Article: Yakṣas and yakṣīs

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

In common Jain usage a yakṣa is a male deity associated with a Jina and a yakṣī or yakṣiṇī his female counterpart. Functioning as pairs attending a Jina and protecting his teaching, these gods are also called śāsana-devatās – ‘deities of the teaching’. They have not attained final liberation – mokṣa – so they do not fulfil the same role as the Jinas from the point of view of devotees. The liberated Jinas are the ultimate ideals of perfection while the yakṣas and yakṣīs are intermediates who can be approached for worldly gains and aims.

Yakṣas and yakṣīs are also found in other Indian religions and may initially have been nature gods. Though this process is unclear, they have become integrated into the Jain faith and seem to have been firmly linked with the Jinas by around the 11th century. Jain stories show how unpredictable these deities can be. They can aid devotees or cause havoc if they are not worshipped properly. Some yakṣas are also described as hostile or mischievous towards the ascetics who later become Jinas, even though they later serve the Jinas.

In Jain cosmology, yakṣas are classed as Vyantara gods. However, they are usually depicted in art as flanking a Jina. A complicated iconography has developed to identify the various yakṣas and yakṣīs, some of which is connected to their associated Jina. Nevertheless, there is wide variation in the portrayal of yakṣas and yakṣīs in both Jain art and writings. Some of them are presented as individual images, since several have developed the status of independent deities in the course of time.

A few of these independent divinities are associated with Tantric rituals, where they are invoked and their statues or paintings placed on mystical diagrams – yantras – for meditation. This mode of worship aims to placate the deities' fierce aspects and please them so they behave well towards their devotees. If they are not worshipped properly, they may take offence and cause harm.

Origins

A sandstone yakṣī or yakṣiṇī from Mathurā. From the second century, the statue is Vrikshaka, a guardian goddess. Yakṣas and yakṣīs were probably originally nature deities that protected auspicious trees and rural shrines

Early yakṣī
Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Yakṣas as such are pan-Indian creatures. They are deities associated with trees or rural sanctuaries, where they live. It is likely that they are divinities who were not originally associated with any specific religious trend, but slowly came to be included in the religious systems of India in one way or the other. Their names may give clues to their origins.

The process of integration into the Jain faith, however, is difficult to assess. According to some, the fact that yakṣas were regarded as presiding spirits over wealth explains that the Jains ‘who represent a mercantile class specially endeared themselves to this cult and appropriated them especially among the class of their highest divinities’ (Bhattacharya 1974: 66).

In Jain scriptures, yakṣas are linked with sanctuaries – caitya or āyatana – located on the outskirts of cities, in parks or surrounded by woods. These sanctuaries are associated with a tree, which was regarded as sacred. One such shrine, to the north-east of the town of Campā, was dedicated to the yakṣa Pūrṇabhadra, and is described as rather sophisticated in the first Upāṅga of the Śvetāmbara canon, the Aupapātika-sūtra or Uvavāiya-sutta. This is the standard passage repeated in other places in the scriptures. Several yakṣa shrines are mentioned in the stories in the 11th Aṅga of the Śvetāmbara canon, the Vipāka-śruta or Vivāga-suya. The main component was a slab at the bottom of the sacred tree where worshippers could place offerings to the deity.

During his wandering life as an ascetic before reaching omniscience, Mahāvīra is said to have stayed temporarily in such sanctuaries. The 24th Jina probably stayed there because they were lonely places suitable for meditation.

Role

All the 24 Jinas each have a yakṣa and yakṣī, attendant gods who are thoroughly part of the Jain religious framework. But they lie at the crossroads of pan-Indian culture and of classes of deities. The names of some of them may indicate their original status as non-Jain gods, especially because they are also the names of gods and goddesses among Hindus

Names of yakṣas and yakṣīs also known in other religious contexts

Yakṣas and yakṣīs

Other contexts

Number of associated Jina

Brahma

 

10

Kubera

Hindu god of wealth

19

Kumāra
Ṣaṇmukha

Names of the Hindu god Kārttikeyya or Varuṇa

12
13

Kālī
Gaurī
Mānasī
Cāmuṇḍī
Ambikā

Hindu goddesses

7
11
15
21
22

Gandharva

Usually refers to celestial deities associated with music in the Hindu tradition

17

Kinnara
Kimpuruṣa

Hybrid deities with a human body and the head of a horse

15
16

Tumbaru

With its non-Sanskritic phonetic look, this name is that of a musician deity outside the Jain tradition

5

Cakreśvarī
Rohiṇī
Vairoṭyā

Also members of another group of Jain female deities, the vidyā-devīs – ‘goddesses of magical powers’

1
2
13

In addition, a relief showing seven female figures below seven Jinas in Bhubaneshvar in Orissa has been interpreted as forming a Jain counterpart of the Hindu ‘seven mothers’ – sapta-mātr̥kās.

Behaviour of yakṣas

This manuscript painting shows the yakṣa Śūlapāṇi trying to interrupt Mahāvīra’s meditation. The ascetic Mahāvīra is staying in the village of Asthikagrāma, where Śūlapāṇi has killed many people. The malevolent yakṣa fails to disturb him.

Mahāvīra and Śūlapāṇi
Image by Wellcome Trust Library © Wellcome Library, London

Perhaps reflecting the absorption of these deities into the Jain religious framework, traditional stories demonstrate that yakṣas are ambivalent characters. They may be either helpful or hostile and, to ensure they remain friendly, they must be worshipped correctly. These deities are quick to anger, which can lead to disaster for human beings. These tales underline how yakṣas are emotional and interfere in human lives. In some ways, therefore, they are the opposite of the Jinas, whose detachment has helped them achieve liberation.

Several stories feature benevolent and helpful yakṣas who save people in danger or fulfil their wishes. That is, however, mostly, when they are worshipped properly. A well-known story is that of the garland-maker Ajjuṇa and his wife Bandhumaī, which is told in the eighth Aṅga of the Śvetāmbara canon, the Antakṛddaśā or Antagaḍadasāo (chapter 6, section 3; Barnett 1907: 86ff.). They are regular worshippers at the shrine dedicated to the figure of the yakṣa Moggarapāṇī. The statue holds a very heavy mace, which is a family legacy.

Every morning [Ajjuṇa] would take baskets and cloths, set forth from the city of Rājagr̥ha, and, making his way toward the flower-garden, would pluck flowers; with the chiefest and best flowers he would approach the yakṣa-shrine of the yakṣa Moggarapāṇī and make flower-offerings of great worth, fall upon his knees, and do reverence; then after this he would carry on his trade in the high-road.

Barnett 1907, page 86 with slight changes

One festival day the couple visit the shrine bearing flowers as usual. A gang of young men attacks them, ties up Ajjuṇa and rapes his wife. The garland-maker is seized with doubt, thinking that if the yakṣa were really present he would not tolerate what was happening. The yakṣa ‘entered his body, burst his bonds with a crash, seized the iron mace of a thousand pala’s weight, and smote down the six fellows together with the woman’ (Barnett 1907: 88).

From that point on the garland-maker is possessed by the yakṣa and becomes so dangerous that the local people hardly dare to go out. Once the merchant Sudaṃsaṇa, who is a follower of Mahāvīra, goes out in order to praise the Jina, despite his parents’ advice. When the yakṣa in Ajjuna's form sees him, he is enraged and approaches Sudaṃsaṇa, threatening the man with his mace. But the merchant’s determination makes the yakṣa's violence useless. The yakṣa leaves the body of the garland-maker and returns to his shrine with his mace. This episode with Sudaṃsaṇa convinces the garland-maker of the truth of Mahāvīra’s teaching and he later becomes a monk.

