Extraordinary Women of the Medieval and Renaissance World: A Biographical Dictionary

By Carole Levin; Debra Barrett-Graves et al. | Go to book overview

AKKA MAHĀDĒVĪ
(Mahadeviyakka)
(fl. ca. Twelfth Century)

India
Saint and Poet

In the early medieval period of India's history, a populist, devotional movement known as bhakti ("devotion") arose, one opposed to the practices associated with ritualized Hinduism. The movement, with its worship primarily focused on the major trinity of Hindu deities-- Brahma, the creator; Viśnu, the preserver; and Śiva, the destroyer-- opened the path of devotion to all believers, regardless of caste or sex. Women, in particular, fully embraced the new bhakti movement as a means of expressing their faith.

The rise of the bhakti religious movement known as Vīraśaivism ("militant or heroic Śaivism or faith in Śiva") occurred during the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The Śaivite ("Śiva-worshipping") saint Basavanna (ca. 1106-1167) became the movement's acknowledged leader. Basavanna presided over a community of devotees also referred to as lingɑ + ̄yatas ("those who wear the linga, the symbol of Śiva"). The lingɑ + ̄yatas spread their message of faith through their vachanas ("sayings" or "utterances").

Preeminent among the bhakti poet-saints of the vachana tradition is the remarkable woman known as Akka Mahādēvī. The daughter of a devoted Śaiva couple, Akka Mahādēvī was born in the village of Udutadi, India (located today in southern India, in the region of Karnataka near the modern-day village of Shimoga). Around the age of ten, Mahādēvī was introduced to Śiva worship by a local guru, or spiritual teacher. Śiva is the supreme god of vachana poems, the "auspicious" deity to whom the poet-saints express their personal devotion.

From the time of her religious initiation, Akka Mahādēvī fully devoted herself to the worship of Śiva, or Chenna Mallikɑ + ̄rjuna, as Śiva was called in her hometown village temple. In giving her sole love to

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