Twelfth century religious poet and saint in southern India. Exact dates are uncertain. She is known for her beautiful poetry, written always to Siva under the name Lord white as jasmine.

Her biography as we have it sounds very much like a Western fairy tale (see St. Barbara) and like the stories told about young women who were Christian martyrs in the first and second centuries (for example, see St. Agatha).

Mahadevi was born at Udutadi, and was initated into the worship of Siva at ten by an unknown guru. We are told that she betrothed herself to Siva alone, but caught the eye of Kausika, the local king (or chieftain), who fell in love with her and demanded marriage. (In such stories the human suitor is often powerful, or of noble birth, and commonly falls in love on sight with the saint, who has vowed herself only to God.) Most similar Christian stories have the saint killed at this point, but Mahadeviyaka was forced to marry the man and to actually have sexual relations with him, though some scholars seek to deny this last.

Eventually she left him, and wandered homeless, and, according to at least one poem, naked. She ended up at Kalyana, a center for the bhakti movement of which she is now considered a part, and was eventually taken in there by the saint Allama.

After a time, finding even this context too rational, she went back to wandering, making her way eventually to Srisaila, the holy mountain, where at last she attained all her desire. According to legend she died into "oneness with Siva" when she was hardly in her twenties - a brief, bright burning.

Her life story may be legend, but what we do have for certain is her poetry: terse, passionate, beautiful. The comparison with the passionate love poetry of St. John of the Cross, also addressed to God, is irresistible. Here's an example of Mahadevi's work:

He bartered my heart,
looted my flesh,
claimed as tribute
my pleasure,
took over
all of me.

I'm the woman of love
for my lord, white as jasmine.

Those interested in Mahadeviyakka and the other saints of the bhakti movement c.1000 - 1200 in India should see Speaking of Siva, trans. A.K. Ramanujan, Penguin Books, Baltimore, Maryland (1973). It is still available.

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