The devotional poems of Mirabai offers the reader a sober English translation of more than two hundred of her Padas, based on the interpretative work of Indian scholars that has appeared during the last few decades. Three introductory essays deal with her life her place in the Bhakti movement and the characteristics of her poetry. Terminal notes explain the mythological references to the non Hindu reader indicate some linguistic difficulties and record minor deviations from the fifteenth edition of parashuram Chaturvedi’s Mirabai ki Padavali the basic text used.
A.J. Alston received his doctorate at the Banaras Hindu University working on Post Samkara Advaita under the supervision of Dr. T.R.V. Murti and is currently engaged in producing the third volume of his six volume Samkara source book.
The present work is intended to offer the reader a fair anthology of Mirabai’s devotional songs, using for this purpose, with only slight departures, the fifteenth edition of Acharya Parashuram Chaturvedi’s well-known selection. The translation is intended to be faithful but readable. Notes are given at the back, filling out briefly the references in the poems to Hindu mythology and tradition that might not be familiar to the non-Hindu reader mentioning such readings adopted as differ from Shri Chaturvedas text, and discussing problematical points of interpretation. An Introduction is prefixed, containing three separate essays. The first deals with Mira’s life. The second sketches in the rise and development of the Bhakti movement and tries to indicate Mira’s place in it. The third discusses briefly the literary form and spiritual content of Mira’s Padavali.
The work is addressed to the general reader rather than the specialist. In the Introduction and translation, full transliteration of Hindi and Sanskrit words and names has not been applied except in quoted phrases, but the long vowels a, i and it have been marked as such throughout. Final short a has usually been dropped in these sections where this seemed appropriate according to modern spoken usage. Hindi and Sanskrit names and words, including the names of modern scholars, have in principle been transliterated in full through out the Notes, where a greater degree of precision seemed required. Though this has sometimes resulted in the same word or name being spelt differently in different parts of the book, it should not cause serious inconvenience. The familiar "Mira" has been retained, though no doubt Miram is the more correct form of the poetess’s name. It must be admitted that perfect consistency in spelling has neither been sought nor achieved. Alternations between "You" and "Thou" in addressing the deity occur occasionally in the same poem, but not in the same sentence.
The author, not being himself a specialist either in the Rajasthani dialect or the study of mediaeval Hindi texts, has had to rely on secondary sources both for the interpretation of Mira’s text and for most of the information contained in the introductory essays. The literature on Mira is now considerable, especially if account be taken of the work in learned periodicals and in languages other than Hindi. The author has not attempt-ed to master all this vast range of material but has tried to make as intelligent use as he could of a few standard authorities such as P. Chaturvedi, Padmavati "Shabnam" and Bhuvaneshvara Nath Mishra, and, for the wider background, H.P. Dvivedi, Ch. Vaudeville and S.K. De. In regard to the interpretation of the text, besides the Notes of Shri Chaturvedi, the tikas of Y.N. Sharma and T. Tandan, of D.S. Bhati and of KD. Sharma were all invaluable. But on especially knotty points particular regard was paid to the Miran Kosh of Dr. Shashi Prabha, as it seemed that the discipline of constructing a grammar and word-for-word dictionary of Shri Chaturvedi’s text must have given her the best chance of coming up with the right solutions. (See e.g. Notes 72, 90, 91, 94, 116, 119, 122,147, 166, 167, 170, 176, 183) Thus the work is chiefly based on Indian authorities. And it is hoped that, if not a work of scholarship itself, it at least registers and brings before the English reader a part of the results of the work of Indian scholars on Mira in the past few decades.
My deepest debts are to my revered spiritual Teacher, the late Hari Prasad Shastri, founder of Shanti Sadan, London, who inspired all his pupils with a love of the mystical poetry of mediaeval India, while at the same time demonstrating in his own life that the practical teachings it conveys can still be applied and are fully relevant to the needs of the present day. My obligations to scholars are indicated above and acknowledged at appropriate points throughout the Introduction and Notes. I am obliged to the Librarian and staff of the Library of the School of Oriental and African Studies. London University; for the use of facilities and loan of books. I am extremely indebted to my wife for finding time inter alia to type the manuscript. I am very sorry that it is now too late to thank the late Mr. Sundarlal Jain, the distinguished Indological publisher, without whose encouragement the present book would not have appeared.
