Sea is a difficult subject to write on. Not a mystery it lies wide-spread before eyes, but whatever the measurement in hand, its length, width, depth, height to which its waves rise, its sublime quietude or fury, are always beyond the compass. Mira’s case is hardly different. A Rathor princess wedded to the house of Sisodias, the two earliest and the most reputed ruling dynasties of Rajputana, Mirabai was essentially within the periphery of history, the history of our times, not of far gone days. However, with history’s all parameters and research techniques applied even her parentage, husband’s name, birthplace, dates, or rather years, of birth, death, matrimony… could not be finally determined. Scholars, especially those trained in European methods of researching plumbing court records and those of genealogists and families of bards, are trying to discover the historical Mirabai, a Mirabai in ‘modern historical sense’ though despite such efforts, and a set of ever emerging new arguments, even now her birth swings from one date to other over a period of almost hundred years or more, from 1403 to 1506 C. E., and whatever is claimed as widely accepted is merely a broad consensus. And, efforts at discovering this historical Mirabai are not mean by any standards. Scholars world-over are exploring various records and interviewing people in anyway linkable to Mira; Rajasthan’s royal houses are searching their stores to find their Mira-connections in mass of rags; and women of Rajasthan are re-visiting past for discovering in Mira’s life the contexts that glorified Rajput womanhood. In October, 2002, the University of California and the Los Angeles’ County Museum of Art had jointly held at Los Angeles an international conference on Mirabai with participants from world over. As reveal the papers presented, the conference underlined international efforts to locate Mirabai into history but Mira still transgresses it and declines to transform into a chain of dates or what are called ‘the historically established events’.
History’s strange predicament is that it has of Mira hardly anything conclusive on record, but still it cannot write her off from its pages. The dilemma of many modern scholars aft is that they seek to apply same parameters for spanning a rock which they apply for measuring water. What is appropriate in case of a king may not be so in case of a saint. One cannot determine the moment of a saint’s attaining enlightenment the same way as he does the date of a prince’s ascendance. Hence, more significant than choosing the kind of methodology is to determine to which kind of person one has to apply it. Mira was not a king in whose life dates, individuals, events, personal things – birth, marriage, death, or whatever, mattered much. In a king’s life they do. If not the Babur’s son, history would not have known Humayun. If the date of his death was not conclusively determined, the date of Akbar’s ascendance, or indeed the sequence of all subsequent events in his life and indeed in the polity of the subcontinent would have muddled. It is entirely different with Mira. Mira would not have been any different if Rao Duda was not her grandfather, or Rao Ratan Singh, not her father, or if Kumbha was her husband, not Bhojaraj. It is not in any of them that Mira seeks her relevance. Actually, Mira has her relevance in Mira, in her love, sufferings, devotion and complete submission to Krishna, in her power to inspire and generate confidence among those pursuing the path of truth, and above all, in her forbearance and unique courage in facing every moment bringing her death with a smile on face, not in individuals, material world, or even in her historicity. Nida Fazali, a known contemporary poet, in one of his widely sung verses, paid to Mira perhaps the most appropriate tribute. He perceives in Mira the strength to transform into the light of life the instruments of death – the cup filled with poison, or the deadly cross.
The Poison Bowl
In a world full of lies, liars and hypocrites Mira stood for truth and gave it strength. He perceives in Mira’s mad devotion such intensity that the temple’s inoperative votive deity would not remain confined in the idol, but the all powerful One would come out of it and extend His bliss and divine aura into all directions. He finally prays to God to let the temple have a mad Mira once again.
Mere To Girdhar Gopal Doosra Na Koyi (Mirabai)
History’s fallacy is that in search of Mira it looks into the doors that not only threw her out but generations after generations kept washing their floors, walls and all records lest any of her imprints are left behind. It forgets that a postal address is not Mira’s home-address, and one does not reach her by knocking that door. She certainly had an abode, the soul’s as well as the body’s, the bones’ as well as the bricks’, but she lived in neither. A saint, Mira lived beyond both, the body and the bricks, and certainly not in the palatial abodes of her in-laws or even father. In the world Mira was a soul in sojourn, a traveler in a transit house, yearning to reach home where lived her Lord : ‘Janyugi main nah rahungi piva bina pardesa’ – I will go, I will not stay here, without my Lord this land is foreign.
