Article by – Sathya Shivakumar – Global member HSTD
Edited by – Shivakumar Chandrasekaran – Team HSTD
Photo credits – Sharada Shivakumar – Team HSTD
Presented by – Radha Subramanian – Artistic Director HSTD
Srisailam is a holy abode of Lord Shiva, located in the dense Nallamala forest range in Andhrapradesh, India. The Lord at Srisailam is known as “Mallikarjuna” and is one of the 12 Jyotirlingas (locations scattered across India, frequented by pilgrims and associated with Lord Shiva). There Shiva’s consort, Parvati, is worshipped as “Bramarambal”. Srisailam is special as it radiates its powerful presence both as a Jyotirlinga and Shakthi Peeth (108 locations scattered across India, also frequented by pilgrims and associated with the divine feminine). As Mallikarjuna, he is the fragrant Lord adorned with white Jasmine and the Goddess, in the form of a bee (Brahmara), draws honey from the flower. The Goddess is showing us the path of “being like a bee” and soaking in the nectar of Shiva Consciousness.
Crystallising into Cosmic Consciousness – A peek into Akka Mahadevi’s Life and Works
The nectar that is Shiva has drawn many mystics to His holy abode. One such mystic is the great saint Akka Mahadevi. Akka Mahadevi showed great devotion to Lord Shiva even as a child. Having been initiated by her Guru, she could connect effortlessly and spontaneously to Lord Shiva as Chenna Mallikarjuna invoking and visualising him as Shiva Linga (a form of Shiva representative of an ‘egg’ or the primordial, first creation) ,even invoking his presence on her palm.
“Like a stream flooding the caked bed of a lake,
like rain pouring on a parched sapling,
like the pleasures of this world and the fruits of the next coming towards me together today.
Seeing the feet of my guru, I feel redeemed
“Look, I wear clothes for the sake of linga,
I wear jewels for the sake of linga,
I work for the sake of linga,
I see for the sake of linga,
my being within and without, exist for the linga,
I act without seeming to act.
One with my Chennamallikarjuna
what can I say about my being
just one among many?”
Legend has it that a Jain king who was enamoured of her beauty, wanted to marry her and pursued her relentlessly. Mahadevi, who was wedded to the consciousness of Shiva, did not accept the king’s proposal.
I am in love with the one
who knows no death, no evil, no form.
I am in love with the one
who knows no place, no space, no beginning, no end
who is fearless and lovely.
I am in love with the one
who knows no fears nor the snares of this world
the Boundless One who knows no bounds.
More and more I am in love
with my husband
known by the name of Chennamallikarjuna.”
“A gleaming smile; evenly placed pearly teeth;
tiny brown locks kissing the forehead; a skull garland; and a serpent on the neck.
He was not golden hued but white colored like a jasmine flower, smeared with white ashes all over his person – a form of supreme beauty and purity; a form of supreme dispassion.”
However, the king was persistent and to placate her parents, she agreed to marry him under two conditions. The first was that he would embrace the religion of Shiva and the second was that she would be in penance post their wedding and that she would not be disturbed until she came out of it herself.
The king agreed to both her conditions and they were married. The years rolled by. Mahadevi was deeply absorbed in her penance. The king could neither fathom her devotion nor her spiritual stature and was losing his patience. He approached her out of desire and disturbed her penance. Mahadevi, upset with his behaviour, chided him to direct his senses in search of Shiva and not waste a lifetime chasing a body that would soon decay. The king realised his folly and bowed in front of her, realising that her stature was not that of a mere mortal.
“Should there be one husband in this world
And another in the other world?
Should there be one husband for worldly purpose
And another for spiritual purpose?
My husband is none other than
All others are like puppets hidden in the sky.”
“Like the peacock that dances on a hill, like the swan that splashes around a lake, like the cuckoo that sings when the mango tree bursts into bloom, like the bee that enjoys only the fragrant flower, I will enjoy only my Lord Chennamallikarjuna.”
Mahadevi then left the kingdom in search of her Lord. She defied all social and man-made barriers in search of the true soulmate – Chenna Mallikarjuna, casting off even her clothes, allowing her natural long tresses to cover her, thus living in total abandonment. Initially people thought of her insane wherever she went and threw stones at her. She didn’t care and continued to progress towards her ultimate quest.
As she neared the Nallamala forest, she came to a place called Kalyan. Legend has it that the villagers there started to see good things happen once she arrived there. They started referring to her as “Akka” or elder sister and that’s how her name became Akka Mahadevi.
Another version states that Akka Mahadevi attended a parliament on religion and philosophy held by the saints of her time at the Anubhava Mantapa (Hall of Experience) and had discussions on philosophy and esoterics of spirituality. Greatly moved by her quest for the ultimate, she was conferred the title “Akka” – elder sister – by her contemporaries, thus acknowledging her spiritual stature.
Her love and longing for the lord only strengthened with time. She pined for her Lord Chenna Mallikarjuna. Chenna Mallikarjuna was her Guru, her lover, soulmate, husband. Finally, he became the one who filled her very breath. He was the one inside and on the outside. Her vachanas (a form of poetry with a specific metre) capture the myriad facets of Lord Shiva. She saw him as a creator of the bindings as well as the one breaking it, setting her free. She understood that Shiva was all the beings of the forest, the trees, and yet implored Chenna Mallikarjuna to reveal himself to her.
