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Jain Stories
Tirthankar Mallinäth

In ancient times there was a king named Mahabal ruling over Veetshok in the Mahä-Videha area. He had six friends with whom he was intimately connected since childhood. All those seven friends were very close and lived more or less identically. None of them would undertake anything of his own will. If any of them wanted to do something, he would invariably do it by consulting with the other six.

Once, Dharmaghosh-suri, who was the well known Ächärya of that time, came to Veetshok. The king Mahabal went to his assembly and was very impressed by the sermon. That induced him to renounce the worldly life. Thereafter he mandated his desire upon his friends. All of them concurred with his wishes and decided to renounce along with him. Mahabal then put his son Balbhadra to the throne and, giving up the worldly life, he became a pupil of Dharmaghosh-suri along with his six friends.

As monks, these seven observed austerities and restraints together. Mahabal, however, intended to go ahead of his friends and therefore secretly observed longer austerities. For instance, if it was agreed by all of them to observe one fast, Mahabal would fast for the second day, too, on the grounds of a stomach disorder, or any other pretext. If it were agreed upon to fast for two days, Mahabal would fast for three days on similar grounds, and so on. Moreover he also practiced 20 Beej Sthänaks or root causes of enlightenment that lead to the Tirthankar Nämkarma and was thus destined to become the 19th Tirthankar of the current time cycle. All of them thus continued to observe the ever-increasing austerities during that life and eventually attained the heavenly abode.

After completing the heavenly life span the six friends of Mahabal were born as princes and became kings in due course. All of them came to be known for their valor and boldness. One of them had his seat in Ayodhyä, the second in Champä, the third in Hastinäpur, the fourth in Kämpilypur, the fifth in Shrävasti and the sixth in Käshi. All these places were located in the present states of Uttar Pradesha and Bihar.

At that time, King Kumbha was ruling over Mithilä. When his queen Prabhävati became pregnant, she witnessed the 14 dreams that occur to the mothers of all Tirthankars. Since Mahabal had acquired the Tirthankar Nämkarma, his soul descended in the womb of Prabhävati. As he had, however, indulged in deception by secretly observing the longer austerities, he was destined to be born as a female. Accordingly, Prabhävati gave birth to a daughter, who was named Malli. Later, Prabhävati also had a son, who was named Malladin.

Malli and Malladin were fondly raised by their parents. Malli was dark-complexioned, but she was exceedingly charming and beautiful and grew to be a very attractive girl. Malladin respected her as the elder sister. Kumbha wanted to give them the best instruction and therefore entrusted their training to highly respected teachers who taught them all the required arts and crafts. The boy learned all the martial arts and came out as a bold and brave youth. Malli mastered all the fine arts and came to be known as a very talented and accomplished girl.

It was once decided to set up an art gallery in Mithilä. A marvelous building was constructed for this purpose and all the well-known artists were invited to draw pictures for the gallery. One of them, who had come from Hastinäpur, had the exceptional ability to prepare an accurate portrait of anyone by merely seeing one limb of the person concerned. He once happened to see the toe of Malli and on that basis, he drew the accurate portrait of Malli on a wall. That portrait vividly displayed every detail of the princess. It was so lifelike that when the prince Malladin came to see the gallery and happened to look at the portrait, he felt as if his sister was standing there and actually folded his hands in token of his respect to her.

When it was brought to his notice that it was merely a portrait, he was curious to figure out how the artist could obtain every minute detail of her body. Thereupon he was informed that the artist had achieved a skill whereby he could draw the full portrait of any one merely by looking at any one limb. It was no doubt a very rare accomplishment. The prince could, however, make out that knowing the secrets of one’s body could be misused for blackmailing, and the art thus posed a serious threat to privacy of the people. He therefore wanted to prevent the use of that art. Accordingly, the artist was asked to give up his art in return for a suitable prize. The artist however didn’t agree. He insisted upon his independence to draw the pictures. In order to prevent the misuse, therefore, the thumb of the artist was cut off and he was allowed to go anywhere he liked.

The artist naturally detested that measure and decided to take revenge. He went to Hastinäpur, and there, he got hold of an artist who could draw the portraits as per his instructions. By doing this he arranged to prepare a yet more attractive portrait of Malli and presented the same to the king of Hastinäpur, who was a sort of rival to Mithilä. The king was much enamored to see the picture and decided to get Malli as his wife. He therefore sent a messenger to Mithilä with the marriage proposal.

