Mirabai is one of the brightest stars in the star-filled spiritual firmament of our country. We are too near history to either add to her greatness or detract from it. For, five hundred years in the history of a nation that stretches back several millennia is a short period. But her place in the religious history of our country is unique as she had danced and sang her way into the hearts of millions of her admirers.
This Rajput princess was an Empress among God’s devotees and a princess only in name. She treated royal conventions with disdain in worshipping her beloved Murlidhar (Krishna). She belonged to the Rathore clan of Medta, in Marwar, and married into the Sisodia family of Chitor, Mewar. The Sisodias were very proud of their lineage and did not tolerate any deviation from etiquette which they considered to be correct. And it was this etiquette that Mira flouted from the beginning.
Mira, like Andal of yore and the legendary gopis, considered Bhagwan Krishna to be her Lord and husband, even after her marriage to Bhojraj, son of Rana Sangramsimha (Rana Sanga) of Mewar. What is worth noting is the fact that while her menfolk clashed with Muslim invaders, and her father Ratansimha and her husband attained martyrdom, Mira kept herself busy singing bhajans in praise of Krishna or Kanha, unmindful of the din of battle all around.
She sums up her spiritual message in a kirtan, “Satsang no ras chãkh prãni...” – “O being! Savour the fruit of satsang, in the beginning it may be bitter. But as time goes on it will become as sweet as mango. Don’t you be proud of this body, in the end it will be reduced to ashes. You cannot take elephants, horses, other forms of wealth when you depart this world. If you resort to satsang you can have mukti; as the Vedas proclaim. Mira says take refuge at Hari’s feet.”
A brief account of the times in which Mira lived places her remarkable life in the correct perspective. It is certain she belonged to the sixteenth century as Rana Sanga was a contemporary of the Mughal invader, Babar, who fought the First Battle of Panipat in 1526.
The century was a period of uncertainty in the history of India. The weak Lodhi dynasty was on its last leg. Rana Sanga, a brave battle-scarred Rajput warrior, made the mistake of inviting Babar to invade India. He was under the impression that the Farghana adventurer would hasten the end of the Lodhis, collect his booty and go back to his native Central Asia. But after defeating Ibrahim Lodhi at the First Battle of Panipat, Babar had other ideas. He founded the Mughal empire which turned out to be an enduring one till it was supplanted by the British in 1856. Rana Sanga had to fight Babar in the Battle of Khanua, near Agra. Ratansimha, Mira’s father, fought alongside Sanga in this battle.
Now coming to Mirabai, she became an ardent devotee of Krishna when she was three. It came about this way. Her grandfather Dudaji was a devotee of Krishna. One day a sadhu came to his palace. He had a murti of Krishna with him. Child Mira wanted the murti of Krishna; the sadhu was reluctant to part with it. Mira began to cry for the murti and gave up eating. According to one account Krishna appeared to the sadhu in his dream and asked him to hand over the murti to Mira, which he did. The murti was to become a lifelong companion of the princess.
As long as Mira stayed with her grandfather she had no problems. When she was seven years old, she lost her mother, Hansaba. Just before that Mira saw a marriage procession passing by from the palace window. He asked her mother, “Who’s going to be my bride-groom?” Her mother replied, “Kanha.” That took root in her mind; and Mira had to face a sea of troubles once she entered the proud Sisodia family. The royalty worshipped Durga, the goddess of the warrior class, befitting the martial traditions of the family. As part of the ritual, they used to sacrifice animals and eat meat as prasad. This Mira could not do and made no bones about it. This led to a lot of friction between Mira and the Mewar royalty. These differences were fuelled by her sister-in-law, Uda. When she stood her ground an explosive situation developed. Things became worse after the death of her husband, Bhojraj. She was asked to ascend the funeral pyre of her husband which she flatly refused as she was wedded to Giridhar and not to any mortal.
Matters took a turn for the worse with the accession of Vikramjit (her brother-in-law) to the throne of Chitor. He tried to kill her by various means, but all his efforts failed by the grace of Giridhar Gopal (Krishna).
Mira continued to offer unalloyed devotion to Krishna till she merged in his murti in Dwarka, Saurashtra, in a state of ecstasy.
