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Who is Mirabai?

By Garry Crystal
Updated May 23, 2024
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Mirabai is one of the most commemorated women in Indian history. Sometimes known as Meera, she was a sixteenth century songwriter and poet. Many of Mirabai's songs are still sung today in India and her spirit and rebellious nature have been an inspiration for women in India.

Much of the history of Mirabai has been handed down through the generations. At a time when it was not thought right, she was a woman who carved her own path in her world. Mirabai was a devotee of Bhakti, which is a form of Hinduism. Bhakti followers praised their god Krishna through pure love. Many worshipers would give up all their possessions and become wandering teachers or join together and form communities.

For Bhakti there is no caste system and there is also no distinction between color and gender. Female worshipers such as Mirabai would give up their husbands and families in order to worship fully. They would live among people from different levels of society who would normally be forbidden in their own society.

Mirabai was a member of an aristocratic family known as Rajput. She was married to Prince Bhoj Raj, and from the beginning her devotion of Bhakti would cause her many problems. She refused to devote herself to her husband’s god saying that she was already devoted to the Lord Krishna. After only three years of marriage Mirabai's husband died. Unlike other women of her superior caste, Mirabai refused to join her husband on the funeral pyre.

After her husband’s death, Mirabai now had more time to devote herself to her worship. Her worship took the form of singing and dancing, often in public places. Mirabai's name became known throughout India and she attracted many followers from all castes. According to legend her husband’s family were so shocked by this behavior they tried to have her killed.

Her own family was also shocked by her behavior and they too disapproved her. Mirabai then became a traveling worshipper and made many pilgrimages to sites associated with Krishna. Her fame became more widespread and her songs were now known and sang by many people.

Mirabai was essentially a woman who battled many obstacles to praise her god. She is seen as a woman who stood up against the strict rules of her husband and family in order to follow her devotion to Krishna. Her rejection of a life of riches and wealth to instead express herself through song and devotion inspires many Indian women.

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Discussion Comments
By geekish — On Oct 25, 2011

@anamur - Thanks for sharing a specific poem that you enjoyed, I always find it overwhelming when trying to narrow down where to start with a new author and now I have a place to start.

I am learning about Hindu and India and interested in the similarities between major religions.

For example the structure of the Christian Church is said to be like the structure of the Buddhist Chaitya or vice versa, as well as the very common saying in Christian religious practices of "Amen" is thought from some to come from the Hindu (Sanskrit) word "OM."

And the life of Mirabai reminds me of Saint Francis Assisi as he also gave up his wealthy upbringing and traveled though Mirabai seemed to have made pilgrimages to holy sites where Saint Francis seemed to have focused on preaching.

By amysamp — On Oct 25, 2011

I learned about the caste system of India when I was in the fifth grade as my class was doing an in depth look at India.

I still remember the caste system because it seemed so impossible to my mind at that age and because it was so different from what I knew from growing up here in the United Sates, where so much emphasis was placed on the ideal of freedom.

So as @turkay1 mentioned - I think that the life of Mirabai is very significant considering the backdrop to her life.

I wonder if Bhakti has become a more popular part of Hinduism now...

I also learned a little about the Hindu religion during that same India unit that we did in fifth grade, but as one can imagine for a fifth grader to grasp a religion, it was a bit difficult so really all I remember from the Hindu religion is that cows are considered sacred!

By discographer — On Oct 24, 2011

I had been searching for a more recent English translation of Mirabai's poetry and finally found it! It's translated by Robert Bly and is called Ecstatic Poems. There is more than fifty of Mirabai's poems in this book. I've found Mirabai's previously translated poetry before, but they're pretty old and the English is not as easy to understand. The newer translations are much better and easier to understand.

Mirabai's poetry reminds me a lot of the Sufi poet Rumi's poetry. It's not surprising really because Rumi was also someone who had completely devoted himself to God. Just like Mirabai, Rumi also traveled across many lands to become closer to the divine. Both Mirabai's and Rumi's poetry have similar expressions- expressions of deep endless love for God.

The only difference is that Rumi's poetry has become very popular worldwide and is being read widely in the West. But Mirabai's poetry is mainly popular in India and surrounding countries. The West has yet to discover Mirabai and her writing.

By serenesurface — On Oct 23, 2011

I read a couple of Mirabai's poems. They really are very beautiful, I especially like the one that is called "Don't leave me alone." I think she wrote this poem after leaving her family to worship Krishna. She talks about how she has no one else left other than the Lord and is dependent on Him. She must have felt lonely at times since her husband and father passed away.

I've always liked stories about Saints who left wealth and comfort for a spiritual journey and devotion to God. Mirabai's story is one of the best ones. She had such a high social status, wealth and power but she did not want any of it. I really admire her for that.

By candyquilt — On Oct 23, 2011

I am very interested in the Indian caste system and traditions, and have read a lot about them in college. I know how strict some Hindu traditions can be even today, so it really is amazing to hear about a woman who was able to revolt against them, and that back in the 16th century.

Sati, the tradition where widows were burned along with their husband's corpse is no longer practiced in India. I believe it was abolished during British rule, but still there are strict rules about how widows should live.

The government's official statement is that there is no longer a caste system in India, but there is. Relations between Indians are still very much determined by caste and family. I actually have an Indian friend who was unable to marry the girl he loved because of caste differences.

So the life of Mirabai is really no small thing. I can imagine what a wave of shock and amazement she must have created in India at that time. I also think it's wonderful that she could continue to live the way she did without being killed by her family and Hindu extremists.

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