Place: Udutadi in Shivamogga District , Karnataka

Period: 12th Century

At 16, Mahadevi was the epitome of beauty. While other girls of her age dreamt of prospective bridegrooms, she decided to wed Shiva, more precisely, Chenna Mallikarjuna (the beautiful Lord, pure as Jasmine).

The daughter of devoted parents, she was initiated into bhakthi at the age of seven; by 16, she was almost a saint. But, when King Koushika’s eyes fell on her, she was forced to marry him. Koushika challenged Mahadevi’s stand that she only belonged to Shiva. When he pointed out that everything she had belonged to him, she discarded everything, including her clothes, and left the palace. The very next minute, long tresses covered her nakedness.

She went to Kalyan, a haven for devotees of Shiva, and joined a group called ‘Veera Saiva’. There, in the ‘Anubhava Mandapa’, a platform for open debate on various issues including philosophy and social reform, Mahadevi spoke fearlessly. Her conviction earned her the honorific title, ‘Akka’, meaning ‘elder sister’. In the company of Basavanna, Chenna Basavanna, Prabhudeva and Madivalayya, her devotion attained maturity.

It is believed that at the age of 25, she found the Kadali vana in the vicinity of the Shrishaila temple and lived the rest of her life in a cave. As she continued to meditate, Akka’s concept of Chenna Mallikarjuna changed from that of the Puranic Shiva to the formless Divine — the one who pervaded her soul. She saw the Absolute in everything. Every tree was the kalpavriksha, every bush was the Sanjeevani, every place was a teertha, every water body contained Amritha and every pebble was the chintamani gem. Her very breath became His fragrance. His form became hers. Having known Him, there was nothing else to know. She became the bee that drank the nectar of Chenna Mallikarjuna, and dissolved into it. What remained was – “ Nothing, none whatsoever”!

Akka Mahadevi’s experiences , both spiritual and domestic, poured out in the form of simple stanzas (vachanas) in Kannada. Set in colloquial language and filled with true-to-life similes, her vachanas penetrate the conscience of the reader with their depth of meaning and lyrical beauty.

They number over 300 and feature in Yoganga Trividhi, treated as a text book by advanced sadhakas.

Her life was a testimony to the power of courage and faith. She gave up her social position and domestic security for the company of Shiva. She fought to prove that every soul, irrespective of gender, has a right to explore and reach the Divine. She was a revolutionary, a social reformer, an ardent devotee and a great poet. Her similes stun the reader with their simplicity and appropriateness.

She wrote: “Like treasure hidden in the ground, like flavour in the fruit, like gold in the rock and oil in the seed, the Absolute is hidden in the heart.” “Like the peacock that dances on a hill, like the swan that splashes around a lake, like the cuckoo that sings when the mango tree bursts into bloom, like the bee that enjoys only the fragrant flower, I will enjoy only my Lord Chennamallikarjuna.” Her advice to a devotee is simple but intense –“Shoot the arrow so forcefully that while penetrating the target, even the feathers go in. Hug the body of the Lord so tightly that the bones crumble…”

(Akka Mahadevi’s vachanas have been translated into Tamil by Tamil Selvi and Madhumitha. The book is available at Thrisakthi Pathippagam, 56/21, First Avenue, Sastri Nagar, Adayar, Chennai-20)

B. Ramadevi is a teacher and writes music reviews. She regularly blogs on http://rewindwithramadevi.blogspot.in/ Contact her at ramadevi1951@gmail.com