Meera

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This article is about poetess of Hindu bhakti movement. For other uses, see Meera (disambiguation).
Meera (or Mira Bai)
Meerabai painting.jpg
A painting of Meera Bai
Born uncertain, ~ 1498 CE[1]
Merta Rajasthan, India
Died uncertain, ~ 1547 CE[1]
Known for Poetess Bhakti movement

Meera, also known as Mira Bai,[2] was a 16th century Hindu mystic poetess and devotee of Krishna. She is celebrated as a poet and has been definitively claimed by the North Indian Hindu tradition of Bhakti saints.[3][4]

Meera was born in a royal family of Rajasthan, and her education included music, religion, politics and government.[2] She married Bhojraj the crown prince of Mewar in 1516, her husband was wounded in 1518 and died in 1521 after a Hindu-Muslim battle, her own father died in a war with Babur's army in 1527, and little else is known about her life with any certainty.[1][2][5] She is mentioned in Bhaktamal, confirming that she was widely known and a cherished figure in the Indian bhakti movement culture by about 1600 CE.[6] Most legends about Meera mention her fearless disregard for social and family conventions, her devotion to god Krishna, her treating Krishna as her lover and husband, and she being persecuted by her in-laws for her religious devotion.[1][6] She has been the subject of numerous folk tales and hagiographic legends, which are inconsistent or widely different in details.[1][7]

Thousands of devotional poems in passionate praise of Lord Krishna are attributed to Meera in the Indian tradition, but just a few hundred are believed to be authentic by scholars, and the earliest written records suggest that except for two poems, most were written down only in the 18th century.[8] Many poems attributed to Meera were likely composed later by others who admired Meera. These poems are commonly known as bhajans, and are popular across India.[9]

Hindu temples, such as in Chittorgarh fort, are dedicated to Mira Bai's memory.[1] Legends about Meera's life, of contested authenticity, have been the subject of movies, comic strips and other popular literature in modern times.[10]

Biography[edit]

Meera's temple to Krishna at Chittorgarh Fort, Rajasthan

Authentic historical records about Meera are not available, and scholars have attempted to establish Meera's biography from secondary literature that mention her, and wherein dates and other details are available.[1] These records suggest Meera was a Rajput princess[11] born in about 1500 (likely 1498)[12] in Merta, Rajasthan in northwest India.[5]

Her father, Ratan Singh Rathore was the ruler of a small Rajput kingdom, her mother died when she was a baby, and she was the only child of her parents.[1] She was educated in music, religion, politics and government.[2] She grew up with her grandparents, who were devout worshippers of deity Vishnu.[13] Meera willingly married Bhoj Raj, the crown prince of Mewar, in 1516.[13][14] Her husband was wounded in one of the ongoing Hindu-Muslim wars of the Delhi Sultanate in 1518, and he died of battle wounds in 1521. Both her own father and her father-in-law were killed within a few years after her husband,[1] during a war with the army of Babur – the founder of Islamic Mughal Empire in Indian subcontinent.[5][15]

The Meera Museum in Merta City

After the death of her father-in-law, Vikram Singh became the ruler of Mewar, and legends describe her in-laws and he persecuted Meera by sending her poison to drink and a snake in a basket on another occasion.[2][13] According to the hagiographic legends, she was not harmed in either case, with the snake miraculously becoming a Krishna idol (or a garland of flowers depending on the version).[7][13] In another version of these legends, she is asked by Vikram Singh to go drown herself, which she tries but she finds herself floating on water.[16] Yet another legend states that the Mughal emperor Akbar came with Tansen to visit Meera and presented a pearl necklace, but scholars doubt this ever happened because Tansen joined Akbar's court in 1562, 15 years after she died.[16]

Similarly, some stories state that Raidas was her guru (teacher), but there is no corroborating historical evidence for this and the difference of over 100 years in the birth years for Raidas and Meera suggest this to be unlikely.[16]

