At a time the world redefines the word ‘adultery’ and perceives women just as skirts, it is significant to know about Akka Mahadevi, a Kannada seer-poet whose whole life was the denial of all the yard sticks to gauge and tag. Gayatri Sundaram narrates Akka’s journeys through the wilds unto a legacy of illumination, which is relevant in the current scenario.
Taoism excerpts the story line of a sage named Lu Nan-tsze. One day when he found himself obliged to pass the night in a house whose only other occupant was a woman he lighted a lamp and read aloud until morning to avoid exposing her to unjust suspicions.
What is this unjust suspicion?
Bible gives the answer through Matthew: “You have heard that it was said “You shall not commit adultery”. But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart”.
So how many of us would escape the reprimand? To avoid being guilty Muslim brothers ask their women to hide their body from those victims who might have the chance of penalty.
Hadith of Muslim says:
“The adultery of the eye is the lustful look, and the adultery of the tongue is the licentious speech, and the heart desires and yearns, which the parts may or may not put into effect.”
So the suspicion is not unjust. But even though covered their body in 6 meter sari, women are being stripped by eyes in the streets, in the markets and wherever she goes even with her husband. In India, according to the Hindu custom it is not advisable to see a woman ‘in the other way’, if she wears sindoor on her fore head.
Despite the feminists’ hues and cries, assaults on women are sky rocketing in India .In this context; it is relevant to bring back Akka Mahadevi the seer- poet of Karnataka, to the present turbulent arena. Probably, she may be the first feminist in India as she has been in a constant battle against the established institutions and rituals prevalent in India, in the 12th century.
“Get back, I hate you!
Don’t hold my sari, you fool!
A she-buffalo is worried of its life,
And the butcher, of its killing!
The pious think of virtues,
And the wicked, of vices;
I am worried of my soul,
And you, of lust….
Fie on this body!
Why do you damn yourself
In love of it–this pot of excrement,
The vessel of urine, the frame of bones,
This stench of purulence!”
Vignettes of Draupadi at the Kouravasabha flash through your mind…Naa? According to the latest statistical reports at least 80 Draupadies are being stripped in India in each minute! Krishna never comes for the rescue. The bursts and cries end up inside the four walls as a weak sob.
Any doubt? Ask Vanitha Commission.
Akka Mahadevi, wrote these lines 900 years ago. Exploding these words, she set out of the court completely nude! She never put on any clothing thereafter. She was in search of the Man of her life, ready to merge with Him ‘like an arrow that is shot should penetrate so deeply that even the feathers do not show’. She was wandering for her Man in a spiritual voyage to be one with him, throwing away her riches and pleasures of the palace, almost similar to Buddha, (though the verses sound like that of Kamala Das).
It was in the 12the century such a feminist voice, heard from a country like India, where the patriarchal system is at its best. A time when females are forbidden at the school entrance, Akka Mahadevi could take part in many gatherings of learned men at the Anubhavamandapa in Kadal Sangama, to debate philosophy.
Women who stifles under the established powers but unable to get out of the tangles should definitely turn back to 900 years, to find a teenager who fought for her self assertion. It was a time of strife and political uncertainty in Karnataka. It is significant when we recall her movement that made her an inspiration for women power and enlightenment. Her non-conformist ways caused a lot of concerns in a conservative society and even her eventual Guru Allama Prabhu had to face difficulties initially in enlisting her in the scholastic gatherings of Anubhavamandapa. But the final victory was with her, thanks to her consistency.
Akka Mahadevi is even remembered and revered all over Karnataka as a seer-poet and a social reformer. You can see a number of educational and charitable institutions all through the State, named after Akka. In a recent incident, the head of the Viswa Kalayana Mission Charitable Trust, Mathe Mahadevi has got tangled in a judicial controversy when she changed Akka’s pen name in the latest edition of Akka Mahadevi’s works. In another occasion BJP has called for a protest to egg the government to name a newly formed university after Akka.
Some consider Akka Mahadevi as an incarnation of Sree Parvati, the better half of Lord Shiva. From her child hood itself, Akka has accepted Shiva as her mystical spouse. Abandoned her husband King Koushika and all the palatial comforts she went out in search of her eternal mate. It reminds one of Meera Bai of the 16th century. Buddha comes even after that.
Akka Mahadevi was an ascetic at the same time she challenged the social restraints and the human outlooks. Although all religions pelt stones at adultery, nobody was as hectic as Akka Mahadevi to challenge it with the same degree. She not only wrote vachanas about the foolishness of lust, but challenged it directly by living the rest of her life without wearing any clothing proving the triviality of ‘this pot of excrement’.
She was never contended with the restricted role of a girl at home or of the vestal wife in a palace. Limitations placed on women in the pursuit of education and spirituality was unacceptable for her. She proved herself that a woman has every right and has all the means to pursue a life of an ascetic. Her joining with the Veershaiva saranas,( those who worship Lord Shiva with considerably less rituals) was emphatic with her thought that individual refinement is better than outward rites.
Legends say that she was married to the Jaina king, Kaushika, and once when he tried to molest (?) her, she suddenly threw away her clothing and stepped into streets nude. She was said to be an extra ordinary beauty and that she had her flowing tresses enough to cover her beauty. On the streets she lived like a wandering sannyasin with ‘village rice in the begging bowl…temple ruins to dwell…..Chenna Mallikarjuna for the company of the soul”. Before attaining enlightenment at an age of 20 years, she had been accepted by the Kannadiga community as ‘Akka’(respected elder sister). Only Basaveshwara (Anna) and her Guru Allama (Prabhu), had achieved this position, before that.
Along with Basaveshwara, she was also one of the socialist reformers who spoke out against the caste system. Among her 315 vachanas, considered as sacred scriptures by the Kannadigas, one proclaims this message:
“Unrestricted to any clan, this caste less one is whom I love for this reason, I’m for this man”. Akka’s vachanas are the greatest contributions to the Kannada literature.
Her eternal journey ended up in Kadali Vana, near the Sreesailam temple, inside a cave. She is said to be merged into
the Great Void.
Akka Mahadevi was a celebration of rebellion, feminity and legacy down 900 years. Her denial of the riches and comforts of the palace and the amputations of the domestic bonds reminds one of Buddha. Akka’s radical poems written with female body as a metaphor induced a lot of poets in and out of India. Her ideal of social and gender equality, propagated in the 12th century had become the creed of higher education in and out of Karnataka.
Akka Seva Samajas, the charitable institutions in the State, pursue the same goal Akka Mhadevi has propagated – uplifting the status of the girl children. They work for the destitute girls and down trodden women in their three branches at Kumara Park, Rajaji Nagar, Rajarajeswary Nagar along with the first one established at Bangaluru(Bangalore). The proceedings of the Samajas are inspired by the life and teachings of Akka Mahadevi who burned up as a flash of light in the caves of Sreeshailam.