This story makes it clear that:

  • yakṣa-worship is performed by people from lower social backgrounds, whereas Jain followers are merchants
  • yakṣa-worship is not part of Jain doctrine and instead stands in opposition to it, although it cannot compete
  • a yakṣa is a being with feelings and thus may be happy and helpful or, on the contrary, enraged.

Indeed, when offended, yakṣas can prove rather obnoxious and must be pacified. There are several stories describing violent or disturbing behaviour from yakṣas who feel slighted.

One of the best-known instances is that of Śūlapāṇi Yakṣa. He kills the people of Asthikagrāma, 'the bone village', so called because of the heaps of human bones it contains. Śūlapāṇi tries to disturb Mahāvīra’s meditation while he stays in his shrine, before finally admitting the Jina’s superiority.

One story found in commentaries on the Āvaśyaka-niryukti, dating back to approximately the sixth century, involves the yakṣa Surappiya (Balbir 1993: 273–274). His sanctuary is north-east of Sāketa and he has supernatural powers. Every year, his portrait is painted and a festival celebrated. But Surappiya kills the painter after his portrait is complete and, if he is not painted, spreads diseases among the people. All the painters try to flee so Surappiya chains them together and says that if his portrait is not painted each year he will kill everybody. The painters’ names are written on leaves and thrown into a pot. Every year the name of an artist comes out of the pot, then he paints the yakṣa and is killed. So it goes for some time.

One day, a young painter decides to volunteer to paint Surappiya. The story describes how he prepares himself as though for a ritual. He fasts for two and a half days, purifies himself and covers his face with a clean cloth. Then he paints the yakṣa with new paints and brushes. Then he throws himself at the yakṣa’s feet, asking forgiveness for anything wrong he could have done. Surappiya is satisfied with this behaviour and tells the painter to request a boon. The young man asks for the killings to end. The yakṣa says this is already done, since the painter has not been killed, and promises he will no longer kill anyone. The artist then asks to be able to paint very accurately any living being even though he may have seen only a small part of it. Surappiya grants him this power and the story continues.

See pages 324 to 329 of Jain 1984 for more examples. The stories emphasise that yakṣas have to be worshipped or honoured in some way.

Yakṣas in the Jain universe

This manuscript painting shows the eight kinds of Vyantara gods and their tree emblems. The Vyantara semi-deities live between the highest hell and the middle world, where human beings live according to traditional Jain cosmology.

Tree emblems of the Vyantara gods
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

In descriptions of the Jain universe yakṣas are categorised as Vyantara gods. They form the third among the eight groups of this class of gods. Thus they have their own emblem, names, social organisation and place in the Jain universe. They are depicted in cosmological writings and artworks in ways that support this classification.

Types of Vyantara gods

Type

Name of Vyantara gods

1

Piśāca

2

Bhūta

3

Yakṣa

4

Rākṣasa

5

Kiṃnara

6

Kiṃpuruṣa

7

Mahoraga

8

Gandharva

All these creatures wander around the three worlds and may interact with humans. Their palaces are in the space between the highest hell and the surface of the earth. Like other Vyantara deities, the yakṣas are ruled by two indras or kings. The kings each have four wives according to the Śvetāmbaras or two wives in the Digambara tradition, plus retinues.

Each Vyantara group has an identifying colour and symbol, a species of tree. Each type of Vyantara has a given number of members, whose names are listed in cosmological works.

Characteristics and names of Vyantara yakṣas

Colour

Tree emblem

Names

black

banyan tree – vaṭa

  1. Maṇibhadra
  2. Pūrṇabhadra
  3. Śailabhadra
  4. Manobhadra
  5. Bhadraka
  6. Subhadraka
  7. Sarvbhadra
  8. Manuṣya
  9. Dhanapāla
  10. Svarūpaka
  11. Yakṣottama
  12. Manohārin

Manuscripts digitised on JAINpedia contain information on yakṣas, placing them in the list of Vyantara deities. Saṃgrahaṇī-ratna manuscripts in the British Library present data on the yakṣas – including emblematic tree, colour and names of the indras – in two main ways.

First, information is presented on the fourth line in these tables:

Secondly, colourful paintings depict the yakṣas' emblematic tree above a yakṣa in the third panel from the left:

In manuscript illustrations, 'blue' is a common way to picture ‘black’.

Some of the listed yakṣas appear independently in connection with sanctuaries in passages of the Jain scriptures, but nothing much is known about the individual figures. The only one who has developed into a separate deity is Māṇibhadra.

Attendant deities to the Jinas

Temple image of the 23rd Jina, Pārśva, and his attendants Dharaṇendra and Padmāvatī on each side of his legs, who form part of the entourage of the Jina image – parikara. The sitting statues either side are not part of his entourage.

Pārśva and his entourage
Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

The various yakṣas and yakṣīs are usually considered to fall into pairs of deities, made up of a male – the yakṣa – and a female – the yakṣī. They are often called ‘deities of the doctrine’ and ‘messengers of the teaching’, which underlines the role of the yakṣa and yakṣī as defenders and propagators of the Jinas’ teaching. The terms adhiṣṭhāyaka – masculine – and adhiṣṭhāyikā – feminine – meaning ‘standing beside’ are also used to underline their roles as attendants to the Jinas.

Each Jina is linked with a specific yakṣa and yakṣī. The forging of these connections is of unknown date but by the 11th century there are fairly strong associations between named Jinas and particular attendant deities. The names of the yakṣa and yakṣī for each Jina vary according to the sectarian tradition, however.

Nevertheless, stories show that the yakṣas’ relations with Jinas before they reach omniscience are as ambivalent as they are with human beings. Either the yakṣas show reverence to them or they wish to disturb their meditation.

Deities of the doctrine

The yakṣas and yakṣīs are closely associated with the teachings of the Jinas, stressed by their designation as śāsana-devatās – ‘deities of the doctrine’. According to tradition, Indra or Śakra established a yakṣa and yakṣī pair to serve each Jina. As the Kalpa-sūtra shows, he is the god dedicated to the Jinas’ teaching, who intervenes at key points in their lives.

Occasional voices, however, deny that Padmāvatī and other deities have anything to do with the protection of Jain teaching (Sethi, n.d.). These views assert that these divinities do not deserve to be worshipped because they are not self-controlled.

Despite these dissenting opinions, yakṣas and yakṣīs are generally thought of as grouped into pairs of deities who attend a particular Jina. This has led to the hypothesis that the male and female pair symbolise on a mythological level the Jinas’ male and female groups of disciples (Bhattacharya 1974: 66).

Jain authors repeatedly stress the yakṣas' connection with the doctrine. Indeed, they are said to originate from its principles or, in other words, they are embodiments of these concepts. Hence they are fully part of the Jain ideological system and values. However, this integration did not occur before around 500 CE, as the early texts do not mention yakṣas, even when they could have been expected to do so, for instance, while narrating the Jinas’ lives.

Connections with Jinas

The 24th Jina Mahāvīra between his yakṣa Mātanga and his yakṣī Siddhayikā. A Jina is often depicted with his attendant deities on either side. They are śāsana-devatās – ‘deities of the teaching’ – who spread and protect the Jain doctrine.