The three different oldest records known as of 2014 that mention Meera,[17] all from the 17th century and written within 150 years of Meera's death, neither mention anything about her childhood or circumstances of her marriage to Bhojraj, nor do they mention that the people who persecuted her were her in-laws or from some Rajput royal family.[18] Nancy Martin-Kershaw states that to the extent Meera was challenged and persecuted, religious or social conventions were unlikely to have been the cause, rather the likely cause were political chaos and military conflicts between the Rajput kingdom and the Mughal Empire.[7] Further, the diversity and inconsistencies in Meera's stories suggest that her biography was likely invented and molded by all sides, long after her death, for political goals through the medium of historical rewriting.[19]

Other stories state that Mira Bai left the kingdom of Mewar and went on pilgrimages. In her last years, Meera lived in Dwarka, Vrindavan, where legends state she miraculously disappeared by merging into an idol of Krishna in 1547.[2][1] While miracles are contested by scholars for the lack of historical evidence, it is widely acknowledged that Meera dedicated her life to Hindu deity Krishna, composing songs of devotion and was one of the most important poet-sant of the Bhakti movement period.[2][16][20]

Poetry[edit]

Meera poems are dedicated to Krishna (left), calling him the Dark One or the Mountain Lifter. Some Meera songs remind of Radha (right), the mythical lover of Krishna.[21]

Meera's poems are lyrical padas (metric verses).[16] While thousands of verses are attributed to her, scholars state that only a small fraction of those are authentic. There are no surviving manuscripts of her poetry from her century, and the earliest records with two poems credited to her are from early 18th-century, more than 150 years after she died.[8] The largest collection of poems credited to her are in 19th-century manuscripts. Scholars have attempted to establish authenticity based on both the poem and Meera being mentioned in other manuscripts as well as from style, linguistics and form.[8][22] John Stratton Hawley cautions, "When one speaks of the poetry of Mirabai, then, there is always an element of enigma. (...) there must always remain a question about whether there is any real relation between the poems we cite and an historical Mira."[23]

In her poems, Krishna is a yogi and lover, and she herself is a yogini ready to to take her place by his side unto a spiritual marital bliss.[8] Meera's style combines impassioned mood, defiance, longing, anticipation, joy and ecstasy of union, always centered on Krishna.[22]

My Dark One has gone to an alien land.
He has left me behind, he's never returned, he's never sent me a single word.
So I've stripped off my ornaments, jewels and adornments, cut my hair from my head.
And put on holy garments, all on his account, seeking him in all four directions.
Mira: unless she meets the Dark One, her Lord, she doesn't even want to live.

—Mira Bai, Translated by John Stratton Hawley[24]

Meera speaks of a personal relationship with Krishna as her lover, lord and mountain lifter. The characteristic of her poetry is complete surrender.

After making me fall for you so hard, where are you going?
Until the day I see you, no repose: my life, like a fish washed on shore, flails in agony.
For your sake I'll make myself a yogini, I'll hurl myself to death on the saw of Kashi.
Mira's Lord is the clever Mountain Lifter, and I am his, a slave to his lotus feet.

—Mira Bai, Translated by John Stratton Hawley[25]

Meera is often classed with the northern Sant bhaktis who spoke of a formless divinity.[11]

Sikh literature[edit]

Prem Ambodh Pothi, a text attributed to Guru Gobind Singh and completed in 1693 CE, includes poetry of Mira Bai as one of sixteen historic bhakti sants important to Sikhism.[26]

Influence[edit]

Scholars acknowledge that Meera was one of the central poet-sants of the Bhakti movement, during a difficult period in Indian history filled with Hindu-Muslim religious conflicts. Yet, they simultaneously question the extent to which Meera was a canonical projection of social imagination that followed, where she became a symbol of people's suffering and a desire for an alternative.[27] Dirk Wiemann, quoting Parita Mukta, states,

If one accepts that someone very akin to the Mira legend [about persecution and her devotion] existed as an actual social being, the power of her convictions broke the brutal feudal relationships that existed at that time. The Mira Bai of the popular imagination, then, is an intensely anachronistic figure by virtue of that anticipatory radical democracy which propels Meera out of the historicity that remains nonetheless ascribed to her. She goes beyond the shadowy realms of the past to inhabit the very core of a future which is embodied within the suffering of a people who seek an alternative.

