Jain Remains of Ancient Bengal

by Shubha Majumder | 2017 | 147,217 words

This page relates ‘Position of Yakshas and Yakshinis in Jainism’ of the study on the Jain Remains of Ancient Bengal based on the fields of Geography, Archaeology, Art and Iconography. Jainism represents a way of life incorporating non-violence and approaches religion from humanitarian viewpoint. Ancient Bengal comprises modern West Bengal and the Republic of Bangladesh, Eastern India. Here, Jainism was allowed to flourish from the pre-Christian times up until the 10th century CE, along with Buddhism.

Appendix 1 - The Position of Yakṣas and Yakṣiṇīs in Jainism

This appendix is intended to provide complete information regarding the twenty-four Yakṣas and Yakṣiṇīs in Jainism. Yakṣas and Yakṣiṇīs played an important role in Jainism, though Jains mainly worship idols of the Jainas or Tīrthaṅkars. In the early religious traditions of India, the Yakṣas along with other gods came to be identified as the 'creatures of wild and forest'. In Jainism, they were introduced as the guardians of the Jainas, also known as śāsanadevatās, ‘guardian’s angels' and 'protectors of the Jainism'. They were regarded to be belonging to a class of semi-gods or supernatural beings. All the twenty-four Tīrthaṅkaras were said to be protected by a pair of Yakṣa and Yakṣiṇī and the Jains even now offer them elaborate worship for boons, blessings and protection.

Basically Yakṣa cult was a relic of non-Aryan worship. According to Fergusson, ‘Tree and serpent worship i.e. the worship of Yakṣas and Nāgas, powers of fertility and rainfall, was the primitive faith of the aboriginal casteless Dāsyus who inhabited Northern India before the advent of the Āryans’[1]. A.K. Coomaraswamy also opines on the basis of the discoveries found from the Indus valley civilization that the worship of deities like Yakṣas and Nāgas was very much prevalent in the indigenous non-Āryan people in India[2]. In Indian Jain sculptural tradition, they are also known as attendant deities to the Tīrthaṅkaras. Very often they are not distinguished from Devas and Devatās which is clearly experienced by their worship in their temples. According to the Jain faith, Indra appoints one Yakṣa-Yakṣiṇī couple to serve as attendants to each Tīrthaṅkara In pictorial or sculptural representations a Yakṣa would usually be depicted on the right side of the Jain and a Yakṣiṇī on his left side. Thus, they also came to be called Śāsana-devatās, attendant spirits[3] or guardian angels of the Jainas.

It would be difficult to believe that Yakṣas worship had suddenly originated in Jain pantheistic practices. According to Hindu sources, the Yakṣa and Yakṣiṇī worship was very much prevalent in India even before the Āryans had settled here. They were generally spoken of a Puṇyajanas (good folk) and appeared to be countless. The Buddhists regarded them as 'fallen angels'.

Thus, the Jainas, like Hindus and Buddhists, admitted them into their pantheon of gods and goddesses and gave them a special place in their ritualistic order. In the beginning, they were not given that high position, but in the due course of time, during the post Gupta period, the prestige of Yakṣas and Yakṣiṇīs were gradually high and the followers of Jainism pay their respect to these Yakṣas and Yakṣiṇīs for having them provided protection to Tīrthaṅkaras. As a result of these, they are found around the images of Jinas as well as their individual images in many Jain temples. Usually they are found in pair around the idols of Jinas as male (Yakṣa) and female (Yakṣiṇī) guardian deities. In earlier periods, they were regarded mainly as devotees of Jina, and have supernatural powers. Over time, people started worshiping these deities as well. Some sections of Jains looked at Yakṣas and Yakṣiṇīs for the immediate returns, and gave them the places in their temples.

By about the eighth-ninth century under the indirect influence of esoterism that was flourishing in Buddhism and elsewhere, Jainism felt inclined in figuring separate entities of śāsanadevatās, shaking off their attachment to Jain figures through miniature representations at the sides or on the pedestals found equal favor with the artists throughout, in the all the parts of Indian subcontinent. Individual shrines were built for worship Yakṣas and Yakṣiṇīs.