She pleaded with him to show the way out of the endless drama, like one would guide a little child holding its hand. She expresses in her vachana how the expansion happened as a play of numbers. Six passions were reduced to three and three became two and finally duality dissolved into one.
Mahadevi’s vachanas also suggest methods for spiritual evolution. She stresses on inner purity and magnanimity. Any practices without these would be futile. She questions how one cannot offer anything to Shiva, if one cannot melt one’s ego and be pure inside.
Through the vachanas, it is evident that she was a great yogi who had touched the subtle realms of stillness and she suggested a Turya language to describe this subtle experience that transcends expression. The fragrance of a jasmine flower is celestial and cannot be described in words. Along the same lines, Mallikarjuna – the Lord adorned by white jasmine – cannot be described more beautifully than in the poetic expressions of Mahadevi.
In one of the vachanas she asks, “Will the fragrance of sandalwood diminish if it is shredded to pieces? Similarly, how can one be any less if it is His consciousness that is filling up this mortal body?”
She also awakens us to the truth of existence: “Oh Lord, we have chosen and entered 84,00,000 wombs life after life but at this moment please have compassion to release me from the endless cycle.”
“On the vast, majestic expanse of the ocean
following the path of the stars,
the ship transports every kind of thing
to every island on the way.
If you can be in ecstatic communion
with my lord Chennamallikarjunayya
you’ll be transported back
to where you came from.”
One can understand the pure consciousness through the power of the consciousness itself. In another vachana, she says that she gained knowledge of Shiva through Shiva himself.
“Like treasure hidden in the ground,
like flavour in the fruit,
like gold in the rock and oil in the seed,
the Absolute is hidden in the heart.”
Book knowledge is no knowledge and has to be burnt to ashes. One has to wear the ashes of detachment and gain knowledge of the self. Merging into Shiva is the only way to become Him.
“Oh Lord! The hell of knowing you is really salvation.
Oh Lord! The liberation of not knowing you is really hell.
Oh Lord! The joy without your love is really miserable.
Oh Lord! The misery with your love is real joy.
Oh Lord Chennamallikarjuna!
I live on, As if the bond you tied me down with is no bond.”
Akka Mahadevi, in search of her Lord, wandered through the forests without a thought of food. In her words, she begged the trees for food and they became devotees of Shiva by donating their fruits to the linga within her!
She was willing to offer herself to the flame of the Shiva Consciousness burning in her. If the clouds thundered, she considered it as the play of the divine to bathe her. She has expressed her non-attachment and her spirit of total abandon in her vachanas.
“For appeasing hunger, the village fields,
For thirst the ponds and lakes
For sleeping the temple ruins
For company of the soul
There is Chenna Mallikarjuna”
In another beautiful vachana, she describes the futility of running away to find peace. She says that just as one can be free from noises by building a house in the marketplace, by being born in this world one has to find peace, shunning anger by accepting both praise and criticism.
“Having built a house on mountain top
Can you be scared of wild beasts?
Having built a house on seashore
Can you dread the waves and froth?
Having built a house in the marketplace
Can you fight shy of noise?
Listen, being born in this world
when praise and blame follow, shunning anger
one must keep one’s calm
Akka also states that not everyone can understand the greatness of noble ones.
“Would a fly darting nearby know the smell of flowers as the bee would know?
O lord Chennamallikarjuna only you would know the way of your devotees:
How would these mosquitoes on the buffalo hide?
I’ll be as the world, and behave as the world behaves.
Holding on to form I’ll move with it.
I use the exterior, forgetting the inner world.
Like burnt rope, I shall retain my appearance, I’ll be like the others but I’m not that.
I’ll be like lotus on water, Chennamallikarjuna.”
All the pain, the longing and separation became a play when she finally found her Lord within. The form dissolved into formlessness and Akka Mahadevi crystallised into cosmic consciousness.
“How can milk swallow ghee and remain separate?
Who can separate fire from the sun’s radiance?
Great One without bounds
seeing how you are hidden within me not separated
I opened my eyes.”
“When the body has taken your form
Who shall I serve?
When the mind has taken your form
Who shall I meditate upon?
When the life-breath has taken your form
Who shall I worship?
When awareness has become yourself
Who shall I know?
as you are everything
and all I know is you.”
One can feel the vibrations of the great saint when visiting the Akka Mahadevi caves. The ambience of the caves in the cloudy, drizzling weather was no different than being in Kailash. The trek up to the caves with the river on one side and the hills on the other was breath-taking.
Inside the cave, there is a naturally formed (swayambhu) linga. Deep inside the cave, in a small precipice, there are water droplets falling onto the linga 24/7/365, like perpetual abhishekam (ritual bathing intended as worship and resulting in purification). Nobody knows where the water originates! One has to crouch and make their way to the linga through a narrow pathway. One can then place their forehead on the linga and pray to the Lord. It is an activation of the higher energy to help us along our journey.
The great Sri Narasimha Saraswathi, considered to be an incarnation of Dattatreya, used to go there every day to perform prayers. It is also said that great siddhas went there every day to pay obeisance to the Lord.
The Srisailam trip was certainly a once in a lifetime experience! One that we will cherish forever and hopefully crystallise in our consciousness!