Mira Bai

Monday, 23 January 2017 06:30 Written by

'Mirabai (मीराबाई) ' (1498-1547CE) (alternate orthographies: 'Meera'; 'Mira'; 'Meera Bai') was a Hindu mystical poetess whose compositions are popular throughout India. Mirabai is held to have been a disciple of Ravidas. Mirabai composed between 200 to 1300 prayerful songs called ''bhajans''. These bhajans are in the bhakti tradition, and most passionately praised Lord Krishna. The extant version of her poems are in a Rajasthani dialect of Hindi and in Gujarati.

Many of the details of Mirabai's life are pieced together from her poetry and the stories later recounted by members of her community. Whilst Mirabai's hagiography is held as truth by followers of the Bhakti tradition, the historical authenticity of most of her story is the subject of scholarly debate.

Mirabai was born at Merta in Nagaur District of Rajasthan in Rathore clan of Rajputs. When she was six years old, Mirabai was given a vigraha of Krishna by her mother to which she played, sang and talked. Her father's elder brother Viram Deo who succeeded to the throne arranged her marriage at the age of 16 with Prince Bhoj Raj, the eldest son of Rana Sanga of Chittor. This marriage raised Mirabai to a very high social status, as the ruler of Chittor was considered to be the leader of the Hindu princes of Rajputana. However, her great devotion to Lord Krishna did not always endear her to her husband and family. Her love of Krishna was so absorbing she neglected her social and regal responsibilities. She refused to offer worship to the family deity, Durga. She sang and danced in public temples and mingled with members of all castes. Because of this Mirabai suffered great hardship throughout her life. Her husband died a few years after her marriage and she refused to commit sati, a practice of widow self-immolation held in high regard in royal rajput families of the time. In 1527, the Rajputs opposed a Muslim invasion from Afghanistan.

Mirabai's father was killed in battle; her father-in-law was wounded in the same battle and died the next year. Mewar got a new child-ruler, who with his mother, made life at the court difficult for Mirabai. In Mirabai's poems she mentions that her family attempted to kill her twice but that she was miraculously saved both times. These physical hardships became intolerable and after praying to Krishna, she left the palace for good (possibly at the age of 30) and went to the pilgrimage of Mathura, Vrindavana and finally to Dwarka. Mirabai spent most of her time in prayer and worship of Krishna. She left behind a legacy of many soulful and prayerful songs, which are still sung in India today. Mirabai is widely regarded as a saint in the tradition of the Bhakti Movement. The 16th century Bhakti Movement showed the path to salvation by devotion. Other saints belonging to this culture were Tukaram, Kabir, Guru Nanak, Ramananda, Chaitanya.

Her love for Krishna is epitomized by the popular belief about her final disappearance in the temple of Krishna in Dwarka. She is believed to have entered the sanctum of the temple in a state of singing ecstasy or ananda.

The sanctum doors are believed to have closed on their own and when later opened, the sari of Mirabai was seen enwrapped around the vigraha of Krishna, symbolizing the culmination of her union with her ishta-devata.

Poetry

Mirabai belongs to the Saguna class of worshippers of Brahman. Theologically, they believed that between Atman and Paramatma (the Sanskirt ''Parama'' is directly cognate with Latin ''Trans''), this physical body is the only wall, and upon death the Atman and Paramatman will combine just as a pot filled with water is placed in pond and if the pot breaks the water inside (Atman) will combine with the water outside (Parama Atman).

Mirabai's poetry holds love for Krishna closer to her heart than the love for friends and family. She perceived Krishna to be her husband, lover, lord and master. The unique characteristic of Mirabai's poetry is the use of complete surrender to her love for Krishna accompanied by subtle erotic imagery. Her longing for union with Krishna is predominant in Mira's poetry who says she wants to be ''coloured with the colour of dusk'' (dusk being the symbolic colour of Krishna). She believed that in her previous life she was one of the several gopis in Vrindavan, in love with Krishna. Much like the gopis, as mentioned in the life of Krishna, Mirabai looked upon Krishna as her lover, seeking spiritual and physical union with him. Her writings were at the same time, spiritual and sensual. Mirabai's songs portray a personal universe where the only existence was that of Krishna - her sole object of desire.

A Mirabai poem is traditionally called a ''pada'', a term used by the 14th century preachers for a small spiritual song. This is usually composed in simple rhythms and carries a refrain within itself. Her collection of songs is called the ''Padavali''. The typicality of Indian love poetry of those days was used by Mirabai but as an instrument to express her deepest emotions felt for her ishta-devata. Her typical medium of singing was ''Vraja-bhasha'', a dialect of Hindi spoken in and around Vrindavan (the childhood home of Krishna), sometimes mixed with Rajasthani.

An example poem:

  • :''That dark Dweller in Braj''
  • :''Is my only refuge.''
  • :''O my companion, ''
  • :''Worldly comfort is an illusion,''
  • :''As soon you get it, it goes.''
  • :''I have chosen the Indestructible for my refuge,''
  • :''Him whom the snake of death''
  • :''Will not devour.''
  • :''My Beloved dwells in my heart,''
  • :''I have actually seen that Abode of Joy.''
  • :''Mira's Lord is Hari, the Indestructible.''
  • :''My Lord, I have taken refuge with Thee,''
  • :''Thy slave.''

The poetry of Mirabai has been translated by Robert Bly in his ''Mirabai Versions'' (New York; Red Ozier Press, 1984). Composer John Harbison adapted Bly's translations for his ''Mirabai Songs.''

 

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