—Dirk Wiemann / Parita Mukta, On Meera[27][28]

The continued influence of Meera, in part, has been her message of freedom, her resolve and right to pursue her devotion to deity Krishna and her spiritual beliefs as she felt drawn to despite her persecution.[27][28] Her appeal and influence in Indian culture, writes Edwin Bryant, is from her emerging, through her legends and poems, as a person "who stands up for what is right and suffers bitterly for holding fast to her convictions, as other men and women have", yet she does so with a language of love, with words painting the "full range of emotions that mark love, whether between human beings or between human and divine".[29]

English versions[edit]

Aliston and Subramanian have published selections with English translation in India.[30][31] Schelling[32] and Landes-Levi[33] have offered anthologies in the USA. Snell[34] has presented parallel translations in his collection The Hindi Classical Tradition. Sethi has selected poems which Mira composed presumably after she came in contact with Saint Ravidas.[35] and Meera Pakeerah.

Some bhajans of Meera have been rendered into English by Robert Bly and Jane Hirshfield as Mirabai: Ecstatic Poems.[36]

Popular culture[edit]

Composer John Harbison adapted Bly's translations for his Mirabai Songs. There is a documentary film A Few Things I Know About Her by Anjali Panjabi.[37] Two well-known films of her life have been made in India, Meera (1945), a Tamil language film starring M. S. Subbulakshmi, and Meera a 1979 Hindi film by Gulzar. TV series, Meera (2009–2010) was also based on her life.

Meera Bai's life has been interpreted as a musical story in Meera—The Lover…, a music album based on original compositions for some well known Meera bhajans, releasing 11 October 2009.[38]

