The Jains worship idols of the Jinas, Tirthankars1, who are reverend as supreme beings but as the time passed by the Jains also started worshipping many other deities, Yaksas and Yaksinis, in Jain temples. Many wonder who are they? How did they get there? How did they get such an importance? Should they be there?
The answer to the first question is, even though at times it may seem that they get more reverence by many people, they are not same as Jina, Arihant, or Tirthankars who have conquered the inner passions. These deities (Yaksas and Yaksinis) are full of passions and are wandering through the cycles of births and death just like us. They are also called shashandevtas, the gaurdian deities. They are heavenly beings of Vyantar group who have supernatural powers including ability to change their forms and sizes. The answer to the second question is, according to some beliefs, Jains believe that these Yaksas and Yaksinis were appointed by Indra to look after the well being of Tirthankaras. Therefore, they were always found around Jinas and that has reflected their presence in the Jain temples and also around the idols of the Jinas. They are found in a pair of a male (yaksha) and a female (yakshini). Yaksa usually found on the right side of the Jina idol while yaksini on the left side. In the earlier period they were regarded mainly as the devotees of Jina but as the time passed by, people started to worship them too.
Not all Yaksa are benevolent, because some can be malevolent. Just as some Yaksa paid homage to Lord mahavira and protectd him from some sufferings, Yaksa Sulpani troubled Lord Mahavira in his mediation and inflicted much suffering and similar stories are available where yaksa troubled others too. The residential place (bhavana) of Yaksa is also known as a chaitya or ayatana. It could be anywhere, outside the city, on the hill or a mountain, on the tree, by the water reservoir, at the gate of a city, or within a city in a house or a palace. The famous Yaksa Angulimala was living on the tree in the forest and when reformed for the better, he had a place at the city gate.
The humans are opportunistic and since Jinas would not reward no matter how sincerely one may worshiop them, Jains looked at yaksas and yaksanis for the immediate returns, and to self serve Jains gave them the places in their temples. Some Yaksa were and are known for bestowing fertility and wealth upon their devotes. Therefore, they had become very popular and their idols have been placed in the Jain temples and Jains worship them. Jains offer them the different things in favor of boons for children, wealth or freedom from fear, illness or disease.
The earlier scriptures like the Sthanangasutra, Utradhyayansutra, Bhagwatisutra, Tattvarthsutra, Antagadasasaosutra, and Paumacariya have frequent references to the Yaksa. Their reference as Shasandevatas in the Harivamsapurana (783 A.D.) made the beginning of this concept. Among all the yakshas, Manibhadra and Purnabadra yakshas and Bahuputrika yakshini have been the most favored one. Manibhadra and Purnabhadra yakshas are mentioned as the chief of demigods, Manibhadra of Northern horde and Purnabhadra of Southern horde. Bahuputrika (having many sons) is named as one of the queen of Manibhadra. Harivamsapurana also describes the capability of yakshas and yakshnins to pacify the harmful power of rogas, grahas, raksasas, bhutas and pisachas. The people also believed that they bestowed favors to those who worshiped them and because of that they became more popular than Jinas for some. The people started worshipping them for the materialstic desires, which could not be fulfilled, by the worship of Vitaraga Jina. Due to this, between tenth and thirteenth centuries A. D.2 yaksha Saarvanubhuti, or Sarvahna and yakshini Cakreshvari, Ambika, Padmavati, and Jvalamalini became so popular that independent followers developed around them. Various temples were erected just to worship them and you can see that even now.
The Jain works from the sixth to the tenth century A. D. mention only some of the iconographic features of Yaksharaja (Sarvahna or Sarvanubhuti) and Dharanendra Yaksha and Cakreshvari, Ambika, Padmavati Yakshini. The list of twenty-four Yaksha-Yakshini pairs was finalized in about eight-ninth century A. D. as found in Kahavali, Tiloyapannatti (4.934-39), and Pravacanasaroddhara (375-78). While their independent iconographic forms were standarized in c.11th – 12th century A. D. as mentioned in the Nirvankalika, the Trisastisalakapurusacaritra, the Pratisthasara-samgraha, Pratisthasaroddhara, the Pratisthatilaka and acaradinakara and a number of other texts. However, we find much difference between Svetambara and Digambara traditions as to the names and iconographic features of Yakshas and Yakshinis2. The names and the iconographic features of the majority of them bear the influence of the Brahminical and Buddhist gods and goddesses. The Jains seem to have adopted either the names or the distinct iconographic features, or both, in such cases2.
