Article: Añjanāsundarī

The Jain satī Añjanā is also known as Añjanāsundarī. She is a major character in the Jain tellings of the Hindu Rāma story. In both Jain and Hindu sources, she is the mother of the demi-god Hanumān although there are significant differences between the versions. Outside the Rāmāyaṇa context, Añjanā’s story has appeared in Jain popular literature for hundreds of years as an example of marital fidelity in a bad marriage.

Añjanā is usually considered to be a satī even though she is not one of the 16 satīs. Her story illustrates the spiritual powers to be gained from religious devotion and patient endurance in difficult situations, especially a bad marriage. These themes are commonly found in the stories of the satīs, who act as inspirations to Jain women.

Story of Añjana

This detail of a painting in a manuscript dating from 1726 shows groups of women in separate rooms. They watch a visitor arrive at the house but stay in their private apartments as custom commands

Women in a house
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Añjanā married Pavanañjay, but before the marriage was consummated he overheard a conversation that led him to reject her.

One of Añjanā’s friends said that her husband was better than Pavanañjay. Añjanā’s best friend defended Pavanañjay, but Añjanā remained silent throughout the argument between her friends. Pavanañjay interpreted his new wife’s silence as a kind of rejection and was so insulted that he did not come to her on their wedding night to consummate the marriage.

Bewildered, Añjanā tried to figure out what she had done in this life or a past life that made her new husband indifferent to her. Her friends told her to complain to her husband or mother-in-law. She refused, saying that this was her fate.

Añjanā stayed with her in-laws and loved Pavanañjay from a distance even though he continued to reject her. Añjanā lived her married life without ever seeing her husband even once. Pavanañjay was a virtuous man in spite of his behaviour towards his wife. He also led a celibate life.

Reconciliation between husband and wife

After 21 years passed Pavanañjay went to war and left Añjanā without a word. He refused even her wifely farewell blessing. Añjanā began a strict fast to correct the bad karma that had led to her unhappy fate.

The night before the battle, Pavanañjay heard the pitiful wailing of a bird mourning its beloved. He felt pity for his wife and returned to his parents’ house to see her for the first time. He arrived secretly at night and their marriage was then consummated. Pavanañjay left in the morning without seeing his parents.

Before he left to rejoin his fellow soldiers, Añjanā asked him how she could prove herself virtuous if she found out she were pregnant. Pavanañjay said that he could not admit to having come back from battle or he would be called a coward. However, he gave her a ring and told her to keep it safe in case of an emergency.

Añjana is cast out

Añjanā had amassed significant power – śakti – from the austerities of being celibate for 21 years and so she conceived a child that night.

When her pregnancy became visible, people started to talk. Pavanañjay’s parents did not believe her story that he had secretly visited her the night before battle. When Añjanā showed them the ring, they claimed that she had stolen it. They drove her from their house in shame, thinking she was unfaithful, and sent her back to her parents’ house.

When Añjanā’s father heard that she was pregnant he assumed the child was illegitimate. He barred her from the palace of her birth.

Thus Añjanā and her best friend wandered the jungles until the child was born.

When Añjanā’s uncle heard that she was in the jungle, he insisted that she come to live with him until Pavanañjay returned.

Pavanañjay returns

When Pavanañjay returned, he was devastated to hear that his wife had been thrown out of the house. He looked for her everywhere but in vain.

He gave up the search and went to burn himself to death on a funeral pyre, as atonement for sending Añjanā to her death.

At the last second, his father came and told him that Añjanā was living with her uncle and they went to fetch her.

Once they found Añjanā she immediately forgave everyone, saying that all this suffering was on account of her past karma.

Pavanañjay and Añjanā lived happily ever after, renounced at the end of their lives and reached liberation.

References in Jain writings

A Jain lay woman holds up her hands and bows her head in devotion. Jains do not ask for things when they pray. For Jains praying is always joyful and means reverencing the qualities and example of the Jinas

Woman praying
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Añjanā is a major figure in the Jain Rāmāyaṇa tradition. The tale of Añjanā is also found in numerous other sources, some dating back hundreds of years, while modern accounts remain popular.

