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Meera Bai was one of the foremost exponents of the Prema Bhakti (Divine Love) and an inspired poetess. She is regarded as an incarnation of Radha. She sang in vraja-bhAshA, sometimes mixed with rAjasthAni, in praise of Giridhara GopAla (Shri Krishna), her lord for whom she developed in her heart the most intense love and devotion.

 

Meera occupies indeed a sacred place in the history of Indian thought and culture for her deep and passionate religious devotion, as also for her poetry in which her genius was well revealed, and which was never bereft of beauty in the true sense of the term. Her odes and hymns are so rich, sweet and inspiring, not because of any high rhetoric or dexterity of language, but because they are characterized by a tenderness and simplicity of feeling as genuine outpourings of a heart completely dedicated to God.

 

Much legend has gathered around the name of Meera, and there is a good deal of controversy surrounding her time (when she lived) and connection with the MewAr ruling family. According to Tod, the historian, she was the queen of RAna Kumbha of MewAr to whom she was married in 1513.

 

Although Karnaparampara legends maintain that she was born in Udhaipur to king Bhoonayaka and Chandramukhi, there is consensus among many as to the following account: Born in Kurkhi in 1499 A.D., she was the daughter of RAna Ratan Singh (a Ranthor) of Merta (between Ajmer and Jodhpur). Merta was a small state in Marwar, Rajasthan ruled by the Ranthors, great devotees of Vishnu.  Meera was raised and nurtured by her grandfather Rao Duda in the fortress city of Merta. As customary with royal families, her education included knowledge of scriptures, music, archery, fencing, horseback riding and driving chariots – she was also trained to wield weapons in case of a war.  However, Meera also grew up amidst an atmosphere of total Krishna consciousness, which was responsible in molding her life in the path of total devotion towards Lord Krishna.  It is said that at the age of five, she was given a vigraha or statue of Lord Krishna by a mendicant saint passing through the kingdom.  Historians claim that this mendicant was Raidas, who initiated Meera into the practice of Shabd or Nada Yoga1.  Meera developed an instant loving attachment to the idol and began spending most of her time in bathing, dressing and worshipping the image as though it were real.  She danced about the image in ecstasy. She sang beautiful songs in front of the image. She talked to the idol. She slept with the image. She was always present in all divine discourses in the palace, more of which were on BhAgavatam and Krishna Leela.  

 

When she was just four years of age, she manifested her deep devotion to Krishna.  Meera watched a marriage procession in front of her residence.  Meera, the child, spotted the well-dressed bridegroom and asked her mother innocently, "Dear mother, who will be my bridegroom?" Meera’s mother smiled, and half in jest and half in earnest, pointed towards the image of Sri Krishna and said, "My dear Meera, Lord Krishna - this beautiful fellow – is going to be your bridegroom".  Soon after, Meera’s mother passed on.  As Meera grew up, her desire to be with her Krishna grew intensely and she believed that Lord Krishna would come to marry her if he could accept a cowherdess Radha as his dear consort. In due course, she became firmly convinced that Krishna was to be her husband.  The benign influence of Rao Duda's wisdom, the pain of losing her parents at a tender age and her certainty that she was Krishna's chosen beloved, gave a unique strength and resolve to Mira's personality.  Meera was soft-spoken, mild-mannered, gifted, sweet, and sang with a melodious voice.  She was reputed to be one of the most extraordinary beauties of her time with fame spreading to several kingdoms and provinces.  Her fame spread far and wide.  RAna Sangram Singh, commonly known as RAna Sangha, the powerful King of Mewar, approached Rao Duda for Meera’s hand in marriage to his son Bhojraj (also known as RAna Kumbha or KumbhaRAna).  Bhojraj wanted to marry Meera for her pious nature and divine intent.  Rao Duda agreed to the union.  However, Meera could not bear the thought of marrying a human being when her heart was filled with thoughts of every nature, all about her Krishna.  But unable to go against her beloved grandfather’s Rao Duda’s word, she finally consented to the marriage. It is also said that Lord Krishna intervened timely in her dream to advise her, “if the gopikAs could do their duty to their husbands, tend their families and above all be totally devoted to me all the time, you can do the same thing. Do your duty. I shall not leave you any time”.   Meera was wed to RAna Kumbha in 1513, before she turned 14.