LIFE STORY OF MIRABAI
Most of the details of Mirabai’s birth, parentage, matrimony, circumstances of death … are just approximate arrived at by broad consensus. Unanimity does not prevail even in regard to her name. Dr. Barthaval contends that Mira was not her actual name but the term’s literal meaning being ‘Consort of Ishvara –God’ it emerged as Mira’s popular name. Purohit Harinarayana, another scholar, claims that Mira, developed from ‘Mir’, the title of the descendants of the family of Muhammad, was a name inspired by Shah Sufi of Ajmer, though in view of Rajputs’ great dislike for Shah it is not likely that any Rajput would inherit from Shah anything, even a holy syllable, for naming his daughter. Scholars like Dr. Padmavati and Dr. Bhagwan Das Tiwari among others mention Mirata, Miram and Miran as Mira’s three other names. Mirata, divisible as Mira+ta, is linked with Merata, one of the places associated with her birth. It broadly means ‘one from Merata’. In early 17th century genealogy of Munhata Nainsi Mira has been mentioned as Miran, and in one or two others, as Miram, though these are only local phonetic variations of the term Mira.
It is alike with the date of her birth which swings from 1403 to 1506. Though no conclusive evidence has so far come to light supporting it, 1500 C. E. has wider acceptance. Apart that a local scholar from Mewar Devashri barrister claims it as the date of Mira’s birth, the dates that scholars like Dholerava Bhat, Kunwar Sukhvira Singh Gahlot, Munshi Deviprasad, Harvilas Sarda among others fix as the date of her birth are also around 1500 C. E., that is, in between 1498 to 1506 C. E. Citing some secondary evidences Jhaveri takes the date of Mira’s birth back to 1403, G. A. Grierson and W. G. Archer, to 1420, Thakur Chatur Singh Rathor, to 1457-58, and F. E. Keay to 1470. W. G. Archer’s opinion is somewhat significant. In his ‘The Loves of Krishna’ he contends that Vallabhacharya was Mira’s follower, and as Vallabhacharya was born in 1478, Archer takes back the date of Mira’s birth to 1420. Vallabha’s Pushtimarga had begun taking shape when he was in his thirties, approximately around 1520-30, the period when Mira, having relinquished the houses of both, Rathors and Sisodias, was passing through the prime period of her ‘bhakti’ life. Strangely, Vallabha’s Pushtimarga immensely influenced all Vaishnava devotional poets, Surdasa and others; however, nothing of it is traceable in Mira’s writings, and that too when he had his seat in Mewar itself, one of the two most significant places in Mira’s life. It strongly suggests that Mira might have preceded Vallabhacharya.
Merata, a medium size town situated at Delhi-Jodhpur train route, is now widely accepted as Mira’s birthplace, though some scholars yet contend, Parashurama Chaturvedi being quite firm, that her birthplace was Kukari, and a few others, that it was Chokari. Kalyanamal Shekhavat has a far different opinion. He claims that Mira was born at Bajauli, though she lived at Kuraki for sometime. In his ‘Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan’ Col. J. Tod mentioned at two different places Rao Duda and his son Ratan Singh as the names of Mira’s father. Mewar records, collected by Munshi Devi Prasad, too, confuse between Duda and Ratan Singh as her father’s name. However, despite such initial confusion it is now almost unanimously accepted that Ratan Singh was Mira’s father. Similar confusion prevails in regard to her mother’s name, which in some sources has been mentioned as Kusum Kunwar while in others, Virakumari. It is popularly believed that Mira’s mother died soon after Mira’s birth, though some scholars contend that it was not so. In his ‘Bhaktirasabodhini’, the early 17th century commentary of Bhaktamal, Priyadas claims that Mire’s parents, both mother and father, were alive for long.
