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Akka Mahadevi was one of the early female poets of the Kannada language and a prominent personality in the Veerashaiva Bhakti movement of the 12th century. Her 430 extant Vachana poems (a form of spontaneous mystical poems), and the two short writings called Mantrogopya and the Yogangatrividhi are considered her most notable contribution to Kannada literature. She composed relatively fewer poems than other saints of the movement. Yet the term Akka (“elder Sister”), which is an honorific given to her by great Veerashaiva saints such as Basavanna, Siddharama and Allamaprabhu is an indication of her contribution to the spiritual discussions held at the “Anubhava Mantapa”. She is in hindsight seen as an inspirational woman for Kannada literature and the history of Karnataka. She is known to have considered the god Shiva (‘Chenna Mallikarjuna’) as her husband, (traditionally understood as the ‘madhura bhava’ or ‘madhurya’ form of devotion).

Akka Mahadevi was born in 1130 in Udutadi (or Udugani) near the ancient city of Banavasi in the modern Shimoga district of Karnataka state, India.

Akka Mahadevi describes her love for Lord Shiva as adulterous, viewing her husband and his parents as impediments to her union with her Lord. She talks about cuckolding the husband with Shiva and taking her lord (shiva) as her husband. Terming relationship with mortal men as unsatisfactory, Akka Mahadevi describes them as thorns hiding under smooth leaves, un-trustworthy. About her mortal husband she says “Take these husbands who die decay, and feed them to your kitchen fires!”. In another verse, she expresses the tension of being a wife and a devotee as

Husband inside, lover outside.

I can’t manage them both.

This world and that other, cannot manage them both.

From an early age she was initiated into the worship of Shiva. She considered this initiation to be the most important moment of her life and she became a devoted worshipper of Shiva. The form of Shiva she worshipped was known as Chennamallikarjuna., which translates as ” The Beautiful Lord, white as jasmine.” Much of Mahadeviyakkha’s poetry refers to her vivid descriptions of her beautiful Lord. And indeed she always signed her poems O Lord White as Jasmine.

Legend says that the local Jain King of the area desired Mahadeviyakkha for she was a woman of un-surpassing beauty. Her family naturally agreed, and perhaps were a little fearful of incurring the King’s displeasure should Mahadeviyakkha be uncooperative. The wedding is said to have taken place (although some scholars dispute this) however Mahadeviyakkha was unwilling to reciprocate the desire of the King. Mahadeviyakkha was immersed in devotion to her Lord and she could not accept a life of servitude to an atheistic King.

Her family were highly critical of her “unorthodox” behaviour and this led Mahadevia to renounce her worldly life. Mahadevi left her marriage and place of birth to live the life of a wandering mendicant. Mahadevi is said to have worn only long tresses. She felt clothes were a needless adornment for one seeking the Lord.

Mahadeviyakkha is said to have then travelled to the region of Kalyana. Kalyana was a refuge for genuine Shiva bhakti, it stood out from the normal religious and social customs of the time. One of the leading saints Basavanna is said to be one of the first socialists because he spoke out against the inequities of the caste system. But primarily Basavanna and Allama were uniting those dedicated to Shiva worship.

However even the leaders of this community Basavanna and Allama had some trouble accepting Mahadevi, they were somewhat disturbed by her naked appearance. However Allama was eventually impressed by both her humility and genuine spirituality and Mahadevi was accepted into the community.

Much of her poetry relates to the dialogues Mahadevi had with Allama as she was seeking to prove her spiritual intent. Her advice was to wholeheartedly yearn for the Divine without any inhibition. Mahadevi felt that outer rituals were mostly unimportant, what was important was the inner consecration the inner worship.