MAHADEVI AKKA stands to this day as sublime spiritual personality, a soul force conjoining devotion, knowledge and non-attachment, a pioneer of the women’s emancipation movement, the pinnacle of the glory of the vachanas literature, an ever-shining example of the universal view and a mystic of the highest caliber. There isn’t a kannadiga who hasn’t felt the sublimity of this paragon of the greatest spiritual attainment. None, whether learned, literate or illiterate, who hasn’t been drawn by the spiritual magnetism of this great woman sage. The tide of celebratory literature of commentaries of AKKA rises year to year at an ever increasing pace, which constitutes a monument of her immortal personality.
It is only to be expected that such a divine being had its cradle and nursery amidst the most appropriate environs. It was none other than Ballegavi, the most enchanting part of the forest tract (called Malenad) forming the hinterland of the Western Ghats and rightly sung of as “My mother’s place and God’s own abode” by Mahadevi herself. In those days this stretch of thousands of villages came under the umbrella of Banavasi(in the present Karwar District). Ballegavi was an eminent center of Shaiva settlement and was farmed as mini-kalyana. In the vicinity of Ballegavi was a village called Udutadi, nestled amid the scenic surroundings. From the ruins discovered over there it appears that once it must have been the capital of a kingdom. When Akka was born here, it was ruled by a king called Kaushika. People to this day point to a place where the palace of Kaushika allegedly stood. There is also a temple known as “Paradeshi Mallappa’s”. Scholars have therefore concluded that this probably was the place of Akka’s birth rather than Mahagaon of Gulbarga district.
It thus turns out that Udutadi had a rare privilege and honor of being the birth place of Akka. She was born in a noble family where piousness overflowed. They were the followers of the Shaivite cult. They worshipped Guru, Linga and Jangama as forms of God. The life of Akka Mahadevi, as written by various biographers was true to pattern. Whether it is Harihara or Chamarasa or Channabasvanka or Virupakshapandita, She is considered as the very incarnation of parvathi, Lord Shiva’s consort. The darling of the devout couple came to be cradled and according to Harihara was named “Mahadevi” three times as the custom demanded. She grows waxing like a moon day by day,filling up with the sap of life and luster. She becomes a devotee whose very breath was the Linga she worshipped. She was endowed with the extraordinary knowledge of divinity. At a very young age, she achieved mastery over the kannada language. What she did during her childhood and youth can be gauged by vachana:
Like the strayed elephant
That recollects the Vindyas her home
Like the parrot which in its cage
Recalls his free brother of the airy kingdom
I remember and remember thee
Call thou me to thee Oh! Lord Channa Mallikarjuna,
As a mother does her babe.
This picture of an alienated soul affords us a glimpseinto state of her heart while at Udutadi itself. At what age, precisely, remains an unanswerable question. Perhaps at the threshold of a dawning consciousness.Here is another vachana of Akka which seeks to paint the dream bred by love’s fantasy:
Listen,sister dear, Oh!listen
I dream a dream in which I saw
The auspicious rice, areca, palm-leaf and coconut
He came to me in the habit of a beggar
He with pretty locks and gleaming teeth
And as he passed by heedlessly,
I followed and took him by the hand
He was none but my Channa Mallikarjuna
And the moment I faced him I woke up
In the life of every maiden, there comes a time when fantasy begins to picture lineaments of the ‘man’ she would like him to come along, take her hand by the hand and lead her to the altar. But in Akka’s case, it wasn’t an earthly paramour who came along to take her passionately and lead her to the altar.
She has already wedded the Lord in her heart. He fills her being, every pore of her flesh and bone, mind and heart. It is she who goes seeking him through the world wide, with a yearning that was not of this earth and earthy. She pictured him to herself in earthly habiliments: and longed for union with him, as any earthly maiden would with a swain. It is possible to attribute the vachanas that describe Channa Mallikarjuna, in all his resplendent beauty and ravishing power, to Akka’s period before her advent at the Anubhava Mantapa of Kalyana. But, then, Akka’s fancy flew unfettered between the conceptual words of Shiva as the Absolute without attributes and donkeys as an anthropomorphic God.
