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Homage to Iconic Spiritual Women of India

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Book Review

Title: India’s Spiritual Heroines
Pages: 388
Author: Nandini Kapadia
Publisher: Motilal Banarasidass Publishing House
Genre: Spirituality/Religion
By ANJALI NAURIYAL

Author Nandini Kapadia’s recently published book, India’s Spiritual Heroines, presents inspiring biographies of iconic women — female mystics, saints, path-breaking sage-poets, and revolutionary ascetics. According to the author, it is a first of its kind collection of life stories of thirty-three women from the Early Vedic Era to the Twentieth Century. She says it is unique because we have books on Bhakti saints, Kashmiri mystics, Varkari Sants or those published by the sampradayas they belonged to, but none that includes spiritual women across the ages who followed different paths to Truth.

The book is well-written, well-researched and engaging.The author has painted fascinating portraits of the women by giving interesting historical backgrounds of the times they lived in, their personalities and the challenges they had to confront due to various issues, including gender bias. We are transported back in time to relive the lives of giants like Mirabai whose unrestrained devotion to Krishna incurred the wrath of her brother-in law, who tried to kill her thrice. Or Akka Mahadevi, the rebel mystic of Karnataka, who was thrown out of the palace by her husband, the Jain ruler King Kaushika, because he could not tolerate her defiance of worshiping Shiva and none other.

Nandini has also paid homage to little-known gems like Mayamma and Sadhvi Kamlesh Kumari of recent times. The former was an unknown avadhuta who lived on the shores of Kanyakumari in the last decades of the Twentieth Century. She could be mistaken for an ordinary beggar but attracted people to her from all walks of life. Sadhvi Kamlesh Kumari was another true saint of the Nath tradition who transformed the lives of those who came to her. The author has also included some Western women like Annie Besant and Mother Mirra (Aurobindo Ashram) in this volume, who influenced tens of thousands. A big surprise, though, is a Jain Tirthankara, the only woman among Jain prophets to make an immense contribution to humanity. Perhaps the author should have included other lesser known saints.

According to Kapadia, the primary aim of writing India’s Spiritual Heroines was “to celebrate, honor and preserve the legacy” of women saints because “their role in the evolution of humankind and upliftment of spiritual consciousness could not be overlooked anymore”.

Notably, the Foreword for the book has been written by eminent spiritual leader Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati of Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh. In her words, “The book is a wonderful gift to all of us.”

Nandini is a veteran editor and an aspiring writer of spiritual books. She likes to describe herself as a long-time seeker whose interest in spirituality was ignited early in life. She was particularly drawn to the philosophy (“Who am I?”) of Sri Ramana Maharshi, the Sage of Tiruvannamalai. In 2013, she met Sabyasachi Guha, a close associate of the thinker-philosopher UG Krishnamurti. Her association with him led to the genesis of her first book, Life Finds Its Way: Reflections on Reality with Sabyasachi Guha (2019).

India’s Spiritual Heroines is a must-read for spiritual seekers and lay persons alike. It is a book not only for every woman who follows her inner voice but also for every man willing to open his mind to the idea of equality and enablement. The heroines are a symbol of Stree Shakti, of women empowerment through spirituality. In short, they are our role models. It is enriching to learn about their depth, intensity and resilience although, sadly, they have evaded acclaim. The book is a remarkable effort to rectify that gap.

(The book is available on www.mlbd.com or amazon.in)