The Jaina Deity Padmavati

Posted: 24.03.2011
Updated on: 11.06.2012

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The Jaina Deity Padmavati

The primary Jain pantheon is the group of twenty-four Tirthankaras, beginning with Lord Rishabhnath and ending with Lord Mahavir. While Tirthankaras are objects of reverence because devotion to subservient figures, including guardian spirits, celestial beings and divinities. Known generally as tutelary deities (sasanadevats), they are systematized in several classes such as divine male and female attendants (yakshas and yakshinis), peripatetic gods (vyantaradevtas) and goddesses of wisdom (vidyadevis).

Vidyadevis are an important group of Jain deities. The word vidya literally means knowledge, but from the earliest times it came to imply a special knowledge that gave power (shakti). There are sixteen of these deities and they are included in a special stotra called Shodash Vidyadevi Stotra. These devis are referred to in quite a few of them, the most common being the Broohachaantii Stotra and Shantikaram Stotra. In common with Hindus, Jains worship the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi, while the oldest known image of Saraswati, who is worshipped by the Hindus as the goddess of knowledge is in fact Jain (according to one school o thought), and dates from the early first century.

Yakshinis, devotees of the Tirthankaras, exemplify the quintessentially Jain principles of non-violence and restraint, being benevolent, vegetarian and celibate (brahmchari). The origin of the practice of linking each Tirthankara with a yaksha and yakshini is difficult to date. Some of these deities no doubt go to the foundation of Jainism in eastern India, and it has been suggested that others were introduced as the community gradually spread towards the west and south and adopted regional deities. However, textual and iconographic evidence points to the introduction of a full complement of twenty-four yakshas and yakshinis who have enjoyed the greatest attention are Padmavati, Cakreshvari, Ambika and Jwalamalini.

Lord Parasvnath's (twenty third Thirthankara) yaksha is Dharanendra and his yakshini is Padmavati. Dharanendra is unique among the yakshas of the Tirthankaras because unlike other, he played an important role in the life of Parsvanath. Parsvapandita, a Kannada poet composed the Parsvanathapuranam in the early part of the 13th century. In the poem, he describes Dharanendra as the leader of the nagas and as the destroyer of the upasargas created by Kamatha. Kamatha was an esoteric mendicant and was practising the "ordeal of five fires". Parsva saved a pair of serpents from being burnt in the fire, and they eventually became his yaksha and yakshini, as Dharanendra and Padmavati. He also gives and elaborate picture of how Dharanendra, the lord of the nether world, emerged out of earth. Kamatha, in order to disturb Parsva's mediation had sent a great storm with the help of the evil deity, Meghamali and that caused such a downpour that the water level came up to Parsva's nose. It was then that Dharanendra spread his enormous hood over the meditating Parsva, and his consort Padmavati held an umbrella to protect her husband in turn.

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Padmavati sitting on the snake. Above her head Jina Parshvanatha is depicted.

Like Lord Parashvanath, Padmavati has also one hundred and eight names. The scriptures mention that her mount is rooster-cum-snake (kukkutasarpa); she has four hands and is a person of utmost beauty. However, a bronze seventh-century image of Padmavati from Karnataka, Southern India has twenty-four arm with a three-hooded snake canopy surmounted with an effigy of Parashvanath. This is on display in the Hamburg Museum, Germany.

One of the most famous shrines of Padmavati is found in Hobuja in Karnataka. Nearly 1200 years ago a king, Jinadattaraya built this city. A lot of gold (hombu) was found around the city and it was therefore called Hombuja. The story of how the city was established is interesting.

Jinadattaraya's step-mother was plotting to overthrow him. However, somehow his natural mother became aware of this conspiracy and advised her son, King Jinadattaraya to leave the city and head south to southern Madhure, the place of his maternal uncles. She gave him an idol (murti) of Padmavati wrapped in a special cloth bag and bid farewell to her son. She said, "May Goddess Padmavati protect you always," and King Jinadattaraya left for the forest with few of his trusted lieutenants. When King Jinadattaraya's father (who had abdicated the throne to his son on the advice of his Guru Siddhantakirti) and his stepmother knew about this, they sent and army to bring him back, dead or alive.

