Mahadeviyakka, or Akka Mahadevi ("elder sister Mahadevi") was a 12th century poet-mystic of the Karnataka region of south India. She was in love with her Lord, Shiva, whom she referred to as Chenna Mallikarjuna, or Lord White as Jasmine.
A contemporary of the Kannada poet-sages Basavanna, Allamaprabhu, Siddharama and Channabasavanna, like them she too composed a large number of vachanas (literally, "sayings"), free verse lyrics written in the Kannada language. About 350 extant poems are attributed to her.
Akka's vachanas in Kannada are accessible here.
The vachanas were spoken, recited and sung. Today, some of them survive in folk song tradition. The Kannada writer A N Krishnarao, or A Na Kru, had persuaded the great Hindusthani classical vocalist, Pandit Mallikarjun Mansur to sing the vachanas. Mansur eventually realised their musical value, and set a number of vachanas of Basava and Akka to different ragas and included them in his concert repertoire. This includes the song Akka Kelavva Nanondu Kanasu Kande, which he sang in raga Pahadi.
The song can be heard here (Real Audio format).
T G Lingappa's melody for Akka Mahadevi's Tanukaragadavaralli is based on raga Puriya Dhanasri, and this too is a much loved song that's often heard on radio programmes. This song, sung by P Susheela (for the Kannada film Kitturu Chenamma), can be heard on-line here.
tanu karagadavaralli puShpavanolleyayya neenu
mana karagadavaralli gaMdhAkShateyanollayya neenu
arivu kaNdereyadavaralli Aratiyanollayya neenu
pariNAmigaLalladavaralli naivEdyavanollayya neenu
bhAvashuddhavilladavaralli dhUpavanollayya neenu
hRudaya kamalavilladavaralli iralollayya neenu
ennalli enuMTeMdu karasthaladalli iMbugoMDe
Pandit Sangameshwara Gurav had sung Akka's Hasivaadode Bhikshaannagaluntu based on raga Bhatiyar, and this song too has become well established in the repertoire of Hindusthani classical vocalists from Karnataka. In the song, Akka says she gets alms when she is hungry, drinks from the lakes and wells when she feels thirsty, finds temple ruins to sleep in, and above all, has Channamallikarjuna, her god, for companion.
The song can be heard on-line here (select the 2nd last item), sung by G Shyamala Bhaave.
hasivaadoDe bhikshaannagaLunTu tr.sheyaadoDe kerebhaavigaLunTu shayanake haaLudaegulagaLunTu chennamallikaarjuna deva aatma sangaathake neenenagunTu
If hungry, there's food in the town to beg for.
If thirsty, there are lakes, wells and streams.
To sleep, temple ruins are there.
Oh Lord White as Jasmine,
For company for the soul, I have You.
The song Hindanagali Hidivadeva from the Kannada film Malaya Marutha, sung by Vani Jairam and Yesudas, is also based on a composition of Akka. That can be heard here.
hinDanagali hiDivaDeda kunjara tanna vindhyava nenevante nenevenayyabandhanakke
banda giLi tanna bandhuva nenevante nenevenayya
kandA nInitta bArendu nimmandava tOrayya chenna mallikArjuna
Two more songs of Akka are available for download (in Real Audio format) here. This includes Kadaliya vanadalli karpuradarati. Here, the Great Void is achieved. The bee that was engaged all along in drinking the nectar from the white jasmine is consumed totally in that very process. Not even the Symbol remained.
I do not say it is the Linga. I do not say it oneness with the Linga. I do not say it is the Merging, I do not say it is the Parting I do not say it has Happened.I do not say it is to Be. I do not say it is I. I do not say it isYou. At the Linga Chennamallikaarjuna other than the Oneness with cosmic Linga, the utterance is “Nothing, none whatsoever”!!
Recently, film-maker Madhusree Dutta made a film on Mahadeviyakka, Scribbles on Akka, in which some songs have been set to melody by Ilayaraja, thus lending a contemporary and popular rendition to the age-old vachanas.
Mahadeviyakka's vachanas have inspired creative artists in other parts of the world as well. In her ascetism, Akka is believed to have forsaken wearing clothes. Her poem on this subject has been translated by Jane Hirshfield as "On Her Decision to Stop Wearing Clothes":
Coins in the hand
Can be stolen,
But who can rob this body
Of its own treasure?
The last thread of clothing
Can be stripped away,
But who can peel off Emptiness,
That nakedness covering all?
Fools, while I dress
In the Jasmine Lord's morning light,
I cannot be shamed-
What would you have me hide under silk
and the glitter of jewels?
A musical composition on this poem was made by Stephen Smith and Sound Circle (a women's song ensemble in USA) in 2002. In another project, in 2006, mezzo-soprano and pianist Elaine Valby, dancer and choreographer Amy Pivar, composer and guitarist Paula M Kimper, and director Freda Rosen put up a solo dance and voice composition based on Jane Hirschfield's translation, "On Her Decision to Stop Wearing Clothes".
In March 2007, at New York City's Dance New Amsterdam, Amy Pivar presented "Emptiness", with music by Paula Kimper, and vocals by Elaine Valby and Gilda Lyons based on a suite of poems of Mahadeviyakka, translated by Jane Hirshfield.