Mirabai and Living Traditions of Bhakti

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Item Code: NBZ500
Author: Kaluram Palsaniya
Publisher: Books Treasure
Language: English
Edition: 2020
ISBN: 9789384385552
Pages: 128 (19 B/W Illustrations)
Other Details 9.00 X 5.50 inch
Weight 300 gm
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Book Description
About The Book

The book deals with the essential aspects of Bhakti and Mirabai in India. The author has summarized the various literature dealing with the Bhakti movement, different viewpoints of Bhakti. The book throws light on the socio-political and economic conditions for the rise of the Bhakti movement in Rajasthan and focuses on Mirabai and her presence/representation in historical & hagiographical accounts.

The figure of Mirabai was not only limited to the sixteenth century but was also incorporated by Mahatma Gandhi to represent an "Adarsh Pativrata Naari" During the national freedom movement. Nineteenth-century research also tried to impose modem terminologies to define Mirabai, which has been studied and questioned by the author.

There is a need to study Mirabai in her own space, time, and Bhakti. The author has tried to point out these issues which according to him are of much importance.

About the Author

Mr. Kaluram Palsaniya has completed his Doctorate from the Department of History, School of Social Science, University of Hyderabad. He has pursued his M.A. from Centre for Historical Studies, JNU. He has academic interests in a variety of fields and published writings on a wide range of issues like the Bhakti movement, Mricchakatika, Gender, etc.

He was a youth delegate to Bahrain, BRICS, and Vietnam from the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, India. He was also awarded the gold medal for his M.Phil thesis which reflects his academic excellence.

He was a part of the Indo-Sri Lankan foundation student group and traveled across Sri Lanka to establish the cultural ties between India and Sri Lanka. His major area of interest includes the Bhakti movement and its dimensions, distortion of figures, gender, and social history.


I am very happy to see the present book, Mirabai and the Living Traditions of Bhakti by Dr. Kaluram Palsaniya alias Karan. Through the centuries of patriarchal control women have negotiated many layers and levels of existence working out various forms of resistance through various mediums which have often gone unnoticed. Bhakti was one such medium which was open to women. Since religious space was one of the space available to women in medieval times many women embraced Bhakti and it provided them the space to define their own truths in voices that revision society, polity, relationships and religions (Pande, 2010). The women in Bhakti found the courage to walk out of their houses and the restricted spaces of patriarchal control or changed their husbands to their way of thinking Women's articulation here is often at odds with the dominant male voice which is the only voice that is heard in traditional historiography (Pande, 2005). Gender becomes a useful category of analysis for elucidating the many ways in which relations of power are constructed and represented in society. Mira does not find mention in any family records and histories of her natal home. The main reason for this is like other historical records the sources of Rajasthan also deal with battles, administrative concerns, economic transactions and genealogies in which women had little place except as wives and mothers to rulers and as the means of political alliance through marriage . Hence we have to turn to legends, folk songs and other narrations of her life to reconstruct her history. She however continues to live in popular imagination.

The book not only focuses on the Bhakti movement and the contributions of Mira but also highlights the living tradition of Mirabai in today's world. Mira the saint poetess of medieval India is a well known figure . She has been written, interpreted and eulogized by many scholars. She has had a lot of impact and with her natural talent for poetry her songs have become a household word in India. She had the courage to stand by her beliefs and she comes across as a woman of courage and fortitude. She expressed her experience of Bhakti through bhajans. Mirabai lived during the end of fifteenth and beginning of sixteenth century. She belonged to the Rajput aristocracy of Rajasthan. She was the daughter of Ratan Singh and his wife, Vir Kunwari of Medtiya of Rathor clan. Mira's paternal grandfather Jodhaji was the founder of Jodhpur. Her paternal grandfather, Dudaji had conquered Medata city and 360 villages around it. He gave Mira's father Ratan Singh 12 villages of which the central village was Kudki. Mira was born in this fort. Mira's paternal family were Vaishnavas and hence Mira inherited Vaisnava Bhakti as part of her family legacy.