When they were on the verge of capturing him, Jinadattarya removed the image of Padmavati from the bag and put i ceremoniously on the around. He sat in front of the idol and started chanting her mantras. Soon panic set in the army of his adversaries and they ran for their lives without any regard for their mission. as a result, Jinadattaraya's faith in Jain religion was reinforced and he became fearlessly determined to walk through the forest to southern Madhure. He decided to take some rest in the forest and fell asleep. Padmavati appeared to him in a dream. She told him that the place was full of natural resources, nearby there was a deposit of gold and this was a very holy land. Furthermore, Padmavati told him in his dream that she would like to be consecrated under the tree he was resting. He followed her instructions and regularly started to worship at the place of the consecration of the image.

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Jina Parshvanatha attended by Padmavati and Dharnendra

Soon Jinadattaraya with the help of his men found the gold deposits and built a city with the temple of Parsvanath and Padmavati. He also built other temples and commemorative column. He then established and order whose head was given the title of Shree His Holiness Devendrakirti Bhattaraka. Even today, this most unique holy shrine is under the control of that order. There is no firm evidence about the reason and timing of the demise of Hombuja City. Today, a few sculptures assignable to the probable time of Jinadattaraya are the only relics of earlier art and architecture surviving in Hombuja. However, what is clear is that the arrival of Jinadattaraya together with the murti of Padmavati brought and enormous transformation to the area. The tribal hunters of the forest became craftsmen and part of the forest was turned into a new city. One school of thought states that any base metal place near Padmavati's murti turned into gold (alchemy-parasmani).

In the last seven hundred years or so, there have been quite a few charismatic worshippers of Padmavati. In the fourteenth century, Jinaprabhasuriji became a very famous Jain acharya. He attained many insights into the worship of Padmavati. In Delhi, he earned great respect from the court of Sultan Muhammad ibn Tughluq and as a result he obtained protection for the holy sites of Girnar and Satrunjaya. Whenever Jinaprabhasuriji conducted Padmavati's special prayers her presence (darshan) was felt and he always fulfilled the task she was assigned.

In the last century, one of the most devoted and outstanding exponents of Padmavati was Satavadhani Pandit Shree Dhirajlal Tokershi Shah (Panditji). Panditji concluded that Padmavati's poojas are performed in about twenty different names of Padmavati, amongst then Raktapadmavati being the most popular (rakta means red). On this basis Panditji had commissioned a painting of Padmavati, which he used throughout his life for his intense prayers (aradhana). The painting shows Padmavati seated in the Padmasana posture on a lotus flower in the middle of a lake and at her back rises a serpent with its five-hooded canopy above her crown. Of the two hands on her right, the top hand is holding a noose (pasa) and the bottom hand is displaying a boon conferring gesture (varadamudra); of the two hands on her left, the top hand is carrying an goad (ankusa) and the bottom hand is carrying a fruit (phala). She has three eyes, the third eye for extra sensory powers. She is wearing a crown and on top of the crown is an effigy of Lord Parashvanath. She is also wearing earrings and there is a ring on one finger on each of the top hands. There are bracelets and bangles on all the four hands. She is also wearing two necklaces and an ornamental waistband. On each of the four corners of the paining is the mantra Hrim (seed of energy and illusion). This painting holds power and tranquility in equal measure.

During his life Panditji became well known for conduction poojas and he became one of the foremost authorities on Padmavati. He wrote many books in Gjarati on various aspects of Jain religion. His book, Shree Parsvapadmavati Aradhna was first published in 1972. The later edition of the book contains for the first time the meanings and commentary on Padmavatistotra in Gujarati. This stotra describes her manyvirtues, abilities, powers in graphic detail. The book also sets out in meticulous details the preparation for the pooja and its whole conduct including mantras, aarti and the finale. Panditji worshipped this yakshini as Mahadevi Padmavatimata, the great angel.

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