The Bhakta tradition throughout history in India being perhaps the most inclusive within Hinduism has given rise to the greatest number of female saints, ascetics, and poets. From Mirabai, to Lal Del the tradition of being in love with the divine is acceptable and encouraged. Women’s poetry exists in Tamil, Kannada, Hindi and Marathi, calling out their love in poetry and devotional songs. Many speak of their lives, their devotion, and miracles.
In 13th century Maharastra, India, Muktabai was one of these women. Although born to a Brahmin family, her father was considered outcast, when he gave up his sanyas and returned to his wife, where he then bore four children. Because of this he had lost his caste status as a Brahmin and penalized for his choice. She and her three brothers never married or had families of their own.
She compiled 41 known abhangs (songs) throughout her life, and was considered one of the first Vakhari saints which began with her brother Jñāneśvar, who was equally respected in his own right.
One of her essential poet/teachings is the Tatiche Abhanga (The Song of the Door)
“An ascetic is pure in mind and forgives the offences of people. If the world is hot as fire owing to exasperation, a sage should with pleasure be cool as water. If people hurt them with weapons of words, saints should treat those remarks as pieces of advice. This universe is a single piece of cloth woven with the one thread of Brahman, so please open the door, O Jnaneshwar.”
Muktabai’s songs are of ascension and moving beyond the maundane.
Where darkness is gone I live,
where I am happy.
I am not troubled by coming and going,
I am beyond all vision,
above all spheres.
His spirit lives in my soul.
Mukta says: He is my heart’s only home.”
As the writer Eleanor Zelliot writes:
“Using the Marathi love of colorful irony and equal love of puzzles and riddles, Muktabai put her sense of the wonderful mystery of life in these words:
the zoom art swallowed the sun
the barren woman, begot the sun
a scorpion went to the lower depths
sesha bowed to him, with a thousand heads
a pregnant fly delivered a hawk
having seen it all
mukta smiled. (1)
Muktabai not only created a voice for her own devotion, but paved the way for many women to follow her lead.
(1) Women Saints of Maharastra., Faces of the Feminine in Ancient Medieval and Modern India. Mandakranta Bose (Eds).