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Candanbala's Tears: Recovering the Emotional Life of Jainism

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In the oft-told narrative of the Jain sati Candanbala, we see her standing at the door in chains, making an offering of lentils to Mahavir with tears in her eyes. Candanbala's tears, which arise after Mahavir passes by without taking alms, resonate with the Jain experience of worshipping an unresponsive Jina. Jain theology has been presented as anti-emotion and yet, within the most normative strata of the tradition, we find emotions and bhakti devotionalism as key first causes of moral actions of ideal persons. This essay examines the representations of Candanbala's tears in Shvetambar narrative and hymn literature alongside contemporary performances of the Candanbala Fast, the end of which is marked by a reenactment of this narrative. Analysis (informed by field research) of textual materials illuminates the potential for beneficial emotions within the Jain tradition alongside the argument that Candanbala's popularity arises from an identification with her moment of despair.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Philosophy & Religion, 371 Holmes Hall, Northeastern University, Boston, MA 02115, USA


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