Tradition has it that as a young girl Mira pestered her mother to tell her who was her bridegroom when she saw a marriage procession. To avoid her persistent questioning Mira's mother pointed at a statue of Krishna and told her this was her bridegroom. Mira hence considered herself wedded to Krishna. When she grew up she was married into the royal family of Sisodia Rajputs of Mewar. The identity of her husband is not well established. Some identify him to be Maharaj Kumbh and others with Bhojraj the son of the famous Rana Sanga. Most probably the marriage was a part of the political alliance between Rathors of Jodhpur with the Ranas of Mewar. Here as elsewhere in Rajasthan, the structure of the Kul and the Bhaiyad (brotherhood) were closely linked to the system of political power and sovereignty. The kul included all those related to a common ancestor by ties of male blood. The Bhaiyad was composed of the sons and brothers of the rulers who held power over land conquered by them. (Mukta, 1994, 59) Legend has it that when Mira arrived in her in-laws house she was asked to worship goddess Shakti for the well being of her husband and his family and she refused. Naturally her husband and in-laws were very angry. Mira even refused to consummate her marriage regarding her self already wedded to Krishna. This was an open defiance and her in-laws could not tolerate this. There were various attempts at her life and finally she left the palace and started staying independently in a temple in the palace compound, but here too she did not find solace because of the disapproved of her Bhakti. She then started wandering around in the company of other saints and visited many temples and places associated with Krishna. She went to Dakur, then Vrindavan and finally Dwarka. According to legend Akbar and Tansen travelled to Dwarka to visit her and Tansen sang one of her Bhajans.

When she was staying at the Ranchhorji temple on the sea coast of Dwarka, her natal and marital families sent a group of priests as emissaries to persuade her to return. When she refused, the Brahmin priests started a fast unto death outside the temple. Mira was now in a dilemma and did not want to have Brahmin blood on her hand. She then composed, Hari tum haro jan ke pir and entered the temple and is said to have absorbed in the statue of Krishna. This is interpreted by many scholars as emerging from the western door of the temple which faces the sea and having leapt into it (Kishwar, Manuhsi, 1989, 85). Miras Bhakti becomes an escape from the hatred and domination which underlay the Rajput system of marriage. It enunciated the principal of love in an age and a society which was marked by Mira's life is better known when compared to the other women Bhaktas. When she got married and came to her in laws family she was accused of not behaving properly like that of a royal woman.

Mira continues to be a pan Indian figure and is very much a part of the cultural consciousness of India today. Her importance is not only for her followers but also for the national movement, when Gandhi spoke of her as an icon of devotion and dedication during the National Movement. She became a symbol in the long run for the Dalits, unprivileged sections, peasant society and for Rajputs as well. Mirabai's Bhajans became an inspiration and hope for the women in contemporary society to raise a voice against the pathetic conditions of women.

The author has used Bhaktmal Katha texts, Rajasthani literature which is produced around Mirabai. He has examined the texts produced during the colonial period and the orientalist view point which constructed the whole figure of Mirabai. He has also analyzed the oral traditions of Mirabai and conducting interviews with people who sing Mirabai Bhajan in the present day in order to understand what Mira symbolizes to them. This book would a very useful resource for scholars of history, women's History, Bhakti movement and women's studies.


This book is an attempt to study Mirabai and the living traditions of Bhakti in contemporary Rajasthan. It is surely necessary to discuss the Bhakti of Mirabai, its available research methodology and formulate research questions, but prior to that, it also becomes very important to discuss about the origin of Bhakti and its spread during the sixth to eighteenth century.

Movements have a long history in Indian sub-continent and Bhakti movement was one among these movements which was multidimensional, multilayered, multifaceted, far ranging and a vast movement. Bhakti movement, which created alternative spaces for the oppressed classes and women in India, had influenced art, literature, devotional music, culture, sculpture, aesthetic traditions of India, state, ruling classes, value system and every aspect of life. In this movement, literature produced in vernacular languages, was the focal point of social change in the society. During those times, women were considered equal to men and it was also stressed that everyone could experience the 'God'.

