Akka Mahadevi (1130 – 1160) was an Indian poet and Bhakti mystic, i.e., a mystic committed to the personal expression of devotion to God is in order to become at one with Him. She was also an important 12th century advocator of gender equality. Akka Mahadevi achieved “Aikya” or Oneness with lord Shiva (i.e., mystical union with The Divine) at the age of 20. “Akka”, meaning “elder Sister”, was an honorific given to her by other fellow saints who highly valued her contributions to the period’s spiritual discussions at the Anubhava Mantapa (an academy of mystics, saints and philosophers).
Akka Mahadevi’s 430 existing Vachana poems (a form of spontaneous mystical poetry), and her two short writings, Mantrogopya and the Yogangatrividhi, are considered her most notable contribution to Kannada literature (Kannanda is an official language of the Indian state of Karnatak). Akka Mahadevi’s poems convey to people how to achieve eternal happiness.
In the following poem, Akka Mahadevi notes the difficulty and inadequacy of describing her mystical consciousness through language:
“I do not call it his sign,
I do not call it becoming one with his sign.
I do not call it union,
I do not call it harmony with union.
I do not say something has happened,
I do not say nothing has happened.
I will not name it You,
I will not name it I.
Now that the White Jasmine Lord is myself,
What use for words at all?”
In another of Akka Mahadevi’s poems, she asks what is left to do or know during the state of mystical union:
“When the body becomes Your mirror,
how can it serve?
When the mind becomes Your Mind,
what is left to remember?
Once my life is Your gesture,
how can I pray?
When all my awareness is Yours,
what can there be to know?
I became you, Lord, and forgot You.”
Quoted by Jane Hirshfield in Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women.
Painting Credit: Akka Mahadevi from www.vsne.org.
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