Mira Bai

Mira Bai
born 1450?, Kudaki, India
died 1547?, Dwarka, Gujarat

Rajput princess and Hindu mystic whose songs are popular in northern India.

According to legend, Mirabai dedicated her life to Krishna after her husband's death. She received sadhus and pilgrims at her private temple dedicated to Krishna and composed songs of devotion to him, unorthodox pursuits for a widow. Her poems allude to two attempts on her life, both foiled miraculously. When a delegation of Brahmans sought to return her to her husband's kingdom, she disappeared. Only two poems bearing her signature can be dated before the 18th century, but her story is the most familiar among those of northern Indian saints.

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▪ Hindu mystic

born 1450?, Kudaki, India
died 1547?, Dwārkā, Gujarāt

      Hindu mystic and poet whose lyrical songs of devotion to the god Krishna are widely popular in northern India.

      Mīrā Bāī was a Rājput princess, the only child of Ratan Singh, younger brother of the ruler of Merta. Her royal education included music and religion as well as instruction in politics and government. An image of Krishna given her during childhood by a holy man began a lifetime of devotion to Krishna, whom she worshipped as her Divine Lover.

      Mīrā Bāī was married in 1516 to Bhoj Rāj, crown prince of Mewar. Her husband died in 1521, probably of battle wounds, and thereafter she was the victim of much persecution and intrigue at the hands of her brother-in-law, Ratan Singh, when he ascended the throne, and by his successor, Vikram Singh. Mīrā Bāī was something of a rebel, and her religious pursuits did not fit the established pattern for a Rājput princess and widow. She spent most of her days in her private temple dedicated to Krishna, receiving sādhus (holy men) and pilgrims from all over India and composing songs of devotion. At least two attempts made on her life are alluded to in her poems. Once a poisonous snake was sent to her in a basket of flowers, but when she opened it, she found an image of Krishna; on another occasion she was given a cup of poison but drank it without harm.

      Finally, Mīrā Bāī left Mewar and returned to Merta, but finding that her unconventional behaviour was not acceptable there either, she set out on a series of pilgrimages, eventually settling in Dwārkā. In 1546 Udai Singh, who had succeeded Vikram Singh as rānā, sent a delegation of Brahmans to bring her back to Mewar. Reluctant, she asked permission to spend the night at the temple of Ranchorji (Krishna) and the next morning was found to have disappeared. According to popular belief, she miraculously merged with the image of Ranchorji, but whether she actually died that night or slipped away to spend the rest of her years wandering in disguise is not known.

      Mīrā Bāī belonged to a strong tradition of bhakti (devotional) poets in medieval India who expressed their love of God through the analogy of human relations—a mother's love for her child, a friend for a friend, or a woman for her beloved. The immense popularity and charm of her lyrics lies in their use of everyday images and in the sweetness of emotions easily understood by the common people of India.

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Universalium. 2010.

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