--> Skip to main content

Sule Sankavva – Medieval Kannada Poetess

Sule Sankavva is one of the vacana poetesses of the medieval period in Kannada literature. Not much is known about the life of Sule Sankavva (1160 CE). Perhaps she was a woman of easy virtue in her early life. She was a prostitute by profession. She comes off as an open-minded, spiritually tall woman. 

She uses the ankita (pen name) ‘Nirlajjeshwara’ meaning ‘Shiva, one without shame’. She is said to have added ‘soole’ meaning ‘prostitute’ in front of her name to show it to the world that even a prostitute can become a saint.

The medieval poets were critical of age-old traditions, superstitions, castes and class discriminations. The Virashaiva movement and the vacana literature paved the way for all liberal thinking people to come together. Even cobblers, oil-millers, spinners, washer man, ferryman, burglars and prostitutes transformed their lives by joining the liberal Virashaiva movement, which carried the universal message of fraternity and peaceful co-existence.

It is significant that even a woman of ignominy was not ignored by the Virashaiva movement; she was given the status of a sarane (devotee) like Akkamahadevi, Muktayakka, Amuge Rayamma, Aydakki Lakkamma, Goggavve and so on. Mudenur Sanganna has written a play about Sule Sankavva.

Only one of her poems is said to have survived time, it was named ‘In my harlot’s trade’.

Once bespoken to a customer, I will not be bespoken again.

And if I do, They’ll stand me naked and kill me sir.

And if I cohabit with the polluted,

My hands nose ears they’ll cut off

with a red-hot knife, sir, Ah, never, no, Knowing you I will not.

My word on it, O Shiva, one without shame

Sankavva reassures Lord Shiva of her Love, she compares how in her profession its forbidden to go out with someone other than who has taken her first. She is hinting that she has already taken Shiva's hand and whoever she is with now as part of her profession is not in her mind, only Shiva.