Mira Mandir, Chittor, Late 16th Century
The event of Mira’s marriage, about the date of which greater unanimity prevails, has strange undertones, and from here Mira seems to take two different directions, one, the essential or fundamental to which her essential being inclined, and the other, incidental, which as human-born she was obliged to take. It was largely at this juncture that the traditional or popular Mirabai whom accumulated faith of generations across centuries constructed and people’s memory retained, something like the spiritual Mirabai, emerges. The human-born Mirabai was married in 1516, when barely sixteen, though till recently confusion prevailed as to the name of her husband, which some sources – J. C. Omen, Colonel Tod, G. A. Grierson among others, claimed was Rana Kumbha, and other, Bhojaraj. Perhaps the historical Mira temple constructed close to Rana Kumbha’s Victory tower at Chittor, confused Col. Tod to relate Mira and Kumbha with each other. This temple dedicated to Mira enshrines Krishna, and Mira seated close to his feet, sings and plays on lyre for him in perpetuity. However, a wider consensus evolved in favour of Bhojaraj as Mira’s husband.
Meera and Krishna
Unlike her matrimony in human-birth, there is hardly any confusion in regard to the matrimonial status of the popular or spiritual Mirabai. This Mira was wedded to One Infinite who manifested in human, personal, beatific and joyous form of Krishna. Krishna was her Lord and to Him she was wedded with ties of love beyond fetters of this world, rigid modesty norms and chains of family life. She was married to Him in every birth, and in every birth she yearned for him in love and was thus ever his spouse and ever his maid. This Mira, the pure soul, a part of the Supreme separated from Him, was thus ever wedded and was ever – births after births, a virgin : ‘Charana Sarana ri dasi Mira, janam janam ri kwanri’ – a servant at her Lord’s feet Mira was a virgin, births after births. Strangely, scholars jump from one date of Mira’s marriage to another and from one person to the other as her husband but as for Mira, she claimed to be ever a virgin – ‘Janam janam ri kwanri’, and if she was dyed in colours of anyone’s love, it was Krishna’s – ‘Shyam rang ranchi’ – dyed in Krishna’s blue. History, a coward, does not have the courage to look into the eyes of the Mira who is both, ever wedded and ever a virgin. This eternal consort of the Supreme, and His virgin ever in sojourn till he meets her and she unites with him in inseparable union, is hardly discoverable in debris of history.
Interestingly, Mira’s utmost poetic imagery and devotional idiom centre on marriage, particularly its bonds that tie the two together, resulting union and its delight, and separation and its pangs. She presents herself as her Lord’s virgin, bride, humble servant, one willing to live the way he liked … Mira seems to have discovered in marriage love’s essential idiom – formal and intrinsic; and, it is somewhat natural for it was an event of marriage that transformed the human-born Mirabai into the spiritual Mirabai; to some extent, the spiritual Mirabai was born out of an event of marriage. As the popular tradition has it, once when yet a child, Mira saw a marriage procession reaching her neighbourhood. A curious mind, she asked her mother what for so many richly bejeweled and costumed men riding horses and palanquins had come there. When told that it was a marriage procession and that the most richly bejeweled youth riding as splendidly saddled horse walking ahead of others was the bridegroom come to marry their neighbour’s daughter, Mira innocently asked her mother where was her groom. Mira’s mother smiled at her innocence and to amuse her picked the idol of Krishna and giving it to her said that he was her groom. Mira’s adolescent mind believed it. She recalled how, though not in a procession, her groom had likewise come. A few days ago a ‘yogi’ – ascetic, carrying this idol of Krishna, came to her house. With its mesmeric beauty the idol bewitched the child and she insisted to have it but the ascetic did not concede and went away, and the eyes of a sad Mira followed him till he was visible. But, a little later, the ‘yogi’ came back, gave the idol to Mira and left. It is said that no other than Raidasa, the ‘jogi’ heard a divine voice, after he had left Mira’s village, instructing him to go back and give the idol to the child.
