Article: Soḷ satī

A satī is a virtuous woman, usually showing her virtue through fidelity. In Hindu contexts, this faithfulness centres on the satī’s husband, but in Jain contexts it revolves around fidelity to the Jain religion. Although Jains call many virtuous Jain women satīs, among Śvetāmbara Jains there is a group of satīs called the soḷ satī or 16 satīs. These Jain satīs are revered as role models for women and their stories are widely known. Even though the general group of satī grows over time, the group of 16 satīs is unchanging.

As examples of the ideal Jain woman, lists of the satīs’ names are believed to invite good fortune. These lists therefore have ritual functions, serving as blessings and auspicious recitations. The Bharahesara nī Sajjhāy – a list of virtuous Jain men and women – is a major element in Śvetāmbara Jains’ morning confession or rāīa pratikramaṇ. This indicates the moral authority and religious influence of the notion of the satī.

Identifying the 16 satīs

This detail from a manuscript painting shows Princess Rājīmatī on her wedding day, awaiting her fiancé Prince Nemi. He decides to renounce the world and become a monk when he hears the cries of the animals about to be slaughtered for the marriage feast. T

Rājīmatī awaits her fiancé
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Jains conventionally group 16 satīs together. This list probably stems from a short hymn, often called Brāhmī Candanbālikā after its first line.

The 16 satīs are usually listed as follows:

  1. Brāhmī
  2. Sundarī
  3. Candanbālā
  4. Rājīmatī
  5. Draupadī
  6. Kausalyā
  7. Mṛgāvatī
  8. Sulasā
  9. Sītā
  10. Subhadrā
  11. Śivā
  12. Kuntī
  13. Damayantī
  14. Puṣpacūlā
  15. Prabhāvatī
  16. Padmāvatī.

Though there are occasional changes in the order of the names, this list is remarkably stable in Jain tradition.

Several of these 16 satīs, such as Candanbālā and Rājīmatī, are significant figures in traditional stories and feature in elements of Jain rituals in addition to their status as satīs. On the other hand, some of the best-known and most revered satīs, such as Rohiṇī, Añjanāsundarī and Mayṇāsundarī, are not included in the 16 satīs. The 16 satīs is a fixed list so other satīs, including later popular ones, are not included.

Differences between Jain and Hindu satīs

The 16 Jain satīs include five satīs shared with Hinduism. They are:

  1. Draupadī
  2. Kausalyā
  3. Sītā
  4. Kuntī
  5. Damayantī.

The very popular satī Añjanāsundarī is also a Hindu satī. Jains define satīs in ways that invoke ideals that are also found in Hindu satī notions about women’s fidelity and moral strength. However, there are important differences in the concept of the satī between the two faiths.

In Hindu contexts, the faithfulness that is at the heart of a woman’s identification as a satī centres on her husband, but in Jain contexts it revolves around loyalty to the Jain religion.

The same satī may appear in both Hindu and Jain versions but with subtly different emphases. For example, Jainism has a long tradition of telling the Hindu Rāma story and so Rāma‘s wife Sītā appears in a wide array of Jain texts. However, the Jain versions of these satī tales conform to Jain ethics and virtues by stressing renunciation, non-violence and the veneration of Jinas and Jain monks.

Jains share with Hindus common ideas relating to satīs, such as:

  • pativratā – a wife who vows to be devoted to her husband
  • saubhāgya – the auspiciousness of a wife whose husband is alive.

A major exception is the Hindu satīmātā and her death on her husband’s funeral pyre. Jains clearly reject any ideas of bodily self-sacrifice for two reasons. Firstly, the passion involved in such an act goes against the Jain ideal of detachment. Secondly, they reject the self-immolation because of its profound violence.

The Jain satīs embrace austerities for their own benefit and that of others, but do so with the expectation that ultimately these austerities will work towards their own liberation. This fidelity to religion often leads to renunciation of the worldly life in favour of nunhood, but not always.

The ideal of the devoted wife is a powerful part of the model woman for Jains, especially regarding the wife’s virtue. This aspect is found in many Jain satīs. In contrast to Hindu satīs, Jain satīs include virtuous women whose virtue becomes plain in their renunciation both before and after marriage.

Ritual uses of satī lists

The notion of the virtuous woman is very influential in the Jain faith. Lists of exemplary Jain womanhood provide female Jains with models of religious devotion and behaviour. The satī lists are also used in important rites familiar to nearly all Śvetāmbara Jains.

There are two ritual uses associated with lists of satīs.

The most important is the recitation of the Bharahesara nī Sajjhāy as part of the morning confessionpratikramaṇ. The Bharahesara nī Sajjhāy is a list of 100 virtuous Jain men and women and is a fixed part of the daily ritual. Its key role suggests that the virtues of women alongside those of virtuous men are valuable in the rites of karma reduction. All Śvetāmbara mendicants recite the confession every day and pious lay people and fasters also make a morning confession.

Secondly, satī lists establish a catalogue of female virtue that can be used as a type of auspiciousness. The Brāhmī Candanbālikā, Soḷ Satī no Chand and other satī lists usually function as auspicious texts – māṅgalik. Recounting one of these lists blesses the start of a sermon or other religious event. Jains also often recite the lists in the morning to begin the day auspiciously.

In addition, some individual satīs in the 16 satīs are associated with independent rituals. For example Candanbālā is linked to the Candanbālā Fast and Rājīmatī is both the model for women’s renunciation and is linked to the Saubhāgya Pañcamī Fast.

References in Jain writings

Jains label many virtuous Jain women satīs but the soḷ satī or 16 satīs form a special class. The group of 16 satīs is the subject of several well-known texts.

The category of soḷ satī probably derives from a short hymn listing 16 satīs, routinely called Brāhmī Candanbālikā after its first line. Śvetāmbara Jain mendicants often recite it in the morning.

In the early 18th century Udayratna wrote a longer hymn, the Soḷ Satī no Chand. It includes one verse for each of the 16 satīs and suggests that their names should be recited in the morning. This hymn is widely published in hymnbooks.

In addition, the concept of the 16 satīs is often used as an organising principle for collections of satī stories.

Other lists of virtuous Jains

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
Image by Chandu Shah © Chandu Shah

Although over time popular satīs are added to fresh lists and collections, the members of the 16 satīs remain the same. The notion of the 16 satīs has led to the creation of similar lists of virtuous figures in Jain literature.

The traditional Bharahesara nī Sajjhāy includes a list of virtuous men followed by a list of 47 virtuous women, called satīs. It includes all of the 16 satīs and forms an important part of the morning confession.

There is an extensive commentary written for this text, the Bharateśvara Bāhubalī Vṛttiḥ. Composed in 1453, the commentary includes separate accounts for each person named in the text.

The Bharahesara nī Sajjhāy must have been created before this commentary but could be considerably older.

There are later hymns listing virtuous men and women that are clearly modelled on these earlier lists. One example is Jñānvimal-sūri’s Satāsatī nī Sajjhāy, dating back to the late 17th or early 18th century.


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