Mirabai Soulful Love of God

  • By Mariellen Ward
  • October 2017
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Finding Mirabai in Merta City

Avtaar and I meet the next day for our drive to Mirabai’s birthplace. I’m really excited to explore the second stop on the Mirabai Expedition, and the unknown journey that awaits. We drive out of Pushkar and past the vast desert-like fields that host the annual Pushkar Camel Fair. Within an hour we are in Merta City and look to meet our guide.

We park in a narrow lane beside a temple and find Milap and his young son waiting for us. They escort us upstairs to their home, a spotlessly clean, light-filled, spacious flat over an electronics store. We meet his wife and daughter, too, and enjoy chai together.

Milap, his son and his daughter accompany Avtaar and me to the Mirabai Temple. I started as one, and now I am part of a five-person entourage. After walking for about 10 minutes along a narrow road through a busy market in the hot sun, suddenly, in the midst of all the bustle, we are at the Mirabai Temple.

I am immediately impressed with the place—by the size, the design, the beauty of the temple The atmosphere inside is tinged with green light because of the green plastic roof. A serene statue of Mirabai faces across a checkered tile courtyard towards the inner sanctum, the Krishna Temple. She is frozen in an adoring gaze of love and devotion.

A group of women sit in the courtyard playing music and singing Mirabai songs. After darshan in the Krishna Temple, I join them on the floor to experience the camaraderie of women and the music of Mirabai. It’s a wonderful and exhilarating experience. I feel warmly welcomed by them. One woman hands me a pair of cymbals while others move aside to make room for me. The woman leading the singing catches my eye and signals for me to join in.

I am beginning to get an idea of Mirabai—the joy and love she engendered, and the femininity of her creativity and devotion. And I am delighted to see that she is still honored today in her birthplace, in a very real and kinesthetic sense.

Leaving the temple, I feel full, satisfied with my Mirabai experience. But much to my surprise, Milap tells me we are going to the Mirabai Museum next door. This is news to me. I had no idea. The Mirabai Museum never came up in my research.

Striking Gold at the Mirabai Museum

I discover it’s a fairly new museum in a very old building, housed in the former palace that was her home. I am dumbstruck, because I thought her house was in ruins. It turns out the house she was born in is in ruins, but the red sandstone building I am entering is where she grew up

We enter through a thick, medieval-looking gate into a sizable courtyard. At the back of the courtyard is the palace. It is not big, but it is impressive enough. Most impressive is the care and thought that went into preserving the name of Mirabai here. Her life is plotted with signboards, portraits and paintings throughout the lofty rooms. In the main room (perhaps the throne room?), there is a beautiful gold-colored life-size statue of Mirabai behind a railing in front of a portrait of Krishna.

I am really impressed with this display; it evokes the quality of devotion and reverence that Mirabai represents. As I’m standing at the barrier, paying homage to Mirabai and also trying to imagine her actually living within these rooms, I am introduced to two local journalists. It seems like a coincidence they are at the museum at the same time as me.

I continue to walk slowly, enjoying the spacious rooms, naturally cool even in the heat of the day, and filled with delightful images of feminine beauty and heartfelt devotion. My entourage continues to grow as I walk, with the journalists and several young local people joining us.

As I walk out through the massive, medieval museum gate into the glare of the noonday sun, I remember the story about how Mirabai stood in this same spot with her mother and watched a passing marriage procession. “Where is my groom? Whom will I marry?” she innocently asked her mother, who pointed to an image of Krishna and said, “Krishna is your groom.”

This idea stuck with Mirabai for the rest of her life. Milap’s 10-year-old daughter and I take pictures of each other posing as “strong women,” with our hands on our hips, and I hope she takes the attitude with her for the rest of her life.

Chittorgarh Fort: in the Footsteps of Royalty

Rajasthan is literally “the land of kings,” a desert state with a rich history of chivalrous rulers, silk-road trade routes and romantic tales. Fantastical palaces and sand-castle forts, loping camels and screeching peacocks, women in neon-bright saris and men in bulbous turbans. Rajasthan is all your fantasies of India writ large, and the setting for many of India’s epic stories, including the improbable tale of Mirabai.

