Article: Story of Yaśodhara

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.

Yaśodhara discovers his betrayal

Amṛtamati falls in love with a hunch-backed elephant-keeper whose melodious singing has captured her heart. One night she leaves her bed to join her paramour, but the king follows her. He discovers the couple but does not reveal himself. Yaśodhara hears his wife tell her lover that she will pray to the goddess for her husband to die.

Yaśodhara is extremely disturbed but does not say anything. After that he cannot take any satisfaction in the pleasures of royal life.

Sacrificing a flour cockerel

This manuscript painting from the 'Jasahara-cariu' depicts King Yaśodhara after he has performed a sacrifice to the goddess Caṇḍamāri. Between the goddess and Yaśodhara is the cockerel he has just beheaded. Even though it is made of flour, it bleeds.

Yaśodhara performs the sacrifice
Image by Wellcome Trust Library © Wellcome Library, London

Yaśodhara goes to his mother Candramatī for help, saying that he wants to die because of a bad dream. He is about to commit suicide in front of her.

Candramatī promises to help by sacrificing a cockerel to the goddess Caṇḍamārī. Yaśodhara refuses this idea because he does not want to commit any violence.

Then his mother proposes making the sacrifice with a cockerel made of flour instead of a living bird. Yaśodhara accepts this suggestion.

They have a very lifelike cockerel made out of flour. Then they both go to the temple and perform the sacrifice.

Yaśodhara and Candramati die

This manuscript painting from the 'Jasahara-cariu' depicts the violent deaths of King Yaśodhara and his mother Candramatī at the hands of Queen Amṛtamati. She poisons them and then attacks her dying husband like a wild beast. The tale illustrates karma.

Amṛtamati kills Yaśodhara and Candramatī
Image by Wellcome Trust Library © Wellcome Library, London

Yaśodhara is still full of disgust at his wife’s betrayal. He decides to give the kingdom to his son Yaśomati and renounce worldly life.

His wife Amṛtamati puts on a show of great sadness. She pretends that she will accompany her husband in entering religious life.

Queen Amṛtamati invites Yaśodhara and Candramati to a final feast, where she serves them poisoned food. Candramati dies instantly.

While Yaśodhara lies on the ground in agony, Amṛtamati throws herself on him, weeping as if overcome with grief, and kills him.

Unaware of how they have died, Yaśomati performs funeral rites for his father and grandmother and becomes the king.

Parallel rebirths

This manuscript painting from the 'Jasahara-cariu' shows a peacock attacking Queen Amṛtamati while she lies with her grotesque lover. The bird is Amṛtamati's reborn husband, Yaśodhara. The popular tale illustrates the key beliefs of karma and rebirth.

Peacock attacks Amṛtamati
Image by Wellcome Trust Library © Wellcome Library, London

Sacrificing a flour animal is a sin because, even though it is not a living being, the worshippers treat it as one and thus they commit a kind of mental violence.

As a result of their shared sin, the souls of both Yaśodhara and Candramati endure several rebirths. To a large extent, these rebirths run in parallel and their past link continues over their new lives. In several cases, they also come across King Yaśomati, their son and grandson respectively, although they cannot identify each other.

Rebirths of Yaśodhara and Candramati



Reborn as a peacock
Its mother has been killed or separated from him, according to the different versions. It is then taken in by forest men and offered as a pet to King Yaśomati, where it attacks Amṛtamati and her lover. In revenge Amṛtamati breaks the bird’s leg.

Reborn as a dog in Yaśomati’s palace
It kills the peacock and is then killed by Yaśomati.

Reborn as a snake

Reborn as a mongoose or porcupine
It kills the snake and is then killed by a large animal.

Reborn as a fish
It is caught in the same net as the crocodile and killed.

Reborn as a crocodile
It catches the leg of a maid from the palace who was bathing in the river. The king sends a net to catch it and it is killed.

Reborn as a goat’s son
The kid is killed by a hunter when about to mate with its mother.

Reborn as a wild goat

Reborn as a goat’s kid
It is found in the goat’s womb when she is slaughtered for sacrifice. It is roasted alive for Amṛtamati to eat.

Reborn as a goat
It is slaughtered for a commemorative sacrifice at the palace.

Reborn as a buffalo
It kills a horse in a fight. The buffalo is roasted alive to satisfy the owner of the horse.

Reborn as a cockerel

Reborn as a hen
Both the hen and cock are beautiful and raised with care by a tribal woman. She presents them to King Yaśomati, whose palace game-keeper takes charge of them.
Yaśomati and his queen, Kusumāvalī, go to the woods to celebrate the spring festival. The birds are also there. A Jain monk comes to teach and the game-keeper is converted. The birds crow pathetically because they remember their past lives. The king finds this disturbing and shoots them with an arrow.

