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Who is Akka
- Dr. R.G. Mathapati

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“It’s only when the fruit is ripe within
That the outside doth lose colour.
If I covered the symbol of sex, 
It’s lest it hurt your eyes. 
Why does it needle you, O Brothers?
Spare this poor maid
Who has surrendered herself to Cenna Mallikarjuna.”


These are the immortal words of world’s first and only elderly sister Akka, who lived all for the lord Cenna Mallikarjuna.

Photo is from http://www.akkasevasamaja.org/Inspiration/vachanas.htm“ ‘Akka’ who is popularly known as Akka Mahadevi of twelfth century, stands to this day not only as a sublime personality, a soul force conjoining devotion, knowledge, and non-attachment, a pioneer of the movement of woman’s emancipation, the pinnacle of the glory of Vachana literature, she is also an ever-shining example of transcendental world-view, a supreme mystical vision.” In the history of mankind we have more than one empress, thinker, warrior and freedom fighter, more than one anchorite, artist and scholar; but it has given only one elderly sister, that is Akka Mahadevi. 

Though she lived and died young the lines she uttered and the divine life she led keep her as an in-separable part of Indian history in general and the movement of woman’s emancipation in particular. In fact the study of life and achievements of Akka, only from woman’s point of view will be a kind of injustice for one who declared that she was woman in nothing but the name. Because Master is her body, God Himself her mind, The Jangama her spiritual face. 

It was then, when the whole atmosphere in the country was surcharged with the spiritual thoughts as the result of Bhakti Movement that Akka Mahadevi launched the mission of woman empowerment and spiritualism. There is no accuracy about Akka’s journey of life. She lived short but remained forever by her spiritual deed. It is believed that she was born in Ballegavi of Banavasi which was a center of Shaiva culture during 12th century (it covers Shimoga district of modern Karnataka), lived amidst the Sharanas of Kalayana (Bidar district of Karnataka) and died in Kadali (a deep forest area, near Srisailam of Andra Pradesh). 

Akka’s whole life was a mere journey in search of her eternal lover, Cenna Mallikarjuna ,whom she saw in her dream and followed in reality. During this course of divine frenzy the valleys and mountains were her friends, trees and animals were her companions sun and the moon were the guiding spirits, whom she earnestly asked for the help in searching her beloved. In one of her vachanas she describes the manner she fell in love with him:

“Listen, sister dear, O Listen!
I dreamt a dream where- in I saw
The auspicious rice, areca, palm-leaf and coconut.
He came to me in the habit of beggar
He with pretty locks and gleaming teeth
And as he passed by heedlessly,
I followed and took him by the hand! 
He was none but my Cenna Mallikarjuna
And the moment I faced Him I waked.”

Thus Akka’s life is a matchless amalgamation of spiritual mission, progressive thought, social movement and description of different places. Cenna Mallikarjuna she knew was no earthly one. It was just a name to attain all that she wanted to achieve in her life. Through that, she crossed all the worldly hurdles of Panchendriyas (five senses). She wandered restlessly, full naked, as an embodiment of Mother Nature herself.

When Mahadevi Akka was born in Udatadi or Udugani of Banavasi, king Kaushika ruled it. She took birth in one of the pious Shaiva families, who were the great devotees of lord Shiva.Chamarasa, the masterly voice of Shaiva literature mentions Nirmala and Sumati as the parents of Akka Mahadevi. They were the staunch followers of Trividhi philosophy of Guru, Linga and Jangama. And Mahadevi grew up under their care, as does the pearl in an oyster-shell. In some of the Puranas written by different Kannada poets Akka Mahadevi is described as the incarnation of Parvati, Maya and the Goddess of knowledge etc. 

However, we do not have any authentic source on her days from the childhood to the girlhood. It is believed that she grew up in the shade of her mother. Even in her childhood, she uses to worship Linga with great concentration. She took her early education under Shivagamacharya and started writing vachanas at the earliest age. Even at her early age of adolescences, Mahadevi’s devotion for Cenna Mallkarjuna was so deep and passionate that she did not play with the worldly toys like other children. On the other hand as she writes in one of her vachanas:



“I wash away like the black soil in rain
I slip and shifts like the sand,
Anguished in dream I start awake,
And burn like the fire in the forge, 
Comrades have I none in my woe
O Cenna Mallikarjuna, do Thou grant me of Thy mercy 
A body that is not grappled by the groping hand,
And the ecstasy that comes of union without uniting.”

