Lives of Indian Saints

  • By Swami Sivananda
  • August 2001

Women Saints      

The women saints included in this chapter are Madalasa, Mira Bai, Sakubai, Muktabai, Rabia and Avadayakkal. I have covered Mira Bai, Sakubai and Avadayakkal.


 Mira is regarded as an incarnation of Radha. She was born in Samvat 1557 or 1499 A.D. in the village Kurkhi, near Merta, a small state in Marwar, Rajasthan. Mira was the daughter of Ratan Singh Ranthor and the granddaughter of Dudaji of Merta. The Ranthors of Merta were great devotees of Vishnu. Mira Bai was brought up amidst Vaishnava influence, which molded her life in the path of devotion towards Lord Krishna. She learnt to worship Sri Krishna from her childhood. When she was four years of age, she manifested religious tendencies. Once there was a marriage procession in front of her residence. The bridegroom was nicely dressed. Mira who was only a child, saw the bridegroom and said to her mother innocently, “Dear mother, who is my bridegroom?” Mira’s mother smiled, and half in jest and half in earnest, pointed towards the image of Sri Krishna and said, “My dear Mira, Lord Krishna-this beautiful image-is your bridegroom”.

 Child Mira began to love the idol of Krishna very much. She spent much of her time in bathing and dressing the image. She worshipped the image. She slept with the image. She danced about the image in ecstasy. She sang beautiful songs in front of the image. She used to talk to the idol.

 Mira’s father arranged for the marriage with Rana Kumbha of Chitore, in Mewar. Mira was a very dutiful wife. She obeyed her husband’s commands implicitly. After her household duties were over, she would go to the temple of lord Krishna, worship, sing and dance before the image daily. The little image would get up. Embrace Mira, play on the flute and talk to her. Rana’s mother and other ladies of the house did not like the ways of Mira, as they were worldly-minded and jealous. They were all annoyed with her. Mira’s mother-in-law forced her to worship Durga and admonished her often. But Mira stood adamant. She said, “I have already given up my life to my beloved Lord Krishna”. Mira’s sister-in-law Udabai formed a conspiracy and began to defame the innocent Mira. She informed Rana Kumbha that Mira was in secret love with others, that she with her own eyes had witnessed Mira in the temple with her lovers, and that she would show him the persons if he would accompany her one night. She further added that Mira, by her conduct, had brought a great slur on the reputation of the Rana family of Chitore. Rana Kumbha was very much enraged. He straightaway ran with sword in hand towards the inner apartments of Mira. Fortunately, Mira was not in her room. A kind relative of the Rana checked him and said, “Look here Rana! Do not be in haste. You will repent later on. Consider well. Enquire into the matter very carefully. Find out the truth. Mira is a great devotional lady. What you have heard now may be a wild rumor only. Out of sheer jealousy some ladies might have concocted a cock-and-bull story against mira to ruin her. Be cool now”. Rana Kumbha agreed to the wise counsel of his relative. The Rana’s sister took him to the temple at dead of night. Rana Kumbha broke open the door, rushed inside and found mira alone in her ecstatic mood talking to the idol.

 The Ranasaid to Mira, “Mira, with whom are you talking now? Show me this lover of yours”. Mira replied ‘There sits He-my Lord-the Nanichora who has stolen my heart”. She fainted. There was a wild rumor that Mira was mixing very freely with Sadhus. She, no doubt, had great regard for Sadhus and mixed freely with them. Mira never cared a bit for the meaningless scandals. She stood unruffled.

 Mira was persecuted in various ways by the Rana and his relatives. She got the same treatment which Prahlad got from his father Hiranyakasipu. Hari shielded Prahlad. Here, Sri Krishna always stood by the side of Mira. Once the Rana sent a cobra in a basket to Mira with the message that it contained a garland of flowers. Mira took her bath and sat for worship. After finishing her meditation, she opened the basket and found inside a lovely idol of Sri Krishna and a garland of flowers. Then the Rana sent her a cup of poison with the message that it was nectar. Mira offered it to Lord Krishna and took it as His Prasad. It was real nectar to her. Then the Rana sent a bed nails for Mira to sleep on. Mira finished her worship and slept on the bed of nails. Lo! The bed of nails was transformed into a bed of roses.

