Mirabai was born 500 years ago in a little-known village called Kurki in Mewar. The much loved daughter of Rana Ratan Singh, Mira was nurtured by her grandfather Rao Duda in the fortress city of Merta in Mewar. It is said that at the age of five she was given a vigraha, a statue of Lord Krishna, by a mendicant, and became firmly convinced that Krishna was to be her husband. The benign influence of Rao Duda's wisdom, the pain of losing her parents at a tender age and her certainty that she was Krishna's chosen beloved, gave a unique strength to Mira's personality. According to the royal custom she was married in 1516 to Prince Bhojraj, son of Rana Sanga, ruler of the Sisodiya clan of Mewar. It was not easy for Mira to reconcile her worldly role with her divine nature. She remained firm in her convictions, through many ordeals, and none could dissuade her from following her own way. She spent most of her time singing devotional songs in the palace temple.
In 1521 Bhojraj died, soon followed by Rana Sanga. Mira refused to lead the secluded life of a royal widow and defied all conventions. She sang and danced with greater mystic frenzy. Her cymbals and her anklets were heard even in the temple on the outskirts of the city, a public place open to all devotees. Such insubordination had never been witnessed before. The young Rana Vikram and his mother could not treat Mira with either indifference or clemency. Her rising popularity and strong political connections made the Rana so jealous that he tried to kill her several times. It is said that once a poisonous snake was sent to her in a flower basket, but when she opened it she found an image of Krishna; on another occasion she was given a cup of poison but drank it with Krishna's name on her lips and was miraculously saved.
Wearied of these undercurrents of hatred and intrigue, Mira went back to Merta. She was soon overcome by a restlessness and is said to have left for Vrindavan, where she spent time with other devotees. It is said that in Vrindavan she met and was inspired by Sant Raidas. She then went to Dwarka, the kingdom of Krishna. The legend goes that Rana Udai Singh, who had succeeded Vikram Singh, called her back. Reluctant, she asked permission to spent the night at the temple of Ranchhorji (Krishna). The next morning, it is believed, her spirit entered the deity and her lifeless body was found lying at its feet.
Mirabai occupies a sacred place in the hearts of Indians. Her poems and songs, composed in Rajasthani, Brajbhasha and Gujarati are eloquent with transcendental emotion. Together with Vidyapati, Soordas and Tulsidas, she is one of most outstanding poets of the times. Mirabai's poetry is characterised by simplicity, lyricism, extreme devotion and tenderness. Her Rag Govind narrating her love for Krishna exemplifies the true spirit of the bhakti movement. For the peasants of the region where she lived, she is a symbol of resistance, both to the organised power of the State and the domestic tyranny of the husband. She retains an identity as a historic figure through whom their hopes and grievances find expression. Women continue to regard her as an intimate friend who understands them. Mirabai writes:
Having taken up this bundle of suffering, this body, How can I throw it away? It belongs to Ranchodrai Sheth... Meera's lord is Giridhar Naagar; I am longing to reach the ultimate, How can I throw It away?
Here Mirabai supports her lute on the left shoulder and stares out of the large window at Krishna's temple, amongst a landscape that is typically that of Vrindavan.
The artist of this portrait is Shri Giri Raj of Kishangarh, Rajasthan.
Of Related Interest:
Mirabai (Water Color Painting on Velvet)
Mirabai (Paperback Comic Book)
Vaisnavi Women and the Worship of Krishna (Paperback Book)