In this regard she has no parallel example except Santa Jnanadeva of Marathi literature.

Marriage is the most important step in the life of every Indian. For, it is considered as one of the seven Samskaras, which paves path for the soul towards Moksha. It occured in Akka Mahadevi’s life too, but in a different way. As she was extremely beautiful she attracted king Kaushika. On the contrary Mahadevi was in love with her ideal lover Cenna Mallikarjuna, who neither was born nor will die ever. He is formless, absolute ever young and eternal. So she rejects all the worldly husbands of lust and death. 

She says let them burn in the hearth for they will wither away with time. Like Meera, Akka says her husband is neither male nor female. He is body-less. Akka consciously tries to kill the impulses and desires of her body. When king Kaushika kept the proposal for marriage she gave the same answer. But Kaushika was blind with lust. He used his power to get Mahadevi at any cost. Her question of marriage becomes the question of life of her parents. They cannot trespass the orders of the king, similarly they are not ready to hurt their daughter going against her will. 

Finally Mahadevi agreed to get marry with Kaushika on three conditions. However, the male ego in Kaushika makes him blind and he forces himself on her. Mahadevi outrightly renounces the possibility of marriage, with that; she renounces her parents, luxury, home and everything, considering them as impediments. She warns Kaushika: “o fool, let me go, I worry, whether Cenna Mallkarjuna will love me or not”. She goes bare to Kalyana where Allama was heading the Anubhavamantapa. Thus Mahadevi by rejecting the marriage proposal of Kaushiaka emerges as the first protagonist of woman liberation. She proves that woman is not the puppet in the hands of male dominant society. On the other hand she is as free as the objects of the world around. No doubt she agrees that she is married but that marriage is miracle. She says:

“All mankind are my parents. It is they
Who made this matchless match of mine
With Cenna Mallikarjuna,
While all the stars and planets looked on
My guru was the one who gave my hand into His.
The linga became the Groom
And I the bride.
Therefore is Cenna Mallikarjuna my Husband
And I have no truck with any other of this world.”

Finally King Kaushika realizes his mistake and becomes her disciple. He follows her to Shrisaila. Akka orders him to return to Banavasi (his kingdom) and lead the life of a Sharana (a life of God’s devotee). 

The second interesting phase of Akka’s life starts here onwards. She discards clothes and other worldly things as the last vestiges of a sansarin and accepts the life of sanyasin. She leaves for Kalayana ( a town in Bidar district of present Karnataka) which was known as God’s own city. Basaveshwara who is popularly known as Basavanna (elderly brother) has already launched a great social movement of casteless and classless society. Taking entry into his ‘Anubhavamantapa’ (the spiritual assembly) was not an easy task. Only those who are spiritually enlightened are allowed to come in, that too, after passing the kind of test held by the President of Anubhava Mantapa, Allamaprabhu.

Her renouncement of clothes and disregard for the body, or the acceptance of the life of nunnery was not an ordinary step in 12th century. Woman was not yet considered as equivalent to man. Her individual identity was under crisis. Even the great thinker and philosopher like Allamaprabhu questioned her unusual way of life. 

The picture of the discussion about this between Allama and Akka in the gate of Anubhava Mantapa¨ given by Chamarasa is not only an interesting literary piece but it is a candid and bold step in the history of whole womanhood. Allamaprabhu puts question after question of a challenging nature and Akka defends her steps with a greater mystical insights. Kinnari Bommayya, one of the sharanas of Anubhava Mantapa, also tests her with number of questions. However, she, defending her disregard for body and clothes says I have killed the cupid in myself and conquered this world. So I have no body. When I have no body, no sex where does exist the question of clothes? 

Akka becomes a distinctive phenomenon in the human history not merely by her style of dressing or unusual way of arguing. Her distinct pathway through the world, which took her to the climax point of rationalism, establishes her as an ever-shining star of boldness. She never bothered the questions of the world because she knew that the world throws stones at a tree that bears fruit. Similarly the world finds faults with people who are rational and fruitful. She consoles herself saying, it is your duty to bear honor and shame equal as you have taken birth in this society. 

