Yashodara –The Most Radiant


Vesak, commemorates the birth of Gautama Siddhartha and his attainment of Buddhahood at 39 years of age: his realisation of the truth of samsaric existence, and his passing away at 80.  The thought of Yashodara is present in my mind, especially at this time of the year. It was brought to focus today when I read that due to political allegiance, a woman was not elected as Deputy Speaker in our Parliament. If elected, she would have brought greater balance and thus steadfastness to the August House. But no, senseless allegiance to Party maneuvers voted her out. Rohini Kaviratne later blamed a crow for her defeat. Here it is selfishness and political power that defeated her. We take comfort in the fact that women have risen above pettiness and selfishness. And hence the inspiring story of Yashodara..

She was known as Bimbasundari  and Rahulamatha.  Prof Sunil Ariyaratne’s 2018 film Bimba Devi hewath Yashodara  named her differently. She had been wife to the Bodhisatva through very many births since Siddhartha vowed he would be a future Buddha. It was during the time of Deepankara Buddha. Yashodara was present at this time and resolved to be his wife until their samsaric lives ended. Thus their many lives together, the most poignant being that of the wife of King Vessantara. The queen followed him when he gave up kingship and took refuge in a forest. She did not object when he sacrifice his family to become a Buddha. This he achieved by gifting his two children to Jutaka Bamuna.

Yashodara Devi was born on the same day as Prince Siddhartha in an adjoining principality. He was not keen about marriage, but many young princesses were presented to him. When he saw Yashodara he consented to marriage. However, from the very first days of their happy marriage, Yashodara knew Siddhartha was tiring of his princely comforts. Seeing the sick, the old, the dead and then an ascetic, the Prince knew he had to give up his royal life and take to ascetism to see the truth as to why life is one of suffering even in the midst of great joy and comfort as his was. She condoned and permitted his leaving her; on one condition: that he leave her when she was asleep. His father, King Suddhodana was direly opposed to his son’s desire to go forth to realise the truth as Suddhartha was heir to his throne. But with the intervention of Prajapathi Gotami, he finally consented to Prince Siddhartha leaving home, designating  Nanda as the heir. Siddhartha  left the night his son was born. And Yashodara, renouncing all comforts, lived on until the Buddha accepted her as a Bhikkhuni. When old and knowing death was imminent, she travelled to where the Buddha resided. 

Revered women in Buddhism

We Buddhist have heard, read and thought much about other women who lived in the time of the Buddha.  Mahamaya Devi, wife of King Suddhodana of Kapilawastu, was revered as the mother of Siddhartha Gautama, the future Buddha. She was destined to die seven days after giving birth. Then came Prajapati Gotami, who relegating her own child, Nanda, to a wet nurse, cared for the infant Siddhartha. She was the first to be ordained a nun, after much travail and being refused thrice by the Buddha. He finally gave in, reasoned out by Ananda, his ever faithful attendant. So, Prajapathi Gothami started the Bhikkhuni Sasana which has been revived in Sri Lanka by Kusuma Devendra and other women. A Bhikkhuni Order is essential since the religion has four supports: Bhikkhus, Bikkhunis, lay men and lay women.

We Buddhists heard many sermons and thought much on Kisa Gotami and Patachara, the former who would not accept the fact her infant was dead; and the latter losing her entire family including parents and brothers and going insane with grief. Both were helped to see the truth that death comes to everyone. These two became nuns and reached Nibbana.  When the Buddha went to Kapilavastu soon after he became the Buddha, Yashodara did not go to see him in King Suddodhana’s palace. The Buddha came to her. She wept at his feet.  However, knowing well that he may ordain Prince Rahula, she sent him to the Buddha. He did take him away. But Yashodara was well advanced in her piety and took it all until she herself could join the Sangha. 

This inspiring woman is, to my way of thinking, the most wonderful person in the entirety of Buddhism.

– Kumari