 When Mira was thus tortured by her husband’s relatives, she sent a letter to Tulsidasji and asked the advice of the saint. She wrote thus: “All my relatives trouble me, because I move amongst Sadhus. I cannot carry on my devotional practices in the house. I have made Giridhar Gopal my friends from my very childhood. I am strongly attached to Him. I cannot break that attachment now”.

 Tulsidasji sent a reply: “Abandon those who do not worship Rama and Sita as if they are your enemies, even though they are your dearest relatives. Prahlad abandoned his father; Vibhishana left his brother Ravana; Bharata deserted his mother; Bali forsook even his guru; the Gopis, the women of Vraja, disowned their husbands in order to attain the Lord. Their lives were all the happier for having done so. The opinion of holy saints is that the relation with God and love of God alone is true and eternal; all other relationships are unreal and temporary”.

 Once Akbar and his court musician Tansen came in disguise to Chitore to hear Mira’s devotional and inspiring songs. Both entered the temple and listened to Mira’s soul-stirring songs to their heart’s content. Akbar was really moved before he departed, he touched the holy feet of Mira and placed a necklace of emeralds in front of the idol as a present Somehow the news reached the Rana that Akbar had entered the temple in disguise, touched the feet of Mira and even presented her a necklace. The Rana became furious. He told Mira, “Drown yourself in the river and never show your face to the world in future. You have brought great disgrace on my family”.

 Mira obeyed the words of her husband. She proceeded to the river to drown herself. The names of the Lord “Govind, Giridhari, Gopal” were always on her lips. She sang and danced in ecstasy on her way to the river. When she raised her feet from the ground, a hand from behind grasped her. She turned behind and saw her beloved Krishna. She fainted. After a few minutes she opened her eyes.

Lord Krishna smiled and spoke to her these words: “My dear Mira, your life with this mortal husband is over now. You are absolutely free. Be cheerful. You are Mine. Immediately proceed to the bowers of Vraja and the avenues of Brindavan. Seek Me there, my child Be quick”. He then disappeared.

 Mira obeyed the divine call immediately. She walked barefoot on the hot sandy beds of Rajasthan. On her way, she was received by many ladies, children and devotees with great hospitality. She reached Brindavan. She found out her Flute-bearer there. She went about Brindavan begging for her food and worshipped in the Govinda Mandir that has since become famous and is now a place of pilgrimage. Her devotees of Chitore came to Brindavan to see Mira. Rana Kumbha came to Mira in the disguise of a mendicant, revealed himself and repented for his previous wrongs and cruel deeds. Mira at once prostrated before her husband.

 Jiva Gosain was the head of the Vaishnavites in Brindavan. Mira wanted to have Darshan of Jiva Gosain. He declined to see her. He sent word to Mira that he would not allow any woman in his presence. Mira Bai retorted: “Everybody in Brindavan is a woman. Only Giridhar Gopal is Purusha. Today only I have come to know that there is another Purusha besides Krishna in Brindavan”. Jiva Gosain was put to shame. He thought that Mira was a great devotional lady. He at once went to see Mira and paid her due respects.

 Mira’s fame spread far and wide. So many princesses and queens have come and gone. So many Ranis, Kumaris and Maharahis have appeared on the stage of this world and vanished. How is it that the queen of Chitore alone is still remembered? Is this on account of her beauty? Is this on account of her poetic skill? No. It is on account of her renunciation, one-pointed devotion to Lord Krishna and God-realization. She came face to face with Krishna. She conversed with Krishna. She ate with Krishna-her Beloved. She drank the Krishna-prema-rasa. She has sung from the core of her heart the music of her soul, the music of her Beloved, her unique spiritual experiences. And she has sung songs of surrender and Prem.

Mira had the beautiful cosmic vision. She saw Krishna in the tree, in the stone, in the creeper, in the flower, in the bird, in all beings-in everything. As long as there is the name of Krishna, there will be the name of Mira also.