Mirabai was born a Rajput princess in Rajasthan around 1500. Her father, Ratan Singh, was the second son of Rao Duda ji, a descendent of Rao Jodha ji Rathor, the founder of Jodhpur. She was a renowned beauty known for her sweet voice and devotional nature, and was sought in marriage by a powerful Rajput family. She married Bhojraj, the son of Rana Sangram Singh of the Sisodia Dynasty, the powerful King of Mewar and ruler of the Chittorgarh kingdom.

Mirabai’s Royal Connections

I read that after marrying Prince Bhojraj, Mirabai moved to Chittorgarh to live with her husband’s family, as all Indian brides did, and most still do. But now I’m in Chittorgarh Fort, near Udaipur, and seeing the remains of the fort, the crumbling palaces and well-maintained temples, her story is becoming real. It’s becoming real because I am walking where she walked and prayed; it’s becoming real because I can see for myself the prestige and power of her husband’s family.

As Avtaar and I drive into a Chittorgarh on this hot, sunny day, I’m struck by the vast size of the fort, which covers the mountain plateau, and how it towers over the modern town below. We head straight for the Castle Bijaipur hotel, about 25 kilometres outside of town, by far the top hotel in the vicinity; and it’s well worth the drive.

Partially still occupied by the royal family, Castle Bijaipur is the most evocative heritage hotel I’ve ever stayed in. They managed to modernize the rooms without losing the original character, and wisely left the patina of age. I feel like a princess in my large room with private balcony overlooking the town below, with its warren of medieval streets.

Arabian Nights’ Castle in Rajasthan

At dusk I walk the grounds of the hotel, going up onto the roof to take photos from among the turrets. I sit on a cushioned window seat overlooking the inner courtyard, and also try out a swing seat. Before sunrise I walk through the quiet empty grounds to the massive gate to await my friend Ajay, who’s arriving by train from Delhi. I feel lost in time, as if I’ve stepped into the pages of the Arabian Nights. In the morning I’m awakened by devotional music coming from a nearby Hindu temple, and the call to prayer from an equally nearby mosque.

Castle Bijaipur has put me into exactly the right frame of mind to spend the day in Chittorgarh Fort. It’s a hot day, but we set out early and drive directly to the fort, engaging a guide at the entrance who travels with us. Far too big to walk—the circumference of the walls is 16 kilometres—we drive from place to place. Our first stop is the 15th-century Kumbha Palace, a vast site of crumbling walls and clambering monkeys. While the guide wants to give us every word of his memorized spiel, I entreat him to just show me the Mirabai Palace. To my surprise he takes me directly there, to a small building in the corner, with a sweeping vista. Though it is in ruins, the effect is still very much as if we’re in a palace in the clouds. I’m absolutely charmed.

Mirabai Escapes Three Attempts on Her Life

Our next stop is the Mirabai Temple, built for her by her father-in-law, the King of Mewar, who was initially pleased with her religious devotion. It is, of course, a Krishna temple, a small, intricately carved building on the grounds of a much larger Vishnu Temple. The temple is a well-maintained, sacred pilgrimage destination. A woman sits in the entrance singing Mirabai songs, and inside I see a beautiful white statue of Mirabai in front of the Krishna murti.

It’s a delightful temple and I’m thrilled to be here; however, I am very surprised to see a stall set up inside selling books and souvenirs. A signboard inside reads: “Meera Temple. This is the temple where Mira worshiped Lord Girdhar Gopal—chanted hymns and danced. Here is the place where poison was turned to nectar.”

Mirabai’s in-laws did not accept her ecstatic devotion, feeling that her behavior was not seemly for a Rajput princess. After her husband died, and word got out that Muslim Emperor Akbar—the sworn enemy of the proud and independent Hindu Rajputs of Chittorgarh—had visited her in disguise, they attempted to kill her. Three times they tried, and three times she was miraculously saved.

The first time, she was given a basket of flowers with a poisonous snake hidden inside. The second time, she was given a cup of poison to drink. The third time, she was asked to drown herself. Lord Krishna was credited with the divine interventions that saved her, by turning the snake to a stone, the poison to nectar, and by lifting her out of the water. According to the sign, the third attempt on her life happened at this temple. It was after these incidents that Mirabai left her royal home forever, to wander as a sadhvi in North India.

