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.
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.
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
Yakṣas and yakṣīs
Number of associated Jina
Names of the Hindu god Kārttikeyya or Varuṇa
Usually refers to celestial deities associated with music in the Hindu tradition
Hybrid deities with a human body and the head of a horse
With its non-Sanskritic phonetic look, this name is that of a musician deity outside the Jain tradition
Also members of another group of Jain female deities, the vidyā-devīs – ‘goddesses of magical powers’
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
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
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.
Name of Vyantara gods
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.
banyan tree – vaṭa
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
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 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:
- the first Jina, Ṛṣabha
- the 22nd Jina, Neminātha or Lord Nemi
- the 23rd Jina, Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva
- the 24th Jina, Mahāvīra
Puṣpadanta or Suvidhi
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
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:
- Gamma 453 at the Wellcome Library
- Or. 12744 at the British Library
- Or. 5149 at the British Library
- IS 46-1959 at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
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
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.
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.
Rohiṇī – Digambara
Prajñapti – Digambara
Yakṣeśvara – Digambara
Vajraśṛnkhalā – Digambara
Kālikā – Śvetāmbara
Puruṣadattā – Digambara
Mahākālī – Śvetāmbara
Manovegā – Digambara
Acyutā – Śvetāmbara
Varanandī – Digambara
Mātanga – Śvetāmbara
Kālī – Digambara
Śāntā – Śvetāmbara
Śyāma – Digambara
Jvālāmālinī – Digambara
Bhṛkuṭi – Śvetāmbara
Mahākālikā – Digambara
Sutārā – Śvetāmbara
Mānavī – Digambara
Aśokā – Śvetāmbara
Īśvara – Digambara
Gaurī – Digambara
Mānavī – Śvetāmbara
Gāndhārī – Digambara
Caṇḍā or Candrā – Śvetāmbara
Vairoṭī or Vairoṭyā – Digambara
Viditā – Śvetāmbara
Anantamatī – Digambara
Ankuśā – Śvetāmbara
Mānasī – Digambara
Kandarpā – Śvetāmbara
Kiṃpuruṣa – Digambara
Mahāmānasī – Digambara
Nirvāṇī – Śvetāmbara
Vijayā – Digambara
Balā – Śvetāmbara
Khendra – Digambara
Ajitā – Digambara
Dhāriṇī – Śvetāmbara
Aparajitā – Digambara
Dharaṇapriyā or Vairoṭyā – Śvetāmbara
Bahurūpiṇī – Digambara
Naradattā – Śvetāmbara
Cāmuṇḍī – Digambara
Gāndhārī – Śvetāmbara
Ambikā or Kūṣmāṇḍī or Kūṣmāṇḍinī
Pārśva or Mātanga – Digambara
Links to Jina emblems
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.
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
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.
Cakreśvarī or Apraticakrā
first Jina, Ṛṣabha
eighth Jina, Candraprabha
tenth Jina, Śītala
22nd Jina, Nemi
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
These independent goddesses are associated with specific holy places, which they are supposed to protect. Prominent examples include connections between:
- Cakreśvarī and Mount Shatrunjaya in Gujarat
- Ambikā and Mount Girnar in Gujarat
- Padmāvatī and Shravana Belgola and Hombuja in Karnatak.
The development of their cults is linked to the growth of these centres of pilgrimage.
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.
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):
- pacification, or curing or countering bad influence – śānti
- subjugation, or gaining control over another person in order to fulfil one’s own desire – vaśya
- immobilisation, or preventing or stopping the actions of other people – stambhana
- producing enmity or causing victims to come into conflict with each other – vidveṣaṇa
- displacement or causing victims to flee – uccāṭana
- 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.
