My perennial inquiry into Mirabai blossomed into an intense interest in Sri Andal and Akka Mahadevi a couple years ago. Researching each of these amazing women has posed a different set of problems but applying myself to this task has been immensely rewarding. Throughout this effort, certain questions started to arise in my mind. Specifically, I started to wonder why, despite so having such similar narratives, Sri Andal was regarded as a goddess and why Mirabai was regarded as a saint.
This simple question doesn’t even begin to capture the nuance of the information being considered. It is not a question that can be taken at face value. It is a question that shifts profoundly depending on which framework it is considered in. It is a question asked and answered by absolutely everyone who might engage with one or the other of these figures – and the thing is, none of these answers are incorrect. There are therefore innumerable correct answers and innumerable frameworks that will yield new perspectives when applied to these two remarkable lives.
Therefore, I have many, many possible right answers to provide to people who might be curious about this subject. None of these answers are ultimately satisfying and this is because I haven’t found the answer that’s right to me. I don’t have my own answer for this question. What I’m seeking is an answer that makes sense to me.
At the moment, I’m rather thinking that I have to engage with this question poetically, through aesthetic lens. Perhaps in the contrasting feelings evoked by Akka Mahadevi, Mirabai, and Andal there is a logic that will clarify the contrasts into a meaningful pattern. Narratively, their respective stories have considerable similarities. Poetically, emotionally, artistically – the stories are quite different. Considering their similarities has not won me the kind of answers I’m looking for. Perhaps focusing on their contrasts will be more fruitful.
Each woman suffers a bit from the imposition of retroactive creation. She is each individually created anew again and again through our contemporary telling and engagement. All the tellings that have been expressed since their death to this very day is retroactively applied to their lives and the meaning of their lives; each woman is swaddled in a cloud of meaning, symbol, thought, and doctrine to explain her existence only after the fact. Though we are left with bodies of writing attributed to each of them, their words and beings sometimes seem to be disparate entities. By analyzing the words can we analyze the woman? By understanding the poetry can we understand the poet? These things leave us only with an outline deliberately created by an individual who wanted focus not on herself, but on her divine beloved. Scholastically, this is more frustrating than can be put into words. Spiritually, this is the only possible way to understand them.