Yakshinis (यक्षिणी Sanskrit: yakṣiṇī or yakṣī; Pali: yakkhiṇī or yakkhī) a class of nature spirits in Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain religious mythologies that are different from devas (gods), asuras (demons), and gandharvas or apsaras (celestial beings). Yakshinis and their male counterparts, the yakshas, are one of the many paranormal beings associated with the centuries-old sacred groves of India.
The well behaved and benign ones are worshipped as tutelaries, they are the attendees of Kubera, the treasurer of the gods, and also the Hindu god of wealth who ruled Himalayan kingdom of Alaka. There are also malign and mischievous yakshinis with poltergeist-like behaviours, that can haunt and curse humans according to Indian folklore.
The ashoka tree is closely associated with yakshinis. The young girl at the foot of the tree is an ancient motif indicating fertility on the Indian Subcontinent. One of the recurring elements in Indian art, often found as gatekeepers in ancient Buddhist and Hindu temples, is a yakshini with her foot on the trunk and her hands holding the branch of a stylized flowering ashoka or, less frequently, other tree with flowers or fruits.
The three sites of Bharhut, Sanchi, and Mathura, have yielded huge numbers of Yakshi figures, most commonly on the railing pillars of stupas. These show a clear development and progression that establishes certain characteristics of the Yakshi figure such as her nudity, smiling face and evident (often exaggerated) feminine charms that lead to their association with fertility. The yakshi is usually shown with her hand touching a tree branch, in a sinuous tribhanga pose, thus some authors hold that the young girl at the foot of the tree is based on an ancient tree deity.
Yakshis were important in early Buddhist monuments as a decorative element and are found in many ancient Buddhist archaeological sites. They became Salabhanjikas (sal tree maidens) with the passing of the centuries, a standard decorative element of both Indian sculpture and Indian temple architecture.
The sal tree (Shorea robusta) is often confused with the ashoka tree (Saraca indica) in the ancient literature of the Indian Subcontinent. The position of the Salabhanjika is also related to the position of Queen Māyā of Sakya when she gave birth to Gautama Buddha under an asoka tree in a garden in Lumbini, while grasping its branch.
Below is a nonexhaustive list of yakshinis found in Buddhist literature:
In Uddamareshvara Tantra, thirty-six yakshinis are described, including their mantras and ritual prescriptions. A similar list of Yakshas and yakshinis are given in the Tantraraja Tantra, where it says that these beings are givers of whatever is desired. They are the guardians of the treasure hidden in the earth.
The list of thirty six yakshinis given in the Uddamareshvara Tantra is as follows:
In Jainism, there are twenty-five yakshis, including Panchanguli, Chakreshvari, Ambika, and Padmavati, who are frequently represented in Jain temples. Each is regarded as the guardian goddess of one of the present tirthankar Shri Simandhar Swami and twenty-four Jain tirthankara. The names according to Tiloyapannatti (or Pratishthasarasangraha) and Abhidhanachintamani are:
In the horror fictions of Malayalam literature, Yakshis are mostly not considered benevolent. They are being portrayed by people alluring men and finally killing them. The following are the prominent fiction characters.
One of the most famous Kerala legendary stories of Yakshis is that of Kalliyankattu Neeli, a powerful demoness who was fabled to have finally been stopped by the legendary priest Kadamattathu Kathanar. The Yakshi theme is the subject of popular Keralite tales, like the legend of the Yakshi of Trivandrum, as well as of certain movies in modern Malayalam cinema.
Another lesser known Yakshi is Mangalathu Sreedevi also known as Kanjirottu Yakshi. She was born into a Padamangalam Nair tharavad by name Mangalathu at Kanjiracode in South Travancore. She was a ravishingly beautiful courtesan who had an intimate relationship with Raman Thampi, son of King Rama Varma and rival of Anizhom Thirunal Marthanda Varma.
Mangalathu Sreedevi was infatuated with one of her servants, Raman. Raman, a Pondan Nair (palanquin-bearer), was a fair, tall, well-built and handsome young man. She and her brother Govindan used to ride on Raman's back to nearby places. A predatory sadist, Sreedevi enjoyed torturing Raman physically and mentally. She did everything possible to separate him from his wife.
In course of time, the unmarried Govindan and Raman became bosom friends. They often shared the same room. Sreedevi was not quite comfortable with the growing fondness of her brother for her lover. But she did not act.
Sreedevi hatched a plot and raped Raman's wife. Once Govindan was travelling on Raman's back when the former revealed the details of the plot. Days later, Raman strangled Sreedevi to death when they were sharing a bed. Govindan winked at the crime and protected his beloved friend.
Sreedevi was reborn as a vengeful Yakshi to a couple at Kanjiracode. She grew into a bewitching beauty within moments of her birth. Though she seduced many men and drank their blood, her heart was set on the handsome Raman. She told him that she was willing to pardon him if he married her. Raman flatly refused. The Yakshi channeled all her energies in tormenting him. Devastated, Raman sought the assistance of Mangalathu Govindan, who was a great upasaka of Lord Balarama. Govindan was for a compromise. He said that the Yakshi could have Raman for a year provided she conformed to three conditions. One, she must agree to be installed at a temple after one year. Two, after many years the temple will be destroyed and she must then seek refuge in (saranagati) Lord Narasimha for attaining moksham. Three, she must pray for Govindan and his relationship with Raman not only in their current birth but also in their subsequent births. The Yakshi swore upon 'ponnum vilakkum' that she would abide by all the three conditions. Thus the compromise formula worked.
A year later, the Yakshi was installed at a Temple which later came to be owned by Kanjiracottu Valiaveedu. The Temple does not exit anymore.
Sundara Lakshmi, an accomplished dancer and consort of HH Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma, was an ardent devotee of Kanjirottu Yakshi Amma.
After taking refuge in Lord Narasimha of Thekkedom, the Yakshi are now believed to be residing in Kallara B of Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple. The enchanting and ferocious forms of this Yakshi are painted on the south-west part of Sri Padmanabha's shrine.