How a Prince, Snake Gods, and a Demon Changed My Life

Kushan V. MehtaMay 22, 2023Violence and HealingInterfaith Connections

As a child, every night before going to bed I would recite a few lines of prayer as my mother told me it would ensure good sleep.

Sure enough by the end of the prayer I could feel my senses being welcomed into the warm embrace of sleep. To this day I still recite those lines of prayer anytime I have trouble sleeping, and like muscle memory, a yawn always comes about. It’s through these small anecdotes that I have realized the immense impact that my religion, Jainism, has had on my life. Jainism is one of the oldest religions in the world, dating back to 500 BC. Originating in India, Jainism chronicles its beliefs of non-violence and spirituality through the lives of 24 Tirthankara gods. Being born in the USA and subsequently spending most of my adolescence in India, my religion has been the one constant in my life that has stayed with me like a sure companion. Be it through its teachings or through the daily practices that I associate with it, my faith, along with providing familiarity in unknown settings, allowed me to stay connected to who I was in changing scenarios. My earliest memories of religion involve attending Jainism school called Pathshala in the USA, where I was taught about the 2500-year-old religion through prayer and storytelling. This experience cultivated in me the ability to form my own unique perspective on life phenomena. One story that I vividly remember teaching me about the concepts of violence and healing was the story of the 23rd Tirthankara god - Parshvanatha.

“As Prince Parshva of the Kashi kingdom entered the throngs of the Kashi Jungle, he heard a violent murmur pervading the thicket of nature that surrounded him. The hymn-like whispers ebbed and flowed with the wind, laden with the shrieks of the helpless. The prince inched closer to the sound and upon entering a clearing in the jungle, saw a priest deeply entrenched in prayer. Transfixed, the priest tended to a roaring fire. He was performing a spiritual ritual to call forth the gods of the sky called a yagna. But something was wrong. The pious aura of the yagna was plagued with calls of distress. The prince felt drawn to the fire. Something needed his help. Parshva stepped into the holy ground of the yagna, angering the priest. Much to the priest’s horror Prince Parshva put out the fire with sand, abruptly ending the holy ritual. Furious, the priest left at once vowing to destroy Prince Parshva’s life. Meanwhile, the prince searched the ashes for the source of the calls of distress. Amidst the glowing embers were two snakes being burned alive, on the precipice of death. The Prince frantically tried to save the snakes but to no avail. Finally, he recited the Namokar Mantra, a holy prayer to allow for the salvation of the souls of the snakes.”

Through the first half of this seemingly fantastical story, I was able to imbibe one of the most fundamental teachings of Jainism: “Ahimsa Parmodharam.” Literally translating to “Non-violence is the prime religion.” Jainism declares that all breathing, existing, living, sentient creatures should not be slain nor treated with violence. This is the pure unchangeable law. In the story, the priest is depicted as being involved in a holy ritual of great importance. Despite the gravity of the situation, Prince Parshva has put all conventions and religious matters aside to ensure that no violence is carried out. He ceases the prayer and saves the snakes first. This cemented in me the fact that non-violence is the prime virtue that comes above all other religious notions. Thus today, I truly do believe that violence is an unacceptable aspect of life that we should all avoid. These days violence is rampant, be it on a more minor scale like communal riots and domestic abuse, or on a major scale like warfare and armed struggles. With the teachings from my culture, I am able to extract clarity in both my views and opinions on these occurrences.

Since I was taught that Jainism advocates for humans to lead as peaceful a life as possible by not indulging in violence, the natural question that arose within me was: what do we do about our inherent disposition as humans to resort to violence in strenuous situations? As I matured and paid more attention to the things I was taught through Jainism, I realized that the latter half of the very same story gave me the answers I sought.

