Article: Story of Yaśodhara

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

The Story of Yaśodhara is one of the most important Jain tales and has been passed down through the centuries in all the languages Jains have used. It is a good representative of religious teaching in narrative form – dharma-kathā. Its importance comes from the fact that it shows very clearly the working of karma and rebirth and refers to key concepts in these notions, such as violence – hiṃsā – both factual and intentional, and desire or greediness. Ultimately, all the protagonists will become pious Jains and will be emancipated.

In addition, the tale is interesting from a wider religious angle because it shows the rivalry between Jainism and Hinduism – or, more precisely, Śaivism – and their ways of worship. Another striking point is how frequently animals appear in the story -– as potential sacrificial victims or as possible forms of rebirths.

The story is eventful, colourful and sad or even gloomy in places. Human feelings and reactions are finely depicted through the various episodes, happy or unhappy, that make up life. All the ingredients for a vivid story are found in the tale of Yaśodhara. The tale has also inspired rich visuals, found in several illustrated manuscripts, all created in Digambara circles (Doshi 1985, Garg 1991).

The version composed by the Digambara poet Raidhū in the 15th century is one of the highlights of JAINpedia. Copies of the Jasahara-cariu, as it is known, are rare even in India so the manuscript held in the Wellcome Trust in London is a precious example, especially as this version of the story is not yet published. Even though it is not a complete manuscript and little is known about it, the Wellcome Jasahara-cariu showcases some fine paintings. Like other versions of the tale of Yaśodhara, the Jasahara-cariu is a major source of Digambara illustrated manuscripts.

The story

Śaiva ascetic Bhairava gives orders to King Māridatta. The king is so enthralled by the ascetic that he gives Bhairava trappings of high status and accepts his orders. Māridatta tells his men to bring pairs of animals for sacrifice, as Bhairava wishes.

Bhairavānanda commands the king
Image by Wellcome Trust Library © Wellcome Library, London

King Māridatta of Rājapura learns that a Śaiva ascetic called Bhairavānanda has reached his city. Bhairavānanda possesses superhuman powers so the king invites him to the palace and asks whether he could develop such powers.

The ascetic says he could, provided the king makes sacrifices to the goddess Caṇḍamārī, with offerings of a male and female of every living species.

The king assembles such pairs. However, when Bhairavānanda is about to start the ritual, he notices there is no human pair ready for sacrifice. The king dispatches his men to bring him a man and a woman.

Two Jain novices brought for sacrifice

It so happens that the king’s men come across a pair of young Jain ascetics, a boy named Abhayaruci and his twin sister, Abhayamati. They have come into the neighbourhood of Rājapura with a group of Jain monks led by Sudatta.

The men take the young ascetics to the temple of Caṇḍamārī to be sacrificed.

King Māridatta is intrigued by the noble behaviour of the two young ascetics and urges the boy to tell their story. He finally agrees to do so, telling all the episodes of their earlier lives up to the present one. Abhayaruci says that they are rebirths of King Yaśodhara and his mother Candramati.

In most versions of the tale, Abhayaruci narrates his previous births in the first person.

Tale of Yaśodhara begins

In Ujjayinī, the former king was Yaśogha or Yaśorha. He and his queen, Candramati, had a son named Yaśodhara. He becomes king after his father decides to renounce worldly life and become a monk. The young king's favourite queen is Amṛtamati.

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Related Manuscripts

  • Chapter 1 text

    Chapter 1 text

    Wellcome Trust Library. Beta 1471. Raïdhū. Perhaps 15th century

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