Mahāvīra and his yakṣas
Image by Romana Klee © CC BY-SA 2.0

The association of a specific pair of yakṣas and yakṣīs with each of the 24 Jinas is not evident in the first mentions of the 'messengers of the teaching'. The historical situation is rather confused since the ‘early’ texts or pieces of art are often difficult to date and identifications may be controversial. What is more certain is that pairs of named yakṣas and yakṣīs were clearly linked with particular Jinas by the 11th century.

One scholar has identified śāsana-devatās in a sculpture dating from roughly the first century CE. A pair of figures flanking a Jina on a stone slab from Mathurā have been labelled yakṣa and yakṣī (Quintanilla 2000) so Quintanilla considers that the association for each Jina may date back to this period.

Mostly, however, it is admitted that there is no iconographic evidence of yakṣas and yakṣīs attending the Jinas before the fifth century CE (Shah 1987: 212). Scholars also generally agree that there is no separate sculpture of any of them 'which can with confidence be assigned to a period before c. 500 A.D.' (Shah 1987).

The earliest representation of such a pair is considered to be a bronze from Akota, west of Baroda in Gujarat. Dating back to around 550 CE, the pair flanks an image of the first Jina, Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha. On the left side of the stela is the yakṣa Sarvānubhūti, on the right the yakṣī Ambikā (Shah 1959: 28–29: plates 10a, 10b and 11). The same pair of yakṣas appears with the 23rd Jina, Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva, on another stela from Akota carved in the middle of the seventh century (Shah 1959: 25: plates 22, 23a and 23b).

Thus it seems that first came the depiction of a pair of attendant deities that was the same for all Jinas. Here the male was named Sarvānubhūti or Yakṣeśvara and the female Ambikā. There are, then, images of the pair Dharaṇendra and Padmāvatī, whose association with snakes is clear in their depiction. Both pairs can be said to convey the notions of power, success and fertility.

Mostly, however, representations of such pairs are rather rare before the eighth century CE. They became popular around the 11th century.

Further, all the yakṣa and yakṣī pairs are not treated identically in Jain art, just as all the Jinas are not handled the same in traditional perception. Those associated with the most significant Jinas are given more importance and could well have been the oldest individualised ones. These are the deities linked to:

Their names are identical and stable among Śvetāmbaras and Digambaras, which is not the case with most of the others, as the table shows.

Yakṣas and yakṣīs associated with the 24 Jinas

Jina

Yakṣa

Yakṣī

1

Ṛṣabha

Gomukha

Cakreśvarī or Apraticakrā

2

Ajita

Mahāyakṣa

  • Rohiṇī – Digambara
  • Ajitā – Śvetāmbara

3

Sambhava

Trimukha

  • Prajñapti – Digambara
  • Duritāri – Śvetāmbara

4

Abhinandana

  • Yakṣeśvara – Digambara
  • Yakṣanāyaka – Śvetāmbara
  • Vajraśṛnkhalā – Digambara
  • Kālikā – Śvetāmbara

5

Sumati

Tumbaru

  • Puruṣadattā – Digambara
  • Mahākālī – Śvetāmbara

6

Padmaprabha

Kusuma

  • Manovegā – Digambara
  • Acyutā – Śvetāmbara

7

Supārśva

  • Varanandī – Digambara
  • Mātanga – Śvetāmbara
  • Kālī – Digambara
  • Śāntā – Śvetāmbara

8

Candraprabha

  • Śyāma – Digambara
  • Vijaya – Śvetāmbara

9

Puṣpadanta or Suvidhi

Ajita

  • Mahākālikā – Digambara
  • Sutārā – Śvetāmbara

10

Śītala

Brahma

  • Mānavī – Digambara
  • Aśokā – Śvetāmbara

11

Śreyāṃsa

  • Īśvara – Digambara
  • Yakṣet – Śvetāmbara
  • Gaurī – Digambara
  • Mānavī – Śvetāmbara

12

Vāsupūjya

Kumāra

  • Gāndhārī – Digambara
  • Caṇḍā or Candrā – Śvetāmbara

13

Vimala

Ṣaṇmukha

  • Vairoṭī or Vairoṭyā – Digambara
  • Viditā – Śvetāmbara

14

Ananta

Pātāla

  • Anantamatī – Digambara
  • Ankuśā – Śvetāmbara

15

Dharma

Kinnara

  • Mānasī – Digambara
  • Kandarpā – Śvetāmbara

16

Śānti

  • Kiṃpuruṣa – Digambara
  • Garuḍa – Śvetāmbara
  • Mahāmānasī – Digambara
  • Nirvāṇī – Śvetāmbara

17

Kunthu

Gandharva

  • Vijayā – Digambara
  • Balā – Śvetāmbara

18

Ara

  • Khendra – Digambara
  • Yakṣendra – Śvetāmbara
  • Ajitā – Digambara
  • Dhāriṇī – Śvetāmbara

19

Malli

Kubera

  • Aparajitā – Digambara
  • Dharaṇapriyā or Vairoṭyā – Śvetāmbara

20

Munisuvrata

Varuṇa

  • Bahurūpiṇī – Digambara
  • Naradattā – Śvetāmbara

21

Nami

Bhṛkuṭi

  • Cāmuṇḍī – Digambara
  • Gāndhārī – Śvetāmbara

22

Nemi

Gomedha

Ambikā or Kūṣmāṇḍī or Kūṣmāṇḍinī

23

Pārśva

  • Pārśva or Mātanga – Digambara
  • Pārśva or Dharaṇendra – Śvetāmbara

Padmāvatī

24

Mahāvīra

Mātanga

Siddhayikā

Systematic tables such as this can be extracted from texts dating back to a period from the end of the first half of the eighth century onwards. Before that, the only one where the 24 pairs are listed systematically is the Tiloyapannatti, a Digambara work on the Jain universe written in Prakrit. This is probably earlier than the eighth century, although its original date is unclear. There the names of the yakṣas and yakṣīs are sometimes different from what is found in other Digambara sources (see Wiley 2004: 248–249: third column). The lists appear to be finalised in the 12th century. An instance of a Śvetāmbara compendium of teaching in which the lists appear is Nemicandra’s Pravacanasāroddhāra. The 24 yakṣas are listed in verses 373 to 374 and the 24 yakṣīs in verses 375 to 376.

There are occasional variations of the names in the table and the sectarian differences are not clearcut. In some sources, there is some overlap between the categories of yakṣī and vidyā-devī, which is favoured because both groups contain female deities with identical names.

Dharaṇendra and Pārśva

Lord Pārśva stands between his śāsana-devatās – ‘deities of the teaching’. Dharaṇendra is the yakṣa and Padmāvatī is his female counterpart, the yakṣī or yakṣiṇī.

Pārśva and his attendants
Image by BaboMike – Mike Rowe © CC BY-NC 2.0

There is a special connection between the 23rd Jina Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva and his yakṣa, known as Dharaṇendra, which is familiar to all Jains and a favourite subject in art. Although this story is not specifically told for the Digambara yakṣa Mātanga, he is also linked closely with snakes.

Dharaṇendra is the rebirth of a snake and the king of snakes. The tradition goes that a snake lives in a log, which the false ascetic Kamaṭha wants to use for a sacred fire. Prince Pārśva, the future 23rd Jina, realises the snake is hidden in the log so he rescues it from being burnt alive. Manuscript illustrations of the Śvetāmbara work, the Kalpa-sūtra, often depict this episode, such as this page on JAINpedia.

