Mirabai (मीराबाई) (1498-1547) (sometimes also spelled Meera) was a female Hindu mystical poet whose compositions are popular throughout India.
She is said to have been a disciple of Shri Guru Ravidas. She composed between two hundred and 1,300 prayerful songs called bhajans. The extant versions of her poems are in a Rajasthani dialect of Hindi, they are also considered to be in Gujarati.
They are in the bhakti tradition, and most passionately praised Lord Krishna. Bhakti is one of the most intimate and profound expressions of Hinduism, and quite possibly its most sublime teaching. Krishna's famous discourse on bkakti, found in the Bhagavadgita, helps guide the spiritual aspirant to become closer to God. Krishna encourages the spiritual devotees of all faiths to completely surrender to God's infinite grace, and to become a vessel of God's will. Bhakti, then, is an ocean of God's unlimited love that exists to surround and immerse God's devotees.
Many of the details of Mira's life are pieced together from her poetry and the stories later recounted by members of her community.
Mira was born at Merta in Nagaur District of Rajasthan in the Rathore clan of Rajputs. When she was six years old, she was given a figurine of Krishna by her mother with 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 court difficult for Mirabai. In Mira'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 sixteenth-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.
The sanctum doors are believed to have closed on their own and when later opened, the sari of Mirabai was seen enwrapped around the idol of lord Krishna, symbolizing the culmination of her union with her lord.
Mirabai belongs to the Saguna class of worshippers of Brahman. Theologically, they believed that between Aatma (our soul) and Parmaatma (the supreme Aatma or God), this physical body is the only wall, and upon death the Aatma and Parmaatma will combine just as a pot filled with water is placed in pond and if the pot breaks the water inside (Aatma) combines with the water outside (Paraatma).
Mirabai's poetry puts love for Krishna above 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 her poetry—she wants to be colored with the color of dusk (dusk being the symbolic color 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 tales 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. Mira'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 fourteenth-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 lord. 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.
A sample poem:
Mirabai did not recognize social and caste barriers and adopted the cobbler/untouchable Sri Guru Ravidas as her guru. She broke many social norms.
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