Reborn as Prince Abhayaruci

Reborn as Princess Abhayamati
They are the twin son and daughter of Kusumāvalī and Yaśomati.

Conversion of King Yaśomati

In this manuscript painting, beings in hell are tortured by animals, demons and other infernal beings. Suffering is the hallmark of the seven hells that make up the lower world of three in the Jain universe.

Tortures in the hells
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

One day King Yaśomati goes on a hunting expedition and on the way he passes a Jain monk named Sudatta. The king returns later without any game and again meets the Jain monk. Yaśomati concludes that the monk is a bad omen and sets his dogs to attack him. But the dogs stand still with their heads bent. The angry king then wants to kill the monk with his sword, but is stopped by a merchant devotee.

Yaśomati learns that Sudatta was a former king who has renounced the world to atone for the sin of punishing an innocent person. King Yaśomati is impressed and so ashamed of his behaviour that he wants to kill himself.

The mendicant guesses his thoughts and stops him.

Yaśomati then asks Sudatta where his father, mother and grandmother are.

The monk answers: “Your father, Yaśodhara, and your grandmother, Candramati, have been reborn as your children, Abhayaruci and Abhayamati. Your mother, Amṛtamati, has been reborn in the fifth hell, as a punishment for her vicious behaviour.”

King Yaśomati renounces the householder life and becomes a monk.

Abhayaruci and Abhayamati recall their earlier lives when they hear the monk’s words and faint. When they regain consciousness, they too want to become mendicants. But as they are very young Sudatta advises them to become junior mendicants – kṣullakas.

King Māridatta converts to Jainism

When Abhayaruci the young monk finishes his story, King Māridatta realises that he had been about to commit violence by the sacrifice he wanted to offer. The Śaiva ascetic Bhairavānanda has a similar reaction.

Both men give up their former styles of worship and decide to offer non-violence towards living beings. They take the vows of the Jain mendicant and become disciples of the monk Sudatta.

Numerous versions

The story of Yaśodhara has been extremely popular for centuries among members of both major Jain sects and is found either as an independent tale or in collections of Jain stories.

It would be irrelevant and almost impossible to give an exhaustive list of all versions. The scholar Hiralal Jain listed 30 versions in 1972 and added: “I do not feel confident that my list is exhaustive”.

The table gives a representative selection of versions.

Some versions of the story of Yaśodhara






Scholarly reference




Māhārāṣṭrī Jain Prakrit

eighth century






931 CE

Hardy 1990





959 CE

Handiqui 1968





972 CE

Jain 1972





second half of the tenth century






1209 CE

Sharma 1994











15th century

Bhaskar 1988





15th century







Chakravarti 1974: 84–90





1724 CE


Wellcome Trust manuscript

Colossal figures of Jinas at Gwalior date from the 15th century. Their creation is known to have been supervised by the poet Raidhū, who is well known for a version of the story of Yaśodhara known as the 'Jasahara-cariu'.

Jina statues at Gwalior
Image by z4n0n1 © CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

On JAINpedia, the story of Yaśodhara is represented by the Wellcome Trust manuscript Beta 1471, which has been fully digitised. It contains the version of the story by the poet Raidhū, called Jasahara-cariu. A Digambara Jain of the 15th century, when large parts of the subcontinent were under the Mughals, he mainly lived in Gwalior – in present-day Madhya Pradesh – in the reigns of the Tomara kings, Ḍūṃgarasiṃha and his son Kīrtisiṃha.

Raidhū is known to have supervised about 1500 carvings of Jain idols on the outer walls of the Gwalior fort. Raidhū was closely connected with the Jain authorities and prominent personalities. One of these was Hemarāja, whose name appears in the colophons at the end of each section of his poem on Yaśodhara. He was Raidhū’s childhood friend and a prominent Jain devotee who gained the title of sanghapati – ‘leader of the community’. A member of the Agrawal caste, he was one of Raidhū’s protectors.

Raidhū wrote numerous narrative and didactic poems, mainly in Apabhraṃśa, a late form of Prakrit used extensively by Jain Digambara authors from the ninth century onwards. At the time Raidhū wrote, India was under Islamic control, yet the languages used were forms of the modern languages of northern India such as Old Hindi, Old Rajasthani or Old Gujarati. But Apabhraṃśa was still a literary language favoured by poets and scholars.


Raidhū’s version of Yaśodhara’s story is known by the title Jasahara-cariu, which means ‘the story of Yaśodhara’ in Apabhraṃśa. It has the subtitle of ‘having the characteristic of compassion’ – daya-lakkhaṇa. This underlines the main teaching of the story, which is a manifesto against violence of all types and a defence of non-violence.