 

As ordained, Meera was dutiful. She left for Mewar with the RAna Kumbha.  She obeyed her husband’s commands. Scholars maintain that KumbhaRAna was a great devotee of the Lord himself, and wrote the treatise known as ‘Rasipriya’ and a grammatical work ‘SangIta rAjam’ on the immortal work of Jayadeva, GIta Govindam.   He had sought Meera’s hand out of admiration for her devotion and love to the Lord, which he felt he shared.  It is ironic that the RAna should forget this in the years that followed. 

 

After her household duties were over, Meera would go to the temple of Lord Krishna, worship, sing and dance before the image daily. The little image would get up, embrace Meera, play on the flute and talk to her. KumbhaRAna’s mother and other ladies of the palace did not like the ways of Meera, as they were worldly-minded and jealous. Meera’s mother-in-law forced her to worship Durga and admonished her often. But Meera maintained, "I have already given up my life to my beloved Lord Krishna". Meera’s sister-in-law Udabai formed a conspiracy and began to defame the innocent Meera. She informed RAna Kumbha that Meera was in secret love with some one, that she witnessed Meera talking to her lover(s) in the temple, and that she would show him the persons if he would accompany her one night. The ladies further raved that Meera, by her conduct, had brought a great slur on the reputation of the RAna family of Chitore. The enraged Kumbha ran with sword in hand towards Meera, but as luck would have it Meera had gone to her Krishna temple. A sober relative of the RAna counseled him, "RAna! You will forever repent for your hasty behavior and consequences. Enquire into the allegation carefully and you will find the truth. Meera is a great devotee of the Lord.  Remember why you sought her hand. Out of sheer jealousy the ladies might have concocted scandals against Meera to incite you and ruin her". Kumbha calmed down and accompanied his sister who persistently took him to the temple at dead of night. RAna Kumbha broke open the door, rushed inside and found Meera alone in her ecstatic mood talking and singing to the idol.

 

The RAna shouted at Meera, "Meera, show me your lover with whom you are talking now". Meera replied, "There sits He—my Lord—the Nanichora who has stolen my heart". She went into a trance. The ladies floated other rumors that Meera was mixing very freely with Sadhus.  Meera was unaffected by such scandals and continued to invite BhAgavathAs to join her in Krishna bhajan at the temple. She stood unruffled in the face of accusations from the royal family.   When questioned about her marital responsibilities, Meera responded that it was Krishna to whom she was married.  KumbhaRAna was heart-broken but remained a good husband and sympathizer of Meera until his death.

 

One historical version of Meera’s life states that the RAna Kumbha died in a battle within ten years of their marriage, as did her sympathetic father-in-law RAna Sangha (who named Meera his successor before dying).  At this juncture, the RAna’s relatives began persecuting Meera in various ways, even though Meera had no desire for the throne.  The tortures and torments came from the brother and successor of KumbhaRAna (Meera’s late husband) and his cousin sister Udabai.   It was no different from what Prahlada was subjected to by his father Hiranyakashipu. Hari shielded Prahlada. Here, Krishna always stood by Meera. Meera was sent a basket with a cobra inside and a message that the basket contained a garland of flowers. Meera, after meditation, opened the basket and found inside a lovely idol of Sri Krishna with a garland of flowers. The relentless RAna (her brother-in-law) sent her a cup of poison with the message that it was nectar. Meera offered it to her Lord Krishna and took it as His Prasad. It was real nectar to her. The bed of nails that the RAna sent transformed into a bed of roses when Meera reposed on it.