 It is extremely difficult to find a parallel to this wonderful personality-Mira-a saint, a philosopher, a poet and a sage. She was a versatile genius and a magnanimous soul. Her life has a singular charm, with extraordinary beauty and marvel. She was a princess, but she abandoned the pleasures and luxuries incident to her high station, and chose instead, a life of poverty, austerity, Tyaga, Titiksha and Vairagya. Though she was a delicate young lady, she entered the perilous journey on the spiritual path amidst various difficulties. She underwent various ordeals with undaunted courage and intrepidity. She stood adamant in her resolve. She had a gigantic will.

 Mira’s songs infuse faith, courage, devotion and love of God in the minds of the readers. They inspire the aspirants to take to the path of devotion and they produce in them a marvelous thrill and a melting of the heart.

 Mira’s earthly life was full of troubles and difficulties. She was persecuted. She was tormented and yet she kept up an undaunted spirit and a balanced mind all through, by the strength of her devotion and the grace of her beloved Krishna Though she was a princess, she begged alms and lived sometimes on water alone. She led a life of perfect renunciation and self-surrender.

 Mira had Raganuga or Ragatmika Bhakti. She never cared for public criticism and the injunctions of the Shastras. She danced in the streets. She did not ritualistic worship. She had spontaneous love for Lord Krishna. She did not practice Sadhana-bhakti. From her very childhood she poured frth her love on Lord Krishna. Krishna was her husband, father, mother, friends, relative and Guru. Krishna was her Prananath. Mira had finished the preliminary modes of worship in her previous birth.

 Mira was fearless in her nature, simple in her habits, joyous in her disposition, amiable in her deportment, graceful in her behavior and elegant in her demeanor. She immersed herself in the love of Giridhar Gopal. The name of Giridhar Gopal was always on her lips. Even in her dreams, she lived and had her being in Sri Krishna.

 In her divine intoxication, Mira danced in public places. She had no sex-idea. Her exalted state could not be adequately described in words. She was sunk in the ocean of Prem. She had no consciousness of her body and surroundings. Who could gauge the depth of her devotion? Who could understand her internal Premamaya state of Maha-bhava? Who could measure the capacity of her large heart?

 Mira wafted the fragrance of devotion far and wide. Those who came in contact with her were affected by her strong current of Prem. Mira was like Lord Gauranga. She was an embodiment of love and innocence. Her heart was the temple of devotion. Her face was the lotus-flower of Pre. There was kindness in her look, love in her talk, joy in her discourses, and power in her speech and fervor in her songs. What a marvelous lady! What a wonderful personality! What a charming figure!

 Mira’s mystic songs act as a soothing balm to the wounded hearts and tired nerves of those who toil in this world with the heavy burden of life. The sweet music of her songs exerts a benign influence on the hearers, removes discord and disharmony, and lulls them to sleep. Mira’s language of love is so powerful that even a downright atheist will be moved by her devotional songs.

 From Brindavan, Mira proceeded to Dwaraka. There she was absorbed in the image of lord Krishna at the temple of Ranchod.


 Krar is village on the banks of the Krishna in Maharashtra. There lived in the village a Brahmin with his wife, son and daughter-in-law. The name of the daughter-in-law was Sakubai.

 Sakubai was a great devotee of Lord Krishna of Pandharpur. The Name of the Lord was always on her lips. She was obedient, humble, simple, and virtuous Her mother-in-law was cruel, egoistic and stonehearted. The Brahmin and his son were entirely in the hands of that woman. They treated Sakubai very harshly.

 Sakubai discharged her household duties well. She worked very hard and yet the mother-in-law abused and kicked her. She never gave Sakubai a full meal. Sakubai had to eat stale things. She bore everything very patiently. She never opened her lips. She could not open her heart to her husband as he was under the control of his mother. Sakubai was always cheerful. She reflected within herself thus: “I am highly grateful to the lord, because if I had been placed in prosperous conditions, I would have forgotten Him”.

 A woman in the neighboring house one day said to Sakubai, “My dear sister, I pity you. Have you not got your parents? How is it that none of them ever turns up to see you? Sakubai smiled and said, “My parents live in Pandharpur. Lord Krishna is my father. Rukmini is my mother. They have countless children. So they have forgotten me. But I am sure they will come to one day and remove my difficulties”.

