Mar 08 2024

Akka Mahadevi – It was like a stream

Published by at 8:19 am under Poetry

It was like a stream
by Akka Mahadevi

English version by A. K. Ramanujan

It was like a stream
      running into the dry bed
      of a lake,
                  like rain
      pouring on plants
      parched to sticks.

It was like this world’s pleasure
      and the way to the other,
      walking towards me.

Seeing the feet of the master
O lord white as jasmine,
      I was made

— from Women Writing in India: 600 BC to the Present: Volume 1, Edited by Susie Tharu / Edited by K. Lalita

/ Image by Omar Ob /

It is Mahashivaratri, a celebration in honor of the Hindu god Shiva, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to feature a poem by the great Shiva mystic, Mahadevi.

You know, there is always a question people are hesitant to ask, or just don’t think to ask… So let’s ask it now:

What in the world are these poets and mystics really talking about? Is there anything real behind all of these esoteric poems and sacred scriptures?

Once we step away from heavily laden words like God or heaven or enlightenment, we have to ask if these are just lovely word games and endless philosophical speculation.

I guess all of that is a roundabout way of asking the blunt question, What is the real point to a lifetime of spiritual striving?

Here’s a little secret not often mentioned in church or mosque or synagogue: In deepest communion, when the mind is still and the heart open, we are flooded by such an immense, ecstatic joy that nothing else can compare to it.

Let me say that again, because it is not some pretty philosophical notion. It is real, and directly perceived: When the mind is still and the heart open, we are flooded with an immense, ecstatic joy beyond describing.

That flood brings with it a profound sense of life. It is a sense of being alive that is utterly new, unknown until that moment. It is as if we experience what it means to be alive for the first time. Christians speak of this as the rebirth. Eastern traditions speak of it as awakening. That flood — it feels like a rushing stream — finally slakes a deep thirst we didn’t know we had.

It was like a stream
      running into the dry bed
      of a lake,
                  like rain
      pouring on plants
      parched to sticks.

In other words, yes, these poets are actually describing something real. It is something felt and tangible. The spiritual journey is not about withering discipline or theological correctness, clinging to a dusty ideal unto the grave. It is about life! And a very real deep, mysterious delight!

The theologian reformulates other people’s descriptions of sugar, and tells himself he is content. But the mystic is only satisfied with tasting it.

The spiritual journey is about discovering the very real sweetness that you are.

O lord white as jasmine,
      I was made


And to all of my beloved Muslim friends, Ramadan Mubarak. Have a blessed Ramadan this coming week, bringing a renewed sense of self, healing, and hopeful new possibilities into the world.

Recommended Books: Akka Mahadevi

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Speaking of Siva The Shambhala Anthology of Women’s Spiritual Poetry Women Writing in India: 600 BC to the Present: Volume 1 Sacred Voices: Essential Women’s Voices Through the Ages

Akka Mahadevi, Akka Mahadevi poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Akka Mahadevi

India (12th Century) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Shaivite (Shiva)

Mahadevi or Akka Mahadevi, sometimes called simply Akka, was born in Udutadi in the Karnataka region of India. At age 10, she was initiated as a devotee of Shiva, the pale-skinned god of destruction and rebirth, lord of yogis and ascetics. She worshiped Shiva in the form of Chennamallikarjuna, which means literally “Mallika’s beautiful Arjuna.”

It is said that Mahadevi was married by arrangement to Kausika, a local king. There were immediate tensions, however, as Kausika was a Jain, a group that tended to be wealthy and was, as a result, much resented by the rest of the population. Much of Akka’s poetry explores the themes of rejecting mortal love in favor of the everlasting, “illicit” love of God, and this seems to be the path she chose as well.

She ran away from her life of luxury to live as a wandering poet-saint, traveling throughout the region and singing praises to her Lord Shiva. A true ascetic, Mahadevi is said to have refused to even wear clothing — a common practice among male ascetics, but shocking for a woman.

In Kalyana, she met the famous Shaivite saints Basava and Allama Prabhu.

Akka spent the last of her days in the Srisailam area. Tradition says she left the world in her twenties, entering mahasamadhi (final divine union) with a flash of light.

More poetry by Akka Mahadevi

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8 responses so far

8 Responses to “Akka Mahadevi – It was like a stream”

  1. Teriaon 08 Mar 2024 at 10:41 am

    Ah Ivan…… Yes ! ……… absolutely and utterly YES !!!!!
    (And thank you dear one 🙂

  2. Omkaron 08 Mar 2024 at 12:00 pm

    Was looking for some answers and found this beautiful explanation which was difficult to understand but great. Looking forward to more. Thank you.😄

  3. Carolon 08 Mar 2024 at 2:53 pm

    Oh YES! Thank You Ivan. bliss heals

  4. Carolon 08 Mar 2024 at 2:56 pm

    OH YES! Thank you Ivan. bliss heals.

  5. Claudiaon 08 Mar 2024 at 11:06 pm

    Excellent discussion Ivan. Great clarification.
    Appreciate the history about the poet as well.
    Blessings to you and your family.
    Peace, joy, and love.🙏✝️

  6. Angus Landmanon 09 Mar 2024 at 3:51 am

    A beautiful reflective practice Ivan.
    Deeply yes 🙂
    Thank you.

  7. Ayazon 09 Mar 2024 at 3:52 am

    A beautiful reflective practice Ivan.
    Deeply yes 🙂
    Thank you.

  8. Jayakrishnanon 11 Mar 2024 at 6:38 am

    Hi Ivan,
    Love reading chaikhana, immensely inspiring. tried to subscribe and it did not work due to some technical glitch as I could make out.


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