Later on the prince renounces his lay status and begins to lead a true ascetic life. While Pārśva stands deep in meditation, a demon attacks him, wanting to test his detachment and resolve. The demon Meghamālin produces ferocious elephants, but the ascetic is never disturbed. Even more furious, Meghamālin creates enormous rainclouds that pour tons of water on to the mendicant. The water rises steadily until it reaches the tip of the Jina’s nose. The snake Dharaṇendra lives underground nearby and finds his throne shaking as the torrent of rain pours down. The snake king comes to bow down to the Jina in respect and places beneath the Jina's feet a tall lotus and then he 'covered the Jina’s back, sides and breast with his own coils, and made an umbrella with seven hoods over his head' (Hemacandra, Triṣaṣṭiśalākāpuruṣacaritra IX. 3. 270ff.; Johnson’s translation, volume V: 396).

This episode is illustrated in the following manuscript pages of the Kalpa-sūtra digitised on JAINpedia:

This well-known story underlines Pārśva's relationship with snakes. Snake-hoods are a noteworthy characteristic in the depiction of this Jina, his yakṣa, and also of his yakṣī, Padmāvatī. It also shows the thin boundary between groups of deities. Dharaṇendra is a snake – nāga – who becomes a yakṣa in his next life because he has, literally, served the Jina.

Images of yakṣas and yakṣīs

In the medieval period the representation of these pairs of gods became systematic and codified. Yakṣas and yakṣīs became associated with certain features in Jain writings and their depiction in art became more strongly connected with particular attributes and the Jinas. Iconography became a way of identifying the individual yakṣa and yakṣī in works of art. The artistic representation of a yakṣa and yakṣī may underline their association with a specific Jina but not always. The descriptions and portrayals of these deities vary according to sect and also differ within each tradition, to some extent.

Entourage of the Jina image

Treatises on iconography, for instance, state that the yakṣas and yakṣīs are part of the entourage of the Jina image, technically known as parikara. By convention the yakṣa is presented on the Jina's right side and the yakṣī on his left. A 14th-century work says:

On both sides [of the frame of the jina image] there should be yakṣa, yakṣī, lions, elephants, caurī, and in the middle the goddess Cakreśvarī. These should occupy fourteen, twelve, ten, three, and six parts respectively of the whole [frame]

Vatthusāra-payaraṇa II. 27

quoted in Jain and Fischer 1978, volume II, page 22

Other such sources are the:

  • 11th-century Śvetāmbara Nirvāṇakalikā by Pādalipta-sūri
  • 12th-century Pratiṣṭhāsāra-saṃgraha by the Digambara Vasunandin
  • Digambara 13th-century Pratiṣṭhā-sāroddhāra by Āśādhara.

These treatises deal with the installation of images – pratiṣṭhā – and provide indications as to how they look. Here is how Gomukha, the yakṣa of the first Jina, Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha, is described:

Four-armed, golden-coloured Gomukha is mounted on a bull. He holds in three of his hands an axe, a citrus fruit, a rosary, while the fourth hand makes the gesture of giving a boon [varada mudrā]. There is a dharmacakra on his forehead

Pratiṣṭhā-sāroddhāra 3.129

quoted in Jain and Fischer 1978, volume II, page 23

In the 12th century Hemacandra wrote what became the standard Śvetāmbara version of the lives of the 24 Jinas, which contains a paragraph for each pair of gods attendant on the Jinas. He gives the names of the yakṣa and yakṣī and provides a precise description of how they look, in terms echoing the iconographic treatises. Here is an average example, for Kunthunātha or Lord Kunthu, the 17th Jina, who is not among the most popular ones:

Originating in the congregation, the Yakṣa Gandharva, with a haṃsa [goose] for a vehicle, dark, with one right arm in the boon-granting position and one holding a noose, with left arms holding a citron [citrus fruit] and a goad, became the messenger deity [śāsana-devatā] of Śrī Kunthunātha. Originating in that congregation, the goddess Balā, fair-bodied, with a peacock for a vehicle, with right arms holding a muṣaṇḍhī [a round club of wood studded with iron nails] and a lotus, always near, became the Lord’s messenger deity

Hemacandra, Triṣaṣṭiśalākāpuruṣacaritra VI.1.115–119

Johnson’s translation, volume IV, page 9

And here the attendants of the 24th Jina Mahāvīra are described:

In that congregation originated the yakṣa Mātanga, with an elephant for a vehicle, black, holding a citron [citrus fruit] in his left hand and a mongoose in his right. Likewise originated Siddhāyikā, with a lion for a vehicle, green, her two left hands holding a citron and a lute, one right hand holding a book, the other in the safety-giving position [abhaya-mudrā]. These two were the Lord’s messenger deities, always near him

Hemacandra, Triṣaṣṭiśalākāpuruṣacaritra X.5.11–13

Johnson’s translation, volume VI, page 125

All these statements show that yakṣas and yakṣīs share common features, in that they:

  • are shown near the Jina with whom they are associated
  • are seen as deities are in Jainism, Hinduism or Buddhism
  • have a specific body colour.

Being presented as deities implies that yakṣas and yakṣīs have special characteristics linked to the depiction of gods in art. This means they:

  • have more than two arms or hands, especially in their terrifying forms, which are worshipped the Tantric way
  • sometimes have more than one head
  • sometimes have a non-human head – for instance, Gomukha is bull-headed, which corresponds to the meaning of his name
  • have a vehicle – vāhana – sometimes related to the deity's name, such as Mātanga's elephant, because his name means ‘elephant’
  • demonstrate attributes by holding various objects
  • exhibit various hand-gestures that symbolise a concept or attitude – mudrās.

The varied body colours of yakṣas in art distinguish them from their portrayal as a category of Vyantara gods. Yakṣas depicted and described as Vyantara gods all have a black or blue complexion.

Iconography

This 11th-century image shows the 23rd Jina Lord Pārśva meditating. He is sheltered by characteristic snakehoods, under the triple canopy of royalty. Attendants either side fan him with fly-whisks while below sit his yakṣa Dharaṇendra and yakṣī Padmāvatī.

Lord Pārśva and attendants
Image by British Museum © The Trustees of the British Museum

In practice, texts as well as artefacts show that the details of yakṣas and yakṣīs may vary. Just as there are divergences among the diverse texts or among various artefacts, so there are also differences between texts and artefacts. Then there are variations between the Śvetāmbara and Digambara traditions as well. For instance, 'in some Śvetāmbara texts Gomukha’s mount is an elephant instead of a bull, and he sometimes holds a noose instead of an axe' (Jain and Fischer 1978 II: 23).

Hence any attempt to list the iconographic characteristics of each yakṣa and yakṣī is bound to be contradicted or expanded. Moreover, there are many cases where the descriptions found in texts cannot be linked to images, because images of minor yakṣas and yakṣīs are not known. The iconography of individual yakṣas and yakṣīs and their variants are discussed in several studies on Jain art, such as:

  • pages 67 to 116 of Bhattacharya 1974
  • pages 88 to 19 of Tiwari and Sinha 2011, with tables including references to important images on pages 115 to 119.

The following table is restricted to the main basic features of yakṣas and yakṣīs most commonly found in Jain writings and art.