Ravished by Channa Mallikarjuna, Akka must have experienced ‘aloneness’ even in the company of her parents and friends. Who, of this world, would understand the mystery of her soul, of this her divine madness, this lover’s pain in her for a God? Maybe, at the appropriate age, when her parents proposed marriage, as the only desirable state for a grown-up daughter, with her companions, too, adding their persuasive appeal, Akka is supposed to have answered,( and all of these events in her life are dramatized in her Vachanas, which are her formal autobiography- both spiritual and material):
Tell friends, doth the peacock ever frolic in barren land, leaving aside the mountain valley? Doth the cuckoo haunt anywhere but a mango grove? Doth the bees make towards a flower that is without fragrance? my soul, ever long except for Cenna Mallikarjuna? The irreconcilabity of her love for the Lord and lusting for anything here below are brought out in yet another verse of hers:
Doth one who wants to see ever enter darkness? Doth he that would scale the mountains Descend into the valleys? Longing as I do for the peach That comes of union with thee How do I hanker for anything else? Mahadevi was not born to be mated with anything lowly and low- Hers was “the desire of the moth for the star, the devotion to something afar, from the sphere of our sorrow.” It was a divine moth and a divine star, a celestial mind and a celestial moon, and the mating was possible. For ,it was in contemplation of the Divine Lover that Akka is lost, morning and evening, day and night. The whole universe with its sun and sky, wind and water,tree and flower,light and color, by day, and with its moon and stars by night, lifts up its adoration to the maker. Akka who grew up amidst the scenic landscape of Malenad,learnt early in her life, to recognise the presence of the one-in many writ large in every leaf and bud, hill and dale, Nature which, as a living manifestation of God, must have inspired and infused inAkka a sense of the imminence of the Almighty, and a deep reverence for Him, forms a backdrop to her vachanas.
At the threshold of youth, when the natural impulses of flesh and blood were just awakening in her, spurring the fantasy to a conception of the ideal lover, Akka unlike the generality of maidens, had the anthropomorphic picture of the Absolute imprinted in her young mind, and she surrendered herself, entirely to him. He is the one and only lover , she declared, in contradistinction with whom earthly lovers or husbands mortals all, would pale into insignificance. She would, therefore, have none of them, but him alone. Earthly love is only “an expense of spirit and a waste of shame.”
Who would the conservative society accept this idea, a society that has been brought up to believe that for every maiden born there must be a male match somewhere, and is the only way of fulfillment for woman? Though Akka’s parents dreaded the day when they would have to part with this transcendent beauty born to them, and tended her, as the monsoon sky does the young moon behind the curtain of clouds, to harihara, the destined day did come.
As providence would have it, Akka was sitting one day in the verandah of her house, circled by her maids-in-waiting when the king happened to pass that way, returning in state from invasion. How could Kaushika resist the charms of one whose loveliness conquered everyone who gazed upon her? Kaushika would not take his eyes of her, sensing which Mahadevi turned and went into the house.
Some say that the marriage between Mahadevi and kaushika, king as he was and would have his wish, whatever the odds or resistance, did take place: Some say that the alliance,though proposed by Kaushika, did not come through .According to poet Harihara’s version, Mahadevi agreed to wed Kaushika on three conditions ( to protect her parents from wrath of the king, it may be), which he breaks soon after marriage, and then Mahadevi leaves the palace and goes on her way as a sanyasin, renouncing the world, even her parents. According to poet Chamarasa, Akka goes to the palace on condition that Kaushika should respect her wished.
When Kaushika, in the eagerness of his lust, forces himself on her, Akka says: ‘If you will become a devotee of Shiva, a union is possible between you and me, or else not.’ And Kaushika replying that he had no time for it, Akka is supposed to have said, “then no marriage is possible between you and me,” and then goes away, renouncing everything.
