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MALLINATH (19th Jain Tirthankara)

Mallinath was the nineteenth Tirthankara of the Jain faith. According to the Jains their faith has been revealed through the successive ages of the world by the Tirthankaras, each of whom attained perfection and absolute freedom and then preached Jainism to the world. Perhaps it was her disciples who, finding in their guru the characteristics of a prince, gave Malli the name ‘Mallinath’. According to Svetambara Jain canons, Princess Malli was the daughter of King Kumbha of Mithila (in modern Bihar) and Queen Padmavati or Prabhavati. Her fame attracted marriage proposals from the kings of Kosala, Anga, Kashi, Kunala, Kuru and Panchala. When Kumbha refused their proposals, they jointly attacked Mithila. Although Kumbha fought valiantly, it was an unequal siege.

Malli did not want her people to face defeat because of her, so she invited the kings to her apartment. There they saw a beautiful golden statue of her, so lifelike they at first mistook it for the real Malli and were taken aback by its beauty. Malli had had the hollow statue made earlier and had dropped food into its mouth every day, and while the kings were enthralled by her statue she opened its casing, releasing a foul smell from the stale food inside. They were repulsed. She then compared the statue to her own self, saying that beneath her external charms lay a similar filthy, transitory arrangement of matter. She also declared her intention to renounce the world. She made the princes realise that the way to genuine happiness lay not in enjoyment but in meditation and the practice of austerity. She soon had many followers. By her excellent conduct she came to be acknowledged as a Tirthankara. She observed that in gatherings the men sat in the front rows while the women sit behind them; she changed this pattern, and since then in Jain assemblies the women sit in front and the men at the back. She died at an advanced age at Shikharji, in the Parasnath Hills.

Reena Jain
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