Bhakti and Gender

In Hindu anthropology feelings belong to the sphere of competence of women.

Accordingly, bhakti ideology, particularly, but not exclusively, in its Krishna-centered version, prescribes adopting a female alter ego when embracing the path to salvation.

Bhakti poets often assume a female voice in their compositions and living emulations of the ubiquitous milkmaids (the gopī) recurrently appear in the devotional life in Braj and elsewhere.

If the theological prominence of female perspective is based, in the case of Krishna, on the mythological narrative, the presence of feminine discourse in sant poetry, understood both as (imaginary) gender of the speaker, as well as thematical range, is even more paradoxical.

Digging through some texts by Surdas and Kabir, we will question the meaning of this imaginary femininity, how it is constructed, its relation to the rare authentically female voices among bhakti poets and the place of women in practical devotion today.