Mirabai (मीराबाई) (1498-1547CE) (alternate orthographies: Meera; Mira; Meera Bai) was a
Hindu mysticalpoetess 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 Hindiand 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. While Mirabai's
hagiographyis held as truth by followers of the bhakti tradition, the historical authenticity of most of her story is the subject of scholarly debate.
Mira was born in 1498 A.D. in
Kudki, a little village near Merta, Rajasthan, which is presently in Pali district. Her father was Ratan Singh, a descendant of Rao Rathor, the founder of Jodhpur. When Mirabai was only 3 years old, a wandering sadhucame to her family’s home and gave a doll of Krishnato her father. Her father took this is as a special blessing, but was initially unwilling to give it to her daughter, because he felt she would not appreciate it. However Mira had, at first sight, become deeply enamoured with this doll. She refused to eat until the doll was given to her. To Mira, this figure of Krishna embodied his living presence. She resolved to make Krishna her lifelong friend, lover, and husband. Throughout her turbulent life she never wavered from her youthful commitment.
On one occasion when Mira was still young she saw a wedding procession going down the street. Turning to her mother she asked in innocence, “Who will be my husband?” Her mother replied, half in jest, half in seriousness. “You already have your husband, Sri Krishna.” Mira’s mother was supportive of her daughter’s blossoming religious tendencies, but she passed away when she was only young.
At an early age Mira’s father arranged for her to be married to Prince Bhoj Raj, who was the eldest son of Rana Sanga of Chittor. They were an influential Hindu family and the marriage significantly elevated Mira’s social position. However Mira was not enamoured of the luxuries of the palace. She served her husband dutifully(Folklore suggest she didn't do so and even refused to accept Prince as her husband), but in the evening she would spend her time in devotion and singing to her beloved Sri Krishna. While singing devotional bhajans, she would frequently lose awareness of the world, entering into states of ecstasy and trance.
Conflict with Family
However her new family did not approve of her piety and devotion to Krishna. To make things worse Mira refused to worship their family deity
Eklinga(Shiva). She said she had already committed herself to Krishna. Her family became increasingly disproving of her actions, but the fame and saintly reputation of Mirabai spread throughout the region. Often she would spend time discussing spiritual issues with sadhus and people would join in the singing of her bhajans. However this just made her family even more jealous. Mira’s sister-in-law Udabai started to spread false gossip and defamatory remarks about Mirabai. She said Mira was entertaining men in her room. Her husband, believing these stories to be true, tore into her room with sword in hand. However he saw Mira only playing with a doll. No man was there at all. Yet throughout these hysterical slanders Mirabai remained unmoved by both the criticism and praise of the world.
Mira’s fame spread far and wide her devotional bhajans were sung across northern India. It is said that the fame and spirituality of Mirabai reached the ears of the Moghul Emperor Akbar. Akbar was tremendously powerful, but he was also very interested in different religious paths. The problem was that he and Mirabai’s family were the worst enemies; to visit Mirabai would cause problems for both him and Mirabai. But Akbar was determined to see Mirabai, the Princess Saint. Disguised in the clothes of beggars he travelled with Tansen to visit Mirabai. Akbar was so enamoured of her soulful music and devotional singing, that he placed at her feet a priceless necklace before leaving. However in the course of time Akbar's visit came to the ears of her husband Bhoj Raj. He was furious that a Muslim and his own arch enemy had set eyes upon his wife. He ordered Mirabai to commit suicide by drowning in a river. Mirabai intended to honour her husbands command, but as she was entering the river Sri Krishna appeared to her and commanded her to leave for Vrindavan where she could worship him in peace. So with a few followers, Mirabai left for Vrindavan, where she spent her time in devotion to Sri Krishna. After a while her husband became repentant, feeling that her wife was actually a real saint. Thus he travelled to Vrindavan and requested her to return. Mirabai agreed, much to the displeasure of the rest of her family.