 

When the torture and scandals continued, Meera sent a letter to Goswami Tulsidas and asked for his advice2. She wrote, "Simply because I am constantly tortured by my relatives, I cannot abandon my Krishna. I am unable to carry on with my devotional practices in the palace. I have made Giridhar Gopala my friend from my very childhood. I feel a total bondage with him. I cannot break that bond".

Tulsidasji sent a reply: "Abandon those who cannot understand you and who do not worship RAma or SyAma, even though they are your dearest relatives. Prahlada abandoned his father; VibhIshana left his brother RAvana; Bharata deserted his stepmother; Bali forsook even his Guru; the Gopasthrees, the women of Vraja, disowned their husbands to get to their Krishna. Their lives were all the happier for having done so. The relation with God and the love of God are the only elements that are true and eternal; all other relationships are unreal and temporary".  Meera met up once again with her Guru and mentor Raidas, who is said to have lived to a ripe age of 118 years.  She went into the slums often to be in the satsang of this great teacher.  This was the impetus and inspiration behind the many queries and controversies that she raised about Kulam in her songs. 

 

The other version about what happened to KumbhaRAna (Meera’s husband and King) is one where the RAna outlives (survives) Meera.  In this version, the confused RAna turned a deaf ear through Meera’s trials and tribulations at the hands of his conniving relatives; however, he became heart-broken upon Meera’s departure from Mewar.  The turning point in Meera’s life (which precipitated her departure from Mewar and hence her earthly bonds) occurred when once Akbar and his court musician Tansen came in disguise to Chitore to hear Meera’s devotional and inspiring songs.3  Both entered the temple and listened to Meera’s soul-stirring songs to their heart’s content. Akbar was really moved. Before he departed, he touched the holy feet of Meera and placed a necklace of priceless gems in front of the idol as a present. Somehow the news reached the KumbhaRAna that Akbar had entered the sacred temple in disguise, touched the feet of Meera and even presented her a necklace. The RAna became furious. He told Meera, "Drown yourself in the river and never show your face to the world in future. You have brought great disgrace on my family". 

 

Meera obeyed the words of her husband and King. She proceeded to the river to drown herself. The names of the Lord "Govinda, Giridhari, Gopala" were always on her lips. She sang and danced in ecstasy on her way to the river. When she raised her feet from the ground, a hand from behind grasped her and embraced her. She turned behind and saw her beloved GiridhAri. She fainted on Him. After a few minutes she opened her eyes. Lord Krishna smiled and gently whispered: "My dear Meera, your life with your mortal relatives is over now. You are absolutely free. Be cheerful. You are and have always been mine. Proceed immediately to the bowers of Vraja and the avenues of Vrindavan. Seek Me there, my dear. Start now".

 

Meera walked barefoot on the hot sandy beds of Rajasthan. On her way, many ladies, children and devotees received her with great hospitality. She reached Brindavan. She reached the Chitchor GopAla. It was at Brindavan that she again met and was inspired by Sant Raidas.  She went about Brindavan doing Oonchavritti and worshipped in the Govinda Mandir which has since become famous and is now a great place of pilgrimage for devotees from all over the world. Her devotees of Chitore came to Brindavan to see Meera. A repentant Kumbha came to Vrindavan to see Meera in the disguise of a mendicant, revealed himself and prayed that he may be forgiven for all his previous wrongs and cruel deeds. He begged that Meera return to the kingdom and was assume her role as the queen once more. Meera at once prostrated before her husband, and gently added, “What is Kulam or lineage, heritage or inheritance?  What is the meaning of the division amongst devotees as KshatriyAs and BrahmanAs and shudrAs and the like? Who is man and who is woman? Krishna is the only Purusha and all of us are women. He is Pati and we are all Pasus.  I am no more Queen than you are King.  There is only one King and my life belongs to him.”  Kumbha reminisced for a moment of the days when he wrote the treatises on Gita Govindam and how he had desired the hand of the finest lady of his times for spiritual reasons. His eyes welled up when he was forcibly taken to his dark days of jealousy, rancor and the torture he inflicted on the great soul of divine import. The KumbhaRAna, for the first time, truly understood Meera’s exalted state of mind and prostrated before her in reverence.  He then promptly left Vrindavan a changed soul.

