Akka Mahadevi Virashaiva saint

   Akka Mahadevi, a talented mystical poet who died while still a young woman, is regarded as one of the early saints of the VIRASHAIVA sect founded by BASAVANNA.
   Akka Mahadevi was born in the 12th century in Karnataka. As a young and beautiful maiden, she was seen by the then king Kaushika, who fell hopelessly in love with her. Despite the attempts of his ministers to distract him from marrying a commoner, he persisted in asking them to arrange for her to be his wife. Because the king was not a SHAIVITE and she was a devotee of SHIVA Akka Mahadevi persisted in refusing to marry the king. Finally the king threatened her parents with death if she did not marry him. Mahadevi could no longer refuse, but she exacted a high price: she was to be allowed to worship Shiva as she liked, spend time with Shiva devotees as she liked, and be with the king only as she liked. These condi-tions would be permanent; the king would have the right to overrule them only three times.
   Mahadevi sadly proceeded through the mar-riage rites. Once married, by day she would focus on the Shiva LINGAM in prayer and spend time with Shaivite teachers and devotees; at night she would suffer the attentions of the king. Before she would go to meet him she would remove all her jewelry and makeup in order to appear bedraggled and disheveled.
   Time passed; eventually the king in his impa-tience to be with his beautiful wife used up his three exceptions by interfering with her devotions. Mahadevi then abandoned the king and set out to be near the form of Shiva on a mountain outpost some distance away. There she worshipped contin-uously, abandoning all care for her body or for the world. She had already begun to go naked in the palace, uninterested in worldly things; her trip to the mountain was also without clothes. Mahadevi is depicted in all iconography as naked, her pri-vacy protected by her long full hair. Her parents begged her to return to the king, but she refused. The king tried to lure her back by converting to Shaivism, but this too failed.
   Though the stories vary, it seems certain that Mahadevi met Allamaprabhu of the Virashaivas and joined the sect. She is said to have died after her visit to the mountain, but there must have been a long enough interlude for her to produce her beautiful mystical poetry, in which she finally found Shiva in a formless reality beyond even the notion of God.
   Further reading: Swami Ghanananda and Sir John Stewart Wallace, eds., Women Saints East and West (Hollywood, Calif.: Vedanta Press, 1979); K. Ishwaran, Speaking of Basava: Lingayat Religion and Culture in South Asia (Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1992); A. K. Ramanujan, trans. and introduction, Speaking of Siva (New York: Penguin Books, 1973).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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