s translation, volume 5, page 403
Digambara images show various attributes depending on the number of hands. For instance, a four-armed Padmāvatī from Deogarh in Uttar Pradesh makes the gesture of giving a boon – varada-mudrā – and holds a noose, lotus and shield (Tiwari and Sinha 2011/112). Additional attributes would be a lotus, jug, goad, manuscript, staff, fruit, bow and so on. There is no full standardisation in this matter.
An image of Padmāvatī is a common sight in niches located in the entrance hall of a large number of temples. She is often seen clothed in colourful silks, mainly red or golden. Silk is a precious, costly material and red silk, often with golden threads, is traditional bridal attire at Indian weddings. These garments underline her connection with wealth.
There are numerous instances in stories where Padmāvatī provides help or rescue for people in need. In these tales she aids ordinary people as well as religious or political leaders, especially among Digambaras.
In a collection of stories from the 13th century it is narrated how a king wants to protect his city from the approaching Muslim army. He asks the help of a Digambara monk who he knew had obtained a boon from Padmāvatī. Instructed by the monk, the king worships the goddess during the night:
The Digambara that very night began a sacrifice before Padmāvatī in the presence of the king. Then Padmāvatī, brought there by his perfect power of attracting spirits, appeared within the garland of flame in the sacrificial pit, and said that she had forbidden the approach of the [Muslims].
Tawney 1982 reprint, page 185
Another story tells how Padmāvatī played a major role in the foundation of the Śāntara dynasty of Karnatak (Cort 1987: 245). First she assists the founder of the dynasty, Jinadatta, to triumph over his threatening father. The goddess helps Jinadatta escape his father and then, when he is pursued, she creates the illusion that he leads a greater army than that of his father. Jinadatta's father and his army turn back and Jinadatta flees the kingdom. Next Padmāvatī ‘told the penniless Jinadatta to touch an iron bar to the vulva of her image, whereupon the bar turned into the gold he needed to found a city’. But later on she disappears in anger because she finds out that Jinadatta has given her a fake pearl. Of the two pearls Jinadatta discovers, he offers the goddess the fake and presents the real one to his wife.
These two stories demonstrate how unpredictable the goddess can be. Such accounts emphasise the nature of deities as beings caught in the world of rebirths and prone to passions – kaṣāyas – or desires. As Zydenbos remarks (1994: 143), with Padmāvatī ‘there is always a mystery that is never completely solved and gives a twist to the course of the story’.
In other circumstances, Padmāvatī is said to have appeared to the 12th-century Digambara monk Śrīdhara. She approved his proposal of establishing an image of a Jina, despite the opposition of his disciple (Guérinot 1926: 54–55). This story occurs in the context of the birth of the Śvetāmbara monastic lineage known as the Pūrṇimā-gaccha.
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.
A term for a Jain temple common in Southern India.
Sankrit term meaning 'pontiff'. This title is given to a type of Digambara clergy who are not mendicants. Instead of practising the 'wandering life' – vihāra – of Jain monks and nuns, a bhaṭṭāraka stays in one place, living in a kind of monastery called a maṭha. There are several bhaṭṭārakas in south India, who lead the local Jain community.
An essay explaining a text. Commentaries on the scriptures are common in the Jain tradition and there are various types, including the:
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.
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.
'Sky-clad' in Sanskrit, used for one of the two main divisions of Jainism, in which monks are naked. There are some differences of doctrine or belief between these two sects and to some extent their followers consider themselves as belonging to distinct branches. Divisions can be fierce in practical matters, for example, over the ownership of pilgrimage places, but all sects see themselves as Jains.
An active follower of a religion, especially one who passes on teachings to others.
The language that developed in Gujarat, in western India. It is also spoken in neighbouring states. Also a term for someone or something associated with or coming from Gujarat.
Sanskrit term meaning both:
The most widely spoken group of languages in India, originating in the northern part of the subcontinent. Local dialects and Hindi languages are spoken all over northern India and in surrounding countries. Standard Hindi is used in administration by the central government of India, along with English.
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'.
A plant noted for its beautiful flowers, which has symbolic significance in many cultures. In Indian culture, the lotus is a water lily signifying spiritual purity and detachment from the material world. Lotuses frequently feature in artwork of Jinas, deities, Buddha and other holy figures.
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.
A Muslim, or ‘one who submits to God’ in Arabic, follows the religion of Islam, which means ‘peace’. Muslims believe that Muhammad is the last in a line of prophets. The complete word of Allah or God was revealed to Muhammad in the sixth century CE and set down in the Arabic Qur’an or ‘recitation’. Nearly all Muslims belong to either the Shia or Sunni sects, with Sunni Muslims comprising around 90% of Islamic believers.
The 23rd Jina of the present age. His symbolic colour is green and his emblem the snake. Historical evidence points to his living around 950 to 850 BC.
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.
A common term for Jain female mendicants.
Sanskrit term meaning 'with a home’ – that is, a ‘householder’ or lay Jain. A synonym for a lay person, emphasising that he or she is a member of a household, with responsibilities to the family, community and society that a Jain mendicant does not have.
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.
A small structure holding an image or relics, which may be within a temple or building designed for worship. A shrine may be a portable object. Worshippers pray and make offerings at a shrine, which is often considered sacred because of associations with a deity or event in the life of a holy person.
'White-clad’ in Sanskrit, the title of one of the two main divisions of Jainism, in which both male and female mendicants wear white robes. There are some differences of doctrine or belief between these two sects and to some extent their followers consider themselves as belonging to distinct branches. Divisions can be fierce in practical matters, for example, over the ownership of pilgrimage places, but all sects see themselves as Jains.
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.
A Śvetāmbara mūrti-pūjaka sect, first established in the 13th century and reformed from the 19th century. Today nearly all mūrti-pūjak mendicants belong to this sect.
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.
The male attendant of a Jina, 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.