Sagar Arts, the creator of mythological and historical serials such as Hatim Aladin, Chandragupta Maurya, Prithviraj Chauhan, Dwarkadheesh, Jai jai jai Bajrangbali, Mahima Shani Dev Ki, Ramayan etc., created a serial on 27 July 2009 – 29 January 2010. Younger Meera was played by Aashika Bhatia and elder Meera was played by Aditi Sajwan.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Usha Nilsson (1997), Mira bai, Sahitya Akademi, ISBN 978-8126004119, pages 1-15
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Mira Bai". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 30 July 2015. 
  3. ^ Karen Pechelis (2004), The Graceful Guru, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195145373, pages 21-23, 29-30
  4. ^ Neeti Sadarangani (2004), Bhakti Poetry in Medieval India: Its Inception, Cultural Encounter and Impact, Sarup & Sons, ISBN 978-8176254366, pages 76-80
  5. ^ a b c David Kinsley (1997), Tradition and Modernity in Bhakti Movements (Editor: J Lele), Brill Academic, ISBN 978-9004063709, pages 88-89
  6. ^ a b Catherine Asher and Cynthia Talbot (2006), India before Europe, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0521809047, page 109
  7. ^ a b c Nancy Martin-Kershaw (2014), Faces of the Feminine in Ancient, Medieval, and Modern India (Editor: Mandakranta Bose), Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195352771, pages 162-178
  8. ^ a b c d John Stratton Hawley (2002), Asceticism (Editors: Vincent Wimbush, Richard Valantasi), Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195151381, pages 301-302
  9. ^ Edwin Bryant (2007), Krishna: A Sourcebook, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195148923, page 254
  10. ^ Edwin Bryant (2007), Krishna: A Sourcebook, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195148923, page 242
  11. ^ a b An Introduction to Hinduism, Cambridge 1996, Page 144, by Gavin Flood
  12. ^ Usha Nilsson (1997), Mira bai, Sahitya Akademi, ISBN 978-8126004119, page 12
  13. ^ a b c d Usha Nilsson (1997), Mira bai, Sahitya Akademi, ISBN 978-8126004119, pages 12-13
  14. ^ Nancy Martin-Kershaw (2014), Faces of the Feminine in Ancient, Medieval, and Modern India (Editor: Mandakranta Bose), Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195352771, page 165
  15. ^ SR Bakshi (2002), Mirabai: Saints of India, Criterion, ISBN 978-8179380239, pages 42-45, 282-283
  16. ^ a b c d e Usha Nilsson (1997), Mira bai, Sahitya Akademi, ISBN 978-8126004119, pages 16-17
  17. ^ These are Munhata Nainsi's Khyat from Jodhpur, Prem Ambodh from Amritsar and Nabhadas's Chappay from Varanasi; see: JS Hawley and GS Mann (2014), Culture and Circulation: Literature in Motion in Early Modern India (Editors: Thomas De Bruijn and Allison Busch), Brill Academic, ISBN 978-9004264472, pages 131-135
  18. ^ JS Hawley and GS Mann (2014), Culture and Circulation: Literature in Motion in Early Modern India (Editors: Thomas De Bruijn and Allison Busch), Brill Academic, ISBN 978-9004264472, pages 131-135
  19. ^ Nancy Martin-Kershaw (2014), Faces of the Feminine in Ancient, Medieval, and Modern India (Editor: Mandakranta Bose), Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195352771, pages 168-169
  20. ^ John S Hawley (2005), Three Bhakti Voices: Mirabai, Surdas and Kabir in Their Times and Ours, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195670851, pages 128-130
  21. ^ Edwin Bryant (2007), Krishna: A Sourcebook, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195148923, page 244
  22. ^ a b Edwin Bryant (2007), Krishna: A Sourcebook, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195148923, pages 244-245
  23. ^ John Stratton Hawley (2002), Asceticism (Editors: Vincent Wimbush, Richard Valantasi), Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195151381, page 302
  24. ^ John Stratton Hawley (2002), Asceticism (Editors: Vincent Wimbush, Richard Valantasi), Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195151381, page 303
  25. ^ John Stratton Hawley (2002), Asceticism (Editors: Vincent Wimbush, Richard Valantasi), Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195151381, page 304
  26. ^ JS Hawley and GS Mann (2014), Culture and Circulation: Literature in Motion in Early Modern India (Editors: Thomas De Bruijn and Allison Busch), Brill Academic, ISBN 978-9004264472, pages 113-136
  27. ^ a b c Dirk Wiemann (2008), Genres of Modernity: Contemporary Indian Novels in English, Rodopi, ISBN 978-9042024939, pages 148-149
  28. ^ a b Parita Mukta (1998), Upholding the Common Life: The Community of Mirabai, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195643732, pages viii-x, 34-35
  29. ^ Edwin Bryant (2007), Krishna: A Sourcebook, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195148923, page 245
  30. ^ Mirabai, V. K. Subramanian, Mystic Songs of Meera, Abhinav Publications, 2006 ISBN 81-7017-458-9, ISBN 978-81-7017-458-5, [1]
  31. ^ Alston, A.J., The Devotional Poems of Mirabai, Delhi 1980
  32. ^ Schelling, Andrew, For Love of the Dark One: Songs of Mirabai, Prescott, Arizona 1998
  33. ^ Landes-Levi, Louise, Sweet On My Lips: The Love Poems of Mirabai, New York 1997
  34. ^ Snell, Rupert. The Hindi Classical Tradition: A Braj Bhasa Reader, London 1991, pp 39, 104–109.
  35. ^ Sethi,V.K.,Mira: The Divine Lover,Radha Soami Satsang Beas, Punjab 1988
  36. ^ Bly, Robert / Hirshfield, Jane, Mirabai: Ecstatic Poems, Boston, Massachusetts 2004
  37. ^ "Legend of Mira Bai retold by Anjali Panjabi". The Times of India. 4 October 2002. 
  38. ^ Vandana Vishwas: Home

Further reading[edit]

  • Robert Bly and Jane Hirshfield (2004), Mirabai: Ecstatic Poems, Beacon Press, ISBN 978-0807063866
  • Chaturvedī, Ācārya Parashurām(a), Mīrāʼnbāī kī padāvalī,(16. edition)
  • Goetz, Hermann, Mira Bai: Her Life and Times, Bombay 1966
  • Mirabai: Liebesnärrin. Die Verse der indischen Dichterin und Mystikerin. Translated from Rajasthani into German by Shubhra Parashar. Kelkheim, 2006 (ISBN 3-935727-09-7)
  • Hawley, John Stratton. The Bhakti Voices: Mirbai, Surdas, and Kabir in Their Times and Ours, Oxford 2005.
  • Sethi, V.K.: Mira—The Divine Lover; Radha Soami Satsang Beas, Punjab, India; 1988

External links[edit]