They are not conditioned. They are inevitable. So act your part well there lays whatever that you deserve. Finally Mahadevi successfully convinces her ideas of world, body and life. All the sharnas of Anubhavamantapa, especially Basavanna, Cenna Basavanna, Kinnari Bommayya, Siddharama, Allamaprabhu and Dasimayya great her with a word “Akka”. Infact it is here onwards that she becomes Akka, an elderly sister. Allama shows her the further way of attaining the transcendent bliss of ultimate union with Lord Cenna Mallikarjuna. Akka leaves Kalyana with this fallowing vachana:

“Having vanquished the six passions and become
The trinity of body, thought and speech;
Having ended the trinity and become twain - I and the Absolute
Having ended the duality and become a unity
Is because of the grace of you all.
I salute Basavanna and all assembled here 
Blessed was I by Allama my Master-
Bless me all that I may join my Cenna Mallikarjuna
Good-bye! Good-bye!”

This dramatic situation of Kalyana Parva in Akka Mahadevi’s life is an indication of the beginning of the third phase of her life. In the first phase she had renounced the worldly objects and attractions and in the second, discards the entire object based rules and regulations and in the third phase she starts her journey towards Srishila, where her eternal lover Cenna Mallikarjuna’s temple locates. Also it is the holy place of the Shiva cult since before the 12th century. Akka’s journey of spiritual movement and social empowerment of womanhood ends especially at Kadali the nearby thick forest area of Shrisaila.

Nobody knows exactly for how many years Akka Mahadevi lived. According to one popular belief she lived only twenty-five years. Within this small span of life the achievement she did, the area she had covered from Udatadi to Srisail and the spiritual doyens and personalities she met is something amazing. No other Indian social activist achieves the parallel position with Akka in this regard. It is sure that physically she lived a very short life but spiritually she did surpass the common level. The historians are of the opinion that Akka only in a true sense represents the whole vachana movement, which is in swing till the time present. Because she inherits Basavanna’s devoutness, Prabhudeva’s transcendent wisdom and Cenna Basavanna’s quintessence and Siddharama’s philosophy of work. 

All they are the pillars of the great social movement. Comparatively her contribution of vachanas in number is very less. Only three hundred and forty vachanas she wrote, but each a gem of divine thought. Even linguistically they achieve an everlasting place. For “the language (in the original Kannada) that is instinct with poetic imagery and poetic sentiment, the command of alliterative and assonant sound-effects, the play of a poetic sensibility that exploits the resources of sound and sense to masterly effect, are all evidence of the literary tour de force that Akka’s vachanas are. She has poured into them the three-fold ambrosia, the milk of her pure sentiment, the ghee of right knowledge and the sugar of metaphysics.” The real grandeur of Akka’s life lies in its manifold manifestation of ideas. Each phase of her life was a step towards the emancipation of not only of womanhood but also of the mankind. She was sure footed in her radical combat with the age-old norms of the society. She lived for the life enlightened and the life divine. It encouraged her to declare that:

“I am without pride of caste
Without pride of resolute will am I.
I have cast away the arrogance of riches,
Of the pride of learning also I have none.
No manners of pride dare some near me,
For Thou hast blest me with Thy Grace.”

Any body can write about anybody’s life and can get it completed too. But is it possible in case of one, who lived as a spirit mere. Akka is a guiding spirit behind all the women activists, irrespective of the age and space. One should be thankful to the womankind, which has given “the Sappho of Greece, the Theresa of Christianity, the Lalleshwari of Kashmir, the Rubia of Arabia, the ‘Andal’ of Tamilnadu, the Meera of Rajasthan, and the Muktayakka and Helavanakatte Girijamma.” No doubt all they are incomparable individuals in their life and achievement. Comparatively Akka is more complex and compact in thought and sublime in stature. She is of her own kind, unique of course enigmatic to some extent. 

- Dr. R.G. Mathapati
Basavanagara, haliyala Road, Dharwad
 

About the Author: Dr. R.G. Mathapati (Ragam)
Born 12-9-1971, Dr. R.G. Mathapati had his primary and secondary education at Chadchan and college education (B.A.) at Bijapur. He is an M.A. in English from Shivaji University, Kollapur (Maharashtra) and got his Ph.D in English from Karnataka University, Dharwad.

He served as a lecturer in Lingaraj College, Belgam (1995), J.G. College of Commerce, Hubli (1999), Rathi and Bhandari College, Guledgudda (2000), S.G.S. College, Bhatkal (2001) and worked as a resource person in Central Institute of Indian Languages, Mysore (2002-03). 

He has, besides authoring several books in Kannada, brought out Songs of A Saint, a collection of poems. His articles, poems, stories and reviews have appeared in various journals. 

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