Article: Story of Śālibhadra

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Śālibhadra's awakening

King Śreṇika shows his favour to Śālibhadra, by clasping him, in this illustration from a manuscript of the 'Dhanna-Śālibhadra-carita'. The people around rejoice at this mark of royal approval. But Śālibhadra has realised the emptiness of material power.

King Śreṇika clasps Śālibhadra
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Bhadrā informs her son that the king has arrived, according to the versions implying or stating that he is an important person who should be respected. This makes Śālibhadra reflect on what a real king would be and what real power is. This causes him to become aware of what being in the world requires and how it implies accepting subordination.

Yet he comes to pay his respects to King Śreṇika, as his mother wishes. However, when the king touches him, Śālibhadra, whose body is extremely tender, cannot bear his contact and, according to some versions, bursts into tears. The king returns to his palace, after having been sumptuously entertained by Bhadrā.

Śālibhadra's decision to turn to ascetic life

After listening to the Jain monk Dharmaghoṣa preaching, the young boy is determined to become a monk. However, his mother strongly opposes his decision so Śālibhadra decides to wait. But he renounces his wives one after the other.

Dhanya and Subhadrā

This manuscript illustration shows Subhadrā holding her husband's feet to stop him leaving his family responsibilities to become a monk. The women are Dhanya's wives, who are all unhappy with his decision.

Subhadrā grabs Dhanya's feet
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Śālibhadra’s sister, Subhadrā, is sad at the thought that her brother intends to renounce worldly life stage by stage. She shows her sadness in front of her husband Dhanya.

Dhanya thinks that there is no reason to postpone anything good. Subhadrā and his seven other wives mock him as a teacher who does not put his teaching into practice. He takes them at their word and decides to turn to ascetic life. His wives try to prevent him, but are unable to do so. They also decide to become mendicants.

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