Mira’s mind was so deeply influenced by this association of the Krishna’s idol with the ‘yogi’ that in many of her songs Mira addressed Krishna as ‘jogi’ and herself as his ‘jogin’. It actually shaped Mira’s vision of Krishna on two lines. She was his bride completely devoted to him but unlike the Krishna of Jaideva’s Gita Govinda Mira’s Krishna was not indulgent in sensuous love. Hers was more often a yogi.
Kishangarh, Early 19th Century, Yogi Krishna and Mira as Radha
The distress of Radha in Gita Govinda, or even her Sakhi’s, is in context to other Gopis, but Mira rarely sees her Krishna beyond her own contexts. She yearns for Krishna but these are her own yearnings, not Krishna’s. She does not drag him to her level of sensuous yearnings. This ‘jogi’ Krishna struck the imagination of Kishangarh artists too, and they painted him as ‘yogi’ and Radha, perhaps a transform of Mira, something quite unusual to Krishna’s iconography.
Mira venerated Raidasa as her ‘guru’ – teacher, in some of her verses, and so contended the popular tradition, though chronologically Mira and Raidasa, broadly accepted period of Raidasa being from 1394 to 1418, weren’t contemporaries. It is said that Raidasa had led her to the path of Vaishnava ‘bhakti’. It seems that this might have led the common mind to link ‘yogi’ and Raidasa for they both led her to the path of Krishna.
MIRA’S PRE AND POST MARRIAGE LIFE
Slightly varying is the contention that Mira’s mother died early and Mira was the sole charge of a fond grandfather Rao Duda, a staunch Vaishnava. Reciprocally, Mira the child took care of her grandfather’s religious activities – lighting lamp and incense, making sacred food for offering, dressing up the idol, arranging things in order, and when rites began chanting hymns along with him and herself prostrating before the idol. This Vaishnavite atmosphere was Mira’s initial training and the factor that shaped her personality. Whatever her inspiration, by the time of her marriage with Bhojaraj her mind had become fully absorbed in Krishna so much so that when on her lips were the marriage-rites related hymns within her heart were thoughts of Krishna. She earnestly believed that she was being married to Krishna, not to Bhojaraj.
As reveal most sources and even the tradition, Mira did not have problems with Bhojaraj but her real ordeal began with his death in 1523. Under rigid customs of ‘sati’, Mira, a Rajput widow, was required to immolate herself, which Mira declined. She argued that wedded to Krishna who was ‘Avinashi’ – indestructible, not to anyone other than him, she was not a widow. Immolating herself would disgrace him whose consort she was. This incensed everyone’s anger in the family and even beyond including her father who thought the same way. Now Mira, the bride of the house of Sisodias, was the object of everyone’s disdain. Ungenerous treatment apart, she was subjected to various atrocities, mental and physical, to include even attempts on her life, to which everyone in the family was a party. Her father-in-law Rana Sanga was a little considerate, but he died in 1527 fighting against Babur and with this the reins passed into the hands of Ratan Singh, and a little after, Vikramaditya Singh, Mira’s worst oppressors. The Bhaktamal, its various commentaries, and other early records evade mentioning the names of tormenters, but enumerate a number of atrocities, including a few attempts on her life, to which Mira was subjected. Mira’s atrocities, especially the attempts to kill her, also feature in the 17th century poetry of Priyadasa, Dhruvadasa, Nabhadasa and Dayabai among others. However, the list of atrocities and occasions when attempts on Mira’s life were made, and divine miracles which every time aborted them, is quite large in the popular tradition. In some more recent literature, as in Ananda Swami’s ‘Miram Sudha-Sindhu-Swami’, this list has been further exaggerated.
Krishna takes on the Poison's Evil Effect on Himself
Some of the attempts made on Mira’s life have exceptional unanimity. As the Bhaktamal and almost all other texts have it, considering Mira’s life and ways derogatory to Rajput values the Rana, chronologically Rana Ratan Singh, decided to end Mira’s life. She was sent a cup full of poison which Mira drank but it did not harm her. It is believed that Krishna had taken on him poison’s evil effect with the result that his image turned blue.
