About the Book:
Mira Bai belonged to the royal family of the Ranas of Mewara and was a staunch devotee of Krishna, worshipping him in the madhurya bhava of Vaishnavism. In the earlier part of her life she was ill-treated by her brother-in-law who even tried various means to kill her, but Krishna was ever her protector. Fed up, she went away to Merata, her maternal home and from there to Vrindavana and then to Dvaraka, where, according to traditional belief, she merged with the image of Krishna.
Mira's verses have a musical ring and a number of them have been recorded on discs and cassettes. There have been many recensions of her padas. This English verse translation of eighty-one of them aims at giving the best of these.
It is hoped that Mira's verses, along with the detailed introduction giving her life and times and her art, will create renewed interest in this renowned saint-poet.
About the Author:
Krishna P. Bahadur was born in 1924 at Allahabad and took his Master's degree in English from the Allahabad University. He served in the Indian Administrative Service in various assignments and retired in 1982 with the rant of a Commissioner.
A prolific writer, Bahadur has authored over fifty books covering various subjects including philosophy, history, biography, sociology, fiction, humour, and juveniles. His writings include the Wisdom of India Series, 7 vols., History of Indian Civilization, 7 Vols., History of the Indian Freedom Movement, 5 Vols., Tribes and Cultures of India, 7 Vols., A Source Book of Indian Philosophy, and The Definitive Gita. He took part in the World Seminar on the Gita and contributed to Major World Writers.
He is a biographer of various prestigious publications published in USA, Great Britain and Italy, and has received several honorary awards including Vidya Visharada and Vidya Ratnakara. He has published also six translations in the UNESCO Collection of Representative Works.
Poet and Saint! To thee alone are given The two most sacred names of earth and heaven.
Mira was a princess of a royal household. In one of her verses (79) she speaks of the ranganahala, an apartment in palaces set apart for sensual enjoyments of rulers and kings. But having immersed herself in Krishna-devotion from her very childhood, she had no use for riches or worldly pleasures. She had no guru as many other saints had. Nor did she need to have one, for she was in direct communion with Krishna, whom she conceived as Lover, Husband, Beloved, Lord and Master. But she had reverence for all holy men and sadhus, in whose company she moved in the latter years of her life. She had no reservations about caste, for she spoke of the distinguished low-caste devotee, Ravidasa, with reverence. She could 'talk with crowds and keep her virtue and walk with kings-nor lose the common touch.'
Disgusted with the lasciviousness of princely living, Mira sought refuge with the sadhus. Enumerating the nine ways of devotion, Shri Rama told his low-caste woman devotee, Shabari, that the first and the most significant was the company of the saints-prathama bhagati santanha kara sanga. So Mira was only following what the scriptures approved. The sadhus were a pious lot, singing the dancing). Imposters were rare, and when Mira was faced with any such pretenders to holiness, she knew how to deal with them. there was, for instance, the carnal-minded 'sadhu' who came to her and said that 'it was Krishna's command that he should make love to her!' While another woman might have been aghast, she quietly told him that as it was Krishna's bidding she couldn't refuse. Lying on the bed in the full gaze of the assembled sadhus, she asked him to go ahead with the lovemaking. The wily man hung his head in shame and begged forgiveness, beseeching her to give him the gift of devotion.
In dancing before the image of Krishna in temple, too, Mira was only following an old and very exalted tradition. The dance in India is considered to be an act of devotion and is closely associated with mythology and religion. Revered as Nataraja, Shiva is considered to be the lord of the dance, embodying the eternal cycle of creation, preservation and destruction. Krishna is also closely linked with the Indian dance, particularly his sports with Radha and the cowherd girls. Bharat Natyam, widely practiced in the Tamil country, special Indian dances. Among the ancient exponents of this dance were Devadasis, who were greatly accomplished women of high status, learned in the classics and writers on philosophical themes. They had their origin in the early ninth to the eleventh centuries when the Chola kings, particularly Rajaraja I built the great temples of that age. Devadasis used to fan the deity, carry the sacred lamp and sing and dance before the images of gods when they were carried in a procession. Thus there was nothing wrong in a Krishna-devotee like Mira dancing before Krishna's image. She was only carrying on an old and noble tradition. But the members of her family, who had much valour but little understanding, failed between the cheap and vulgar nautch and Mira's spiritually charged dances in the temples. Her ecstatic fervour for Krishna and her association with sadhus were anathema to the rulers of Mewara. Women of royal families were expected to conduct themselves with regal dignity, and here was Mira a princess, putting on a band of jingle-bells round her ankles and dancing in public and consorting with half-clad ochre-robed sadhus!