It is all one whether was married in reality or was not married; foe she recognized in one of her Vachanas how irresistible are the impulses of the blood for worldlings-God- created maya- lust and attachment is possible only for blessed souls like Akka’s and Allama’s. Kaushika came in the way of Akka as a real or seeming impediment in her pathway to god, but was soon set aside. The ways of the Sharanas,however, are different from those of Worldlings. To the latter, the conduct of the saints may seem like madness. But ,as she declares,there is no attachment, no forgetfulness, nor pride in the Sharana.
We now see Akka renouncing her house and parents, renouncing the pomp and pleasure of Kaushika’s palace and making her own way. Apparently she was headed to kalyana, but Harihara does not mention where. The dialogue that takes place between Alla and Allama at the Anubhava Mantapa(Srishaila?). He also makes Kaushika, unable to bear the pangs of love( or to escape the claws of cupid!!) and to live without Mahadevi, don the robe of a devotee and go to Srishaila to beg her favor. But Mahadevi’s answer is categorical. There can be no affinity between the darkness of the soul and the light and sends him back to his throne.
Other biographers speak of her going to kalyana first after leaving Udutadi. The fact that has been commonly recorded by Harihara and Chamarasa is her setting out from Udutadi in a nearly unclothed manner.
She had no clothes on her she must have discarded them as the last vestings?? Of a saunsarin- of the worldlings! now that she was a sanyasin- had renounced the world- what need of covering one self. Some might be shocked by this fact; though in this country nakedness in the male saints is not unknown,nakedness among female saints is unheard of. It defines all convention. But then, Akka was not a rebel and an uncomman woman.
We shall not pretend that this is but a legendary accretion over fact and truth. For, there are lines in Akka’s Vachanas themselves, which point to Akka’s attitude at the momentary to her state of nakedness, which leaves no doubt as to the fact: “The firmament itself is my grand raiment. Sex differentiation lies in the illusory eye of a man or woman. When a women is a women yet she perceives the image of a man shadowing herself, when a man is man, he yet perceives the image of a women shadowing his self. All the world is a prey to the original sin.’When you put an end to the sex-complex in your mind, how does the body sex affect you all? To our Channa Mallikarjuna, Oh! Listen, all the world is a woman!!” She continues,”man and woman are overpowered by shame when their clothes suffer the least disarray inthe presence of each other. But when, Thou, Oh!Lord art present everywhere, is there room for coyness and shame? When the world looks on, with inward eyes, how shall I cover myself? She questions.
She defends her disregard for body and clothes in these words: Does one, who has kindled the cupid in herself and conquered this world, have anything lika a body? There is no reversion to the prior state, as there is none in the case of corpse or a piece of thread that is burnt to ashes.The Vachanas which speaks of Akka’s choice of a distinct pathway through the world- her electing none but the Lord himself for her spouse, her rejection of the mere mortal Kaushika, her throwing away all awareness of the body and the need to cover it before the eyes of the world- hard choice by any standard- may have been composed later and not at the instant of decision making. But they do reflect the stem stuff that Akka was made of, the iron will behind her hard decisions. Sooner or later the agitation felt in the wake of the decision must have subsided into a calm of reconciliation. There is a Vachana which affirms this:
There is no dreading in the beasts
When you live in a house on the mountain top
there is no dreading the waves when you live on the seashore
There is no escape from the noise
When you dwell in the market place
Oh! Channa Mallikarjuna
There is no heeding the praise or blame
When you have been born in this world.
To herself she has the auto-suggestive consolation: “The world throws stones at a tree that does not bear any fruit. It faults people who are devout, but passes by those who are not. Fear not, my heart, the contumely of the society. Fear not, my body, the wickedness of the world. Oh! Channa Mallikarjuna, Thy word alone is my heaven and my ladder to thee!”