Most common characteristics of yakṣas and yakṣīs

Number

Yakṣa characteristics

Yakṣī characteristics

1

Gomukha

  • bull-headed
  • golden colour
  • bull or elephant as vehicle
  • rosary and noose

Cakreśvarī or Apraticakrā

  • Garuḍa or mythical eagle as vehicle
  • the disc – cakra – as symbol
  • number of hands:
    • two, four, six, eight, ten, 12, 16, 20 – Digambara
    • two, four, eight or 18 – Śvetāmbara
  • varying attributes

2

Mahāyakṣa

  • four faces
  • colour:
    • gold – Digambara
    • green – Śvetāmbara
  • elephant as vehicle
  • eight hands carrying weapons

Rohiṇī – Digambara
Ajitā – Śvetāmbara

  • varying vehicles – iron seat or cow
  • varying attributes, even in texts from the same sect

3

Trimukha

  • three faces, which is the meaning of his name
  • six hands
  • peacock or snake as vehicle
  • he carries varying objects

Prajñapti – Digambara
Duritāri – Śvetāmbara

  • four hands
  • ram, peacock or buffalo as vehicle
  • varying attributes

4

Yakṣeśvara – Digambara
Yakṣanāyaka – Śvetāmbara

  • four faces
  • elephant or swan as vehicle
  • he carries varying objects

Vajraśṛnkhalā – Digambara

  • swan as vehicle
  • four hands
  • varying attributes


Kālikā – Śvetāmbara

  • seated on a lotus
  • varying attributes

5

Tumbaru

  • Garuḍa as vehicle

Puruṣadattā – Digambara

  • elephant as vehicle


Mahākālī – Śvetāmbara

  • seated on a lotus
  • four hands
  • varying attributes

6

Kusuma

  • antelope, peacock or horse as vehicle
  • name related to the red lotus flower, the emblem of his Jina

Manovegā – Digambara

  • horse as vehicle


Acyutā – Śvetāmbara

  • man as vehicle
  • four hands

7

Varanandī – Digambara

  • lion as vehicle
  • varying attributes


Mātanga – Śvetāmbara

  • elephant as vehicle
  • varying attributes

Kālī – Digambara

  • bull is vehicle
  • varying attributes


Śāntā – Śvetāmbara

  • elephant as vehicle
  • varying attributes

8

Śyāma – Digambara
Vijaya – Śvetāmbara

  • three eyes
  • swan or pigeon as vehicle

Jvālāmālinī – Digambara

  • buffalo as vehicle
  • four hands
  • varying attributes


Bhṛkuṭi – Śvetāmbara

  • cat, boar or swan as vehicle
  • four hands
  • varying attributes

9

Ajita

  • tortoise as vehicle

Mahākālikā – Digambara

  • tortoise as vehicle
  • four hands
  • varying attributes


Sutārā – Śvetāmbara

  • bull as vehicle
  • four hands
  • varying attributes

10

Brahma

  • four faces
  • three eyes
  • eight hands
  • a lotus seat
  • varying attributes

Mānavī – Digambara

  • hog or boar as vehicle
  • four hands
  • varying attributes


Aśokā – Śvetāmbara

  • seated on a lotus
  • four hands
  • varying attributes

11

Īśvara – Digambara
Yakṣet – Śvetāmbara

  • three eyes
  • four hands
  • bull as vehicle
  • varying attributes

Gaurī – Digambara

  • antelope as vehicle
  • four hands
  • varying attributes


Mānavī – Śvetāmbara

  • lion as vehicle
  • four hands
  • varying attributes

12

Kumāra

  • three heads and six hands – Digambara
  • four arms – Śvetāmbara
  • white colour
  • swan or peacock as vehicle

Gāndhārī – Digambara

  • crocodile as vehicle
  • four hands
  • varying attributes


Caṇḍā or Candrā – Śvetāmbara

  • horse as vehicle
  • four hands
  • varying attributes

13

Ṣaṇmukha

  • peacock as vehicle
  • 12 or eight hands

Vairoṭī or Vairoṭyā – Digambara

  • snake as vehicle
  • four hands
  • varying attributes


Viditā – Śvetāmbara

  • seated on a lotus
  • four hands
  • varying attributes

14

Pātāla

  • three faces
  • six hands
  • dolphin or crocodile – makara – as vehicle

Anantamatī – Digambara

  • swan as vehicle
  • four hands
  • varying attributes


Ankuśā – Śvetāmbara

  • seated on a lotus
  • four hands
  • varying attributes

15

Kinnara

  • three faces
  • six hands
  • vehicle:
    • fish – Digambara
    • tortoise – Śvetāmbara
  • varying attributes

Mānasī – Digambara

  • tiger as vehicle
  • six hands


Kandarpā – Śvetāmbara

  • horse or fish as vehicle
  • four hands

16

Kiṃpuruṣa – Digambara
Garuḍa – Śvetāmbara

  • boar-faced
  • boar or elephant as vehicle
  • four hands
  • varying attributes

Mahāmānasī – Digambara

  • peacock as vehicle
  • six hands


Nirvāṇī – Śvetāmbara

  • seated on a lotus
  • four hands
  • varying attributes

17

Gandharva

  • four hands
  • vehicle:
    • bird – Digambara
    • swan – Śvetāmbara

Vijayā – Digambara

  • black boar as vehicle
  • four hands
  • varying attributes


Balā – Śvetāmbara

  • peacock as vehicle
  • four hands
  • varying attributes

18

Khendra – Digambara
Yakṣendra – Śvetāmbara

  • six heads
  • 12 hands
  • varying vehicles, including conch shell, peacock, bull and snake

Ajitā – Digambara

  • swan as vehicle
  • four hands
  • varying attributes


Dhāriṇī – Śvetāmbara

  • seated on a lotus
  • four hands
  • varying attributes

19

Kubera

  • four faces
  • eight hands
  • rainbow colour
  • elephant or lion as vehicle
  • varying attributes

Aparajitā – Digambara

  • lion as vehicle
  • four hands
  • varying attributes


Dharaṇapriyā or Vairoṭyā – Śvetāmbara

  • seated on a lotus
  • four hands
  • varying attributes

20

Varuṇa

  • eight heads
  • four faces
  • three eyes and matted hair
  • hands:
    • four – Digambara
    • eight – Śvetāmbara
  • bull as vehicle
  • varying attributes

Bahurūpiṇī – Digambara

  • black snake as vehicle
  • four hands
  • varying attributes


Naradattā – Śvetāmbara

  • splendid throne or lion as vehicle
  • four hands
  • varying attributes

21

Bhṛkuṭi

  • four faces
  • eight hands
  • bull as vehicle
  • varying attributes

Cāmuṇḍī – Digambara

  • dolphin or crocodile as vehicle
  • four hands
  • varying attributes


Gāndhārī – Śvetāmbara

  • swan as vehicle
  • four hands
  • varying attributes

22

Gomedha

  • three faces
  • six hands
  • man or flower as vehicle
  • varying attributes

Ambikā or Kūṣmāṇḍī or Kūṣmāṇḍinī
Digambara

  • lion as vehicle
  • two hands
  • varying attributes depending on the number of hands, which range from two, four or eight to multi-armed


Śvetāmbara

  • lion as vehicle
  • bunch of mangoes, noose, child and goad
  • varying attributes depending on the number of hands, which range from two, four or eight to multi-armed

