The India Legend of Mirabai

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painting of Mirabai Indian woman poet singer mystic Rajashtan

Painting of Mirabai by GR Sharma

Cultural expedition to walk in the footsteps of Mirabai

Mirabai was a 16th century Rajasthani princess, a composer of devotional songs and a mystic who fought against convention to give voice to her spiritual yearnings. She travelled widely in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh in north India, and I will be tracing her life through her journeys.

Mirabai’s life has relevance today because her story parallels the struggle many women have to live a fulfilled, creative life — when society pressures them to settle down, marry and devote their lives to their domestic obligations and “duties.”

A Symbol for Women Trying to Gain Their Voice Today

Mirabai was  known for the incomparable beauty of the poems and bhajans she composed and sang in devotion to her beloved god, Krishna. Born in Rajasthan in 1500 AD, she was married against her will to a prince of Chittor, near the fabled city of Udaipur. Her life was marred by persecution as she struggled to manifest her ardent desire to compose, sing and pursue spiritual studies. Though she was renowned for her talent, her family felt she was bringing dishonour by not behaving the way a courtly lady should — and they tried to poison and drown her.

Mirabai and Krishna, IndiaMirabai escaped and travelled widely, journeying across country to Vrindavan and Mathura, playground of Krishna, and to Dwarka in Gujarat, site of an important Krishna temple. Eventually, a deputation of men from Chittor found her in Dwarka, but before they could abduct her, she disappeared while singing in the temple. All that was found was her sari, draped around the Krishna murti.

Many legends swirl around the myth Mirabai. It was said a sadhu (holy man) gave her a tiny statue of Krishna when she was a child, and that was when her love for the god was born. It was said she survived attempts to take her life through divine intervention: poison turned to nectar, a bed of blades turned to petals. It was said Emperor Akbar came to hear her, in disguise as a sadhu.

Today, Mirabai is considered one of the great female saints of India and her songs are still sung. Moreover, there have been hundreds of songs composed in her honour and there are festivals devoted to her that take place around the time of Dusshera in Rajasthan. She is still very much alive today in the hearts of Indians.

Mirabai India poet singer

The route and itinerary

My plan is to create a four-week itinerary and travel the region around the time of the Mirabai celebrations in October 2014, concluding with a week spent at Rohet Ghar, near Pali. Rohet Ghar is a heritage hotel with a prestigious writer’s pedigree: among other notable writers who stayed at Rohet Garh — like Patrick French, Simon Winchester and Geoffrey Moorhouse — William Dalrymple wrote City of Djinns here and Bruce Chatwin wrote Songlines.

The places and events I want to visit on my cultural expedition include:

  • Mirabai temple in Vrindavan, U.P.
  • The festival in her honour, taking place this year on October 7-8 in Merta
  • Mirabai temple and museum in her hometown, Merta, Rajasthan
  • Mirabai temple at Chittogarh Fort
  • Udaipur and Pali, Rajasthan
  • Krishna Temple in Dwarka, Gujurat, where she has said to disappear
  • Rohet Garh Heritage Hotel, near Pali, for a writer’s retreat

map Rajasthan Mirabai India

Mirabai’s poetry

Mirabai’s poetry was unique in her day — much more straightforward, emotional, honest and vulnerable. The strength and power of her words stand to this day, a testament to her courage, love and talent.

NOTHING IS REALLY MINE

Nothing is really mine except Krishna.
O my parents, I have searched the world
And found nothing worthy of love.
Hence I am a stranger amidst my kinfolk
And an exile from their company,
Since I seek the companionship of holy men;
There alone do I feel happy,
In the world I only weep.

I planted the creeper of love
And silently watered it with my tears;
Now it has grown and overspread my dwelling.
You offered me a cup of poison
Which I drank with joy.
Mira is absorbed in contemplation of Krishna,
She is with God and all is well !

It is extremely difficult to find a parallel to this wonderful personality – Mira – a saint, a philosopher, a poet and a sage. She was a versatile genius and a magnanimous soul. Her life has a singular charm, with extraordinary beauty and marvel.” – Swami Sivananda

DO NOT LEAVE ME ALONE

Do not leave me alone, a helpless woman.
My strength, my crown,
I am empty of virtues,
You, the ocean of them.
My heart’s music, you help me
In my world-crossing.
You protected the king of the elephants.
You dissolve the fear of the terrified.

Where can I go? Save my honour
For I have dedicated myself to you
And now there is no one else for me.