“20 years had passed by and the snakes were reborn as the god Dharnendra and the goddess Padmavati. Prince Parshva, now an ascetic, is in deep meditation in the jungles of Kashi. A murmur begins to grow once again amidst the jungle. The priest had been reborn as the demon of storms named Meghamali. Acting on the vow of his previous life Meghamali attempted to break Parshva’s meditation. With thunderous fervor, rainwater filled the jungle threatening to drown the meditating prince. Dharnendra and Padmavati immediately came to Prashva’s aid. Dharnendra assumed the form of a snake covering Parshvas head from the oncoming rains and Padmavati assumed the form of a lotus pedestal keeping Parshva afloat throughout the storm. Despite his great efforts, the evil demon could not drown the prince. Ultimately accepting his defeat, Meghmali begged for forgiveness from the prince and the gods whom he had hurt in his past life. Now gods, the snakes understood their true purpose and the prince forgave the demon for his misdeeds, allowing his soul to achieve peace in the Kashi jungle.”

Growing up and visiting temples I always saw the idol of the god Parshvanatha with his signature lotus pedestal and snakehead covering. The symbolic iconography seemed to follow me everywhere as I continued practicing Jainism in my life. It was only after I learned of the origins of these symbols, that the purpose of religion in my life evolved from providing a sense of belonging, to providing direction and purpose in the way I conducted myself.

This part of Prince Parshva’s story allowed me to understand Jainism’s take on healing from violence. The demon Meghamali is forgiven for his misdeeds after he realizes his mistake of knowingly and unknowingly harming the snakes and Prince Parshva. Through this, Meghamali, the snake gods, and the Prince achieve peace in their own respects. Thus it showed me that using forgiveness as a tool to heal from violence, allows all parties involved to move forward in life in a peaceful manner. This powerful message stayed with me and is what I largely base my opinions of healing on to this day. I believe that acknowledging one’s mistakes through reflection and seeking forgiveness in society allows one to overcome the ill that violence brings into our lives.

A practice that further reinforced this lesson was Pratikraman, a special prayer that is held in congregations on the last day of the holy period of Paryushana. In this prayer, all Jainism followers come together to reflect and repent for the violence they might have perpetrated, condoned, or indulged in to be able to wipe the slate clean for the upcoming year. At the end of the prayer, Jains go to all humans - Jain believers and nonbelievers alike - to seek forgiveness with the phrase “Michhami Dukkadam.” After participating in this activity year after year, I was able to find peace in my own life. I saw how the activity mitigated the power of violence in the lives of others too, by actively recalling the violence that occurred and using forgiveness as a tool to eliminate its effect.

Thus, in conclusion, my perceptions on various topics including those of violence and healing are greatly influenced by my cultural identity and strengthened through the power of storytelling. In a world that is so precariously perched on the edge of violence, it is essential that we build a deeper understanding of the methods of healing from violence by taking inspiration from our distinct cultural beliefs. What better way to do so than with a little imaginative storytelling?


Tirthankara – A set of 24 liberated souls honored as deities in the Jain religion.

Pathshala – Any setting in which children are taught about Jainism.

Yagna/Yajna – refers to any ritual done in front of a sacred fire, often with mantras.

Namokar Mantra – The oldest and most significant Jain mantra meant to venerate all gods, sages, and saints.

● “Ahimsa Parmodharam” – An axiom in Jainism meaning “Non-violence is the prime virtue.”

Pratikraman – A prayer that involves introspection and repentance of past violent deeds.

Paryushana – An annual 10 day period where Jains honor the important virtues of Jainism through prayer and religious activities.

● “Michhami Dukkadam” – A phrase interpreted as meaning to seek forgiveness for any ill action to have been carried out knowingly or unknowingly. It is used as a form of communal forgiveness in the Jain community, especially on the last day of Paryushana.

Kushan Mehta is an eighth grader at The Riverside School in India. He enjoys technology, language, design, and music. He has published numerous articles and short stories in online magazines, newspapers, and novels. Kushan tries to fade the lines between the two countries he has been tied to — the United States and India — and hopes to write his own novel one day, too.