Mirabai: Poet, Princess, and Saint of the Bhakti Movement
1498 - 1546

Young Mira Meets Krishna

Mirabai was born in Kudaki, a village in Rajasthan, sometime around 1498. Her father, Ratan Singh, was ruler of Merta and grandson to Rao Jodha Rathore, the founder and ruler of Jodhpur. Although many of her life’s details are difficult to verify since a written account of her did not exist before the eighteenth century, it is said that a wandering sadhu came to visit the family when she was three years old and that he left a doll of Lord Krishna for her. 

At first her father wouldn’t give her the doll, feeling she would not understand its significance. But she refused to eat until it was given to her, and she treasured it throughout her childhood, always feeling a strong bond with Krishna, growing to see him as friend, lover, and husband.

Mirabai: Woman and Mystic

Mira’s mother supported her devotion to Krishna, but her mother died while she was still young. Her father arranged her marriage to Prince Bhoj Raj, oldest son of Rana Sanga of Chittor. She was still quite young at the time, but she tried to bring honor to her new family and be a good wife. Still, in the evenings she devoted herself to Krishna, writing poetry to him, singing bhajans and dancing in an ecstasy that made her forget everything around her. 

Unbreakable, O Lord,
Is the love
That binds me to You:
Like a diamond,
It breaks the hammer that strikes it.

My heart goes into You
As the polish goes into the gold.
As the lotus lives in its water,
I live in You.

Like the bird
That gazes all night
At the passing moon,
I have lost myself dwelling in You.

O my Beloved Return.

It is hard for a man to compete with a god. Although her father-in-law, Rana Sanga, sympathized with her devotion, he died only a few years after she married his son. Otherwise, her new family disliked her religious intensity, as well as her refusal to worship the family deity, the goddess Durga. Her devotion gained her fame and a reputation for saintliness. Holy men came to talk with her. It is rumored that even their enemy, the Mughal emperor Akbar, dressed as a sadhu so that he could converse about holy things without causing trouble, as he was interested in many different religious philosophies.

But still her husband’s family discouraged her. A jealous sister-in-law began to slander her character, causing her husband to doubt her chastity. He rushed in, expecting to find her with another man, only to find her alone with her image of Lord Krishna. Then when Bhoj Raj became aware of his enemy Akbar’s visit to her, he was furious and demanded she drown herself in the river to preserve his reputation.

As Mira made ready to step into the river, she sensed the presence of Lord Krishna directing her not to waste herself, but rather travel to Brindaban, where she could worship him peacefully. Immediately, Mirabai left with a few faithful followers and stayed in Brindaban for many years, where her artistry and reputation for devotion increased.

Learning of her saintliness and regretting his earlier rancor, Bhoj Raj eventually asked her to return home. She did and lived with the royal family at Chittor until sometime after her husband’s death.

The Widow-Saint

At that time, her in-laws began troubling her again and, thinking to be rid of her and increase the family honor all in one fell swoop, they encouraged her to become a sati, burning herself on her husband’s funeral pyre. Mirabai refused, as her true husband, Krishna, was not dead. 

After this, life there became precarious. Some say her brother-in-law *Vikramaditya, who ascended the throne when her husband died, heartily disapproved of her mixing with commoners and, to his way of thinking, her lack of feminine modesty in not keeping herself apart from men. As a true bhakti, she believed all could reach salvation and attain oneness with the god through personal devotion, regardless of caste. So he treated her badly and may even have tried to kill her.

At that point, Mirabai declared herself a disciple of the guru Raidas and returned to Brindaban (Vrindaban), where she devoted herself wholeheartedly to ecstatic worship. She stayed there worshipping until her death around 1546.

It is said in some legends, that a crack in the earth opened up to receive her, and she disappeared into it, melting into the presence of her lord forever.

*Note: This is not the legendary Vikramaditya, valorous king of Ujjain around the 1st century BC, who was found worthy to rule from the golden Throne of Truth. The Vikramaditya referenced here was a ruler of Chittor during the sixteenth century.

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