Yakshinis or yakshis (यक्षिणी Sanskrit: yakṣiṇī or yakṣī; Pali: yakkhiṇī or yakkhī) are a class of female nature spirits in Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain religious mythologies that are different from devas and asuras (classes of power-seeking beings), and gandharvas or apsaras (celestial nymphs). Yakshinis and their male counterparts, the yakshas, are one of the many paranormal beings associated with the centuries-old sacred groves of India. Yakshis are also found in the traditional legends of Northeastern Indian tribes, ancient legends of Kerala, and in the folktales of Kashmiri Muslims. Sikhism also mentions yakshas in its sacred texts.
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) secondary sexual characteristics 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 the 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.They can be Sattvik, Rajas, Tamas in nature.
The sadhak can take yakshini as mother, sister or wife before commencing it. Proper mantra dikshaa from guru can speed up the mantra siddhi. They can be invoked with mantra "Om hreem shreem nityadravae mada (yakshini name) shreem hreem". The list of thirty six yakshinis given in the Uddamareshvara Tantra is as follows, along with some of the associated legends:
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 literature and folktales of Kerala, Yakshis are generally not considered benevolent. Many folk stories feature murdered women reborn as vengeful yakshis, some of which are listed below. Aside from those mentioned below, yakshis are also featured in Malayatoor Ramakrishnan's 1967 novel Yakshi, which describes their world as having a blue sun, carpets of crimson grass, streams of molten silver, and flowers made of sapphires, emeralds, garnets, and topaz. In the novel, young yakshis fly around on the backs of giant dragonflies. According to Ramakrishnan's novel, adult yakshis are required to enter the land of the living once a year to feed on the blood of human men.
According to a legend from Thekkalai, next to Nagercoil in Tamil Nadu, a pair of beautiful sisters named Chempakavally and Neelapilla turned into vengeful yakshis after becoming victims of an honor killing by their father. Since their father killed them to keep them from the clutches of the lustful raja of the region, the sister yakshis tortured and killed everyone in the palace, and their father as well. The two yakshis haunted the place where they were killed until they were placated somewhat by many poojas and rituals the construction of a temple on the site. Idols of the sister yakshis are present inside. The older sister, Chempakavally, eventually transformed into a benevolent deity and traveled to Mount Kailash to worship Lord Shiva, while the younger sister, Neelapilla, remained ferocious. It is said that some of Neelapilla's devotees offer her the fingernail clippings or locks of hair from their enemies, beseeching her to destroy them.
One of the most famous stories of legendary Yakshis of Kerala 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.
Mangalathu Sreedevi or Chiruthevi, also known as Kanjirottu Yakshi is a yakshi from the folklore of Kerala. According to legend, she was born into a Padamangalam Nair tharavad by name Mangalathu at Kanjiracode in South Travancore. She was also known as Chiruthevi. 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. Made arrogant by her beauty and the adoration heaped on her by men, she enjoyed toying with men's lives and driving them to financial ruin.
However, Chiruthevi was truly in love with Kunjuraman, her palanquin-bearer, who was already married and uninterested in her romantically. In frustration, Chiruthevi arranged to have Kunjuraman's wife killed. Kunjuraman finally agreed to sleep with Chiruthevi, but then murdered her to avenge his wife.
Immediately after her death, Chiruthevi was reborn as a yakshi in the village of Kanjirottu, where she magically transformed into a beautiful woman mere moments after her birth. She terrorized men and drank their blood, and continued to harass Kunjuraman. Her frenzy only subsided after she made a deal with her brother Mangalathu Govindan, a close associate of Kunjuraman and a great upasaka of Lord Balarama. According to their agreement she would cohabit with Kunjuraman for a year on the condition that she would become a devotee of Narasimha after the year was up. The yakshi was installed at a temple which later came to be owned by Kanjiracottu Valiaveedu, though this temple no longer exists.
Sundara Lakshmi, an accomplished dancer and consort of HH Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma, was an ardent devotee of Kanjirottu Yakshi Amma.
The Kanjirottu yakshi is now said to reside in Vault B of Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, which supposedly also contains an enormous treasure. The enchanting and ferocious forms of this Yakshi are painted on the south-west part of Sri Padmanabha's shrine. The vault remains unopened due to ongoing legal issues and the legend of the Yakshi, whom some believe will wreak havoc on the world if her prayers to Lord Narasimha within Vault B are disturbed by opening the vault.