The story of Krishna’s birth is a familiar one; we know how Devaki and Vasudeva, imprisoned by Kamsa (Devaki’s brother), manage to spirit him away one rainy night to the home of a herdsman, Nanda and his wife Yashoda, in Vrindavan-Mathura and bring their new-born daughter to take his place. When Kamsa discovers that the child is a girl, he flings her against a rock to kill her, but she escapes and announces that the real killer was growing up elsewhere. In another version, the girl turns into a goddess, slips away from Kamsa’s grasp and makes a home in the Vindhya forests where she is known as Devi Ekanamsa, a protector of the hunter tribe. She was later considered to be a form of Durga.
This story turns into a completely different one in the Jaina texts. Jinasena, an acharya of the Digambara tradition and author of the Harivamsa Purana in 783 AD has a story about Ekanasa who is Krishna’s sister. Ekanasa means one with a single nostril (stub nose) and scholars believe that this was a counter story to the Vedic/Puranic versions.
Ekanasa was born to Yashoda and Nanda and took Krishna’s place in prison but instead of killing her, Kamsa decided to leave her alone. A woman could do him no harm he thought. But then he had second thoughts and decided that her future husband could bring about his death, so he pounded her nose to disfigure her face so that she would never find a husband. She grew up with people mocking her and calling her Cippita-Nasika (one with a stubbed nose).
One day the young sons of Balarama (her nephews) saw her admiring herself in front of a mirror and ridiculed her, at which she was so hurt that she went crying to a Jain mendicant and asked him to reveal the cause of her misfortunes. He told her that in her previous birth she was a handsome but vain young man. One day, he was driving his cart around when he came across a Jain sage deep in meditation and drove right into him, toppled him off his seat and broke his nose. The punishment that Ekanasa was suffering in this birth, the medicant told her, was a direct result of her actions in her previous life.
When she heard this account, Ekanasa was moved to tears and decided to give up everything and became a Jain sadhvi (nun). She travelled the length and breadth of the country before landing up in the forests of Vindhya. She made the forest her home, living sparely and performing severe austerities. One day as she sat in meditation under a tree, a group of hunters happened to go past. Apart from hunting, they would also rob the caravans of the rich that passed through the forest and they were on their way for just such an adventure. The hunter-robbers assumed that she was the goddess of the forest and offered her choice fruits and berries and asked for her protection and then they left.
While they were gone, a lion came upon the spot and attacked Ekanasa. It devoured her, leaving blood and entrails behind and three fingers. When the hunters returned, they thought that the goddess had disappeared, but that she must take delight in blood and sacrifice given that there was so much of it all around. And from that day on, they started sacrificing animals and worshipping her as their goddess Vindhyavasini.
The Jaina tale is meant to show the foolishness of a people who follow wrong scriptures and gods. The texts reiterate that Ekanasa is a Jain sadhvi and the image of her as a disfigured nun deep in meditation, surrendering herself to the lion, a powerful reminder of the courage and character that she had within her. Her worship as a bloodthirsty goddess, the text warns, is an example of pagan worship built on false premises.