The initial source of Añjanā’s story is the Hindu Rāmāyaṇa story though the Jain version has some major differences from the Hindu account. The oldest Jain telling of Añjanā is part of the fourth-century Paūmicariyam.

The story’s main theme of marital devotion in an unhappy marriage means it is popular as an example of marital fidelity in a bad marriage. This fits in with the tales of the satīs, whose loyalty to their husbands, virtuous behaviour and religious piety are key to their roles as model women. Although she is not one of the 16 satīs – soḷ satī – Añjanā is listed in the Āvaśyaka-sūtra as a sati.

Añjana in the Jain ‘Ramayaṇa’

The most significant Jain telling of Añjanā’s story is found in the poem Paūmicariyam. Composed by Vimala-sūri in the fourth century, the Paūmicariyam tells the story of Añjanāsundarī in cantos 15 to 18.

For both Jains and Hindus Añjanāsundarī is the mother of Hanumān but the Jain version is quite different. Two examples clearly demonstrate this.

Firstly, Hindus know Hanumān as the king of the monkeys who helps Rāma rescue his wife Sītā from the demon-king Rāvaṇa. In the Jain versions of the Rāmāyaṇa neither Añjanā nor Hanumān is a monkey. In the Jain telling Añjanā is human while Pavanañjay is a demi-godvidhyā-dhara – and so is Hanumān.

Secondly, in Vālmīki’s Rāmāyaṇa in Kiskindha Kāṇḍa 66, Añjanā is married to the monkey Kesarin. She is grabbed by Vāyu, the god of the wind. He seduces her with promises of a semi-divine son and thus Hanumān is conceived. In the Hindu story, it is therefore Añjanā’s infidelity that blesses her with her son, Hanumān. However, in some Jain versions Hanumān’s god-like strength is attributed to the power of his mother’s śakti rather than his father or his half demi-god parentage.

Thus the emphasis in the Jain account is on Jain values, in which practising celibacy and fidelity leads to great spiritual power, and it is Añjanā who displays the greatest virtue.

Other written sources

This painting from an 18th-century Ādityavāra-kathā manuscript depicts ladies venerating a monk. Though he is dressed in white, like a Śvetāmbara monk, the mendicant is of the Digambara sect. His water pot and broom nearby, the monk sits on a low platform

Ladies pay their respects to a monk
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Outside the Rāmāyaṇa context, Añjanā’s story has appeared in popular Jain didactic literature over the centuries and contemporary accounts are widespread. The tale of Añjanā offers a template for marital fidelity in a difficult marriage and is another example of a satī or virtuous Jain woman.

Versions appear in medieval anthologies of stories, such as Śubhaśila-gaṇi’s 15th-century Bharateśvar Bāhubalī Vṛttiḥ. The story forms part of the Rāma story in collections of Jain universal history, such as Book 7 of Hemacandra’s 12th-century Trīśaśṭi-śalāka-puruṣa-caritra.

Contemporary Jain satī narrative collections tend to remove Añjanā’s story from the frame of the Rāmāyaṇa and contextualise her with other Jain satīs, highlighting the characteristics of the notion of the satī. Tellings in contemporary collections and single volumes dedicated to the story of Añjanā abound.

Reading

Paūmicariyam
Ācārya Vimala-sūri
translated by Hermann Jacobi
Prakrit Text Society; Varanasi, India; 1962

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Triṣaṣṭiśalākapuruṣacaritra: Lives of the Sixty-three Illustrious Persons
Hemacandra
translated by Helen M. Johnson
Gaekwad’s Oriental series; volume 3
Oriental Institute; Baroda, Gujarat, India; 1949

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Heroic Wives: Rituals, Stories and the Virtues of Jain Wifehood
M. Whitney Kelting
Oxford University Press USA; New York, USA; 2009

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The Rāmāyaṇa of Vālmīki
Vālmīki
translated by Hari Prasad Shastri
Shantisadan; London, UK; 1962

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