 Pandharpur is a sacred place of pilgrimage. A big fair is held there on the eleventh day of the moon in Ashada. People from various places assemble there to get Darshan of Lord Vittala. Devotees of the Lord, with small flags in their hands, proceed to Pandharpur through the village Krar. They chant the Lord’s Name play on their cymbals and guitars and dance.

 Sakubai saw a party of devotees. She had a strong desire to visit Pandharpur along with that party. It was not possible for her to get permission from her people, but she joined the party.

 A woman of the neighboring house who saw Sakubai joining the party at once reported to her mother-in-law. The mother-in-law asked her son to bring Sakubai back to the house. The son caught hold of Sakubai’s hair and dragged her to the house. He abused her and kicked her several times on the way.

 The Brahmin, his wife and his son tied Sakubai to a pillar with a strong rope. Sakubai prayed to the Lord: “O Vittala of Pandharpur, I wanted to tie myself to Thy lotus feet, but I am tied here with a rope. My body is tied up here, but my mind is ever free. My mind is ever fixed at Thy lotus feet. I am afraid neither of death nor of bodily tortures. I wish to have Thy Darshan at any cost. Thou art my Father, Mother, Guru, Protector my All. O Merciful Lord, will You not grant my humble prayer?”

 If the prayer comes from the core of the heart, it is heard by the Lord. He responds to the prayer immediately. The prayer of Sakubai pierced the heart of Lord Krishna. He was moved at once. He took the form of a woman, appeared immediately before Sakubai and said, “Beloved sister, I am going to Pandharpur, will you go there?” Sakubai said, “How can I go when I am tied to the pillar? Certainly I have a strong desire to go there”.

 The woman said, “Dear sister, I am your friends. I will get myself tied up here in your place. You can go now to Pandharpur”. She removed the rope, let Sakubai free and tied herself up in Sakubai’s place. Sakubai was at Pandharpur in a moment through the grace of the Lord. Her joy knew no bounds. She thought within herself, “I am truly blessed by the Lord. I am freed not only from the bond of the rope, but also from the bonds of life. How happy I am!”

 The Lord assumed the form of Sakubai and became a slave of His devotee. The Lord of the three worlds, the chanting of whose Name loosens all the bonds of Maya, was Himself that day in bondage, because of the love of a devotee How merciful He is! The Brahmin, his wife and his son abused the new Sakubai, but the Lord rejoiced.

 Fifteen days passed. The new Sakubai was not given even a morsel of food. The husband began to feel a little. He thought within himself: “If she dies, all the people will abuse me. I cannot get another wife, because all know that my parents are cruel”. He took pity on her and repented very much for his cruel action. He untied her and said, “Dear Saku, I have treated you cruelly. My parents too have given you lots of trouble. Now, please forgive us, take bath and take your meals”. The new Sakubai (the Lord) put her head down and heard all this like a devoted wife. The Lord thought that if he disappeared earlier, those people would treat the real Sakubai on her return in a worse manner. So He decided to stay and serve the family like Sakubai.

 Sakubai took her bath and prepared delicious food. All the three took their meals. Saku took her food in the end. They all admired Saku’s great skill in cooking. It was the first time that Saku took the same food as was taken by them Saku massaged the feet of the mother-in-law and discharged the other duties very satisfactorily. Now the Brahmin, his wife and the son were highly pleased with Saku.

 The real Sakubai reached Pandharpur, took bath in the Chandrabhaga and had Darshan of Vittala or Lord Krishna. She took the vow of never going away from Pandharpur. She was immersed in divine bliss. She lost all consciousness, dropped down and was dead.
 A Brahmin of village Kiwal, which was near to the village Krar, was present in the temple. He recognized Sakubai, took her dead body with help of his friends and cremated it.

 Rukmini, the consort of Lord Krishna, was in a great dilemma. Her Lord was at Krar. He was acting the part of Sakubai, who was dead and whose body was already cremated. Rukmini thought within herself: “How can I get my lord back from Krar?” She created a new Sakubai through her Yogic power.

 The new Sakubai had a dream. Rukmini said to Sakubai in her dream, “Dear Saku, you took a vow not to leave Pandharpur. Well, the body in which you took the vow has already been cremated. I have given you a new body. Go back to your village. The Lord has blest you”.

