2Women Bhakti Saint Poets They combined their rendition with singing and dancing.Women writers like Ghosha, Lopamudra, Gargi, Maitreyi, Apala, Romasha Brahmavadini, etc., right from the days of the Vedas focused on the image of women in mainstream Sanskrit literature.Songs of Buddhist nuns (6th century B.C.) like Mutta and Ubbiri and Mettika in Pali express the torment of feelings for the life left behind.Other notable women saint poets (8th c AD to 17th c AD):Akka Mahadevi , Avaiyar, Dasimaya, Andal, Bahinabai, Muktabai, Sati Toral-Jesal, Gangasati, Sahjo Dasi, Meerabai and Lal Ded.
3Mirabai /Meerabai (c.1498-aft.1550) She was born in Rajasthanto a Rajput noble family, andwas married in about 1516 tothe heir-apparent of theruler of Mewar.Her husband died before he could attain the throne,and he left no heir.She was a great devotee ofLord Krishna.
4She was a disciple of a low caste Guru, Ravidas Her in laws did not approve of her piety and devotion to Krishna.She held spiritual discussions with all including men: Not liked by her in laws.In the face of all trials and tribulations, she remained detached from her physical sufferingAfter her husband’s death, she left home and became a wandering minstrel, singing and dancing in praise of the Almighty.Mira’s fame spread far and wide. Her devotional verses (bhajans) were sung across northern India.Disguised as a beggar and accompanied by the legenedary musician Tansen, Mughul Emperor Akbar, came to hear her music and see her devotional dance.
5Even learned sadhus would come to her for inspiration. Once one respected spiritual master refused to speak to Mirabai because she was a woman.Mirabai replied there was only one real man in Vrindavan, Krishna; everyone else was a gopi of Krishna.On hearing this the spiritual teacher accepted the wisdom of Mirabai and agreed to talk to her.Social restrictions:Women of royal family – disciple of a low caste Guru?Could she hold discussions with men?Could she perform in public?
6Andal or Aandaal is a 10th century Tamil saint and one of the twelve Alvar (saints) and the only woman Alvar of Vaishnavism.As Aandaal blossomed into a fifteen-year-old beautiful young woman of marriageable age (girls were married at a much younger age in those days), her father prepared to get her married to a suitable groom.Aandaal, however, was stubborn and insisted that she would marry only the Lord at Srirangam.
7Legend says that she merged with the Lord at Srirangam. Aandaal composed two works in her short life of fifteen years.Thiruppavai is a collection of thirty verses in which Aandaal imagines herself to be a Gopi or cowherd girl yearning to serve Him.The second is the Nachiar Tirumozhi, a poem with 143 verses.Conservative Vaishnavite institutions do not encourage the propagation of Nachiar Tirumozhi because Nachiar Tirumozhi belongs to the genre of erotic spirituality.
8Avvaiyar or Auvaiyar was the name of more than one poet who was active during different periods of Tamil literature. (Earliest is from 2nd c AD approx).Abithana Chintamani states that there were three female poets in the name of Auvaiyar.Most popular is Avvaiyar II – approx 13th c AD – during the rule of the Cholas.She is often imagined as an old but intelligent lady.She travelled from one part of the country to another and from one village to another, sharing the gruel of the poor farmers and composing songs for their enjoyment.She wrote most of her songs on the small time chieftain Vallal Athiyamaan Nedumaan Anji and his family.The rest of her songs related to the various aspects of state governance.
9Akka Mahadevi – prominent Vira Shaiva woman saint poet in 12th c AD Karnataka. Not much is known about her early life, nor did she live long.She is said to have accepted the god Shiva ('Chenna Mallikarjuna') as her mystical husband (similar to how centuries later Meera, a 16th century saint from Rajasthan, considered herself married to Krishna).Legends tell of her wandering naked in search of her Divine Lover; her poetry, or vacanas tell of her frustration with societal norms and roles that restricted her.She is a prominent figure in the field of female emancipation.She took part in many gatherings of learned at the Anubhavamantapa in Kudala Sangama to debate about philosophy and attainment of spiritualism.