In due course, the above mentioned kings of Ayodhyä, Champä, Käshi, Kämpilypur and Shrävasti also came to know about the exceptional beauty of Malli and all of them sent their proposals for getting her in marriage. Her father Kumbha was put in an embarrassing position to get those six proposals. On considering the said proposals, he did not find any of them as suitable for Malli and rejected all of them. Thereupon all the six suitors decided to attack Mithilä in order to get the hand of Malli. Kumbha boldly faced them with all his might, but he could not stand against the combined strength of the invading forces. He therefore retreated to his capital and closing the city gates, he planned to defend the city from within. The invading forces then laid siege to Mithilä. The city could only withstand the siege against it from the 6 kingdoms. This was indeed a problem.
When Malli came to know of the problem, she dwelt deep into the matter. She had an enlightened mind and realized that the root of the problem lay in her earlier life. She remembered that she was Mahabal and those six suitors had been her close friends. She also remembered how all of them had become the pupils of Dharmaghosh-suri and how she had secretly observed the longer austerities because of which she was now born a female. She realized that those friends had brought forward their affection from the earlier life and as such were prompted to gain her hand.

Malli therefore decided to tackle the issue to bring the truth home to those friends. She requested her father not to worry about the problem and leave everything to her. She remembered that her palace had a hall with six doors, all of them focused towards the center of the hall. She arranged for setting up well furnished rooms across each door. The access to each room was arranged so that a person coming towards anyone of them could not see another proceeding towards another room. The doors of the hall were fitted with fine screen through which the persons sitting in the rooms could glance at the center of the hall.

Simultaneously she arranged for preparing a lifelike statue of her own likeness so that the onlooker could take the statue as Malli herself. The inside of the statue was hollow and there was a hole at the top, which could be tightly covered by an appropriate device. That statue was placed in the middle of the hall and a maid servant was asked to put a morsel of regular food twice a day within its hollow and to immediately close its top.

Then she requested her father to send the invitation to all six suitors to come to the hall for getting her hand. The invitations were so planned that all of them would come to the hall in the evening and wait in the room assigned to each of them. At the appropriate time all the suitors came and occupied the seat in the respective room. As they glanced through the screen, the beautiful doll of Malli came to their notice. Each of them took it as Malli herself and anxiously waited for being called inside. They could notice that Malli was far more beautiful than they had expected and became much enamored of her.

As they were waiting, Malli entered the hall through a secret channel and standing at the back of the statue, she opened the top. The food that had been put inside had become rotten and gave foul odor. It was so obnoxious that each of the suitors had to cover his nose. Thereupon Malli presented herself and asked why they could not face the smell of the person of whom they were so much enamored. They had to reply that they could not bear that horrible smell.

Mali then explained that the very food that she used to eat was put within the statue.. The food in her body did not stink merely because there was soul inside which prevented the rotting. Once that soul left, her body too would start to smell. It is the nature of the body to degenerate, decay, and disintegrate. As such, what is the purpose of getting attached to a body, which is going to face that fate sooner or later? Is it not worthwhile to pursue something that is going to stay?

As the suitors stood there in amazement, she asked them to remember what they had been in their earlier lives. Then she said that all of them were close friends and were undertaking everything together. As they heard those words, the curtain of memory loss gave way and they vividly saw their previous life. That raised the acute sense of detachment for the ephemeral worldly state and all of them decided to renounce in order to further the spiritual pursuit that was left in the earlier life.

Very elaborate arrangements were then made for the renunciation ceremony. Malli ascended in a special palanquin made for the purpose and went to Sahasrämravan. Then, descending from the palanquin, she gave up everything and adopted self-initiation. She had very little Karma left on her soul. All of them were extinguished in very little time and she attained omniscience on that very day. Thereafter she moved around the country for a long time to lay down the truth. Ultimately she attained liberation on Mt. Sametshikhar.

Key Message:
Body is merely a temporary vehicle to carry the soul. During your lifespan, your soul subject to the body’s capabilities and beauty. But once you die, your soul simply goes to the next body, unless of course you have attained liberation. Physical beauty is very superficial and is independent of the soul or person inside the body. Malli made this point through the statue and the spoiled food idea.