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Early Women Writers

Akka Mahadevi



Akka Mahadevi


Village Udutadi, near Shimoga, Karnataka


12th c


In 12th century Karnataka, which was experiencing a profound spiritual renaissance, Akka Mahadevi belonged to an upper-class, upper-caste family. Her parents Sumati and Nirmalshettiwere great devotees of Siva. As a result, she was initiated into the Virasaiva Bhakti Movement very early. Over the years she developed devotion towards Chenna Mankiarjuna, i.e. Siva and believed that she was married to him. She managed to remain unmarried until the age of 16, which was an exception at that time. However, many popular legends claim that Kausika, the chieftain of the land, fell in love with her and forced her into marrying him by claiming that her refusal would endanger her parents’ lives. He continued to subjugate her in their marriage and violated her demands. One day he tried to force himself upon her and she walked out of the palace in anger. She gave up all riches and comforts including her clothes. She wandered around naked to find the abode of Siva in the Srisailam mountains. However, she met some saints at Kalyana, the then capital of the Western Chalukya dynasty in the Bidar district of Karnataka. Upon deliberation, the saints admitted her as a part of the Anubhav Mantap assembly which discussed spiritual, philosophical and social issues of the time. Eventually, she left the assembly and found recluse in the Srisailam mountains. There, she achieved not only a realization of God but also mystic love and union with the formless one before her death.

 Akka Mahadevi is regarded for her vachanas and is an important figure in Kannada literature. It is said that she was the first woman to have written vachanas in Kannada literature. She follows the ‘madhurya’form of devotion or the ‘madhurabhava’ and ends her verses with her ‘ankita’ (signature) calling Siva as Chennamallikarjuna or as A. K. Ramanujan translated, “Lord as White as Jasmine”. Based on the use of her ankita, about 350 lyric poems or vachanas are attributed to Akka Mahadevi. A. K. Ramanujan first popularised the vachanas by translating them into a collection called Speaking of Siva. Some of these are retrieved through various manuscripts and resources here and are also part of a collection of works of all women writers of India from 600 BC to the early twentieth century. 

Akka Mahadevi, who followed the Virasaiva Bhakti movement, opposed orthodox Hinduism and its practices; for instance, caste and the system of worship through temple and priest. Her key form of communication was through vachanas or sayings which are free verse hymns in the mother-tongue. Through vachanas, the Virasaivites rejected local folklore and classical traditions. Mahadevi’s dominant form of Bhakti was sakhya and madhurya. Through this, she expressed longing, deep love, pangs of separation, as well as some of the most abstruse truths that most of the religions believe to be absolute. In terms of structure, the vachanas were distinct from other religious literature and literary forms. They did not adopt a meter form such as the champu or tripadi, which were the dominant forms then. However, Mahadevi goes beyond the boundaries of the Bhakti movement in her vachanas. She includes in them the struggles of her body, against ascribed gender roles, against the Jaina prince, Kausika, and against the social expectations that restrain her.


430 Vachana poems, Mantrogopya and Yogangatrividhi, Don’t despise me,Him Who Illumines,
How can you be modest,
I do not say,
I have fallen in love,
I have maya for mother in law,
Lord your Maya,
Love’s Marvellous ways,
O Lord White as Jasmine,
O Lord, Listen to me,
Show Me Your way out,
Sunlight Made Visible,
Would a circling surface vulture,
Breath for fragrance,
He bartered my heart,
It was like a stream,
Like a silkworm weaving,
People, male and female,
Sunlight made visible,
Through Thee have I forgotten Thee!,
Treasure in the Ground,
When I didn't know myself,
You are the forest,
"You can confiscate"
"Apple Bhagan"




Vachana Sahitya Poetry (spontaneous mystical poems), Short Writings, Bhakti Poetry, Mystic Poetry

Editions and Translations

Speaking of Siva. Translated by A.K Ramanujan. Penguin Classics. 1973.


