Women as Cultural Emissaries

Consider Female Religious Aesthetics


Female mystics sometimes rejected the contemplative life to enter the world wandering and teaching. The emotional and popular poetry of India’s Bhakti women give insight into the convictions and practices of one such group. Starting the 7th century, and spreading through India, Bhakti followers rejected traditional rituals, seeking instead a direct, emotional connection with God. Many Bhakti followers were women. A significant number were accepted as gurus and important religious thinkers; a few were highly venerated in their time and attracted large followings. Some women left their homes to become wandering teachers. Such women might dance in public, sing, and even live by themselves outdoors.

Bhakti mystics everywhere promoted their message through poems. Their poems usually were sung, expressing a joyous sense of freedom and the author’s personal truths and feelings. Most women wrote in their regional language, not the formal sanskrit script. As a result, their songs were highly accessible to the common people. The poems and songs of a number of Hindu mystic female poets live today in the memory and diverse languages of Indians. Their verse sayings are part of the repertoire of village singers, and are considered a valid part of India’s mainstream literary tradition.

Janabai - Maharashtra. ca. 1298-1350

“Cymbals in hand, a veena upon my shoulder,
I go about: who dares to stop me?
The pallav of my sari falls away (a scandal!);
yet will I enter the crowded marketplace
without a thought....”

Lalla - 14th century Kashmir

“My guru gave me only one advice -
From outside transfer the attention within
That became my initiation
That is why I began to wander

Mirabai (or Mira) - Rajput, ca. 1498-1565

“I lost the honor of the royal family.
I went astray with the sadhus...
I constantly rise up, go to the god’s temple, and
dance, snapping my fingers.
I don’t follow the norms as an oldest daughter-in-law,
I have thrown away
the veil, I have taken refuge with the great gurus,
And snapped my fingers at the consequences.”


Source:  Amar Chitra Katha Comic Book


1) Susie Tharu & K. Lalita, editors, Women Writing in India: Volume I, 600 B.C. to the Early 20th Century, 1991.

2) Willis & Aliki Barnstone, editors, Usha Nilsson, trans., Women Poets of the World, 1992.

3) Madhu Kishwar, editor, Women Bhakta Poets, Manushi: A Journal About Women and Society, nos. 50, 51, 52, New Delhi, India, 1989.

4) Manushi, Journal About Women and Society, India, #13)

5) Lyn Reese, Women in India, 2001.


Lyn Reese is the author of all the information on this website
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