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Yakini Mahattara – A Female Jaina Scholar of 7th Century AD

Yakini Mahattara was female Jaina Scholar of 7th century AD. Mahattara hailed from a noble family. She renounced the world in maidenhood, attracted by the principles of Jainism which believed that monastic life is essential for salvation. The term ‘Mahat’ indicates her acclaimed position in society.

As a true Jaina nun, Yakini Mahattara, in search of the constant, permanent true love she did not mind penance.

As a token of this decision, after obtaining permission from her family and the authorities of Jaina monastery, she distributed her wealth, shaved her head, abandoned jewels and costly clothing and wore simple white garments.

She fastened a white cloth over her mouth, drank strained water and swept the path in front of her as she walked to avoid harming small living creatures.

She followed a course of fasting, self-mortification, study and meditation to rid herself of karma.

With her keen intelligence and ability to communicate, she became a school-teacher, similar to Sulabha and Gargi of Vaidika dharma (Sanatana Dharma or Hinduism) and Sumedha and Anopama of Buddhism.

When she became a senior nun she had her own disciples and novices.

She travelled to various centers of learning promulgating the greatness of Jaina Philosophy.

Her noted achievement was defeated a male Brahmin scholar – Haribhadra – in debate.

She possessed sufficient influence to collect funds necessary for maintenance of her monastery.

Committed to observance of sallekhana vow (fasting, starving till death) in her old age, she was a true example of a female scholarly nun who was a remarkable teacher, scholar and debater and one who could challenge scholars of both sexes in her time.