 

Jiva Gosain was the head of the Vaishnavites in Brindavan.  Meera wanted to have Darshan of Jiva Gosain. He declined to see her. He sent word to Meera that he would not allow any woman in his presence. Meera Bai retorted: "Everybody in Brindavan is a woman. Only Giridhar Gopala is Purusha. Today only I have come to know that there is another Purusha besides Krishna in Brindavan". Jiva Gosain was put to shame. He felt that Meera was indeed a paramabhaktha or the supreme devotee of the Lord. He at once went to see Meera and paid her due respects.

 

Meera’s fame spread far and wide.  She was immersed in satsang day in and out.  At the request of KumbhaRAna, Meera returned to Mewar and Kumbha agreed to her request that she would reside in the temple of Krishna but would not restrict her movements and wanderings. From Mewar, she once again returned to Brindavan, and then went on to Dwaraka. The King went with her.   Dwaraka was to be the place where her GopAla would take her unto Him at the temple of Ranchod.

 

There are, once again, two versions to Meera’s union with her Supreme Lord.  In one version, the following took place on Krishna’s JanmAshtami at the temple of Ranchchorji (Krishna).  There was much happiness all around in the abode of the Lord. The light of the lamps, the sound of the bhajans and the energy from the devotees’ ecstacy were filling the air. With Tamburi in one hand and cymbals or chipla in the other the great tapasvini was singing ecstatically with her Gopala smiling in front of her closed eyes. Meera stood up and danced with her song ‘Mere Janama MaRAna ke sAthee’, and when the song ended, Kumbha gently approached her and requested her to come back. Meera said, ‘RAnaji, the body is yours and you are a great devotee, but my mind, emotions and the soul are all HIS. I do not know what use am I to you at this state of mind’. Kumbha was moved and he started singing with her in unison. Meera rose up abruptly, stumbled and fell at the flowers on the feet of GiridhAri. ‘Oh, GiridhAri, are you calling me, I am coming’. When Kumbha and the rest were watching in awe, there was a lightning which enveloped Meera and the sanctum doors closed on their own. When the doors opened again, Meera’s saree was enveloping Lord Krishna’s idol and her voice and the flute accompaniment were the only sounds that could be heard. 

 

In the second version, Meera was invited back to Mewar by the RAna just as she had reached Dwaraka.  Reluctant to leave her Krishna, Meera asked permission to spend the night at the temple of Ranchhorji. The next morning her lifeless body was found lying at its feet.  It is believed that her spirit entered the deity during the night. 

 

Historians and scholars put this date at 1546 A.D.

 

Meera’s Songs and Her Cosmic Vision

 

Meera had the beautiful cosmic vision. She saw Krishna in trees, in stones, in creepers, in flowers, thunder, lightning, and in every living and non-living being. As long as there remains the name of Krishna, the name of Meera will be forever remembered. It is extremely difficult to find a parallel to this wonderful personality “Meera”. She was a saint, a philosopher, and a romantic poet. She was a versatile genius and a magnanimous soul. Her life has a singular charm, with extraordinary beauty and marvel. She was a princess, but she abandoned the pleasures and luxuries incident to her lofty placement in worldly sense, and chose instead, a life of poverty, austerity, TyAga, Titiksha and VairAgya. Though she was a delicate young lady, she entered the perilous journey on the spiritual path amidst various difficulties. She underwent various ordeals with undaunted courage and the conviction that came from the ideals of Truth that she held. She stood colossal in her resolve and possessed a gigantic will.  She rowed her boat dexterously in a stormy sea of family troubles and difficulties and reached the other shore - the kingdom of supreme love and peace. She belonged to the gentle fair sex and yet was undaunted in spirit and more courageous than trained warriors. Though she was young, she bore persecutions silently. She endured the piercing taunts and sarcastic criticisms of the world bravely. She was a true SthithaPragnya. 