10A true ascetic, Mahadevi is said to have refused to wear any clothing -- a common practice among male ascetics, but shocking for a woman.Legend has it that due to her true love and devotion with God her whole body was protected by hair.One of her famous verses (vachana) has a reason for this also which translates as“People male and female, blush when a cloth covering their shame comes loose When the lord of lives lives drowned without a face in the world, how can you be modest? When all the world is the eye of the lord, looking everywhere, what can you cover and conceal?”
11Janabai was born around the 13th century in Maharashtra in a low-caste sudra family. As a young girl she was sent to work in the upper-caste family of Namdev, one of the most revered of the bhakti poet saints.While within this household, she continued to serve Namdev, both as a servant and as his devotee.Janabai wrote over three hundred poems focusing on domestic chores and the restrictions facing her as a low-caste woman.
12Lalleshwari (1320 – 1392) also known as Lalla or Lal Ded: She married at age twelve, but her marriage was unhappy.She left home at twenty-four to take sanyas (renunciation) and become a disciple of the Shaivite Guru Siddha Srikantha (Sed Bayu).She continued the Mystic tradition of Shaivism in Kashmir.
13She was a child bride, married at the age of twelve. After moving into her husband's family home, she was abused by her mother-in-law and ignored by her husband.After enduring this mistreatment for several years, she eventually escaped to take sanyas (initiation into the world of renunciates) in the Shaivite tradition.Lal Ded became a sadvi, a wandering ascetic, singing of her bliss and love for the Divine.Many legends and stories remain about Lalla.
14One in particular tells of how Lalla, who ignored the normal convention of dress, choosing to wander around naked, was teased by several children.A nearby cloth merchant scolded the children for their disrespect.Lalla asked the merchant for two lengths of cloth, equal in weight.That day as she walked around naked, she wore a piece of cloth over each shoulder, and as she met with respect or scorn, she tied a knot in one or another.In the evening, she brought the cloth back to the merchant, and asked him to weigh them again.The cloths were equal in weight, no matter how many knots were in each.Respect and scorn have no weight of their own.
15Dasimayya (10th Century) Suppose you cut a tall bamboo in two; make the bottom piece a woman, the headpiece a man; Rub them together till they kindleTell me now, the fire that's born, is it male or female?
16Bahinabai (1628-1700 AD) or Bahina or Bahini is a female-saint from Maharashtra. She reports being subjected to verbal and physical abuse by her husband, who despised her spiritual inclination but who finally accepted her chosen path of devotion (Bhakti).Unlike most female-saints who never married or renounced their married life for God, Bahinabai remained married her entire life.
17She, the wife and daughter of priests committed to upholding the ancient rituals, wished to become a bhakta who chooses pure devotion over ritual.Bahinabai pronounced Tukaram as her guru.In her visions, Tukaram initiated her into the path of Bhakti (devotion) and instructed her to recite the name of Vithoba.Although a member of the highest (brahmin) caste, she wished to become a follower of Tukaram, of the lowest (shudra) caste;
18Bahinabai's husband dissuaded her by saying that she being of a Brahmin, should not listen to the lower caste Shudra Tukaram.Knowledge of the holy scriptures like Vedas and sacred mantras, by the male-dominated brahmin society. Bahinabai sings in her abhanga:The Vedas cry aloud, the Puranas shout "No good may come to woman." I was born with a woman's body How am I to attain Truth? "They are foolish, seductive and deceptive - Any connection with a woman is disastrous."Bahina says, "If a woman's body is so harmful, How in this world will I reach Truth?"
19Some writers on the teacher Tukaram have said that Bahina translated a Sanskrit holy work into Marathi at Tukaram's request.If so, she had received a more classical education than most brahmin women --- an unusual, but not unheard of, situation.What is clear from her poems is her willingness to question received wisdom, to express her doubts about the teachings she heard --- both priestly and bhakti.
20Summary:Given their belief in the centrality of personal devotion, women poet-saints were highly critical of ritual observances as maintained and fostered by the Brahmin priesthood.They had to struggle for acceptance within the largely male dominated movement.Barring a few such as Meerabai and Bahinabai, many poet-saints were themselves of lower caste lineages.Their critique included the caste system that supported the traditional religious hierarchy, with Brahmins at the head of this hierarchy.They faced overwhelming challenges through their rejection of societal norms and values, without having the ability to revert back to their normative roles as wives, mothers and in some cases, the privileges of their original high-caste status.