India is a nation of diversity and contradictory imageries of nationhood, who come together to form a unity of people agreeing to disagree. A certain imagery is being upheld by the BJP to stand as the authentic script of nationhood, as endorsed in its political resolution of the National Executive, 2016. In a country where there is such rich diversity of goddesses and deities, can only one deity be chosen as the representation of the majority?
Akka Mahadevi, is well known in Karnataka as a poetess-saint-elder sister. Mahadevi renounced her family, proclaiming that her mind, body and soul belonged to Lord Shiva. Mahadevi was a 12th bhakti saint who, instead of the “mata’ motherhood, propagated a path of renunciation. As the story goes, Mahadevi was married by arrangement to Kausika, a wealthy king. She rejected her life of luxury to live as a wandering poet-saint, travelling throughout the region and singing praises to Lord Shiva.
Instead of being a householder, she chose to wander in the search of fellow seekers or sharanas because the company of the sharanas was believed to hasten learning. This kind of thinking was new to the 12th century society. Mahadevi’s non-conformist raised a lot of questions in a conservative society. Since she was an ascetic, Mahadevi is said to have refused to wear any clothing, which was a practice common among male ascetics.
Mahadevi’s vachna’s are an exhortation to harmony with nature and simple living. Unlike other goddesses, Mahadevi lead a very different life and stood for ideas which women deities are seldom associated with. Instead of a symbol of conjugal happiness, domesticity and motherhood, Mahadevi represents sedentary life and spiritual pursuit. The fact of Mahadevi being a well-known figure in Karnataka is evident from the respect given to her by the sharnas of Anubhavamantapa, especially Basavanna, Chenna Basavanna, Kinnari Bommayya, Siddharama, Allamaprabhu and Dasimayya. They greeted her with the word “Akka”, meaning sister.
The presence of non-conformist goddesses and their unique ideas are testimony to the fact, that India is a country of many gods, many beliefs and many slogans. The imposition of one kind of attire and mannerism in the political imagery of ‘bharat mata’ takes away from diversity of goddesses and reverential figures idealized by the masses in several parts of the country. It is this diversity, which Jawaharlal Nehru upheld when he described Bharat Mata as the “people of India”, in his book, discovery of India. Indian goddesses are multiple and varied in what they wear. Whether they have a divine vehicle or whether they travel afoot. Whether they believe in the bliss of household or the bliss of asceticism. This diversity of beliefs is itself, the idea of India.