All the while she was singing and dancing before him. Her audience comprised sadhus and other devotees. With kartal in one hand and a stringed instrument in the other and ghungroo on her feet she used to sing her bhajans.
Mirabai has mentioned about her trials and tribulations in her compositions, not by way of complaint, but to illustrate the concern of her loving Dinanath, who stood by her at every crisis in her life.
She addresses Krishna by various names: Kanha, Prabhu, Murlidhar, Giridhar Nagar, Ghanshyam, Dwarikadhish, Ranchod, Dinanath, etc. in her bhajans written in Marwari Hindi and Gujarati, with a sprinkling of Punjabi words. She herself set the tunes to her compositions.
By choosing Raidas, a leather worker as her guru, Mira had committed an unpardonable sin in the eyes of the Sisodia family. In another bhajan she describes the anger of Rana for choosing Raidas as her guru, “Ignominy and shame and the scandal of the world, I cherish and welcome for the love of Paramatma, O Rana.
“I care neither for the disgrace nor the applause of the world – for my spiritual path is different from that of the world. With great difficulty I gained my guru. If the world condemns me for meeting him, my preceptor, then says Mira, on such people’s heads may hell fires fall.”
When they made it impossible for her to worship her Krishna, Mira considered it the last straw on the camel’s back and left Chitor. She set out on a tirth yatra connected with the lila of Bhagwan Krishna. In her bhajans she recounts the adventures of Bal Krishna during his Vrindavan days as a saviour – a role he played so admirably. These compositions relate to the killing of Putana, Kaliya mardan, crowned by the annihilation of his own arrogant Uncle Kansa. She touches on her own life and the trials and tribulations she had to undergo because of her intense ardour and devotion to her Ghanshyam. She did a circuit of the places connected with Krishna, as had already been mentioned. During her stay in Vrindavan a strange thing happened. Mira expressed a desire to meet the distinguished Vashnava saint and disciple of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Jiva Goswami. When she went to his hut she was told that he could not see a woman as it was against his code of conduct. Mira exclaimed, “I thought in Vrindavan the only man is Krishna and all others are gopis.” On hearing this retort the Acharya realized his mistake. He came out of the hut and conducted her inside.
The following is the purport of what Mira had to say of her life and devotion as gleaned from her bhajans:
Referring to her marriage to Bhojraj, her temporal husband, she tells Vikramjit who harassed her the most, “Ranaji I wholeheartedly love Girdhar. In my previous life I was a gopi of Vraj. I have come to this place by mistake. I was born in King Jaimal’s house and was given in marriage into your family. I shall not forsake Krishna’s name even for a minute even though you tried to poison me. Mira has married Hari.”
Talking of the purpose of human life one of her bhajans proclaims,
“O mind! You worship dear Mohan, the dear one who plays murali. You have crossed the seven seas, don’t drown on the shore. Human birth is for liberation, why bother about family. O mind always sing the praise of Giridhar’s qualities.” She was only exhorting others what she had done all her life.
When the ruler made it extremely difficult for Mira to worship Krishna she decided to leave Chitor for Medta. Before leaving she declared, “Govind nã guna gãshu...” – “I shall continue to sing Govind’s virtues. I have vowed to take charanamrut and visit the mandir every day after getting up (in the morning).
“If Rana is angry, he will deprive me of my kingdom. But if Bhagwan is angry, I will die.
“The Rana (Vikramaditya) sent a cup of poison which turned into nectar. I will row the boat of Bhagwan’s name and cross the ocean of Maya.
“Mira has taken refuge in Giridhar and shall ever remain at his lotus feet.”
Mira’s death in Dwarka at the age of 67 in 1546 was a miraculous phenomenon. The Chitor ruler and his subjects felt that the problems they were facing were a sign of divine displeasure at the way they had treated a great devotee of God. The Rana sought to make amends for it by sending a deputation of Brahmins with a request to Mira to return to Chitor. She was not willing to leave the peaceful Dwarka to an uncertain welcome in Mewar. She was not sure whether she would be allowed to worship her Giridhar Gopal in peace. She conveyed her message to the Brahmin deputation. The Brahmins went on a hunger strike to make her change her mind. Mira was greatly distressed at the turn of events. She entered Dwarkadhish mandir and never came out of it as she became one with her Murlidhar