Adorable Krishna as Shrinathji
The Bhagavata’s Krishna is also blue-complexioned but the Nathdwara Krishna is bluer perhaps for manifesting him who drank Mira’s poison.
When this attempt failed, he sent a wicker-basket with a deadly cobra in it; however, when Mira opened it, it revealed just a Saligrama, a symbolic form of Vishnu. The Mira Mandir at Vrindavana has a Saligrama icon claimed to be the same into which the cobra sent to kill Mira had transformed. As popular is the event of Rana’s encounter with Krishna in Mira’s apartment. It is said that Krishna often appeared in Mira’s chamber and she spoke to him. Hearing her talk to someone privately Rana’s sister Udaibai reported the matter to her brother. With a naked sword in hand Rana, perhaps Vikramaditya, stormed her chamber shouting where her lover was. When he found none except Krishna’s image, he left shamefaced. In slight variation, he flung his sword on one behind the curtain wherefrom a disc – Vishnu’s Sudarshana Chakra, emerged and struck his sword, and in sheer horror he left. As some sources have it, Rana passed the night almost in fearful trauma. In the morning, in complete inversion of the values that he so far venerated, the king and his wife went to Mirabai and submitted to her as her devotees.
Mirabai and Her Joyous Bhakti
Whatever, after the atmosphere of the royal household, where lust for power and sensuous pursuits overrode piety, became throttling Mira decided to relinquish it. As have some sources, she first went to Merata, her father’s abode. Her uncle Rao Viramdeva and cousin Jayamala were cordial and she was allowed to have her own way but subsequent political events, reducing Merata to Jodhpur’s suzerainty in 1538, and Rao Maladeva pressurizing Mira’s uncle to mend Mira’s ways or banish her, forced Mira to leave. She first went to Vrindavana and then to Dwarika. Now her devotional life was in full swing. She moved in sadhus’ company, danced and sang in temples and beyond breaking all barriers that rigid society and its customs imposed. In visual representations the Mira of palaces was a wanderer of roads with songs on lips and a ‘vina’ – stringed instrument, in hands.
When at Vrindavana, Mira heard that the known Krishna-devotee Jiva Goswami was at Vrindavana. She desired to meet him, but under a vow not to cast his eye on a woman, he refused to see Mira. Thereupon Mira sent him words that she was under the impression that in Vrindavana there was just one male and all others, His Gopis. Now she finds that there is another male parallel to Him and identifies his separate entity. Jiva Goswami did not fail to understand the underlying meaning and ashamed rushed to meet her.
When in her forties, Mira came to Dwarika. Now every moment of her life was devoted to Krishna. In the meantime her cousin Jayamala succeeded in wrestling Merata back and regain his supremacy. He sent messengers to Mira asking her to return. Some of the messengers stayed at Dwarika pressurizing her that they would not go back unless she accompanied them. As the tradition has it, she asked them to wait for the night, and when the night fell, all alone she entered into the temple, in some legends, into deep forest, for bidding farewell to Shri Ranachhoraji. She sang two songs; with the one, her spiritual being merged into the image of the Lord, and with the other, merged into Him her mortal form. Those who had seen her entering the temple never saw her coming out. Her mortal body was never found. Another tradition puts it with some difference. With her wide open eyes she looked at her Lord praying Him not to separate her from Him. It is said that thereupon the Lord stepped out of the idol, entered into her through her eyes, occupied her spiritual being, and let the discarded mortal body fall.
MIRA’S POPULARITY, POETRY AND NATURE OF BHAKTI
What an irony that Mira, who during her lifetime was not only despised by her kin but even the common man’s head did not bow to her, out of fear or whatever, is perhaps the most popular saint of India. As compared to three to four films attributed to other saints Mira has not less than ten movies made on her life. The most popular Hindi book series Amar Chitra Katha has published Mira on number 36, while Kabir appears on 55, Tulsi, on 62 and Surdasa, on 137.
