Jains worship idols of Jinas, Tirthankars1, who are reverend as supreme
beings but as the time passed by Jains also started worshipping many
other deities, Yaksas and Yaksinis, in Jain temples. It makes many
wonder who are they? How did they get their? How did they get such a
prominence? Should they be there?

The answer to first question is, even though at times it may seem that
they get more reverence by many, they are not same as Jina, Arihant, or
Tirthankars who have conquered the inner passions while 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, gaurdian deities. They are heavenly beings of Vyantar
group who have supernatural powers including changing capabilities of
their form and size. The answer to second question is, according to some
belief, Jains believe that these Yaksas and Yaksinis were appointed by
Indra to look after the well beings of Tirthankaras. Therefore, they
were always found around Jinas and that has reflected their presence in
Jain temples also around the idols of Jinas. They are found in pair of a
male (yaksha) and a female (yakshini ). Yaksa usually found on the right
side of the Jina idol while yaksini on left side. In the earlier period
they were regarded mainly as 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 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 a
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 had been placed in Jain temples and Jains worship them.
Jains offer them different things in favor of boons for children, wealth
or freedom from fear, illness or disease.

The earlier scriptures like the Sthanagansutra, 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 Purnabadra
yakshas are mentioned a chief of demigods, Manibhadra of Northern horde
and Purnabadra 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 bestow favors to those who worship them and because of that
became more popular then Jinas for some. Therefore, the people started
worshipping them for 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 cults developed around them. Various temples
were erected just to worship them and you can see that even now.

The Jaina works from c. 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,
Yakshi. The list of twenty-four Yaksa-Yaksi 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 Yaksas and Yaksis2. The names and the
iconographic features of the majority of the Yaksas and Yaksis bear the
influence of the Brahminical and Buddhist gods and goddesses. The Jainas
seem to have adopted either the names or the distinct iconographic
features, sometimes 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 thousands of
excellent temples at tremendous cost and have installed 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 Yaksas and Yaksinis, and asking for
materialistic gains from them, Jains are distracted from spiritual path
and digging their own graveyard to false belief (Mithyatva). Jain’s aim
is to be free from materialistic attachment. For a moment even if we
look at the materialistic gain by their worship then everybody who
worships should get it but that does not happen. Therefore, one lives in
mithyatva. One should not forget that if at all materialistic gain is
attained then that is from maturation of one’s own shubh (good karmas).
Somadeva might have felt that these sasana-devatas may replace ratherr
than being complementary to the Jinas as the object of worship
cautioned; anyone who worship them equal to Jina is heading downwards.
Asadhara  declares that a person with true insight would never worship
Yaksas even when beset with 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 in
Jainism, the guidlines are set which tell us what is right and wrong,
but it is upto every individual to decide which idles 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 hasher 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 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 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 wealth.  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 from
very old times and his introduction in Jainworship is only a later
adaptation.  It is an image of six armed yaksha with an elephant as his

This deity is worshipped for protection and for driving away the evil
influence created by 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 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 believer and the traveler.

(*Information has been taken from the book "Jain  symbols, Ceremonies
and Practices" by Pramodaben  Chitrabhanu.)

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