The earliest Tīrthaṅkara image having Yakṣas-Yakṣiṇīs figures has been found from Akota which is dated in C. 550 C.E.[4]. A separate Ambikā image belonging to the sixth century CE is also discovered from Akota hoard. The earliest Yakṣa and Yakṣiṇī pair carved in Jain sculpture was Gomedha and Ambikā. Next comes the figure of Dharaṇendra and Padmāvatī, the Yakṣa and Yakṣiṇī pair of Pāśvanātha. The Jain pantheon slowly developed around the twenty four Tīrthaṅkaras who constitute the principal objects of worship[5].

Though Yakṣas and Yakṣiṇīs figures were accepted by the Jinas and they regularly worshipped them as guardian deities of twenty four Tīrthaṅkara images, however, according to some scholars these images not directly associated with Jainism. In this connection we can recall the comments of B. C. Bhattaclrarya, that ‘these demigods do not represent purely Jain elements’ in Jainism. ‘The names of some of the Yakṣas and śāsanadevatās betray unmistakable identity with those of Hindu deities while the symbols connected with them are also of those of the latter class’[6].

Walther Schubring also held similar views on the subject. According to him, ‘an Arhat is far beyond the reach of human affairs. Being in the state of pure cognition and without both sentiment and will, he cannot bestow grace and favour unto those who appeal to him’. ‘Hindu influence,’ he adds, ‘seems to have been at work in placing at his [Arhat's or Jina's] side two adjutants, one male (Yakṣa) and one female (Yakṣiṇī)…and it is these two that take care of a devout suppliant. That on a large scale, Hindu mythology was adopted by the Jains and brought in accord with their own principles is a fact known too well to be treated here in detail’[7].

In the present study, it is observed that though the depiction of Yakṣa-Yakṣiṇī couple in association with the Tīrthaṅkara images is a common style however, this style not frequently accepted by the artisan of this area. Only two Tīrthaṅkara images i.e. Ṛṣabhanātha image from Sitalpur and Punchra, are reported from the present study area where we can notice the depiction of Yakṣa and Yakṣiṇī couple at the both the ends of the pedestal. However, in some cases only Yakṣiṇī images is engraved in the center of the pedestal. Whereas in Pārśvanātha images from the study area Dharaṇendra and Padmāvati i.e. the Yakṣa and Yakṣiṇī of the Tīrthaṅkara are most of the time depicted as protector of the Jina and also in depicted as nāga couple with their inter-coiled tails springs gracefully almost rhythmically from the centre projection of the pedestal just below the feet of the Jina. Yakṣiṇī Ambikā was very popular in the present study area and a good number of images of Yakṣiṇī Ambikā were documented and described in the forgoing pages.

A brief list along with pictorial view of the twenty four Jain Yakṣa and Yakṣiṇī are given below:

Iconographic details of twenty four Yakṣas:

Sl. No. Name of the Yakṣas Vehicle Total Hands Left Hand Attributes Right Hand Attributes Colour
1 Gomukha Bull or Elephant 4 Varada mudrā and Rosary Pāśa and Paraśu Golden
2 Mahāyakṣa Elephant 8 Disc, trident, Goad, lotus Sword, staff, axe, and Varada mudrā Dark
3 Trimukha Peacock 6 Disc, Sword, Śṛṇi (Goad) Staff, trident and dagger Dark
4 Yakṣeśvara (Dig.)
Nāyaka (Śvt.)
Elephant 4 Bow, Shield Sword Black
5 Tumburu Garuda 4 Snake and Snake Fruit and Varada mudrā White
6 Kusuma Antelope 4 Lance and Varada mudrā Shield, abhaya-mudrā Nila
7 Varanandin (Dig.)
Lion 4 Staff and spear Swastika and flag Dark
8 Vijaya Swan 4 Fruit and rosary Axe and Varada mudrā Green
9 Ajita Toroise 4 Sakti and Varada mudrā Fruit and rosary White
10 Brahmā A chariot carried by black hogs 6 Bow, daṇḍa and kheṭaka Arrow, sword, Varada mudrā, White
11 Yakṣeta Bull 4 Trident, Staff Rosary, fruit White
12 Kumāra Swan 4 Bow and mongoose Club, arrow White
13 Caturmukha (Dig.)
Ṣaṇmukha (Śvt.)
Peacock 12 Mongoose, disc, bow, shield, cloth and abhayamudrā Fruit, disc, arrow, sword, noose and a rosary White
14 Pātāla Dolphin 6 Mongoose, shield and a rosary Lotus, sword and noose Red
15 Kinnara Tortoise 6 Mongoose, lotus and a rosary Club, citron and varada-mudrā Red
16 Kiṃpuraṣa (Dig.)
Garuḍa (Śvt.)
Boar 4 Mongoose and rosary Citron and lotus Black
17 Gandharva Swan 4 Citron and a goad Noose and varada-mudrā Dark
18 Khendra (Dig.)
Yakṣpāvatī (Śvt.)
Sankha 12 Mongoose, bow, shield, trident, goad, and a rosary Citron, arrow, sword, hammer, noose and abhaya-mudrā Blue
19 Kubera Elephant 8 Citron, spear, club and a rosary Bow, trident, axe and abhaya-mudrā Rainbow
20 Varuṇa Bull 8 Mongoose, a rosary, a bow and axe Citron, a club arrow and a spear White
21 Bhṛkuṭī Bull 8 Mongoose, axe, thunderbolt and a rosary Citron, a spear, a hammer and abhaya-mudrā Gold
22 Gomedha Man 6 Mongoose, trident and spear Citron, axe and disc Dark
23 Dharaṇendra Tortoise 4 Snake and mongoose Citron and Snake Dark
24 Mātaṅga Elephant 2 Mongoose Citron Black