 Sakubai returned to her village. She met her sister on the riverbank and said to her, “Dear sister, I had Darshan of the Lord through your help only. I am grateful to you. How can I repay you for all that you have done for me?”

 The Lord handed over the pitcher to Saku, told her to carry water to her house and went away. Saku returned to her house with the pitcher of water and began to do the household work as usual. She was very much astonished to find a great change in the attitude of her mother-in-law, her father-in-law and her husband towards her.

 The next day, the Brahmin of Kiwal vilage came to Krar to announce the news of the death of Sakubai. He found that Sakubai was doing her household duties. He was struck with wonder. He said to Sakubai’s father-in-law, “Your daughter-in-law died at Pandharpur. My friends and I cremated her body I think that her ghost is moving about in your house”.

 The father-in-law and the husband of Sakubai said, “Saku has been here all the time. She never went to Pandharpur. You might have cremated the body of some other woman”.

 The Brahmin of Kiwal village said, “Now call your daughter-in-law and enquire from her whether she had gone to Pandharpur or not”.

 The Brahmin said, “O dear Saku, tell me the truth. Do not be afraid. Did you go to Pandharpur? Tell me what all happened”.

 Saku replied, “I had a strong desire to go to Pandharpur. When I was tied to the pillar, a woman, who resembled me very much, came to me, untied me, put herself in my place and asked me to go to pandharpur. I did go to Pandharpur. I lost my consciousness before the image of Lord Vittala. In my dream Rukmini said, ‘Your body was cremated. I have given you a new body and a new life. Go to your native place’. I came back and met the woman at the riverside. She gave me the pitcher to carry home and went away. I am quite sure that the woman was Lord Krishna Himself-Lord Panduranga. You people are all blessed, as you had Darshan of the Lord”.

 The Brahmin, his wife and their son thought that the woman must have been assuredly the Lord of Pandharpur. They grieved very much for their wrong actions done to the lord. All the three were purified by their contact with the Lord. Their heart was changed. They began to worship the lord with great devotion. They said, “O Lord, forgive us. We had treated brutally Thy devotee Sakubai. We had ill-treated Thee also. O Lord of Compassion! Pardon us. We prostrate at Thy lotus feet. Save us. Protect us”.

 They began to worship Sakubai also.


 The general belief among the devotees of the Lord is that Lord Siva Himself incarnated in this world as Sri Jagadguru Adi Sankaracharya of Kaladi; and that Mother Parvati incarnated Herself as Sri Avadayakkal of Shenkottai, apparently to prove that women, too, could attain Self-realization even in this Kali Yuga.

 Avadayakkal was born of a pious Saiva Vadama couple of Shenkottai in South India. Even as a child she showed signs of a high mental state. She would do nothing voluntarily. For everything she had to be prompted. She would eat what was given; she would put on whatever dress was given. She would go where she was asked to go; and do whatever she was told to do. She was married to a Brahmin boy even when she was a girl.

 When Adadai came of age, the parents fixed a date for her nuptials. Avadai was dressed nicely for the occasion and led into the bridal chamber by her relatives, who shut the door and came away. Her husband was sitting on the bed and watching her. She would not move from the spot where she was left by her relatives. The boy picked up a garland of flowers that was lying on the bed and smelt it. There was a venomous cobra in the garland and it bit him at once to unconsciousness. Before long, the husband was dead.

 The next morning, in accordance with the prevailing custom, the ladies of the house came to the bridal chamber and opened the door. To their astonishment, the girl Avadai stood there rooted to the same spot where she had been left. They asked her why she merely stood there. She replied: “Why! You had asked me to stand here!” They looked at the husband; they grew suspicious. When they went near the bed, they found the husband dead. They attributed this to the girl’s evil stars and took the girl and husband’s corpse out of the

 The obsequies were duly performed and the girl’s head was shaven, ornaments removed and white cloth given. But Avadai did not have any feelings at all about the loss of the young husband. The world declared her a widow, an embodiment of inauspiciousness, forbidding her to come out of her room or to attend any festivities. Avadai would get up very early in the morning and go to the river for bath; for she had to return to the house before the other people were up!
 One morning Avadai went to the river to take her bath Before bathing, she picked up a mango leaf from the bed of the river to clean her teeth. The moment she applied that mango leaf to the teeth, she had a strange transcendental experience.

