Narsinh Mehta is well known all over India as a bhakta–poet. His devotional bhajans are sung to this day – mostly in Gujarat and Saurashtra – since he wrote them in Gujarati. He was born in a Nagar Brahmin family, in Talaja, a village near Junagadh in 1414. Scholars give slightly varying versions of certain episodes, dates and names regarding his life. He was either born dumb, or had a speech disorder.
By the age of five his parents expired. So his grandmother, Jayakunvar, raised him. His brother Bansidhar, seventeen years older than Narsinh, had a wife named Gauri.
Narsinh often used to accompany his grandmother to the Hatkeshwar Mahadev mandir for darshan and to listen to bhajans. Once when he was eight–years–old, Jayakunvar approached an ascetic at the mandir. The ascetic glanced at little Narsinh and prophesied that he would become a great bhakta. But Jayakunvar informed him of the boy’s handicap. The ascetic then gave him a herb and asked him to chant, Radhe Krishna. Miraculously, Narsinh started chanting Radhe Krishna.
He was then sent to a Sanskrit school to study. Everyday after school, Narsinh visited Hatkeshwar Mahadev, joining bhaktas in singing bhajans. Afraid that he might become a sadhu, Jayakunvar arranged his marriage with a seven–year–old girl named Manek.
At the age of sixteen, a daughter named Kunvarbai and at eighteen, a son named Shamal, were born to Manek. The extra mouths to feed became intolerable to Gauri, who often poisoned Bansidhar’s ears, bitterly maligning Narsinh. Being a henpecked husband, Bansidhar couldn’t argue. However grandma, now quite aged, arranged Kunvarbai’s marriage with Vasantrai, the son of Shrirangdhar Mehta, a rich man of Una. Soon after, at the age of 95, grandma died.
Grandma’s absence now gave Gauri a free reign. She turned into a quarrelsome nuisance to get rid of Narsinh. She insulted him by taunting him and denying him food. She then complained to Bansidhar that Narsinh ate like a pig while not contributing to the home’s upkeep. Bansidhar also scolded and insulted him. Narsinh then left home.
He arrived at a dilapidated Shiv mandir about 18 miles from Junagadh. He stayed there without food or water for seven days. Pleased with his austerity, Gopnath Mahadev (Shivji) gave him darshan and granted him a wish. Narsinh requested for the darshan of Shri Krishna’s Raas Lila, which Mahadev granted. He then returned to Junagadh singing jubilantly.
Bhagwan to the rescue
Taking Manek and Shamal with him, Narsinh moved to another house. Once, to perform pitrushraaddha (offering oblations to forefathers) he invited several Nagar Brahmins to dine at his house. But one devious Brahmin went around town inviting the whole Nagar clan to Narsinh Mehta’s house. Meanwhile Narsinh had gone to buy some ghee. On the way a devotee he met took him to sing bhajans. Narsinh completely forgot to buy the ghee and about the food to be prepared at home. One of the bhajans he sang with the devotee was:
Prãn thaki mane Vaishnava vahãlã...
i.e. the Vaishanav, Bhagwan’s devotee, is even more dear to me than my life.
Back home quite a crowd had begun pouring in. But a miracle occurred. Manek could not understand where the cooks and the raw material were coming from. They had begun to cook sumptuous sweets and other items. The Nagars then sat down to eat and hailed, “Narsinh Bhagatni Jai!”
When Narsinh’s bhajans ended, he realised that he still had to purchase ghee. On reaching home he saw the guests leaving, having satiated themselves! Narsinh realised that his Shri Hari had surely intervened and come to his aid.
Once a group of pilgrims on their way to Dwarka asked to be directed to a person who would write a note of credit – hundi. Out of spite, they were directed to Narsinh Mehta. The gullible Narsinh wrote a hundi for three hundred rupees on a merchant named Shamal Shah Sheth. Narsinh then composed a prayer:
Mãri hundi swikãro Mahãrãj re Shãmalã Girdhãri...
i.e. O Bhagwan! Please accept my note of credit...
When the pilgrims searched for Shamal Shah in Dwarka no one had heard that name. But Paramatma himself assumed that form and accepted the hundi.
Equality to all
Narsinh Mehta’s devotion to his Beloved was so pure that he had no qualms in singing bhajans in the area where the town’s lower classes resided. On one such occasion he sang:
Vaishnavjan to tene kahiyere, je peed parãi jãne re...
i.e. He is called a Vaishnav (Hari’s beloved) who understands other people’s misery...
But this caused quite an uproar in the Nagar community. In the period of rigid orthodoxy, Narsinh Mehta’s venturing into a lower varna’s residential area was utter taboo, and unforgivable. The Nagars threw him out of their community. Yet Narsinh had equanimity in honour and insult. In reply he composed quite a thought provoking bhajan:
Jyãn lagi ãtmattatva chinyo nahi,
tyãn lagi sãdhanã sarva juthi...
i.e. Unless one realises the atma, all endeavours will be futile...
At the age of seventeen his son, Shamal, died. Manek was devastated. Soon, out of grief she also died. It was then that Narsinh composed another well known bhajan, depicting his deep understanding of life’s ephemeral nature and his yearning for devotion to his Beloved:
Bhalu thayu bhãngi janjãl,
sukhe bhajashu Shri Gopãl...
i.e. It is well that the web of maya has broken, now I will be able to worship Bhagwan in peace.
The Floating Garland
Lives of sadhus, mystics and bhaktas are generally filled with tests of faith, in the form of either calumny or physical harm by the ignorant and evil elements of society. Narsinh Mehta’s was no different. People spitefully envious of his purity of bhakti once falsely complained to King Ra’Mandalik, accusing Narsinh of behaving contrary to scriptural law. Therefore the king decided to test Narsinh’s purity. He summoned Narsinh to the palace and informed him of his plan, “I will place a garland around Damodar’s neck in the mandir and lock the door from outside. If by next morning that garland is found around your neck, I will consider you innocent.”
In times of grief, Narsinh used to sing in the Kedar rãg for inner peace. However, for this he needed his kedaro (a string instrument), which he had lent to somebody. While in jail, someone brought his kedaro and he started singing devotedly. Then a miracle occurred. The mandir doors flew open. The garland drifted through the air and gracefully fell around Narsinh Mehta’s neck. Many people witnessed this and hailed his Jai.
Narsinh Mehta’s bhajans
They include: Suratsangram, Krishna Janma Vadhai, Ras–sahasra Padi, Saburi Chhatrisi, Chaturi Shodashi, Bal Lila, Dan Lila, Ras Lila, Sudama Charit and Nrusinhvilas. The bhajans number about 740. His poetry greatly enriched the bhakti literature of medieval India. He died at the age of 66 but through his bhajans, he has attained an eternal place in the hearts of bhaktas.
Bhagwan Swaminarayan often requested His poet paramhansas to sing Narsinh Mehta’s bhajans during His discourses. In Vachanamrut Vartal–11, they sang, “Mãrã harji shun het na dise re..” Then Bhagwan Swaminarayan commanded all devotees to sing this pada everyday and imbibe its sentiments. In Vachanamrut Vartal–12, He requested the paramhansas to sing the bhajan lauding Vrundavan’s inhabitants: Dhanya Vrundãvanvãsi vãtni chhãyã re jyãn Hari bestã.