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- Alt- und Neu-Indische Studien series; volume 45: 1
Franz Steiner Verlag; Stuttgart, Baden-Württemberg, Germany; 1993
A. K. Coomaraswamy
- Smithsonian Institute; Washington DC, USA; 1927 and 1931
- The Jaina Iconography
B. C. Bhattacharya
- Motilal Banarsidass; Delhi, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh and Patna, Bihar in India; 1974
- ‘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
- Śrī Kuṣmāṇḍinī Devī: Śravaṇa Belgola
Vidyullatā Vidyādhar Deśmāne
- Shri Kailascandra A. Randive; Mumbai, Maharashtra, India; 1987
- The Jains
- Library of Religious Beliefs and Practices series; series editor John Hinnels and Ninian Smart; volume 14
Routledge Curzon Press; London, UK; 2002
- Life in Ancient India as depicted in Jaina Canon and Commentaries: 6th Century BC to 17th Century AD
- Munshiram Manoharlal; Delhi, India; 1984
- 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
- Die Kosmographie der Inder: nach den Quellen dargestellt
- Georg Olms; Hildesheim, Lower Saxony, Germany; 1967
- 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
- The Jina Images of Deogarh
- E. J. Brill; Leiden, Netherlands; 1969
- 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]
- Nawab Sarabhai Manilal; Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India; 1996
- translated by Sādhvī Hemaprabhāśrī
Prakrit Bharati Academy; Jaipur, Rajasthan, India; 1999
- Padmāvatī ādi śāsana devoṃ kā astitva hī nahīṃ
- Jain Saṃskr̥ti Saṃrakṣaṇ Samiti
- ‘The Cult of Jvālamālinī and the Earliest Images of Jvālā and Śyāmā’
- Artibus Asiae
volume 31: 4
- ‘The Brahmadeva Pillars: An Inquiry into the Origin and Nature of the Brahmadeva Worship among the Digambara Jains’
- Artibus Asiae
- ‘Chakreśvarī in Karnatak Literature and Art’
- Oriental Art (N.S.)
- Simhanagadde (Jvālamālinī) Kṣetra kā Saṃkṣipt Paricay
- Bastimath Enarpura; Enarpura, India; no date
- The Jain Saga: 63 Illustrious Persons of the Jain World, Brief History of Jainism
- translated by Helen M. Johnson
edited by Muni Samvegayashvijayji Maharaj
Acharya Shrimad Vijay Ramchandra Suriswarji Jain Pathshala; Ahmedabad, Gujarat and Mumbai, Maharashtra, India; 2009
- ‘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
- aAdvaita Vedānta
- aAhimsa Day
- aAkbar the Great
- aAlauddin Khalji
- aAlbert Einstein
- aAmbikā or Kūṣmāṇḍinī
- aArdhamāgadhī Prākrit
- aĀryikā Jñānamati
- bBraj Bhāṣā
- bBright fortnight
- bBritish Raj
- dDark fortnight
- dDelhi Sultanate
- eEast India Company
- eEightfold Path
- eEtc up to
- fFatehpur Sikri
- fFiruz Shah
- fFour Noble Truths
- gGhiyasuddin Tughlaq
- iIndian Independence
- iIndrabhūti Gautama
- jJaina Devanāgarī
- jJaina Śaurasenī
- jJames Burgess
- lLands of Action
- lLotus lake
- mMāhārāṣṭrī Prākrit
- mMahattarā Yākinī
- mMahāvīr Jayantī
- mMakkhali Gośāla
- mMendicant lineage
- mMohandas Gandhi
- mMonastic order
- mMount Meru
- mMount Sammeta
- mMuhammad bin Tughlaq
- mMurad Bakhsh
- nNāgapurīya Tapā-gaccha
- nniggaṃthāṇa vā 2
- nniggaṃtho vā 2
- oOcean of milk
- pPandit Dalsukh D. Malvania
- pPandit Sukhlalji
- rRainy season
- sSaciyā Mātā
- sSeven fields of donation
- sShah Jahan
- sShantidas Jhaveri
- sSiddhacakra or Navadevatā
- sSuyam me ausam! Tenam bhagavaya evamakkhayam
- sŚvetāmbara Terāpanthin
- tTāraṇ Svāmī Panth
- tThe Enlightenment
- tThree worlds
- tTti bemi
- uUniversal History
- vVirji Vora