 It so happened that just that morning the sage Ayyaval (a Gurubhai of the world-renowned sage Sadasiva Brahman) was there, meditating underneath a Peepul tree. He had cleansed his teeth on the banks of the same river and thrown away the mango leaf used by him on the bed of the river. Avadai had used that leaf; and the moment the sage’s Ucchishta or sacred remnant was swallowed by her, the little dirt that covered the Atma Jyoti in her was washed away. She at once realized the atman within. Instinctively she walked to the feet of the sage under the Peepul tree.

 Avadai prostrated to Ayyaval. Placing his hand (Hasthadiksha) on her head, the sage pronounced: “Brahma Satyam Avadai’s heart was illumined. She entered into Samadhi or that indescribable super conscious state. A little while later Ayyaval gave her a Linga for worship and went away.

 That very moment Sarasvati had taken her abode on Avadai’s tongue; and Avadai’s transcendental experience flowed through her tongue in the shape of divine, inspiring songs. She astounded one and all in the town by her extra-ordinary wisdom. Whatever she said, whatever she sang portrayed her inner illumination. People however considered that Avadai had gone mad and merely confined her to her room!

 In the meantime, Avadai’s parents died. This gave Avadai a great independence of movement. She at once opened the door of her room and went out into the wide world-her own home! She went alone from place to place-a young woman, singing wisdom, radiating wisdom, and transmitting wisdom to one and all that came near her.

 Avadai reached Tiruvananthapuram. As usual she had her bath in a tank and wanted to do Linga Puja. The king, who had heard of her and of her regular worship of the Linga with Bael leaves, had sent her a basketful of golden Bael leaves for her worship. Avadai bathed in the tank and set about on the bank to perform the worship with the golden Bael leaves. As soon as the Puja was over, Avadai collected the Bael leaves and threw them into the tank as nirmalya (offered flowers), as is the custom. The king was astonished to hear this. He under stood the great renunciation of Avadai and her Para Vairagya. To Avadai, gold and leaf were the same.

 From Tiruvanathapuram Avadai went to a conference of the heads of religious sects. She thrilled the audience with her supreme wisdom and established the unity of all sects. They spoke derisively of her at first, referring to her shaven head and calling her, “You Mottai!”. Avadai quickly retorted: “Who is Mottai? Is it my body? Is it my mind? Is it my Prana? Is it my Jiva? Or, is it my Atma? Who am I? How can ‘I’ be Mottai?” In the end they all eulogized her greatly for her divine wisdom and prostrated to her.

 On another occasion, the king of a State called Avadai to his Durbar and offered to marry her: You, so young and beautiful, should not wander about like this. Become my wife and remain in the palace as my queen with all powers.” Avadai feigned to agree to this proposal provided the king answered some questions she would put him. And the questions were so grand and sublime that the king felt ashamed of himself and got initiated into Jnana by her!

 Avadai again met her Gurudev, Sri Ayyaval, and joined his group of disciples. She was the only woman member of the group. The other disciples of the sage greatly ill-treated her. She was treated more as a dog to be looked after with the remnants of the Ashram food than as an inmate. Sri Ayyaval wanted to teach them all a lesson.

 One day, all the disciples of Sri Ayyaval rowed to a sand-mound in the middle of the river Cauvery. They all meditated there. Ayyaval was on the banks of the river. Suddenly the disciples felt the water-level rising. They quickly perceived the danger and wanted to return. Avadai, however, was deep in Samadhi. They wanted to test her and so left her there and came away. Water was rising at great speed. Soon it looked as though Avadai would be drowned. She had got up from Samadhi and found that the others had gone away. She looked towards her Gurudev. He merely held up his arm to signal to her: “Stand there itself “. Avadai obeyed!! And what a great miracle! Avadai stood there three days and the rising flood left just that much of the sand-mound where her feet rested! She returned when the flood went down after three days.

 By this and other similar incidents, every one in the Ashram realized the greatness of this lady-saint. Later, Sri Ayyaval too made no secret of her glory. People began to flock to her for her blessings. She sang and sang; and through her songs runs the current of the divine wisdom of the Upanishads.

Receive Site Updates