The Rana decided that Mira should not be allowed to besmirch the honour of the house of Mewara, and he tried to get rid of her in various ways-poison, snake-bite and so forth. Even her well-wisher, Uda Bai, her sister-in-law, accused her falsely of adultery in order to discredit her with the Rana. Mira bore all this persecution with calm fortitude. Although wronged and ill-treated, she never took offence, for neither 'foes nor loving friends' could hurt her. She laughed away all the attempts made on her life, and if one believes in miracles, Krishna was her Preserver.
She was firm in Krishna-love and opposed all attempts to distract her from it. Her unswerving devotion and complete faith in her Giradhara, gave her strength. She frankly expressed her defiance in some of her verses. In one of them (22) she says 'What do I care for what people say, or for the honour of the clan? I will dance before Krishna.' And in another (30) 'I will sing Krishna's praises, whether men like it or not. I will follow the path taken by sadhus.' Although historical proof is lacking, it is quite possible that on her husband's early death it was expected that she would immolate herself on his funeral pyre. But she firmly refused to do so, saying that it would be pointless wasting a life which could be spent in the service of Krishna. She defined society, her clan and all those who were out to bridle her. In a way she was among the earliest of Indian women to stand up against male chauvinism. Her intention, however, was not to compromise the modesty of women or to make them shamelessly ultramodern, but she boldly resisted tyranny in any form.
Mira's verses depict both spontaneity as well as an instinctive aptness for music, as their lilting melody shows. Proficiency in singing and playing on musical instruments were essential requirements for women of royal families in those times. Each song of hers follows a particular raga. There are seven basic notes in Indian music and five others which are sharps and flats. Various combinations of at least five of these is known as a raga, which is the distinguishing feature of Indian music. There are thousands of ragas, but only fifty are actually used. Mira used a large number of these ragas in her padas, and so they have infinite richness and variety. At the same time there is no denying that she was a consummate artist too, and polished up her verses to perfection.
Mira's verses depict both spontaneity as well as an instinctive aptness for music, as their lilting melody shows. Proficiency in singing and playing on musical instruments were essential requirements lows a particular raga. There are seven basic notes in Indian music and five others which are sharps and flats. Various combinations of feature of Indian music. There are thousands of ragas, but only fifty are actually used. Mira used a large number of these ragas in her padas, and so they have infinite richness and variety. At the same time there is no denying that she was a consummate artist too, and polished up her verses to perfection.
Mira's devotion for Krishna was single-minded. She was the entire world as Krishna, and had severed all worldly bonds. The world sees only dirt around him. There are those perverted critics of Mira who believed she was a licentious woman using Krishna as an excuse for her lasciviousness. Mira was young, and doubtlessly a lovely woman. So it was easy for the vulgar-minded to cast such aspersions on her. The kind of devotion in which the devotee loves God in a wife-husband sort of relationship is bound to raise eyebrows, for many a man fails to understand the true nature of this highest form of Vaishnava devotion. It is not unusual for the witless to pillory aints. Was not Joan of Are taken to be a witch? Mira had complete with in Krishna. She never bothered about philosophical reasoning, though many of her verses are highly contemplative. Love of Krishna was all she sought, and she firmly believed that he would free her from the world of sorrows, for did he not say to Arjuna in the Bhagavadgita (18.66) 'take my refuge along; I will absolve you from all sins?'
