- Birth and Early Life
- Her Teachings
- Later Years
- Her Verses
- Realisation and Passing Away
Akka Mahadevi was a medieval Kannada poet, mystic and saint in the 12th century Karnataka and was a prominent figure of the Veerashaiva Bhakti movement. Her greatest contribution to Kannada Bhakti literature was her Vachanas which were in the form of didactic poetry meaning which were informative and educative having moral instruction as the ulterior motive. She is said to have been the first woman in Kannada literature to write Vachanas. The Nava Vidha Bhakti are the nine forms of devotion or the nine fold path to attain the Lord’s feet of which Madhurya or the Madhura Bhava path as depicted by Meera towards Lord Krishna was said to have been exhibited by Akka Mahadevi as she accepted Lord Shiva in the form of Chenna Mallikarjuna as her husband. Other great Veerashaiva saints who were her contemporaries like Basavanna, Allamaprabhu, Siddharama etc conferred on her the term ‘Akka’ meaning ‘elder sister’ as an honorific to her name. She is also referred to as Mahadevi or Mahadeviyakka.
Birth and Early life
Akka Mahadevi was born to Sumati and Nirmalashetty at Udutadi in 1150 AD in the Shivamogga(Shimoga) district of the state of Karnataka. Her parents were devotees of Lord Shiva and were staunch followers of the Shaivite sect of the Lingayats whose philosophy was known as the Trividhi philosophy comprising Guru, Shiv Linga and Jangama which means to avoid worldly happiness while sacrificing one’s life for service to society and aiming for true knowledge. Growing up in this atmosphere Akka Mahadevi became a devoted worshipper of Lord Shiva in the form of ‘Chenna Mallikarjuna’ meaning ‘The beautiful Lord white as jasmine’. She grew up to be a beautiful woman with long tresses and legends say that the King Kousika, the local Jain King wished to marry her. Though Mahadevi was unwilling it is said that her family agreed due to fear of incurring the King’s wrath. Also they could not condone her accepting Lord Shiva as her mystical spouse and going against the traditional norms set for women in those days by accepting her decision of sannyas or renunciation. Though some scholars dispute that the wedding actually took place, legends state that after the wedding, being immersed in her Lord she could not reciprocate the desire of the King due to which she left the palace and took up the life of a wandering mendicant.
She is said to have left everything behind including her own clothes as she felt that there was no need for any adornment when seeking the Lord. Covering her body only with her long tresses she travelled to the region of Kalyana in the Bidar district of Karnataka which was the capital of the Western Chalukya dynasty at that time and which was a region of true Shiva Bhakti where leaders like Basavanna and Allamaprabhu were uniting all Shiva devotees and speaking against the inequalities of the caste system. Though initially these great leaders were disturbed at Mahadevi’s naked appearance and her renunciation of worldly life eventually her simplicity, deep devotion and humility impressed them and they accepted her into the community.
Much of her poetry are the dialogues between her and Allamaprabhu in the beginning seeking to prove her spiritual goal and to gain entry into the Anubhavamantapa in Kudalasangama at Kalyana which was the socio religious and spiritual congregation accepting only the spiritually enlightened.
At Kalyana in the company of saints and seers she scaled the heights of spiritual life. Their subtle and irresistible influences on her spiritual sadhana are expressed in her Vachanas with clarity of perception, devotion, purity, mellowing grace and faith. Refusing to remain content with mere intellectual curiosity she soared the heights of spiritual imagination with God as the centre of her focus whom she pursued with deep love and devotion. She knew that man could never be fully appeased with knowledge and self discipline and it was only through the more human approach of pure and unselfish love that the obstacle of ego between the devotee and the divine could be removed. Her poems express simple living and harmony with nature. She composed around 430 Vachanas.
- There is rice in the begging bowl to appease hunger
There are streams, wells and tanks to appease thirst
There are temple ruins to lie down and sleep
But it is only you Lord Chenna Mallikarjuna who is the companion of my soul.
- People blush when their clothes come loose
But what can one conceal and cover
When all the world is the eye of the Lord
The Onlooker everywhere.
- I salute Basavanna and my Master Allamaprabhu
With whose help the six passions have been vanquished
And the magnificence of the Lord
Has been revealed Unto me.
- I have cast away pride of riches, caste and learning
For Thou has blest me with Thy grace.
- O Parrots, bees and Swans
Have you seen my Lord
O God Thou are the forest, birds and beasts
Why then can’t I see you
Is space God, but I walk through it and see him not
Is the mountain God, but I climb and stand on it and see him not
O Lord do not reject me
Quickly take me into Thine arms.
- O Mother, listen I love him
All others fade and die away
I will have none of them
But my Lord, he is the one, the only one
He knows no birth nor death
He is beautiful without comparison
He is formless, changeless, boundless
My one and only Lord Chenna Mallikarjuna.
In answer to Allamaprabhu’s queries regarding her seeking God and that too as a female she replies-
Can sandalwood cease to emit fragrance when it is cut into pieces?
Can a piece of gold when cut and heated lose its lustre?
Can sugarcane when squeezed in a press and heated lose its sweetness?
So also can this body of mine born in a female form and ephemeral in existence not contain deep and unabiding love for the Lord ?
Realisation and Passing Away
After years of deep penances Mahadevi could not still gain the final experience of merging with the Infinite Lord Chenna Mallikarjuna. She then proceeded to Shrishila(Srisailam) where the temple of Lord Chenna Mallikarjuna was located. At the nearby dense forest of Srisailam at a place named Kadali she retreated into a cave where with single pointed devotion and great penance she developed Nirguna Bhava wherein she saw the Lord everywhere and recognised him in all creation. She finally attained self realisation and merged into the Infinite.
Akka Mahadevi’s life was a testimony to the power of Indelible Courage, devotion and Faith and she was considered an epitome of feminism. Spurning the comforts and life of ease at the palace her single minded quest and yearning for Lord Shiva are beautifully expressed in her Vachanas where her spiritual anguish and outpourings have been beautifully captured and preserved for posterity. During a period when it was considered inappropriate for a girl to even attend school, she took part in gatherings of wise and learned men. She was considered a social reformer, seer poet and mystic and one of the earliest feminists in the patriarchial society of India. Her life mirrored that of Mirabai in many ways and she too suffered displeasure and censure from society and her moving and haunting poetry embodies her struggle against the social restrictions that could not restrain her from her deep spiritual intoxication of the Lord. Merging with the Lord and finally attaining liberation, she is ranked one among the greatest women saints of medieval India.