A 14th Century Temple in Ahada, Udaipur, Popularly known as Mira Mandir
Not merely that country has a number of temples devoted to Mira, even structures earlier to Mira herself, such as the 14th century Mira Mandir at Ahad, Udaipur, Rajasthan, are renamed after her.
Three Bhakti Voices (Mirabai, Surdas, and Kabir in Their Time and Ours)
Kabir, Surdasa, Tulsi, Nabhadas… were ‘bhakti’ poets. ‘Bhakti’ was their poetry’s essence but basically they were poets.
Mira sometimes sang like Kabir : ‘Jantar mantar kachhu na janun ved parhi nahi Kasi’ – neither adept in cosmology or the science of syllables nor I have read Vedas or visited the holy Kashi, but she was just an uncut naive ‘bhakta’. When she danced, in her legs revealed her surrender to her Lord; when she sang, in her words revealed her yearning to unite with Him. Neither a dancer, nor singer, Mira was ‘bhakti’ incarnate – surrender in love, a surrender beyond questions, calculations, fear, and all thoughts of profit or loss, something that Chaitanya called Gopi-bhava – single-pointed submission as Gopis had for Krishna. It is said that once sage Narad saw Narayana tormented by acute headache. A bewildered Narad asked him if he could do anything that would relieve him of pain. Narayana told him that the dust of someone’s feet alone could do it. Narad could give the dust of his own feet but how could he, an humble devotee of Narayana, do it? He went to Narayana’s spouses but considering it a sin they too declined. Narad thought he could find someone in Brij who could give his or her feet’s dust. He went to Brij, met Gopis and told them all about Narayana’s pain and the remedy he sought. Not a moment of hesitation, Gopis collected a basketful dust of their feet and gave it to Narad. A sin or virtue, beyond all calculations of profit and loss the concern of Gopis was their Lord’s relief – the Chaitanya’s Gopi-bhava. This was the form of Mira’s ‘bhakti’, and in this Mira discovered her ultimate strength to face whatever came her way : ‘Koyi nindau koyi bindau main chalungi chal aputhi’ –whether condemned or lauded Mira would go the way not treaded ever before.
To Mira, the ties between her Lord and her were those of love, the love that looked like this world’s. Not an inhabitant of this world, Mira discovers in it the frame for her Lord’s picture, in the world’s sensuous ways, her Lord’s ways, and in its idiom, the diction to communicate with Him. Not a symbolic or elemental merger, Mira desired, with her body, soul and all faculties, that her Lord, when He met her, rushed to her, smiled and embraced her – ‘Uthi hans kantha lagao’. In love, her form of devotion and its essence, Mira sought release from the cycle of birth and death : ‘Jana Mira Kun Girdhara milaya, dukha metan sukha bheri, Ruma ruma sata bhayi ura mein, miti gayi phera pheri’ – the moment Mira met Girdhara, sorrows vanished and happiness emerged, all agitations of mind and body extinguished, and the cycle of birth and death is destroyed.
Chaurasi Vaishnavan ki Varta
Pada-prasanga-mala, commentary on Bhaktamal by Nagaridasa
Bhakti-rasa-bodhini, commentary of Bhaktamal by Priyadasa
Dhruvadas : Bhakta Namavali
Ananda Swarupa : Miram-Sudha-Sindhu-Swami
Col. J. Tod : Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan
G. A. Grierson : The Modern Vernacular Literature of Hindustan
J. N. Farquhar : An Outline of Religious Literature in India
F. E. Keay : A History of Hindi Literature
W. G. Archer : The Loves of Krishna
J. S. Hawley : Saints and Virtues
S. S. Mehta : A Monograph on Mirabai, the Saint of Mewar
V. K. Subramanian : Mystic Songs of Mira
John Stratton : Three Bhakti Voices
K. P. Bahadur : Mira Bai and Her Padas
Usha Nilsson : Mir Bai