Justice T.U.Mehta

Candanabala : First Head of Women Disciples

In the eleventh year of his austerities an incident occurred in the life of Mahavira which has become the subject matter of great pathos and poetry in Jaina literature. As already noticed, the incident is connected with the life of Candanabala who was the princess of a king of Campa. After defeat of King of Campa in a battle, the princess was taken as a slave and finally purchased by a wealthy merchant called Dhanna, who mercifully treated her as his daughter. The merchant's wife, however, suspected the intentions of her husband. So when the merchant had gone to Kausambi, Candanabala was put in fetters, her head was shaved, and was starved for three days, at the end of which she was given roasted black grams to eat. In the meantime Mahavira, who was undergoing very difficult penances, was moving from house to house to accept some alms to eat to break his fasts of more than five months, but was returning back from all houses without accepting anything. People were anxious to offer anything, he wanted to break his fasts but he did not utter a single word and returned back after seeing the situation and the food offered to him. This attitude of the saint was very perplexing to the citizens of Kausambi because, by that time his reputation as a great ascetic had spread far and wide and it was considered a great honour for one whose offer of food was accepted by him.

Mahavira's method of performing penances was very peculiar. He often used to resolve to take only a particular type of food if offered to him under particular circumstances by a particular person. Others were knowing nothing about such resolves with the result that the conditions under which the offer was to be accepted were not satisfied and his fasts remained unbroken for a number of days. In fact, during the course of 12 years of his penances he is said to have taken food only on 349 days. Idea was that if nature wanted him to remain alive, it was bound to satisfy his resolutions. Now when Mahavira was in Kausambi in the eleventh year of his penances, he had resolved to accept the offer of roasted black grams from an unmarried princess in captivity with the shaven head and locked in fetters and also with tears in her eyes. It was obviously difficult to satisfy all these conditions at a time. For five months and twenty-five days, the master wandered from one house to the other in Kausambi and silently returned and went without food, his conditions unfulfilled.

Candanabala knew this story of master's wandering and after her own fasts for three days when she got roasted black grams to eat, her first thought was to offer these grams to the master if he was kind enough to accept the same. When she saw the master approaching her on his usual visit to take alms, her joy knew no bounds as she offered the rare Morsels of food which she got after three days. When the master approached her, he found that all the conditions of his resolve, but one, were fulfilled. The one condition which remained unfulfilled was the absence of tears in the eyes of his donor. When he noticed this, he began to retreat without uttering a word. This shocked the enthusiastic devotee whose enthusiasm and joy evaporated. Deeply dejected, she began to cry and tears rolled her check. A back glance at her, convinced the master that all his resolves were fully satisfied. he returned back and accepted the alms of roasted grams from her and broke his famous fast. This Candanabala then renounced the world. She was freed by her master and she was made the first head of the order of Jaina nuns.

This story of unstinted devotion has inspired the imagination of many poets who have vividly described the masters fortitude and a selfless surrender of a devotee.