You are here: Sri Vaishnava Home Page : Bhakti List : Archives : March 1996

Madal Urdal - and Women in the Vaishnava / Saiva paths

From: V SUNDAR (V1S_at_ecl.psu.edu)
Date: Thu Mar 28 1996 - 08:50:34 PST

Thanks to all contributors for enlightening me on "madal urdal"..

I am not sure if a similar 'ritual' exists in classical sanskrit culture 
as has been suggested by some posters ( again, enlighten me please =) ).
However there is the type of nayaki or heroine known as "abhisaarika" who
is mentioned in Kalidasa ( eg. in the description of Himavan and Mena's city in
the Umapradanosarga of Kumarasambhava ) and other sources. The abhisaarika is
a woman of passion who cannot wait for her lover to come to her but must go
meet him herself.

And moving on to slightly more spiritual things, I recently came across an
article by Sanjukta Gupta in a book "Roles and Rituals for Hindu Women"
( Julia Lesie, ed.. ) that raises interesting contrasts in renunciatory
behavior in women. Two 'classes' are compared, Saiva women saints - Kaaraikkaal
Ammaiyaar, Mahaadeviakka, and Lalla Ded of Kashmir. On the Vaishnava side,
Aandaal, Mirabai and Bahina Bai of Maharashtra.

Let us take it as a given that all six of these women rebelled against their
roles as society saw them. It was in subverting these roles and accepting
their spiritual calling that they gained fame and adoration.

To sum up their lives very briefly, Kaaraikkaal Ammaiyaar is described in 
Sekkizhaar's Periya Puraanam. She was completely devoted filially to Shiva.
Her husband abandoned her in fear, and left home to practice devotion in the 
forest, where she describes Siva's dance at Tiruvaalankaadu. She lived as
a kaapalika.

Mahadeviakka is a Virashaiva saint(ess?=)). Married to a Jain king, who
reneged on his promise to convert to Saivism, she too left home, abandoning
all ties to the material world, accepting Allama Prabhu as her guru,
devoting herself to Mallikarjuna of Srisailam. She chose him as her husband
and like Andal merged into him one day. It is related that she was a
digambara ascetic.

Lalla Ded of Kashmir was turned out of her marital home for not bearing 
children. She turned into a Tantrik Dakini. Rejecting traditional temple
worship, she preferred to find Shiva in herself.

Okay, any brownie points for guessing the commonalities ?

Let us return to more familiar ground.

Andal of Srivilliputtur, in love with Rangamannaar, composed the
Naaciyaar Tirumozhi. It is clear that ther love for Ranga was real, and
manifested itself in many levels - the spiritual as well as the 
erotic. It is part of legend that her love, deep as it was, did worry
Periyaazhvaar and wuite possibly her community. She too merged into
Sri Ranga Raja.

Mirabai's life was recently summed up in a posting here. Widowed, she 
rejected the sedateness of convention to her love for "Mira ke prabhu
Giridhar". It is clear she never made it to Brindavana, where her beloved
was. She did live the latter part of her life in Dvaraka, with her family.

Bahina Bai was a devotee of Sant Ramdas and Tukaram. She was married, 
and her husband, worried by her interest in unconventional bhakti, her 
trances and devotion, forbade her from doing such things "unbecoming of a
brahmin's wife". After all, he was her only god =). While accepting his
diktat, Bahina internalized her devotion, and sang it as abhangas to her
son.

What occurs from these three summaries is reminiscent of the old saying
in the Kularnavatantra - "antah shaakta bahih shaivo janmadhye tu
vaishnava".. Be a secret shaakta, behave like a shaiva, but in society,
(conform) like a Vaishnava.

The "belles ideales" of SriVaishn the more 'independen' and sometimes
wildt Shakti. There have not been as many 'breakaway' women ascetics in
Vaishnavism who flaunt their ideals so radically as Shakta  or Shaiva 
women renunciates.

As a socially conformative rather than 'revolutionary' system, the Viashnava
way does not seem to encourage radicality. I daresay this persists to 
today. 

I would invite comments on this topic, and of course, discussion =) Which
I am sure would be forthcoming.

Regards,

Sundar ( who is beginning to feel like Jaabaali =) )