23

Pārśva or Mātanga – Digambara
Pārśva or Dharaṇendra – Śvetāmbara

  • snakehoods, snake attributes
  • tortoise as vehicle
  • sometimes elephant-headed – Śvetāmbara

Padmāvatī
Digambara

  • several attributes depending on the number of hands


Śvetāmbara

  • snake and cock as vehicles
  • holding a lotus, noose, fruit and goad

24

Mātanga

  • two hands
  • elephant as vehicle, corresponding to the meaning of his name
  • wheel of the law – dharma-cakra – above his head – Digambara

Siddhayikā

Digambara

  • lion or elephant or splendid throne as vehicle
  • two hands holding a book and making the favour-giving hand-gesture


Śvetāmbara

  • lion as vehicle
  • four hands holding a book, citrus fruit and lute and making the hand-gesture of safety

Links to Jina emblems

Contemporary Śvetāmbara image of Padmāvatī. The yakṣī – female attendant deity – of the 23rd Jina, Lord Pārśva, Padmāvatī is connected with snakes and wealth. She is one of the most important goddesses among both Digambara and Śvetāmbara sects.

Śvetāmbara image of Padmāvatī
Image by hedonia – Ruchi © CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

As the pairs of yakṣas and yakṣīs are attendants on the Jinas, it is to be expected that their depictions have some connection with the Jinas’ emblems – the lāñchanas. This is largely accurate but there are many instances where there appears to be little such association between the artistic depiction of the Jinas and their attendants.

There are many examples of a clear link between a Jina's emblem and his attendant deity, such as the emblem of the:

  • first Jina, Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha, which is the bull, and the name of his yakṣa, Gomukha, which means 'bull-headed'
  • sixth Jina, Padmaprabhanātha or Lord Padmaprabha, which is the red lotus flower, and the name of his yakṣa, Kusuma, meaning ‘flower’
  • 23rd Jina, Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva, which is the snake, and the association of both his attendants with snakes
  • 24th Jina, Mahāvīra, which is the lion, and the vehicle of his yakṣī, Siddhayikā, which is also the lion.

Independent deities

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

Yakṣas and yakṣīs are primarily seen as attendants of the Jinas but some have grown into deities at the heart of their own cults. Mostly female, these figures have roles as guardian goddesses of Jain pilgrimage sites. Changes in their representation in artwork over the centuries reflect their rising status. These independent divinities are also the subject of Tantric worship that appeases the destructive side of their nature while gaining their favour.

The 24 Jinas are models and represent the ideal of liberation and perfection. Hence Jains theoretically do not approach them with requests for earthly favours, simply offering praises to the Jinas as perfected souls. However, many Jains worship deities with a view to asking them for help in worldly affairs, such as:

  • good health or recovery from illness
  • the birth of children, especially sons
  • success in business
  • good luck
  • wealth.

The yakṣas and yakṣīs are intermediates between devotees and the Jinas. As gods, yakṣas and yakṣīs are souls trapped in the cycle of rebirth, just as humans are, yet they have divine powers that allow them to bestow favours upon devotees.

All the 24 yakṣas and yakṣīs do not have the same status, however. Some of them have developed into independent figures who have become the focus of specific cults. The most prominent are described in individual articles.

Yakṣas or yakṣīs worshipped as independent deities

Independent deity

Jina

Cakreśvarī or Apraticakrā

first Jina, Ṛṣabha

Jvālāmālinī

eighth Jina, Candraprabha

Brahmadeva

tenth Jina, Śītala

Ambikā or Kūṣmāṇḍinī

22nd Jina, Nemi

Padmāvatī

23rd Jina, Pārśva

Except for one, all these figures are female deities or goddesses. Indeed, they are much more in the foreground than their male counterparts in the process examined here. The influence of Hinduism, with its emphasis on goddesses as partly mother figures, is one reason for this development. Another factor is the popularity of the devotional movements – bhakti – in the religious atmosphere of medieval India. But

these Jaina goddess cults were not just Jaina incorporations of Hindu deities into lay Jaina devotional practices. The Jaina goddess cults were an integral part of both lay and monastic religious belief and practice, and the Jaina goddess traditions constitute a distinct strand within the complex history of goddess worship in India

Cort 1987, page 236

Innovations are another explanation. Sometimes these are regional, as found in Tamil Nadu and Karnatak, but need further scholarly exploration. A case in point is the cult of Jvālāmālinī.

These independent goddesses are associated with specific holy places, which they are supposed to protect. Prominent examples include connections between:

The development of their cults is linked to the growth of these centres of pilgrimage.

Artistic changes

The popular goddess Ambikā as a colourful Śvetāmbara image. Her divine vehicle of a lion and her divine attributes of mangoes and children are clearly visible. A small figure of the 22nd Jina Nemi, to whom Ambikā is the yakṣī, is above her head.

Śvetāmbara figure of Ambikā
Image by Shanammumbai © CC BY-SA 3.0

Although these deities embody Jain principles, frequently they are depicted in art holding weapons in their often multiple hands, as do warrior goddesses. This disturbs the notion of non-violence, which is one of the core tenets of Jain belief. Evidence shows that in the tenth century their worship was already well established and important.

Changes in the artistic portrayal of these deities also testifies to their growing religious importance. Usually, yakṣas and yakṣīs – and other figures – are shown much smaller than a Jina and are posed in subordinate positions in the sculpture or painting. These cult goddesses are in some cases represented below their corresponding Jinas. But an independent yakṣī tends to be a larger size than yakṣas and yakṣīs usually are, with the appropriate Jina seated above her.

Tantric rituals

These independent divinities are associated with magic or occult practices in addition to the usual range of Jain ceremonies. Hence there are Tantric modes of worship connected with them, which are intended to encourage the deities to act benevolently. If they are not worshipped correctly, they may cause harm.

A Tantric ritual has six ritual aims – ṣaṭkarman – which the practitioner may target individually or as a set. In Jain Tantra they are (Cort 1987: 245–246):

  1. pacification, or curing or countering bad influence – śānti
  2. subjugation, or gaining control over another person in order to fulfil one’s own desire – vaśya
  3. immobilisation, or preventing or stopping the actions of other people – stambhana
  4. producing enmity or causing victims to come into conflict with each other – vidveṣaṇa
  5. displacement or causing victims to flee – uccāṭana
  6. attracting or subjugating women – strī-ākṛṣṭi.

All this suggests propitiatory rites meant to invite the benevolence of the deities. Worshippers invoke the divinities under their different names and visualise them using mantras to assist meditation. They perform various rites with the help of yantras, intended to appease evil forces and win the favour of the goddess. Some of the names used may point to the deity’s destructive capacities if she is not properly worshipped. This is a way to gain her good will.

Besides conciliatory rituals, there are also gruesome rites close to black magic, which imply that the terrifying form of the deity is visualised. Such mantras, yantras and rites are given in works that take the form of hymns of praise or, more often, of texts called kalpas. Written in Sanskrit, these set out rituals and yantras for efficient and successful worship. They were composed from the 11th century onwards by various authors.

For good collections of original texts with Gujarati explanations or paraphrases see Nawab 1996 and 1998. For an introduction to Tantric worship in Jainism see Jhavery 1944. This area is in need of further scholarly exploration.