Dwarka: Releasing the Bonds of Love

Crossing the desert, we reach the remote seaside town of Dwarka. This is where Mirabai’s story ends, where she mysteriously disappeared in front of crowds of people while singing in the temple to her beloved Krishna, when she was about my age. And this is where I wonder how my own story will end.

Dwarka is a flat place, barren, washed by sun and sea. But the light here has a crystal clarity, and the colors are few: beige sand, blue sky, silver sea. I feel calm here, and obviously Indians do, too, because the frenetic pace of most Indian towns is almost non-existent here.

Though a small town, Dwarka is awash in temples, new and old, grand and modest. The 5,000-year-old Dwarkadesh Temple in the center of town towers over all of them. Everything revolves around this temple, which emanates an ancient feeling and evokes deep reverence. Otherwise, Dwarka is a modest place of narrow, winding, colorless streets and the usual conglomeration of shops, stalls, cows, sadhus, beggars, cyclists, two-wheelers, autorickshaws and the like. But the pace is slower and the sea air gives it a special quality.

Miracles Begin to Happen

I like Dwarka instantly, though it is far from beautiful. My hotel faces the sea; otherwise it has nothing special to recommend it; a characterless box with awkward young men working behind the desk and in the restaurant. The sea front here is lined with concrete, dotted with temples and smattered by cow dung. It is not what a Westerner would call picturesque. It was just down this coast, in Porbandar, about 43 miles away, that Mahatma Gandhi was born.

After checking in, the first thing I do is ask one of the young men behind the counter if there is a local guide who can help me learn about the temple. He says there is one priest who speaks English and he will call him. I go back to my room with my expectations in check. After five minutes, I get a call from the front desk. The priest has arrived. The first miracle.

To say I am surprised to find a handsome, charismatic young man in a crisp, clean silk dhoti, who speaks almost perfect English, waiting for me is a gross understatement. If I had planned ahead, I would never have met a better guide than Hardik Dwarka. Not only does he speak English, he has a sophisticated understanding of the world and he is from the Googly Brahmin caste that has served the Dwarkadesh Temple for hundreds of years. I immediately sense that Hardik is a special person, and my short association with him proves this to be true. Hardik and I arrange to meet at 5pm, when the temple reopens, and he is right on time.

The second miracle.

Meeting Mirabai at the End of Her Story

My driver, Gopa, drives Hardik and me first to the Mirabai Temple in the center of Dwarka. It is a modest temple in the market area, and you would never find it without a guide. Hardik tells me it is quite new, and built by Sadhri Devi and her followers from Nagor, Rajasthan. While I am pleased to find the Mirabai Temple, I don’t get any particular feeling from being there. Mostly, I am pleased to see women celebrated—Sadhri Devi also seems to be a musician.

From there we drive through the dusty streets to Dwarkadesh Temple, as Hardik explains that Krishna lived for 100 years in Dwarka. He came here for the quiet, and there is still a sense of quietness about this sacred town. Krishna built Dwarkadesh Temple 5,000 years ago. Dwar means “gate or entrance,” and ka indicates “moksha.”

Gopal drops us outside the temple compound where people are gathering. Beggars line the outside wall, flower and tulsi sellers walk around with garlands, hawking their wares, and large groups of pilgrims arrive with anxious excitement. We walk slowly through the crowd, and as Hardik speaks, I become aware only of his presence and his words. He completely holds my attention, even in the madding crowd.

“Krishna is awareness,” Hardik says, “He teaches us that the past and future is not real. Only now is real.” For the first time, I feel like I have found a way to understand Krishna. Maybe someone said this to me before, but at the Dwarkadesh Temple, I finally heard. All the many years I studied and practiced Gestalt and then yoga, I was also trying to understand this teaching. Hardik makes Krishna accessible and real to me. I ask him about Mirabai. “Mirabai shows us a different way to love. In her love for Krishna, she didn’t want anything. In reality, lovers are always givers and takers. Mirabai’s love for Krishna was amazing. There were no boundaries; she forgot herself. The saints told her that her love was very powerful.” Krishna is awareness and Mirabai is love.