Iconographic details of twenty four Yakṣiṇīs:

Sl. No. Name of the Yakṣiṇīs Vehicle Total Hands Left Hand Attributes Right Hand Attributes Colour
1 Cakreśvarī Garuḍa 8 Bow, thunderbolt, disc and goad. Varada-mudrā, arrow, disc and noose Golden
2 Ajitabalā or Rohiṇī Lohāsana (iron seat) 4 Varada-mudrā and abhaya-mudrā Citron and a goad Golden
3 Duritārī or Prajñapti Ram 4 Fruit and abhaya-mudrā Rosary and varada-mudrā -
4 Kālikā or Vajra- Śṛṃkhalā Swan 4 Snake and a goad Noose and varada-mudrā Dark
5 Puruṣadatta or Mahākālī Lotus seat 4 Citron and a goad Noose and varada-mudrā Golden
6 Acyutā or Śyāmā Manovegā Man or Horse 4 Bow and abhaya-mudrā Noose and varada-mudrā -
7 Śāntā or Kālī Elephant or Bull 4 Trident and abhaya-mudrā Rosary and varada-mudrā Gold
8 Jvālāmālinī or Bhṛkuṭī Cat 4 Axe and Shield Sword, hammer Yellow
9 Sutārā or Mahākālī Bull 4 Pitcher and goad Rosary and varada-mudrā White
10 Aśokā or Mānavī Cloud 4 Fruit and goad Noose and varada-mudrā Green
11 Gaurī or Mānavī Lion 4 Thunderbolt and goad Hammer and varada-mudrā -
12 Caṇḍā or Gāndhāri Horse 4 Club and flower Spear and varada-mudrā Dark
13 Viditā or Vairoṭi Lotus seat 4 Snake and bow Arrow and noose Yellow
14 Aṃkuśā or Anantamatī Lotus seat 4 Shield and goad Sword and noose -
15 Kandarpā or Mānasī Fish 4 Lotus and varada-mudrā Goad and blue Lotus -
16 Mahāmānasī or Nirvāṇī Lotus seat 4 Water jar and blue lotus Book and blue lotus -
17 Vijayā or Balā Peacock 4 Round club and lotus Trident and citron -
18 Tārā or Dhāraṇī Lotus seat 4 Red lotus and rosary Citron and blue lotus Blue
19 Aparājitā or Vairoṭi Lotus seat 4 Citron and rosary Rosary and varada-mudrā Black
20 Bahurūpiṇī or Naradattā Lotus seat 4 Citron and trident Rosary and varada-mudrā -
21 Cāmuṇḍā or Gāndhāri Swan 4 Citron Sword and varada-mudrā -
22 Ambikā or Āmrā or Kusmāṇḍī Lion 4 A boy and a goad Bunch of mangoes and noose Golden
23 Padmāvatī Snake 4,6,8,24 Fruit and goad Lotus and noose Golden
24 Siddhāyikā Lion 4 Citron and a lute Book and abhaya-mudrā Green

Footnotes and references:


Fergusson 1868: 244


Coomaraswamy 1980/ I: 2


Gupta 1972: 176


Shah 1987: 213


Sivaramamurti 1983: 25


Bhattacharya 1974:65.


Schubring 1962:16-17

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