The original Agamas don’t mention about the Jina idol and idol worship, even then for last 2500 years Jains have constructed the thousands of excellent temples at the tremendous cost and have installed the idols to respect the Tithankars. Therefore the idea of idol and idol worship, even that of the Jinas, was anathema to the very spirit and words of the Jinas. But now by erecting and worshipping Yakshas and Yakshinis, and asking for the materialistic gains from them, Jains are distracted from the spiritual path and attracted to the materialistic attachments. For a moment even if we look at the materialistic gain by their worship then everybody who worships them should get benefited, but that does not happen. Therefore, one lives in mithyatva (falsebelief). One should not forget that if at all the materialistic gain is attained then that is by the maturation of one’s own shubha (good karmas). Somadeva might have felt that these sasana-devatas may replace rather than being complementary to the Jinas as the object of the worship cautioned; anyone who worship them equal to Jina is headed in the wrong direction. Asadhara declares that a person with true insight would never worship Yaksas even when beset with the great calamities. Because as a Jain, we believe that our calamities are our own doing and we should bare down such calamities with calmness to stop the whirlpool of reaction which would do nothing but will bring more calamities. In conclusion, the guidelines which are set in Jainism tell us what is right and wrong, but it is up to each individual to decide which idols to bow down (worship) to and which ones we should just admire.
1 Sthanakvasi and Terapanthi Jains of Svetambers sect and Taranpanthi Jains of Digambar sect don’t believe in idol worhiping.
2 Ambika in Jaina arts and literature by Dr. M.N.P. Tiwari, published by Bhartiya Jnanapith.
Some of the prominent yakshas and yakshanis*:
She is the dedicated attendant deity of lord Adinath (Rishabhadev). She is also called by another name i.e. Apratichakra. The color of this goddess is golden. Her Vehicle is the eagle. She has eight arms. In her four right hands she holds the blessing mudra, arrow, rope and wheel. In her four left hands she holds the rein, the bow, the protective weapon of Indra and the wheel.
She is the dedicated deity of Lord Neminath the 22nd Tirthankara. She is also called Ambai Amba and Amra Kushmandini. Her color is golden and the lion is her vehicle. She has four arms. In her two right hands she carries a mango and in the other a branch of a mango tree. In her one left hand she carries a rein and in the other she has her two sons.
She is the dedicated deity of Lord Parshvanath, the 23rd Tirthankara. Her color is golden and her vehicle is the snake with a cock’s head. She has four arms and her two right hands hold a lotus and a rosary. The two left hands hold a fruit and a rein.
Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge, is considered to be the source of all the learning. This divine energy is the source of spiritual light, remover of all ignorance and promoter of all knowledge. She is respected and adored by all the faiths, worldly persons and saints. She has four arms, one holding a book, the other a rosary and two hands holding a musical instrument Veena. Her seat is a lotus and the peacock is her vehicle representing equanimity in prosperity. In some places it is mentioned that the swan is her vehicle.
Goddess Lakshmi represents the wealth. The people worship her as the goddess of wealth, power, money etc. In the upper two hands, she is holding a lotus with an elephant, in the lower right hand a rosary and in the lower left hand a pot.
Shri Manibhadra is originally a yaksha, worshipped by Indian masses since very old times and his introduction to Jain worship is only a later adaptation. It is an image of six armed yaksha with an elephant as his vehicle.
This deity is worshipped for the protection and for driving away the evil influence created by the lower types of negative energy. His arrow indicates penetration of evil forces. The bow gives forceful momentum to the arrow. His symbol is the bell that resounds to create auspicious sounds in the atmosphere. Sometimes the people who are not aware of the facts call him by mistake Ghantakarna Mahavira that creates confusion between Lord Mahavira and Ghantakarna Veer. He is not connected to Lord Mahävir in any way.
This is the tutelary deity of Bhairava. This deity is usually found near the entrance of the temple. People from far and near, visit the shrine and make offerings to the deity on fulfillment of their material desires. It is the positive force around the temple.
This deity is in the shape of a mountain. It is the natural positive energy of the mountain Sametshikharji. This energy inspires and guides the believers and the travelers.
(*Information has been taken from the book “Jain symbols, Ceremonies and Practices” by Pramodaben Chitrabhanu.)