Selections from the poetry from the Bhakti movement were chosen to cover and portray a wide variety of female experience, writing styles, attitudes, and subjectivity within a highly patriarchal society. It is recommended that students initially read the overview on the Bhakti movement, then focus on the section on women within the movement, so that the actual primary sources are somewhat contextualized.

Read the poetry out loud! These women wrote out of sheer desperation, out of sheer abandon and utter devotion. The depth of their emotion can best be “heard” in actually reading their words out loud.

Focus on the images utilized by these poet-saints. It is not the esoteric imagery of the learned that is portrayed in these poems. It is the imagery of the everyday, grounded realities of women in medieval India that so vividly comes to the fore. Utilize the poetry to examine women’s realities, and focus on how varied those experiences were for women, without losing sight of their subjectivity as women.

Discussion Questions:

  • In reading the poetry from the female bhaktas, focus on the imagery utilized by them. Is it “other-worldly?” Is it “this-worldly,” focused on everyday realities?
  • Many of these poems emphasis women’s relationships—with their husbands, with their in-laws. Why do you think this is the case?
  • There is a great deal of diversity within the poetry and the actual experiences of female bhaktas in terms of the extent that they challenged the patriarchal system surrounding them. Discuss.
  • The poet-saints often used wedding imagery, or even sexual images in portraying their love and devotion to the Divine. Why?