The text is divided into four sections called sandhi and covers all the episodes described above.

Sections of the Jasahara-cariu



section 1

  • King Māridatta and the search for proper sacrificial victims
  • birth of Yaśodhara

section 2

  • Yaśodhara’s youth and death
  • his son Yaśomati ascends to the throne

section 3

  • the parallel rebirths of Yaśodhara and Candramati

section 4

  • the last rebirth as Abhayaruci and Abhayamati
  • final conversions

Coming after so many authors who reworked the story of Yaśodhara, it is to be expected that Raidhū is indebted to his predecessors. The one to whom he owes the most is the tenth-century writer Puṣpadanta, who also composed in Apabhraṃśa.

The text of the Jasahara-cariu has not yet been published, but its contents have been analysed by the Indian scholar Rāja Rām Jain. He is a specialist in Raidhū, editing and translating several of his works and devoting an extensive study in Hindi to Raidhū’s writings (Jain 1974: 348–361; 608–611).

Few manuscripts of this work seem to be known. Jain could use only two for his 1974 publication – one from Jaipur and another one owned by the Ailak Pannalal Digambar Jain Sarasvati Bhavan in Beawar, Rajasthan. The latter was completed in Ahmedabad in 1712 CE. Both manuscripts are illustrated and represent different pictorial traditions. The Jaipur manuscript has 63 pictures, and the Beawar one 70. Some were used by Doshi (1985) and Garg (1991) but none has been analysed and described thoroughly.

Under these circumstances, the Wellcome Trust manuscript is a rarity – indeed, it is unique outside India. It is all the more regrettable then that it is not complete, in that:

  • folios 1 to 3 are missing so the manuscript starts with folio 4
  • folio 6 is missing
  • the available portion ends with folio 41 so that only the first parallel rebirth of Yaśodhara and Candramati as, respectively, a peacock and dog, is covered.

The manuscript has 34 illustrated pages whereas its complete form is likely to have had roughly double that number. The Beawar manuscript has a total of 70 and the black and white reproductions in Jain (1974) show that its style is very close to that of the Wellcome Trust manuscript.

Artistic tradition

King Yaśodhara and Queen Amṛtamati hold up leaves to each other in this detail from a manuscript painting in the 'Jasahara-cariu'. Probably dating from the 15th century, this Digambara manuscript contains lively, colourful paintings such as this one.

Yasodhara and Amṛtamati in love
Image by Wellcome Trust Library © Wellcome Library, London

The Story of Yaśodhara is one of the most important sources for Jain illustrated manuscripts created by Digambaras. However, the style of art depends on the region and on the time the paintings were completed.

There is no date for the incomplete Wellcome Trust manuscript, but it is likely that it goes back to the 18th century, like the Beawar manuscript which is so close in style. Both have colourful and lively scenes, where the figures are proportional and realistic.

See Doshi 1985, Garg 1991 and Jain (1974: 601ff.) for more details.


edited by Bhagacandra Jain Bhaskar
Sanmati Risarca Insṭīṭyuṭa āpha Inḍolājī (Sanmati Research Institute of Indology); Nagpur, Maharashtra, India; 1988

Full details

Jaina Literature in Tamil
A. Chakravarti
Jñānapīṭha Mūrtidevī Granthamālā: English series
Bhāratīya Jñānapītha Publication; Delhi, India; 1974

Full details

Masterpieces of Jain Painting
Saryu Doshi
Marg Publications; Mumbai, India; 1985

Full details

Yaśodharacarita sacitra pāṇḍulipiyāṃ
Kamalā Garga
Bhāratīya Jñānapīṭha; New Delhi, India; 1991

Full details

Yaśastilaka and Indian Culture
K. K. Handiqui
Jīvarāja Jaina Granthamālā series; volume 2
Jaina Samskriti Samraskshaka Sangha; Sholapur, Maharashtra, India; 1968

Full details

‘Karmic Retribution: The Story of Yaśodhara from the Bṛhatkathākośa’
Freidhelm Hardy
The Clever Adulteress and Other Stories: A Treasury of Jain Literature
edited by Phyllis Granoff
Mosaic Press; Oakville, Ontario, Canada; New York, USA; London, UK; 1990

Full details

Raidhū sāhitya kā ālocanātmak-pariśīlan
Raja Ram Jain
Jaina Shastra aur Ahimsa Research Institute; Vaishali, Bihar, India; 1974

Full details

Tale of the Glory-Bearer: The Episode of Candaśāsana
translated and edited by T. R. S. Sharma
Penguin Classics series
Penguin Books India; New Delhi, India; 1994

Full details


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