She must have digged by the lewd attentions of men who took her for an ordinary woman and were attracted by her extraordinary beauty. To all despicable lubbers her word of admonition was clear and unmistakable:
You must have been attracted to me Having seen my body and followed me You must have been blinded by the urine duct in me You have bartered the spiritual bliss For the sensuous pleasure of the flesh You know not this the way to hell Know ye! That Channa Mallikarjuna alone is my man The rest are but brothers Understand this and begone your way. Many a man did Akka turn away thus, among whom Kinnari Bommayya, who met her near kalyana, is said to have been one. According to one version, he was sent by Allama Prabhu on the specific purpose of testing Akka. Whatever the truth, not inconsiderable were the difficulties, the trials and tribulations that Akka faced on her way to kalyana. The courage and invincibility of her body, mind and spirit were of transcendant order.
After treading many a weary mile, facing all kinds of dangers and difficulties, Akka arrived in kalyana, It was no ordinary place of adobe. It was a blessed place where saints roamed. The name of the placeitself suggested that it was a heavenly adobe! No wonder then Akka felt that no one with an impure soul should enter it! Since she had cast off all her illusionary feelings related to the body and mind, she was fit to enter the city of kalyana, the heaven on earth. She had heard so much about Basava, who was the very essence and heart of this heaven on earth. She was dying to meet him. But then, another hurdle awaited her at the Anubhava Mantapa, where all the Sharanas had gathered to greet her. Allama would have no part of her presence in the Anubhava Mantapa unless she convinced the Sharanas that she was fit to sit amongst them.
He questioned her with all his stubbornness. “If you go about in the state of stark nakedness, will not the lewd world react madly about it? You claim that you have gotten rid of feelings of shame and guilt.
Yet, you hide part of your body with your cascading hair! Isn’t it a sign of egoism to say that you cast off all feelings of shame and attachment? Does this tell you that you are not what you claim to be.” Akka,calm and collected but equally determined replied,” Yes, I have covered parts of my body by my cascading hair, it isn’t because I have not shed off the illusory feelings about it: it is because I did not want to hurt othersfeelings by raising their passions and sensuous pleasures and thus swaying them away from the saintly path. It is for the sake of the world that is not accustomed to seeing the female body in this fashion that I partially covered it. It isn’t for me. I have completely and totally extinguished all the feelings of my body. I dont care a bit about it. It is my inward purity that is of paramount importance to me.
I have completely surrendered myself to Channa Mallikarjuna. Prabhu’s questioning of Akka and her answers to him, are by far the best part of the Shunyasampadane. It is episode that is manifestly sublime and superb and a cut above the famous Socrates dialogue. The dialogues reflect the unmatched understanding of the mysticism and spiritual attainment that Akka had achieved at unbelievable young age of sixteen years or so. The back and forth questions and answers are refreshing and rewarding to the mundane mind. Prabhu’s caustic comments bring out the best in Akka. They also reflect the fact that it is the experience and not the age that counts in mysticism.
It was only when Akka has came out unscathed and triumphant through this arduous questioning by Prabhu, that she was admitted to the Anubhava Mantapa. This act of Prabhu was destined to demonstrate to the world that Akka was a truly liberated soul and not a wandering lunatic. It isn’t that Allama did not know this. He staged this to convince the skeptics among those who had gathered to welcome her to Kalyana.
it seems that she spent some time at kalyana. During this sojourn, she endeared herself to others as “the most loved child”,”the darling daughter of Neelamma and Basava,” “the beloved daughter-in-law of Allama” and “the spritely bride of Channa Mallikarjuna.” Akka, who was wandering in search of Channa Mallikarjuna, thus came to comprehend the fact that He is in her own Isthalinga. He was so close yet far away.
She sometimes loudly carried on a dialog with him: oh! Lord I came thirsting after you, thinking that you dwell afar. But when you are sitting in the palm of my hand, my eyes are riveted on you. My soul is submerged with you.” Yet in another she has cried out aloud:
If like the husbands of the world You had departed to a war or to an assembly I would have forborne. But when you are in my palm, And dwell in my soul How shall I forbear if you do not speak to me.
