Mahasati (female ascetic) Chandanbala occupies a unique place among the leading 16 satis of Jain relegious history. Besides being learned, virtuous and devoted to penance, she became the first sadhvi (nun) of the sadhvi sangh (order of nuns) founded by Bhagwan Mahavir and thereafter she enjoyed the honour of being the first sadhvi-president (head of the order of nuns) of 35000 sadhvis. Her life-sketch conveys the message that virtue is greater than caste or creed.
She was the daughter of King Dadhivahan of Champa and queen Dharini and was also known as Vasumati. It was from her mother that she had imbibed the virtues of tolerance, renunciation and religious faith. As a result of such grooming, she desired spiritual growth and she decided not to marry. Knowing her mind and intentions full well, her parents allowed her very willingly to remain firm in her vow. Meanwhile, Shatanik, the king of Kaushambi attacked Champa and Chandanbala was sold as a dasi (a female slave). But Dhanvah Sheth paid adequate money and saved Chandanbala from becoming a courtesan. Dhanvah Sheth had treated her as his own daughter.
Once Dhanvah Sheth happened to return from a tour, and as usual she went to him to wash his feet; meanwhile, in order to save her loose hair from falling into the dirty water, Dhanvah Sheth lifted it up with the good intention. Mula Shethani, Dhanvah Sheth’s wife happened to see this sight and she became immensely jealous. Once when Dhanvah Sheth was away from the town, Mula Shethani took the opportunity and cut off Chandanbala’s hair; then her feet were chained and she was driven into a cellar. She had to go without food and water for three full days. When Dhanvah Sheth returned he sensed the situation and decided to call a blacksmith. Meanwhile he gave her some boiled unsplit black beans, kept there for the cattle, in a winnowing basket.
It so happened that Bhagwan Mahavir arrived in this Kaushambi city. As per the Jain tradition, he had made secret resolutions regarding food-stuff i.e. to accept only boiled unsplit black beans and that too if they were lying at the corner of a winnowing basket. As regards the place, the resolution was to the effect that such black beans be accepted only from a person having one foot inside a threshold and the other one out of it. As regards the time, he had resolved that such food be accepted only if the time for accepting alms, that is the lunchtime, had already passed.
As regards bhav (sentiment) element, it was so resolved that she should be a princess subjected to slavery, her feet should be chained, head be fully shaven, eyes be full of tears; she should have undertaken aihtham (continuous three days fasting) penance and should be a holy sati. He had resolved that food be accepted only if such a woman offered alms. Bhagwan Mahavir, thus, accepted alms from Chandanbala after five months and twenty-five days. Everyone realized the truth. Her chains broke miraculously. She regained her beautiful hair. As soon as Bhagwan Mahavir accepted alms from her, there was divine shower of flowers. King Shatanik and Mula Shethani begged to be forgiven for all their misdeeds. Chandanbala became the first disciple of Bhagwan Mahavir and being a torchbearer for the mankind, she ultimately attained divine knowledge (kevaljnana).