India’s Spiritual Heroines

India's Spiritual Heroines by Nandini Kapadia

Book Review by Romola Butalia

It is a book that must be read by anyone interested in saints and sages, in gender studies, and the unique and individual lives of those who walk the path of Truth.

  • Title: India’s Spiritual Heroines
  • Author: Nandini Kapadia
  • Publisher: Motilal Banarasidass Publishing House
  • Genre: Spirituality/Religion Pages: 388
  • ISBN Hardcover: 9789356763296, 9356763291
  • ISBN Paperback: 9789356763302, 9356763305

Don’t judge a book by its cover (or title). The title of the book is less than the content. It is not misleading, but the word ‘heroine’ in context of saints, sages, mystics led me to approach the book with a certain reserve. The image on the cover is at odds with the wisdom in the anthology. The author says this is the first collection of life stories of deeply spiritual women from the early Vedic Era to the Twentieth Century. I am certainly not aware of any such collection. To that extent alone, it is a book that must be read by anyone interested in saints and sages, in gender studies, and the unique and individual lives of those who walk the path of Truth.

Indias Spiritual Heroines by Nandini Kapadia

Kapadia felt compelled to ‘celebrate, honour and preserve the legacy of these luminaries’, and in the process felt ‘enriched by their wisdom and erudition’. Through this anthology, she shares the stories, lives and words of wisdom that have inspired her. Kapadia has an easy unaffected style of writing, and she expresses herself spontaneously. The book is well-researched, edited professionally, and presented well. The ease and flow with which she has written this book makes it an immensely readable anthology.

Kapadia has included Anandamayi Ma, Sarada Ma, Lal Ded, Mira Bai, Cudala, Lopamudra, Mother of Pondicherry, Sister Nivedita and other revered figures who require no introduction in her book, India’s Spiritual Heroines. Reading about luminaries like these is always inspiring. The particular stories Kapadia has chosen to tell, and her rendition of them are both interesting and have depth. She has obviously undertaken the writing of this anthology as her own sadhana.

India’s Spiritual Heroines: Lal Ded or Laleshwari

Talking of Lal Ded, Kapadia writes: “As a rebel, she chronicled the social evils of her time and raised people’s awareness”. And quotes:  

“What the books taught me I have practised.

What they didn’t teach me, I taught myself.

i have gone into the forest and wrestled with the lion.

I didn’t get this far by teaching one thing and doing another”.

India’s Spiritual Heroines: Rupa Bhawani

The essay on Rupa Bhawani was new for me. This young Kashmiri acknowledged her gurus as Shiva, Lal Ded and her father Madhav, who ininitiated her into yoga practices. Her poem:

“I did not come into this earth as a seed,

To fall into the circle of births,

I am not the elements

Earth, water, fire, air and ether

I am beyond the primordial universal self and the individual self,

I am the Supreme Consciousness”.

India’s Spiritual Heroines: Madalasa

Madalasa’s Legacy is best understood through her cradle songs which inspired three sons to renounce the world, and the fourth to be a great king:

“You are ever-pure, enlightened and spotless.

Abandon the illusion of the world

Wake up from the deep slumber of delusion,

Thus sang Madalasa to her son.”

Kapadia has carefully chosen 33 saints for her anthology, criss-crossing across times and eras, including a Jain saint, Sufi saints, and saints from different regions, giving the anthology a certain universality and bringing forth the unchanging essence which transends the cultural context while inevitably being deeply immersed in it. 

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