Images

  • Early yakṣī A sandstone yakṣī or yakṣiṇī from an early Jain site at Mathurā. Dating from the second century, the statue represents Vrikshaka, a guardian goddess. Yakṣas and yakṣīs were probably originally nature deities that protected auspicious trees and rural shrines, and have gradually become absorbed into the religious systems of India.. Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
  • Mahāvīra and Śūlapāṇi This manuscript painting shows the yakṣa Śūlapāṇi trying to interrupt Mahāvīra’s meditation. The ascetic Mahāvīra is staying in a village dubbed Asthikagrāma, called 'the bone village' because Śūlapāṇi has killed so many people. The malevolent yakṣa fails to disturb Mahāvīra’s deep meditation so Śūlapāṇi finally admits his superiority.. Image by Wellcome Trust Library © Wellcome Library, London
  • Tree emblems of the Vyantara gods This manuscript painting shows the eight kinds of Vyantara gods and their tree emblems. The Vyantara semi-deities live between the highest hell and the middle world, where human beings live according to traditional Jain cosmology. Worshipped for worldly gains, the Vyantara gods are also found in Hinduism.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Pārśva and his entourage Śvetāmbara temple image of the 23rd Jina Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva and his attendants Dharaṇendra and Padmāvatī on each side of his legs, who form part of the entourage of the Jina image – parikara. The other statues sitting either side of the main image are Jinas, and are not part of Pārśva's entourage. Treatises on Jina iconography detail how a Jina is depicted but in practice Jina statues and their entourages can vary. . Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir
  • Mahāvīra and his yakṣas Outdoor statue of the 24th Jina Mahāvīra between his yakṣa Mātanga and his yakṣī Siddhayikā. There are offerings of rice on the long table in front of the image. A Jina is often depicted with his attendant deities on either side. They are śāsana-devatās – ‘deities of the teaching’ – who spread and protect the Jain doctrine.. Image by Romana Klee © CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Pārśva and his attendants Lord Pārśva stands between his śāsana-devatās – ‘deities of the teaching’ – in the centre of an intricately carved circular panel in Ranakpur temple. The attendant deities of a Jina are the yakṣa and his female counterpart, the yakṣī or yakṣiṇī. The 23rd Jina is sheltered under a large parasol of snakehoods while either side a pair of half-snake, half-human goddesses fan him with fly-whisks. Dharaṇendra and Padmāvatī are Pārśva's yakṣa and yakṣī and, unlike the Jina, act in the human world.. Image by BaboMike – Mike Rowe © CC BY-NC 2.0
  • Lord Pārśva and attendants This 11th-century image shows one of the most popular Jinas, the 23rd Jina Lord Pārśva, in meditation. He sits on a lotus throne beneath a shelter of characteristic snakehoods, which is in turn under the triple canopy of royalty. Attendants either side fan him with fly-whisks while below them sit his yakṣa Dharaṇendra and his yakṣī Padmāvatī.. Image by British Museum © The Trustees of the British Museum
  • Śvetāmbara image of Padmāvatī Contemporary Śvetāmbara image of Padmāvatī. The yakṣī – female attendant deity – of the 23rd Jina, Lord Pārśva, Padmāvatī is connected with snakes and wealth. She is one of the most important goddesses among both Digambara and Śvetāmbara sects and is the focus of individual worship.. Image by hedonia – Ruchi © CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
  • 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
  • Śvetāmbara figure of Ambikā The popular goddess Ambikā as a colourful contemporary image. Her divine vehicle of a lion and her divine attributes of mangoes and children are clearly visible. A small figure of the 22nd Jina Nemi, to whom Ambikā is the yakṣī or female attendant deity, is above her head. . Image by Shanammumbai © CC BY-SA 3.0

Further Reading

Āvaśyaka-Studien: Introduction générale et traductions
Nalini Balbir
Alt- und Neu-Indische Studien series; volume 45: 1
Franz Steiner Verlag; Stuttgart, Baden-Württemberg, Germany; 1993

Full details

The Antagaḍadasāo and Aṇuttarovavāiya-dasā
translated by Lionel D. Barnett
Royal Asiatic Society; London, United Kingdom; 1907

Full details

Yakṣas
A. K. Coomaraswamy
Smithsonian Institute; Washington DC, USA; 1927 and 1931

Full details

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

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

Śrī Kuṣmāṇḍinī Devī: Śravaṇa Belgola
Vidyullatā Vidyādhar Deśmāne
Shri Kailascandra A. Randive; Mumbai, Maharashtra, India; 1987

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

Life in Ancient India as depicted in Jaina Canon and Commentaries: 6th Century BC to 17th Century AD
Jagdischchandra Jain
Munshiram Manoharlal; Delhi, India; 1984

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

Atiśay Kṣetra Hombuj
Bhuvanhalli Ḍi. Śrīpatī Joyis
Siddhāntakīrti Granthmālā; Hombuja, Karnataka, India; 1996

Full details

Die Kosmographie der Inder: nach den Quellen dargestellt
Willibald Kirfel
Georg Olms; Hildesheim, Lower Saxony, Germany; 1967

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

The Jina Images of Deogarh
Klaus Bruhn
E. J. Brill; Leiden, Netherlands; 1969

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

Pravacanasāroddhāra
Nemicandrasūri
translated by Sādhvī Hemaprabhāśrī
Prakrit Bharati Academy; Jaipur, Rajasthan, India; 1999

Full details

‘Āyāgapaṭas: Characteristics, Symbolism and Chronology’
Sonya Quintanilla
Artibus Asiae
volume 60
2000

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

‘The Brahmadeva Pillars: An Inquiry into the Origin and Nature of the Brahmadeva Worship among the Digambara Jains’
S. Settar
Artibus Asiae
volume 33
1971

Full details

‘Chakreśvarī in Karnatak Literature and Art’
S. Settar
Oriental Art (N.S.)
volume 17
1971

Full details

Akota Bronzes
Umakant Premanand Shah
State Board for Historical Record and Ancient Monuments: Archaeological series; volume 1
Department of Archaeology, Government of Bombay; Bombay, Maharashtra, India; 1959

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

The Jain Saga: 63 Illustrious Persons of the Jain World, Brief History of Jainism
Hemacandra
translated by Helen M. Johnson
edited by Muni Samvegayashvijayji Maharaj
Acharya Shrimad Vijay Ramchandra Suriswarji Jain Pathshala; Ahmedabad, Gujarat and Mumbai, Maharashtra, India; 2009

Full details

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

Full details

Ambikā in Jaina Art and Literature
Maruti Nandan Prasad Tiwari
Bharatiya Jnanpith; New Delhi, India; 1989

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

Triṣaṣṭiśalākapuruṣacaritra: Lives of the Sixty-three Illustrious Persons
Hemacandra
translated by Helen M. Johnson
Gaekwad's Oriental series; volume 2
Oriental Institute; Baroda, Gujarat, India; 1937

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

Aṅga

Literally 'limb' in Sanskrit, Aṅga is a term for the first category of 11 texts that form the Śvetāmbara scriptures. There were originally 12 but the last has been lost for centuries.

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.

Bhakti

From the Sanskrit for 'devotion', the bhakti movement originated in the late medieval period. It revolved around the emotional experience of devotion to religious figures and gods, stressing that caste, ritual and complex religious philosophy were unimportant compared to expressing overwhelming love for the deities. Showing this by repeatedly chanting the deity’s name is a powerful devotional practice, because the chanter both praises the god and moves nearer to spiritual self-realisation. These emotional experiences were often recorded in poetry and hymns, which became a repertoire of devotional hymns for later devotees.