She has come to realize that she can not win him over with the eight-fold worship, for He is beyond rites and rituals; she cannot win him over by chanting hymns, for he is beyond sound; she can not win him over by the knowledge of the soul, for he is beyond
conceptualization. “Shall I enclose you within the petals of my heart?” she questions. She answers herself to her own question, you are full bodied. The reality is this that I can not win you over unless you make me ‘thine’ Oh!
Channa Mallikarjuna. She has wooed and pined for him without end but her Lord has not yet bestowed her his grace. Somehow this love of hers appears to be mundane and selfish. She decides not to ask that he necessarily requite her love. She says she will love him for his own sake rather that for herself. Whether he listens to her or not, she sings his praise. Whether he bestows his favor on her or not she continues loving him and her long for him. Whether he glances on her or not, she will continue to gaze at him and dance around him. She vows, “Oh! Channa Mallikarjuna, I will abandon myself to the ecstasy of your adoration.”
Gone is the fevered anxiety, the anguished heartthrob for themselves sight of heavenly lover, the anticipated rapitive embrace, being one with him. All she does is to importunately and adourously plead for his acceptance of her. This state of her’s reflects the fact that she has not attained a resolute will. On her way to kalyana, she had sought the help of everything that came across her to tell her where she could find her beloved Channa mallikarjuna. She also sought the help of the trees to still her hunger.
Says she of this: ” They proffered of their bounty and became true devotees. But, by partaking of what they offered me, I became a worldling. Upon, my soul, I shall not beg hereafter, be Thou my witness, Oh!! Channa Mallikarjuna.”
After having convinced all the Sharanas of the Anubhava Mantapa that she is what she says, she asks Allama, “what is my destination? How can achieve the transcendent bliss of the Union with Lord Channa Mallikarjuna?” Prabhudeva who could gauge her keenness in her desire to achieve aikya with God, he instructs her, “You will have a Pisgah view of the Shunya( the absolute), when you have completely wiped off the distinction between ‘I’ and ‘you’ and ascended the Trikuta mountain. There is a rare plantain grove, on entering you will see a bright light, go you there, Oh! Blessed Mother, and attain union with the Lord.”
The words,”Srishaila”,”Trikuta” and “Kadali” resonate in Akka’s ears. Envisioning the unearthly beauty and heavenly grandeur she sets out on the further lap of long journey. Go she must and tarry she could not. When Prabhu had bid her farewell, she ‘was ready, set and go,’ although the saints of the Anubhava Mantapa had developed fatherly tender feelings over the course her stay in kalyana. The Poignant scene depicting the departure of Akka from Kalyana ans bidding farewell to the Sharanas of the Anubhava Mantapa in the Shunyasampadane is heart rending. Grief struck and dumb, tears rolled down from the heavy eyes and the hearts melted.
When she set out from Udutadi, her Parents had felt the pangs of seperation. She, who had courageously bid goodbye to them with a cheerful heart, had trouble controlling her emotions when she had to say goodbye to the Sharanas of Anubhava Mantapa. They had endeared themselves to her. More than that she knew and they knew that they would not see each other again alive; the separation was going to be permanent. emotion swelled up her chest and choked her. She writhed in pain knowing that they were fellow-travelers on the same road to spiritual awakening and that she had learned a lot from them.
When she was able to control her emotions and sommon enough she said:
Having vanquished the six passions and become
The Trinity of the body, thought and speech
Having ended the Trinity and become twain- I and the Absolute having ended the duality and become unity
It certainly is the grace of you all
I salute basavanna and all the assem
Blessed was I by Allama my Guru
Bless me, Oh!Sharanas, that I may join Channa Mallikarjuna Farewell, Oh! Sharanas, Goodbye.
The silence of grief was getting to all assembled to bid farewell to Akka.