Bhakti movement is divided into two different phases : the socioeconomic and political conditions in the South and secondly, in the North; for the rise of these phases conditions were different in South India and North India. In South India, it was a movement for individual salvation and mystical union with God. It never challenged the rigid caste system prevalent in the society, although some changes took place with the coming of Veerashaiva movement, which adopted a strong radical and heterodox attitude. However, in North India it targeted the rigid caste system and superiority of a particular caste. In South India, negative feelings were stirring against Shankara's Mayavad and base was provided for it by the Acharyas; Ramanuja, Swami Ramananda, and Mahaprabhu Vallabha etc. They established the reliance in the people for worldly life.

They also provided a new foundation, social conditions and philosophy to the people. Bhakti means surrender to the supreme personal God. Acharyas gave new definition of Bhakti and spread it among the masses. Ramananda bridged the distance between North and South India and his guru was linked with the Sri Sampradaya of Ramanuja. Ashtachhapa poets, Kabir and some Sagun saints were associated with Vaishnavism. It became a movement very soon and effected every aspect of human life. Questions were also raised that wether it should be called a movement or not, because the philosophy of Bhakti had been developed in the centuries. It furthered with Mahayana Buddhism, worship of Narayana and Vishnu, Varkari's in Maharashtra, Sahajayana in Orissa, Nathpantis in Eastern and Western India, Siddhas and with other traditions.

Although, the Bhakti movement reached its zenith in medieval period, but Bhakti has a long history of emergence. Indeed, Bhakti movement had enormous effect on knowledge, society and art. Turmoil and confusion were prevalent during medieval times; taboos and rituals had increased in the Brahmanic religion. Increase in the heterodox tendencies (Nathpanth) was also a major threat along with Islam and its egalitarian concept. Nathpanthis, Munis, Parivrajakas, Jains and Buddhists rejected the current norms of the society and became threat for Brahmanism. In such circumstances, Brahmanic ritualism and intellectualism drew ideas from Bhakti for new lease of life in Brahmanic religion.

Acharyas became the torch bearers of the changes occurring in Brahmanic religion. Medieval Sants like Kabir, Raidas, Dadu Dayal, Nanak Dev, Tulsidas, Mirabai, Sant Pipa etc. have emerged as leaders during the Bhakti period. Bhakti (sadhana Bhakti or gauni Bhakti or apara Bhakti) ends in spiritual life. The development of Bhakti was based on much needed relationship between Man and God. In spiritual term, Bhakti means to attain salvation and surrender oneself to a personal God. Bhakti is a process in which our indrye and our very being forgets the worldly life and without any force surrenders to the God.

Cultural history of India starts from Indus valley civilization, during which worshiping of nature was prevalent, later, during the Rig-Vedic period nature worship gradually transformed into worshiping of God in the anthropomorphic form. The first evidences of Bhakti was found in Vedic Period. We also find its traces in the Bhagvad Gita. Bhagvad Gita teaches us to give up all religious paths and take refuge in God alone. The word "Bhakti" is derived from bhaj which means 'to adore'. It is mentioned in Katha Upanishad as:

To one who has the highest devotion (Bhakti) for God?

And for his spiritual teacher (guru) even as for God.

To him these matters which have been declared.

Became manifest (if he be) a great soul

Yeah, become manifest (if he be) a great soul.'

Therefore, in order to attain emancipation one must transcend all the opposites. Bhagavad Purana suggests three important things for Bhakti : (1) work without deeds; (2) work continuously; and (3) work with total devotion. Hence, we can say that Vedic Bhakti is trisection of Bhakti, knowledge and action. Bhagavad Gita also suggests three paths to attain the salvation named as - Karma, Knowledge and Bhakti. Gita is an assortment of mystic poems. Every person has had interaction/ encounter with these deeds. Only the divine master can liberate human from all deeds and such encounters. In Bhagvad Gita, the battle field of Kurukshetra is symbolic. The real battlefield is life itself because we encounter such deeds every day.

**Contents and Sample Pages**

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