Buddhism

The religion founded by Buddha, often called the 'Middle Way' between the self-indulgence of worldly life and the self-mortification of a very ascetic way of life. Buddhism has similarities to Jain belief but some significant differences. For example, Buddhists hold that the world around us is a short-lived illusion and do not believe in individual, everlasting souls.

Caitya

Sacred enclosure, temple.

Commentary

An essay explaining a text. Commentaries on the scriptures are common in the Jain tradition and there are various types, including the:

  • bālāvabodha
  • bhāṣya
  • cūrṇi
  • niryukti
  • ṭīkā.

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.

Congregation

A gathering of believers that has come together to perform group acts of worship.

Cosmology

A belief system about the universe that covers its origin, structure and parts, and natural laws and characteristics such as space, time, causality and freedom.

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.

Detachment

Not feeling attached to any things, people or emotions in the world, whether positive or negative. Jains believe that detachment from the world is necessary to progress spiritually towards the ultimate aim of freeing the soul from the cycle of rebirth.

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.

Digambara

'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.

Disciple

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

Doctrine

A principle or system of teachings, especially religious philosophy.

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.

Festival

A public commemoration of a religious ritual. Often a celebration that involves holding a religious ceremony to mark an important event in a religion's history. 

Gujarāt

The westernmost state in India, which is a stronghold of Śvetāmbara Jainism.

Gujarati

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.

Haṃsa

The Sanskrit term haṃsa is used for a goose or swan. It is associated with the qualities of wisdom, purity, divine knowledge, detachment and the highest spiritual achievements. The haṃsa is the vāhana or mount of the Hindu goddess Sarasvatī, patron of learning, music and the arts.

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.

Hinduism

The majority faith in India, often called Sanātana Dharma or Eternal Law. With no single named founder, Hinduism has a pantheon of gods and a range of different beliefs. Most Hindu traditions revere the Veda literature but there is no single system of salvation or belief, although many Hindus believe in the soul, karma, the cycle of births and liberation. Large Hindu communities exist in southern Asia, with smaller groups across the world.

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.

Indra

Sanskrit word for 'king' and the name of the king of the gods in the Saudharma heaven. Called Śakra by Śvetāmbaras and known as Saudharma to Digambaras, this deity is involved in all five auspicious moments – kalyāṇakas – in a Jina's life.

Invocation

A formula or prayer calling upon a deity or authority to bring blessings and protection. Invocations are frequently found at the beginning of Jain texts.

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.

Jīva

Sanskrit for 'self', 'soul' or 'that which is sentient'. It makes up the universe along with ajīva, or non-sentient material substance. It is a material substance that changes in size according to the body it inhabits in each life. It is born in different bodies in various places in the Jain universe based on karma from earlier lives. The soul is liberated from the cycle of birth when it has achieved spiritual purity and omniscience. Also called ātma or ātman.

Kalpa-sūtra

The Book of Ritual attributed to Bhadrabāhu. It has three sections:

  1. 'Jina-caritra' – 'Lives of the Jinas'
  2. 'Sthavirāvalī' – 'String of Elders'
  3. 'Sāmācārī' – 'Right Monastic Conduct'.

A significant sacred text for Śvetāmbara Jains, the Kalpa-sūtra has a central role in the annual Paryuṣaṇ festival.

Kamaṭha

A Hindu ascetic associated with the life of the 23rd Jina, Pārśva. Sometimes described as a heretic in Jain sources, Kamaṭha practises the penance of the 'five fires'.

Karnataka

State in south-west India.

Kevala-jñāna

Omniscience, enlightenment or perfect knowledge – the highest of the five types of knowledge, where one knows everything wherever and whenever it is. It is extremely difficult to attain, equivalent to the 13th stage of spiritual purity in the guṇa-sthāna. Digambaras believe only men can achieve it whereas Śvetāmbaras believe that both men and women can become enlightened.

Laity

Believers in a religion who are ordinary worshippers, not clergy or members of religious orders. In Jainism, lay people are often called 'householders', indicating that they live in houses and have domestic responsibilities, unlike ascetics.

Lāñchana

The distinctive emblem of a given Jina. For example Ṛṣabha has a bull while Mahāvīra has a lion. These are commonly depicted under statues of the Jinas. Since this practice does not seem to have been known early on, perhaps it was influenced by the Hindu environment, where each god has his typical vehicle or emblem.

Loka

The universe in Jain cosmology, composed of the upper, middle and lower worlds. Human beings can live only in part of the Middle World.

Lotus

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.

Mahāvīra

The 24th Jina of the present age. His symbolic colour is yellow and his emblem the lion. Mahāvīra or 'the great hero' is his title. His birth name was Vardhamāna, meaning 'ever increasing'. His existence is historically documented but the two main sects of Digambara and Śvetāmbara Jains have slight differences in their accounts of his life.

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.

Naraka

Hell. There are seven levels of hells in the lower world of Jain cosmology.

Pārśva

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.

Pilgrimage

A journey to a place of religious significance. Some religions encourage pilgrimage as ways to advance spiritual progress and deepen the faith of those who make the trip – pilgrims.

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.

Pratiṣṭhā

Ritual installation of an idol in a temple. A new statue or picture is often the centre of a noisy procession through the streets to the temple, where a ceremony to consecrate the image takes place. Public rejoicing surrounds the pratiṣṭhā.

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.

Rosary

String of beads used by devotees to help them count the number of prayers or chants they are repeating.

Ṛṣabha

First Jina of the present age. His symbolic colour is gold and his emblem the ox or bull. There is little historical evidence of his existence. Jains believe that he established many social institutions, such as marriage and the caste system, and introduce crafts and agriculture to the people.

Saṃsāra

Cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth caused by karma binding to the soul as a result of activities. Only by destroying all karma can this perpetual cycle finish in mokṣa – liberation. The karma gained in life affects the next life, and even future lives, for example:

  • in which of the three worlds the life is lived out
  • which of four conditions – gati – the body takes, namely human, divine, hellish or as a plant or animal.

Sanctuary

The most sacred area of a temple, church or religious building, often where the image of a deity is housed and worshipped. An outdoor space that is associated with a deity may also be considered a sanctuary.

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.

Sect

An organised group of believers in a religion, often distinguished from other groups within the same religious faith who have differences of doctrine or practice.

Shrine

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.

Śvetāmbara

'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.

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.

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.

Vihāra

A Sanskrit term that describes the wandering lifestyle of Jain mendicants. Jain monks and nuns are expected to travel around, not stay in one place as householders do. They wander constantly on foot, never staying more than a few days in one place. They may walk around 30 kilometres a day in small groups. However, every year, during the monsoon, monks and nuns stay in one location to avoid travelling.

Vyantara

A category of deities that lives between the first hell and the earth. There are eight types of Vyantara. They are the second type of gods and are recognisable by their various symbols.

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.

EXT:mediabrowse Processing Watermark

Related Manuscript Images

http://www.jainpedia.org/themes/practices/deities/yaksas-and-yaksis/mediashow/print.html - All text is © JAINpedia / Institute of Jainology 2019 under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 licence The Jain universe online at www.jainpedia.org

Unless images are explicitly stated as either public domain or licensed under a Creative Commons licence, all images are copyrighted. See individual images for details of copyright.