 

Meera’s songs infuse Faith, Courage, Devotion and the unconditional Love of God in the minds of the devotees. The songs inspire the aspirants to follow the path of devotion through a simple sAdhana, true love, and they produce in the singer and the listener a unique experience of exhilaration and tranquility at the same time. Meera was fearless in her nature, simple in her habits, joyous in her disposition, amiable in her deportment, graceful in her behavior and elegant in her demeanor. She immersed herself in the love of Giridhara Gopala. The name of Giridhara Gopala was always on her lips. Even in her dreams, she lived in Sri Krishna.  Meera was a scholar in her own right: she is credited with the two poetic works ‘rAg-Govind’ and a commentary on Jayadeva’s ‘GIta Govinda’, which had had a profound influence on her psyche as a child.  Despite her scholarship, Meera chose to express her love for Giridhari through the simplest and sweetest of lyrics.  Meera’s mystic songs act as a soothing balm to the wounded hearts and tired nerves of those who toil in this world under the heavy burden of life. The sweet music of her songs exerts a benign influence on the listeners, removes discord and disharmony, and lulls them to sleep. Meera’s language of love is so powerful that even a pronounced atheist will be moved by her devotion.

 

Meera had AnurAga and Ragatmika Bhakti. She never cared for public criticism and the injunctions or interpretations of the scriptural ordinances. She danced in the streets. She did no ritualistic worship. She had spontaneous love for Lord Krishna. From her very childhood she poured forth her love on Lord Krishna. Krishna was her husband, friend, all relations and the Guru. Krishna was her PRAnanAtha. Meera had no doubt exhausted her vAsanAs in the preliminary modes of worship in her prior births.

 

In her divine intoxication, Meera danced in public places. Her exalted state could not be adequately described in words. She was sunk in the ocean of Premabhakti. She had no consciousness of her body and surroundings. Who could gauge the depth of her devotion? Who could understand her internal state of Premabhava? Meera was like Lord Gauranga. She was an embodiment of love and innocence. Her heart was the temple of devotion. Her face was the lotus-flower of Prem. There was kindness in her look, love in her talk, joy in her discourses, power in her speech and fervor in her songs. What a marvelous creation of God! What a personality of charm! Meera veritably taught the world the way to love God. 

 

So many princesses and queens have come and gone. So many princesses, and queens have appeared on the stage of this world and vanished. How is it that the queen of Chitore alone is still remembered? Is this on account of her beauty? Is this on account of her poetic skill? No. It is on account of her renunciation, single-minded devotion to Lord Krishna and the self-realization. She conversed with Krishna. She ate with Krishna, her Beloved. She drank the Krishna-premarasa. She sang from the core of her heart about her unique spiritual experiences. She was indeed one of the foremost embodiments of Premabhakthi that ever walked on earth.

 

Footnotes

 

  1. The event of great importance in Meera’s life (timing has always been questioned) is when she came into contact with RavidAs, or RaidAs, the cobbler saint, who initiated her into the path of Shabd Yoga. Scholars differ about the identity of Meera's master.  Sant Mutt traditions maintain that RavidAs was the disciple of Kabir (1398-1518) and lived to an age of 118 years. As per these accounts RavidAs lived from 1414 to 1532 or 1434 to 1552 - which makes it plausible for Meera to be his disciple. By most accounts, Raidas was the saint-mendicant whom Meera met as a child and who had given her the Krishna idol.  At Brindavan, Meera sought Raidas’s satsang in the slums; he became the inspiration for her to raise questions and controversies in many of her songs about birth and lineage.
  2. There is controversy over whether Meera actually corresponded with Goswami Tulsidas. 
  3. There is controversy over whether the visitors that touched Meera’s feet in reverence at the temple at Mewar were indeed Emperor Akbar and his court musician Tansen.