Chakravarty, Uma. “The World of the Bhaktin in South Indian Traditions —The Body and Beyond.”Manushi-India,; Michael R. Blake. “Women of the Śūnyasaṃpādane: Housewives and Saints in Vīraśaivism.”Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 103, no. 2, 1983, pp. 361–368; JSTOR,; Mudaliar, Chandra Y. “Religious Experiences of Hindu Women: A Study of Akka Mahadevi.” Mystics Quarterly, vol. 17, no. 3, 1991, pp. 137–146. JSTOR,; Ramaswamy, Vijaya. “Madness, Holiness, Poetry : The Vachanas Of Virasaivite Women.” Indian Literature, vol. 39, no. 3 (173), 1996, pp. 147–155. JSTOR,; Ramaswamy, Vijaya. “Rebels — Conformists? Women Saints in Medieval South India.” Anthropos, vol. 87, no. 1/3, 1992, pp. 133–146. JSTOR,; Tharu, Susie, and Lalita, K. “ Akka Mahadevi (12th century) Kannada.” Women Writing in India: 600 BC to The Present, vol 1. The Feminist Press at The City University of New York, 1991; “The Vachanas of Akka Mahadevi” Sahapedia, 29th Feb. 2019,; Shmailo, Larissa. “Apple Bhagan of Mahadevi-Akka.” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, vol. 31, no. 1, 2015, pp. 105–105. JSTOR,; Kannan, Sushumna. “Akka Mahadevi: An Introduction.” Indian Literature, vol. 58, no. 5 (283), 2014, pp. 8–10. JSTOR,; Purandhya. “Remembering Poet And Saint Akka Mahadevi |#IndianWomenInHistory.” Feminism In India, 13 Sept. 2017,; "Mahadevi Poems.” Poet Seers » The History Teacher,;

Digital Editions

Basavaraju, L. Akkana Vachanagalu, 2nd ed., Geetha Book House, Mysore, 1972;
Hiremath, R.C. Mahadeviyakkana Vachanagalu, Karnatak University, Dharwar, 1973;
Halakatti, Pha. Gu. Shree Mahadeviyakkana Vachanagalu, Shivanubhava Granthamale, Vijapura, 1926;
Hiremath, R.C. Sakala Purathanara Vachanagalu, Karnatak University, Dharwar, 1972;
Kalburgi, M.M. Samagra Vachana Samputa, vol. 1 – 15., Department of Kannada and Culture, Bangalore, 1993;
Kalburgi, M.M. Basavayugada Vachana Mahasamputa, mega vol. of Vachanas of Basava Age, Kannada Pustaka Pradhikar, Bengaluru 2016;
Marulaiah, S.S. Akkagala Vachanagalu, Ragini Prakashana, Bangalore, 2012;
Marulasidappa, K., and K.R. Nagaraja; Vachana Kammata: A Representative Collection of Vachanas, 4th ed., Sapna Book House, Bangalore;
Sunkapur, M.S. Sakala Purathanar Vachanagalu,vol. 3., Karnatak University, Dharwar, 1978.In Translation;
Ananthanarayana, S. Thus sang the Veerashaiva Mystics, Moorusaviramath, Hubli, 1988;
Ananthanarayana, S. Vacanas of Sivasaranas. Ganga Taranga, Mysore, 1991;
Basawanal, S.S., and K.R. Srinivasa Iyengar. Musings of Basava: A Free Rendering, Basel Mission Press, Mangalore, 1940;
Chaitanya, Vinaya. Songs for Siva: Vacanas of Akka Mahadevi. AltaMira Press, U.K., 2005;
Chandrasekhar, Laxmi, Vijaya Guttal, Chennegowda, Vinaya Chaitanya and Pradeep Kumar. Selected Vachanas of Saranas, Edited by H.S. Shivaprakash and O.L. Nagabhushanana Swamy, Basava Samithi, Bangalore;
Menezes, Armando, and S.M. Angadi. Vachanas of Akka Mahadevi, Manohar Appasaheb Adke, Dharwad, 1973. Patil, B.A. Akka Mahadevi the Divine Cuckoo: English Rendering of Akka’s 50 Vacanas, Siddhavageesha Prakashana, Gulbarga, 1975;
Ramanujan, A.K. Speaking Of Siva, Penguin Books, England, 1973;
Rao, D. Seshagiri. At the Lord’s Feet: An English Translation of Selected Vachanas of Akka Mahadevi (A Woman Saint of Karnataka) And some Miscellania, Parijatha Publications, Bangalore, 1981;
Shivaprakash, H.S. I Keep Vigil of Rudra, Penguin Books, India, 2010;
Swamy, O.L. Nagabhushana, Laxmi Chandrasekhar and Vijaya Guttal. The Sign: Vachanas of the 12th Century, Edited by O.L. Nagabhushanaswamy, Prasaranga, Kannada University, Hampi, 2007;
Yaravintelimath, C.R., and M.M. Kalburgi. Heaven of Equality, Edited by Veeranna Rajur and Basavaraj Hugar. Shree Basaveshwara Peetha, Dharwad, 2003;
Yaravintelimath, C.R. Vacanas of Women Saints, Basava Samithi, Bangalore, 2006.

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