Very few women can be called saints as well as poets. Mira was among the handful of persons who were blessed by the vision of God. It is related that while Chaitanya was on his travels he saw a man sitting on the roadside who had a book into which he would occasionally peep and instantly be overcome with intense joy. Chaitanya wished to see what the erudite books was, but was amazed to find all the pages except one, blank. On that one page there was only one world, namely 'Rama'. This was the page the man kept glancing at when he opened the book. On Chaitanya's asking him why he was moved by just that one page, the man said, 'If Rama's name wasn't there, and everything else one can conceive of, was in it, of what use would that book be to me?' So too for Mira the whole world was Krishna and nothing else. She expressed her rapturous ardour for him in peans and rhapsodies. She found God in the only way in which he can be found-through love. As Euripides says.
-Auge, Fragment, 5
The world is like a modern painting, obscure, disjointed and difficult to decipher; a jigsaw puzzle hard to assemble, or as a Persian writer has observed, a book of which the first and the last pages are missing. In the midst of this topsy-turvydom every man is seeking peace of mid; but the ways are different, and most people discover that the things they have been pursuing, bring them more unrest, tension and worries, than peace. So we turn to the saints to find out that in which contentment lies, as Lord Krishna says in the Gita (4.34)-upadeksyanti te jnanam jnaninah tatva-darsinah: 'those sages who have known the Soul will instruct you', or as Christ says: 'seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened to you' (St. Mathew, 7.7).
While much has been written about the men saints of India such as Shri Ramakrishna, Shankara, Chaitanya and others, information about the women saints is meagre. Of these, perhaps the most prominent was Mira. Though she was discouraged from seeking the company of saints, she nevertheless visited them often and listened to their discourses on spiritual matters. She spurned wealth and though oppressed and persecuted by her own family, particularly by her brother-in-law, she persisted in Krishnaism, and remained ever immersed in deep love for Krishna.
Mira was a princess of a royal household. In one of her verses (79) she speaks of the rangamahal, an apartment in palaces set apart for sensual enjoyments of rulers and kings. But having immersed herself in Krishna-devotion from her very childhood she had no use for riches or worldly pleasures. She had no guru, nor did she need to have one for she was in direct communion with Krishna whom she conceived as Husband, Lover, Lord and Master. However, she revered all holy men and in the latter years of her life she was much in their company. She had no reservations about caste. Nevertheless her family did not at all approve of her kirtanas in the company of sadhus and her dancing in temples.
In the Srimadbhagavadgita Lord Krishna says that both the worship of a God with form and of the formless Cosmic Absolute, lead one to the Supreme Being, but of the two the worship of the Absolute is fraught with difficulties and miseries-avyakta hi gati duhkham (Gita, 12.5). Mira took the easier way to God which the Gita, too, preferred and worshipped the Lord with the rapture of love and unswerving devotion. She surrendered both mind and heart to Krishna, and all her questionings were drowned in the notes of his celestial pipe.
Mira expressed the outpourings of her soul in chaste verses, which had a high lyrical and musical quality, so much so that many of them have become delightful bhajana (holy song) sung by eminent singers and recorded on discs and cassettes. A votary of the Vaishnava madhurya bhakti, she lost herself in the ecstasy of Krishna-devotion. Her acquaintance with music and dancing gave her songs a divine fervour. She saw the entire world as Krishna.
The world of today seems to be engulfed in violence and materialism, and sex and sensuality have hypnotized people. Moral values have been relegated to the back-burner. In India, particularly, the Medusian Gorgon of caste is raising its head, and while male chauvinism is gradually being snuffed out in most developed countries, here we still find bride-burning and various other atrocities perpetrated on women. The study of Mira's life provides a corrective to such despicable trends. She shows how the sword of God-devotion is enough to slay the Minotaur of lasciviousness.
I am grateful to my publisher for bringing out this book timely and in an attractive format, despite these difficult times.
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