The sketch of the life of Mira Bai here presented is tentative, Like most modern accounts, it stems ultimately from the work of Munshi Devi Prasad entitled "Miram Bai ka Jivan—Charitra", originally published in 1905. But it incorporates modifications of Devi Prasad’s view, deriving from Acharya Parashuram Chaturvedi, M.M. Gaurishankar Hirachand Ojha, Hermann Goetz and other authorities. In her work entitled "Miran: Vyaktitva aur Krititva", Padmavati "Shabnam" has set out the sources from which Mira’s biography has been gradually built up, and has reviewed and critically examined the main efforts that have been made to reduce them to an intelligible whole. She concludes that Munshi Devi Prasad’s theory is radically untenable at every point, and is not to be saved by mere minor modifications. It does indeed appear from her account that Devi Prasad’s theory of the life of Mira is really no more than an imaginative construction, an attempt to reconcile data about Mira’s birth and marriage that he found in the Archives of Mewar (Mahkamah-e-Tavarikh, Mewar) with the few facts that are known about the history of the Rajputs at the time, the data available in the poetry that has come down in Mira’s name, and the data in the later hagiographical literature. For his account of Mira’s death he was partly dependent on the word of a court—minstrel whom he consulted and who claimed to be in possession of the correct tradition, though other traditions have been shown to exist with equal claims. Padmavati "Shabnam" certainly shows that the result was in many ways a weak and flimsy structure. But it was at least based on some documentary evidence, and it seems worth presenting the reader with some version of Devi Prasad’s theory, as it is still the "consensus" view of modern Indian scholarship. According to the consensus view, then, Mira was born about1498 A.D. as the only daughter of Ratna Singh, a Rajput noble of the House of Rathor. Her birth took place in a village in the neighborhood of Merta, a small fortress-city some forty or fifty miles north-east of the city of Ajmeer, itself about 220 miles south-west of Delhi. Her mother died when she was still very young, and since her father was much occupied _with righting, she was sent to live with her grandfather Rau Dirda ji in the palace of Merta, the city he had himself taken from the Muslims and peopled with Hindus in 1461. Here she is said to have been educated in company with her cousin Jaymal, the future Rajput hero.
Mira appears to have been born in circumstances that favored devotion to Krishna. There is a tradition that even before her mother died Mira had begged for, and ultimately received, an image of Krishna that had been in the possession of a holy man who visited her home. And there is a further tradition that she became so attached to the image that her mother jokingly told her that Krishna would be her bridegroom. Mira asks in one of her poems, "O Krishna, did you ever rightly value my childhood love?"(Poem 100) And she records (Poem 27) seeing herself married to the Lord in a dream. (Chaturvedi, Mirambai Padavali p. 19). It is likely that Mira’s devotion to Krishna was able to mature quickly during her time in the palace of her grand-father. It has been thought that Mira’s life as an active devotee may well have set in here, with regular worship (puja) of the Lord embodied in an image, application of tilak to the brow, ceremonial waving of lights (arati) and so forth. Rau Dirda ji, his eldest son, Mira’s uncle Viram ji, and Viram ji’s son Jaymal are all mentioned as devotees in the later hagiographical literature. It has been asserted on the basis of a reference to a copperplate" that she was educated in the Vedas, Puranas and Upanishads by a Purohita called Gajadhara, who later accompanied her to her husband’s home at the time of her marriage.(Bhuvanesvara Natha Misra, p. 44). An education in Sanskrit as well as in music and dancing would not have been out of place in a Rajput princess of Mira’s day.
In course of time, probably not long before 1516, Rau Dirda ji died. Mira’s father Ratna Singh was still much away engaged in fighting, and her uncle Viram ji assumed responsibility for her education and welfare when he succeeded to his father’s kingdom. Meanwhile in 1508 the great warrior Rana Sanga of the house of Sisodiya had succeeded his father Raymal to the Kingdom of Mewar and ruled at Chittaur the fortress that lay nearly 150 miles to eh south of merta across the Aravalli their best hope for unity in facing the challenge of the Muslim powers that already hemmed them in on all sides and were soon to be augmented by the arrival of Babur. In 1516 Rana Sanga sought to cement his position by marriage alliances. He married Dhan Bai of the Jodhpur branch of the house of Rathor which ruled beyond his north-east boundries. He arranged of the alliance with the power on his north-west Bundi. It was this last alignment that boded ill for Mira. For fifteen years later in 1531 when Rana Sanga had been dead over three years Karmavati’s son Vikramajita (or Vikramaditya) acceded to the kingdom of Mewar’s as a turbulent boy of fourteen and Mira was exposed to the spite of the members of a rival house.
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