Again, it was she who found strength to say:
I was born by the grace of my Guru
Grew I did in the tender-sunshine of many p
Fed was I by the milk of sentiment
The creamy essence of righteous knowledge
Served was I the sugar of metaphysics
Pour did they into my plate the three-fold ambrosia
Shower did they their love and tender care
Married me to the proper match
Assembled are you all
To send me off to my chosen one
Pledge will I not to bring any disgrace unto you
Kindly heed, bring will I only the laurels
To grace your brows and mine too
Please let me be on way
The concourse of the people assembled to bid farewell to Akka followed her with their eyes, Shading them from the sun and until they could see no more of her and turned back with tear-filled heavy eyes and
with Akka’s farewell vachanas still ringing in their ears:
Pledge will I not bring any disgrace unto you Kindly heed, bring will I only the laurels To grace your brows and mine too From this moment on, Akka quickened her pace with eagerness sprinkled in her gait. She has no time to waste. All of our faculties were focused on Channa Mallikarjuna, her Divine-consort-to-be. Her path was full of dangers and difficulties. She had nothing fear. She was radiant. She did not care for her physical body. Nor did she care for her hunger.She endured all hardships. All she saw was Channa Mallikarjuna. All she heard was the sweet voice of Channa Mallikarjuna. Her journey’s end was in sight. Her arduous quest was coming to an end. Her eyes were delighted at the sight of the spires of Srishaila. The mountain side was full of ‘wish-granting trees.’ The sacred soil, smell of refreshing breeze, water looking like nectar, stone like the crystal-ball, the haunting place of Channa mallikarjuna, the ‘Kadalivana’-the plantain grove: all in front of eyes. That certainly was her journey’s end. Breathing in all she could, seeing all her eyes could behold and filling her soul with all the bliss she could, she exclaims:
Kadali is the Body
Kadali is the mind
Kadali is the Passions
Kadali is the worldly Life
Having conquered the Kadali
And renewed Life
I saw the savior
He embraced His daughter
With love’s pity swelling her suffering
I became enfolded within His lotus heart
With glorious end to Akka’s story of striving and suffering, her spiritual agony, her yearning for unity with the Lord and her sojourn on this planet! Though she was born as an emancipated soul, as one of the ‘chosen’ and endowed with a vision of her destiny, she had to tread and travel on the toughest roads to achieve her life’s goal when she was only in her teens. Not many people could have survived such a rigorous journey, leave aside achieving their goals.
Of course, was she blessed in having the counsel of Basavanna and her contemporaries. She does not forget what these Sharanas did for her. She readily and gladly acknowledges her debt to them:
Basavanna gave me the dower of devotion as he would to his daughter Prabhudeva blessed me with the knowledge as his servant’s daughter Thus did all conferred upon me Their spiritual blessings.
Treated me as their favorite child showering me with their love And thus made me worthy of Channa Mallikarjuna
The times were certainly miraculous and unprecedented in the annals of human civilization that a galaxy of Sharanas came together at Kalyana, each one of them excelling in his or her own way and contributed so much to mankind’s progress. The only parallel that comes closest is Jesus christ and his group of saints, although it wasn’t as varied as Basava’s band of Sharanas. The 12th century represents an age that produced a formidable galaxy of saints in Karnataka, every one of the Veerashaiva saints shining in his or her own light and in his or her own right with no one playing a second fiddle to another. Everyone was an inexhaustible goldmine unto himself or herself. But the miracle of miracle, however was Akka Mahadevi who combined in her three attributes of Bhakti, jnana and vairagya. She was the supreme synthesis of the three virtues. No wonder than that one of the greatest sages of all times, Allama Prabhu, has paid handsome tribute to Akka:
“Lo! here is one who has put an end to duality, who has through her spiritual experience attained the unattainable understanding at an unbelievable age, who has become one with the linga she holds in her palm, I bow to Mahadeviakka, in acknowledge of her spiritual stature.”
This sentiment was echoed by all those who had assembled at the Anubhava Mantapa to bid farewell to Akka Mahadevi.