However soon after Mira’s husband died, fighting in battles with the Moghul emperors. This made the situation even worse for Mirabai. Her father in law, Rana Sanga, saw her husband’s death as a way to be rid of Mirabai. He commanded her to commit
sati. However Mirabai, with the inner direct assurance of her beloved Sri Krishna, said that she would not do this. Her real husband, Sri Krishna had not died.
After this experience her family continued to torture her. They restricted her movements and sought to make her life as uncomfortable as possible. Yet in the face of all these trials and tribulation she remained detached from her physical suffering. There was nothing that could disturb her inner connection to
Govinda(Krishna as young cowherd boy). It is said that twice her family tried to kill her, once through a venomous snake and once through poisonous drink. On both occasions it is said Mirabai, protected by the Grace of Sri Krishna, came to no ill harm.
However the relentless torments and hostility interfered with her life of devotion and contemplation on Krishna. She sought the advice of learned men and saints. They advised her to leave the palace and return to Vrindavan. Secretly with some followers she slipped out of the palace and escaped to the holy city of Vrindavan. In Vrindavan Mirabai was free to worship Giridhara (Govinda) to her heart’s content. She would spend her time singing bhajans and in ecstatic communion with Krishna. Like a true bhakti she worshipped God wholeheartedly. The riches of the world offered no attraction to Mirabai; her only satisfaction came from her single minded devotion to Sri Krishna. Her soul was ever yearning for Krishna. She considered herself to be a
gopiof Vrindavan, mad only with pure love for Krishna.
Even learned sadhus would come to her for inspiration. There is a story of one respected spiritual master who refused to speak to Mirabai because she was a woman. Mirabai replied there was only one real man in Vrindavan, Krishna; everyone else was a gopi of Krishna. On hearing this the spiritual teacher accepted the wisdom of Mirabai and agreed to talk to her. Later Mirabai would become his student.Vaishnava records indicate that the name of that Spiritual Master is Rupa Goswami, a disciple of Sri Krishna Caitanya.
Mirabai belongs to the
Sagunaclass of worshippers of Brahman. Theologically, they believed that between "atman" and " paramatma" (here the Sanskrit "Parama-" carries approximately the same meaning as 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).
poetryholds lovefor 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. 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 highly devotional. 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 Hindispoken in and around Vrindavan(the childhood home of Krishna), sometimes mixed with Rajasthani.
An example poem::"That dark dweller in Brajj":"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 all day," :"I have actually seen that abode of joy." :"Mira's lord is Hari, the indestructible." :"My lord, I have taken refuge with Thee," :"Your dasi."
The poetry of Mirabai has been translated by
Robert Blyin his "Mirabai Versions" (New York; Red Ozier Press, 1984). Composer John Harbisonadapted Bly's translations for his "Mirabai Songs."
* Caturvedī, Ācārya Parashurām(a), Mīrāŉbāī kī padāvalī,(16. edition),
* Alston, A.J., The Devotional Poems of Mīrābāī, Delhi 1980
* Bly, Robert / Hirshfield, Jane, Mīrābāī: Ecstatic Poems, Boston, Massachusetts 2004
* Levi, Louise Landes, Sweet On My Lips: The Love Poems of Mirabai, New York 1997
* Schelling, Andrew, For Love of the Dark One: Songs of Mirabai, Prescott, Arizona 1998
* Goetz, Hermann, Mira Bai: Her Life and Times, Bombay 1966
* Mirabai: Liebesnärrin. Die Verse der indischen Dichterin und Mystikerin. Translated from Rajasthani into German by Shubhra Parashar. Kelkheim, 2006 (ISBN 3-935727-09-7)
* Hawley, John Stratton. The Bhakti Voices: Mirbai, Surdas, and Kabir in Their Times and Ours, Oxford 2005.
* Snell, Rupert. The Hindi Classical Tradition A Braj Bhasa Reader, London 1991, pp 39, 104-109. (poems are in both Braj Bhasa Hindi and English)
List of Rajputs
* [http://womeninworldhistory.com/heroine12.html Short biography]
* [http://www.kamat.com/indica/faiths/bhakti/mirabai.htm Bridal Mysticism: Story of Meerabai] By Dr. Jyotsna Kamat
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