Hinduism Mahadeviyakka
Robert Zydenbos
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 July 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 July 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0065


Akka Mahādēvi, “elder sister Mahādēvi” (also, less commonly, known as Mahādēviyakka) was one of the leading personalities in the formation of Vīraśaivism, a reformatory Śaivite Hindu religious movement that began in Karnataka, south India, in the 12th century CE, and since then has developed into the dominant form of religion in that part of India. Akka Mahādēvi was born in the village of Uḍutaḍi, Shimoga District, Karnataka, and lived in the second half of the 12th century. She is particularly striking among the early leaders of the Vīraśaiva movement because she was a woman, a mystic, and a poetess, and today she is still a source of inspiration for religious thinkers, writers, and social activists, even well beyond the borders of Karnataka. She is considered one of the greatest women poets of all time in the Kannada language, and she wrote at a time when the language underwent fundamental changes that have remained characteristic even today. Nearly all of her writings are in the vacana form, which can be briefly described as a kind of prose poem that has a rhythmic structure not in sound but in semantics and sentence patterns. She remains a symbol of women’s rights and dignity.

Editions of Akka Mahādēvi’s Writings

Akka Mahādēvi’s own writings are of a genre that is typical for Kannada literature, the vacana (in the original Sanskrit, this word means “statement” or “saying”). A vacana in Kannada can best be described as a prose poem of unspecified length, but usually with a length of six to twelve lines, in which the contents are structured in a particular manner (for details see the introduction to the translated selection of vacanas in Ramanujan 1973, cited under Translations of Akka Mahādēvi’s Writings). Akka Mahādēvi is considered one of the great masters of the vacana, and her writings have greatly contributed to the popularization of the genre. Her vacanas are highly personal, highly poetical, imaginative expressions of mystical experiences and spiritual insights, in which mystical bridal imagery abounds. Many anthologies of Akka Mahādēvi’s vacanas have been brought out in Karnataka, often in small numbers and of poor quality, both materially and textually. The modern standard edition is Rājūra 2001, part of a comprehensive edition of the early Vīraśaiva vacanas. Before Rājūra 2001 appeared, Basarāju 1988 was considered the standard edition, and it is still considered good and remains popular. Mēṭi n.d. is an example of an unpretentious, popular edition that circulates widely among traditional adherents of the Vīraśaiva religion. Maruḷayya 2008 is one of the better examples of a popular modern edition with an accompanying introductory essay—scholarly, but meant for the general reading public. Annadānīśvara Mahāsvāmigaḷu 2001 is an edition with a representative religious commentary by a high-ranking religious leader. Māte Mahādēvi 1962 is similar, but it offers the interpretation of a less conventional but widely noted woman religious leader.

  • Akkana vacanagaḷu.

    Online version of the Basavarāju edition (Basarāju 1988).

  • Annadānīśvara Mahāsvāmigaḷu, Jagadguru Śrī. Mahādēviyakkana vacana-cintana. Mysore, India: Jagadguru Śrī Śivarātrīśvara Granthamāle, 2001.

    The vacanas are grouped in the traditional manner, according to the sthalas, or stages of spiritual development of the mystical aspirant, about which they are thought to be expressions; each vacana is accompanied by a modern commentary by the editor, a high-ranking religious leader from Muṃḍaragi in northern Karnataka. Indexes of difficult words and a verse index are included.

  • Basarāju, L. Akkana vacanagaḷu. 4th rev. ed. Mysore, India: Geetha Book House, 1988.

    This book was generally considered the most reliable and easiest available edition of Akka Mahādēvi’s vacanas before the Rājūra-Kalaburgi edition (as part of the Samagra vacana saṃpuṭa) appeared.

  • Maruḷayya, Sā Śi. Akkana vacanagaḷu. 2d ed. Bangalore, India: Sapna Book House, 2008.

    Modern edition with a lengthy introductory essay (55 pp.).

  • Māte Mahādēvi, Mahājagadguru. Akkana amaravāṇi. 4th ed. Bangalore, India: Viśvakalyāṇa Miṣan, 1962.

    A selection of the more important vacanas, grouped according to thirty-seven topics, including worship of the guru, self-surrender, love of God, the illusoriness of the world, nonviolence, the difference between heaven and liberation, the incompatibility of the worldly and the supreme, and the impermanence of the body. A verse index is included.

  • Mēṭi, Hālēśa. Kannaḍa kaviyogini Śrī Akkamahādēviya amṛtavāṇi. Gadag, India: P.C. Śābādimaṭha Book Depot, n.d.

    Example of a popular edition; 141 of Mahadēvi’s vacanas are here selected as representative of her views on the same number of topics. Contains a short glossary of difficult words, and quotes about her by six other vacanakāras and two later poets.

  • Rājūra, Vīraṇṇa [Veeranna Rajur], ed. Śivaśaraṇeyara vacanasaṃpuṭa. 2d rev. ed. Volume 5 of Samagra vacana saṃpuṭa. Edited by M. M. Kalaburgi. Bangalore, India: Kannaḍa Pustaka Prādhikāra, 2001.

    The Samagra vacana saṃpuṭa is the standard edition of the classical Vīraśaiva vacanas, edited by leading Vīraśaiva literary scholars and published by the Government of Karnataka in fifteen volumes. The fact that Volume 5 in this series contains the vacanas of Akka Mahādēvi underlines her prominence as an author in the tradition.

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