“It is extremely difficult to find a parallel to this wonderful personality – Meera – a saint, a philosopher, a poet and a sage. She was a versatile genius and a magnanimous soul. Her life has a singular charm, with extraordinary beauty and marvel.” –  Swami Sivananda.

MOOMTAZ EMRITH

(Windsor, ON, Canada)

India, on more than one count, is a fascinating land that boasts a civilization that goes back thousands of years. Also, it ever stands out as a land of mystery, of spirituality that have fascinated outsiders, many of whom came, lured by its fabulous riches, for loots; while others came to conquer and rule and learn from its age-old civilization – notably the Mughals, who would add their own to its rich culture. Little wonder then that India is also often referred to as the land of gold as well as the land of sages and saints. And a beloved name among the pantheon of the sages and saints, is that of the beautiful Rajput princess, Meera Bai, who is reckoned for her undeterred ‘faith’ and ‘mystical love’ in the Hindu god –Lord Krishna.

Meera Bai was a Rajput born into royalty in Kurki, Rajasthan, India, in 1498 A.D. Her mother died when she was barely four years old while her father died battling the Mughal invader, Babur. Meera Bai was therefore raised by her grandparents. It is related that her love for Lord Krishna dated back to her childhood days. The story goes that when she was around three years old a holy man (sadhu) came by the palace and handed her a doll of Lord Krishna. And before anyone could realize it, little Meera became ‘enamoured’ with the doll and would not part with it. She developed an intense liking for the doll and later, as she grew up, the doll became the object of her unrelenting love and devotion. She would sing and dance and also compose devotional songs – bhajans – in praise of Lord Krishna. She would get so immersed in her adoration that she would often go into trances. Her in-laws did not like her adulation of Lord Krishna.  They wanted her to worship their own Durga Maa but she would not hear of it. She was a devotee of Lord Krishna and her whole life would revolve around Lord Krishna. As a matter of fact, Meera Bai would live for Krishna, think of Krishna and breathe for Krishna. All her praise, all her adulation was for Lord Krishna, who was, indeed, the object of her whole living, of her entire existence.

Bollywood super-star, Hema Malini, as Meera Bai in the 1979 movie by Gulzar on the Saint Meera, which won critical acclaim

Her bhajans are widely popular in Northern India and she is reckoned as one of the founders of the Vaishnavi movement and millions follow her and have been singing her bhajans for generations.

In the Gita, before the battle between the Kuru and the Pandava armies, Lord Krishna enunciates, among others, in Chapter 18 of the sacred book, the following tenets of Bhakti:

“Have your mind on me; your devotion towards me; your sacrifice to me; worship me. To me you will come. Truly, I promise you for you are dear to me.” Meera Bai’s life was an embodiment of true bhakti; of unshaken love and worship for Lord Krishna. Indeed, Meera Bai remains the epitome of divine inspiration and love. So much so, in the process, she would fight cultural and social taboos and inhibitions for the sake of her love for and devotion to Lord Krishna. As a matter of fact, Meera Bai, despite her royal lineage and status, never showed interest in high life. She gladly gave it all up and lived a ‘happy’ life among the poor and destitute. Understandably, the beautiful Rajput princess refused to get married at first as she considered herself already ‘married’ to Lord Krishna. However, the relentless pressure from her family was so strong that she, finally, consented much against her will and married Bhoj Raj – the heir apparent of Mewar.  The marriage would not last long. Her husband Bhoj Raj would die five years later as a result of wounds sustained in battle. Her in-laws wanted Meera Bai to commit sati (immolate herself) in the funeral pyre of her husband. But she did not. In fact, she says in one of her poems:

An artistic conception of Meera Bai : poet, mystic and Saint – strong devotee of Lord Krishna

“Sati na hosyan Girdhar Ganshyam mhara man moho ghansami.”

(I will not commit sati, my heart and soul belong to Ghanshyam (Krishna).

No wonder then that, Meera Bai became the object of the wrath and ostracism on the part of her brother-in-law, who had ascended the throne. Understandably, no one at the palace approved of Meera Bai’s unconventional behaviour as a widow – which was singing and dancing in praise of Lord Krishna and conversing with sadhus (holy men). These were not in keeping with the life of a widowed princess. So much so, Meera Bai would endure lots of hardships on the part of her in-laws. In one of her poems, she avows how twice they tried to kill her: first, they put a poisonous snake in a basket of flowers but when she opened the basket, she found a figurine of Lord Krishna in it instead; the second time, her drink was mixed with poison but she drank it like it was nectar. Meera Bai was no ordinary Krishna bhakti. Her guardian angel Krishna looked after her!

Finally, Meera Bai was advised to leave Mewar and go on a Yatra (pilgrimage), which she did. Her pilgrimage would take, among other places, to Vrindavan, which was Krishna’s playground. She would spend memorable time there singing and dancing in praise of Lord Krishna and also meeting and discussing with sadhus, which was quite unusual for a woman in those days.  However, Meera would end up spending her final years in Dwarka, in Gujerat.

In 1547 A.D., it is told that there was a severe drought in Mewar and the king sent a delegation of Bhramins to Dwarka, Gujerat, to get Meera Bai back to Rajasthan. However, as the legend goes, during a stop-over at a temple on the way to Mewar, Meera Bai suddenly ‘disappeared’. The Rajput princess, the Krishna bhakti, the poet, the mystic, the sage, the saint had found … moksha (liberation) from the temporal world. But her fame and memory would live on …

In Northern India, Meera Bai is a household name. Her bhajans and lyrics are still sung and she is revered and honoured as a ‘Saint’. It is told that she might have composed some 200 songs in all and many others attributed to her were most certainly penned by her countless admirers and devotees. One particular bhajan : “Payoji maine Ram Ratan Dhan Payo” (“I am given the richness of Lord Ram’s blessings”) has remained a perennial favourite with her followers.

Mira’s Temple to Lord Krishna at Chittor Fort, Rajashtan, India (Photos : Google)

Meera Bai’s songs are known for their simplicity and down-to-earth appeal and have ever been sung by generations of her devotees. In fact, her lyrics, as one admirer has beautifully put it, “are remarkable. The strength and power of her words stand to this day as a testament to her courage, love and talent.” Here is a glittering example :

“Nothing is really mine except Krishna.

O my parents, I have searched the world

And found nothing worthy of love.

Hence, I am a stranger amidst my kinfolk

And an exile from their company.

Since I seek the companionship of holy men;

There alone do I feel happy.

In the world I only weep.

Or in following where she pines for Lord Krishna:

My Dark One has gone to an alien land.

He left me behind, he’s never returned, he’s never sent me a single word

So, I’ve the stripped of my ornaments, jewels, and adornments, cut my hair from my head

And put on holy garments, all on his account, seeking him in all directions.

Mira, unless she meets the Dark One, her Lord, she doesn’t even want to live.

(Translation by John Stratton Hawley)

Meera Bai’s life story is a touching tale of love and faith. It has survived the ages and she is still loved and adulated by millions of her Hindus followers.  As Canadian travel blogger, Mariellen Ward – a staunch admirer of Meera Bai — who has organized guided ‘cultural tours’ to Meera Bai’s birthplace in Rajasthan and Dwarka — has put it beautifully about Krishna and Meera Bai in one of her blogs: “Krishna,” she says “is awareness and Meera is love. They both merged. This is our higher self.” Perhaps, Mariellen Ward got the secret of Meera Bai’s undying bhakti and glory for Lord Krishna!