The Handmaiden of Hari: Meerabai

“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.”

– Meera

meera-bai-sanjana-deshpande

Choice. A simple word that can define generations of a people. Choice. The difference between intent and action. Choice. The courage that set apart Meera the princess, from Meera the saint.

I was too young to understand the love that Meera wrote of when I first read her poetry at school. A stuffy classroom filled with the stench of sweat, dirty socks and cooling tiffins was hardly the place to appreciate the depth of Meera’s verses.

However, her poems are exactly about that experience; about finding beauty in a pile of garbage. Meera, the princess, lived the life of a dutiful but unhappy wife. She was wedded to Prince Bhojraj of Mewar, but her heart belonged to Krishna, the dark-skinned deity who symbolized the sixteen characteristics of a truly liberated individual. Love came naturally to Meera, and in her love for her lord, she paid no heed to social customs and norms.

Moved by her sweet and soulful singing, on one occasion, the Mughal emperor Akbar touched her feet out of respect. And while that was a mark of how spiritually gifted she was, it worked against Meera, because as a Rajput princess, she had sinned by allowing a Muslim man to touch her skin.

Meera left her home after she was banished from the royal palace. She wandered with bands of traveling saints and sages, singing praises of her lord. And in that lay her humble defiance. Her devotion was so great that she was able to break herself out of the cage of royal domesticity that was to be her destiny as had been predicted at her birth.

Today Meera’s brand of worship is largely misunderstood. While many consider her to be an icon of devotional spiritualism or ‘bhakti’, she is so much more. She is an expression of the courage of a woman in love. She is an epitome of liberation through choices. She is a symbol of feminine strength wrapped in humility and honesty.

There was nothing pretentious about Meera. Her simple serenity was her salvation in a world that refused to acknowledge her personhood simply because she was a woman. And while Meera probably did not care about the fame she would attain in the future, she did end up making a significant change to the course of how we see women in faith.

There are nuns who remain virgins for life in service of Christ. There are Muslim women who wear hijab in order to display their devotion to their faith. And while the element of choice makes their actions feminist in themselves, Meera’s place is a little different in this discussion.

Her feminism was not assertive in its display. It was also not submissive as some may argue. It flowed like a stream. She allowed herself to bend as life saw fit because to her, nothing mattered as long as she had the love of her lord in her heart.

And that is why Meera is special in so many ways that one cannot even begin to fathom. She belonged to herself even as she insisted in her writings that she belonged to Krishna.

There is a Meera walking among us every day. A woman like all others and yet, unknown to us, she is engaging in silent rebellion to do what her heart pleases. After all, feminism is not always loud and ringing, it is sometimes built into the larger narrative like the roots of a tree that are never seen.

Note: The source of the above painting is unknown. The featured image has been taken from the Mirabai Amar Chitra Katha coverpage.

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