We drop our shoes and my camera at a counter and enter the temple. I immediately feel I am surrounded by ancient, sacred energy and know this is a special place. The spire of the temple towers above us, covered in ornate carvings, topped by a bright silk flag fluttering in the sea breeze. Hardik takes me directly to the heart of the temple, the inner sanctum, to see the black figure of Krishna, bedecked in colorful garments, deeply set in a recess and surrounded by several frames of gold and silver. Two queues of anxious people, male and female, corralled by metal gates, are pressing against the barrier for darshan, to see the figure of Krishna.

I find the darshan a bit overwhelming and am happy to move out of the main temple and walk around the compound. As we talk about Krishna, Mirabai, Hinduism, spirituality, religion and our own lives, we make our way around the temple and to the back of the darshan line up. On a raised marble platform in front of the temple dedicated to Krishna’s mother, I can see above the pilgrim’s heads into the inner sanctum. I am completely surrounded by the womb of the temple and stand happily, imbibing a feeling of calm, and imagining Mirabai singing her love for Lord Krishna on this very spot. Here was the place she disappeared.

I ask Hardik about the disappearance, and he says that only a small square of her sari was left and that it was placed on the Krishna statue. In my research, I learned she was drawn to Dwarka by the extreme sanctity of the Krishna Temple, and she was perhaps running a soup kitchen for the poor at the time of her disappearance. The spiritual tradition is that she dissolved into love for Krishna. But others, less mystically inclined, say she fled from her fame. Apparently, a delegation was sent to Dwarka to persuade Mirabai to return to Chittorgarh because of either a political situation or drought. By this time, she was about 50 and famed for her ardent devotion and beautiful poems and songs. She may not have wanted to return to Chittorgarh, for obvious reasons—her in-laws had tried to kill her. Perhaps she decided to leave her identity behind and run away. Or perhaps she did undergo a spiritual miracle.

The Key to the Mirabai Story

It’s my second morning in Dwarka. I meet Hardik again, at 6:30am, and we go back to the temple. We go into the temple compound where I join the queue for darshan. A woman in a mauve sari pushes me several times, though I motion for her to stay calm, to wait her turn. She pushes again and I say in English, knowing she will not understand, “Where do you think God is? You think God is only up there?” She ignores me, but the woman behind her understands, and makes room for me. So I let the pushy woman go ahead, and then enjoy the space created by the understanding woman, recognizing that I am experiencing the flow of consciousness.

Afterwards, I go back to the spot at the back of the queue, on the raised dais, and stand again feeling the subtle energy. I feel a kind of buoyant joy undulating through me, from where my bare feet touch the smooth, cool marble floor all the way up through my body to the top of my head. It is a pleasant feeling, like bobbing on a summer lake.

Walking to where Gopal is waiting by the car, an old, bent woman in colorless rags holds out a cup towards me, begging for money. This happens all the time in India, and I have learned to harden myself against it. But this time, my heart is open and I want to give her something. I have no money with me, but Hardik gives me a small bill and I hand it to her. Our eyes meet and hers are filled with love.

I am stopped in my tracks. I feel overcome with emotion, and start to cry. Hardik asks me if I am okay. “I saw my mother’s eyes in hers,” I blurt out.

I can barely move. Waves of love, longing and grief wash over me. I lost my mother 16 years ago, and all the pain, and all the love, come rushing back. I have to stop and lean against a wall, letting the masses of cows and pilgrims pass in a blur. An eternity of time opens up. I am in distant Dwarka and I am at home in Canada. I am here and now and with my mother in the distant past.

And then, all of a sudden, I have the key to the Mirabai story, and the mystery of what happened to her doesn’t matter to me anymore.

I know what Mirabai’s essence was, what the key to her story is, and what I am meant to learn from this expedition. And I can say it in one word. Love. Love is all that matters. Krishna is awareness and Mirabai is love, and together they merged. This is our higher self.

This is the story of Mirabai.

Courtesy "Hinduism Today magazine Hawai"