‘Akka Mahadevi would’ve been shocked by gown codes imposed on ladies’

BENGALURU: In the wake of recent assaults on women and minors in different parts of the country, author Mukunda Rao’s latest offering — Sky-Clad, the extraordinary life and times of — attains special significance. The 12th century Kannada poet was known for her progressive feminism and defiant politics as she left worldly possessions to travel through as a devotee, bereft even of clothes, to project her non-conformist views in a conservative society.
Discussing the nuances of the book and Mahadevi’s life at the launch, Rao and other panellists commented on the manner in which the poet-saint was able to dismantle barriers to become one with god, by overcoming ‘female’ vulnerability even when she walked around without a shred of clothing. Rao said the book was his intuitive reaction to Mahadevi and her spirituality. Spanning 10 chapters, the book starts with her birth and chronicles her path to becoming one with Lord Shiva.

“She stands for what can be achieved through the body. By rejecting female vulnerability, she treats the female form as a seat of divinity and not contamination. Many authors in the past have marvelled at this subversion of her own self and celebration of sexuality,” said Rao.

Answering an audience member’s question, he said Mahadevi would have been shocked by the dress codes enforced on women now. “She, along with , another 12th century philosopher, made history and wanted to change society. Since we live in a patriarchal society, we can’t help but use the same language to speak. But the language used by Mahadevi implied that god was her husband and lover first, then her mother and father and later the infinite principle. So there is a constant de-sexing,” he said.

On Gauri and Mahadevi

Launching the book, Kavitha Lankesh, screenwriter and sister of slain journalist Gauri Lakesh, tearfully drew a parallel between the two women, commenting that Mahadevi would have been safer in her time as compared to contemporary women.

“This is the eighth book to have been dedicated to Gauri since her death last year. I believe that a book on Mahadevi in English is important, especially now. While Mahadevi was a crusader in the 12th century, Gauri died fighting her oppressors. I hope this book is read widely. Considering the recent rape that is making headlines, I think Mahadevi would have felt much safer when she was alive,” Lankesh said.

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