Women everywhere are connected with honor of their men, family, clan, caste and nation. The former ‘holy’ Indian priests and religious preachers said that women are not worth of independence and they must be subjugated by the male members. Further, they added, women’s sexual purity should be maintained in order to keep the esteem of her family, community and nation. In order to maintain the so-called honor, societies deposit certain rules for their women which they are bound to retain. Such rules become harsher in emergencies- warfare, political turmoil, attacks from strange cultures, riots etc. Strikingly, there were several women even in the medieval period of history who fought against the social-cultural-religious barriers that curtailed women’s right to a self-chosen life. One such name was Meera Bai. Everybody knows Meera Bai as a devotee to Lord Krishna and for her beautiful poetic verses, popularly identified as Meera’s Bhajan. She was a Rajput princess who denied all worldly responsibilities associated with a royal woman out of her respect and dedication to Lord Krishna. May be unintentionally, but Meera Bai’s struggle to live a life of her own choice made her different from all other women in her contemporary age.
Meera Bai was born in 1498 in Marwar, Rajasthan. Meera Bai’s father was Ratan Singha. She was married at 13 with Bhoj Raj who was more popular as Rana Kumbha or Kumbha Rana, heir of Rana Sangram Singha from Mewar, Rajasthan. The Rana family belonged to Sisodia clan.
Since her childhood, Meera was a fond of Lord Krishna. Legend says that once she asked her mother about her bridegroom. Meera’s mother replied that Lord Krishna would come and marry her. By the time she was married to Bhoj Raj, the little princess began to believe that she was already married to Lord Krishna. Consequently, Meera refused to comply with all those rules and norms mandatory for married royal Rajput woman. For example, Meera did not offer prayer to the kuldevi of Sisodias as she only accepted Krishna as her god. Meera said no to an intimate relationship with her husband. She used to ‘talk’ to Lord Krishna alone inside the temple.
Meera’s critical behavior made her in-law family members angry and annoyed with her. But, somehow, Bhoj Raj understood Meera’s fervor for Lord Krishna and formed a Krishna temple inside the palace. Bhoj Raj did not survive long. In fact, he passed away only after four years of his marriage to Meera. According to the set rule, Meera had to be a Sati. But she denied committing Sati in the burning pyre of Bhoj Raj. Bhoj Raj’s death made Meera’s life worst within the palace. Her brother-in-law, Vikramaditya could not tolerate Meera and her disobedience to the royal culture. It is believed that he tried to kill Meera several times. According to myths, once Meera was sent a basket with a cobra inside and a message that the basket contained a garland of flowers. When Meera opened the basket she found a beautiful idol of Lord Krishna inside it. The bed of nails was transformed into a bed of roses when Meera reposed on it.
Meera went to streets, forests and public temples to sing and dance for Lord Krishna. In those days, the royal Rajput women were not allowed to face the public. But Meera did not uphold those customs. She was a disciple of Raidas, who was a chamar. In that way, Meera violated the social division between high and low castes.
Under the reign of Vikramaditya, when Meera understood that it was going to be impossible for her to maintain her sole devoutness for Lord Krishna she decided to leave the palace. By the time, she has lost her father too. For some years, Meera spent her time on the streets and roads of Rajasthan promoting Lord Krishna’s principles and beliefs. After that, Meera went to Vrindavan and Dwarka where she spent the rest of her life. Though Meera was a strong devotee to Lord Krishna, she reused to take membership in any established sect of Bhakti schools. By doing that, Meera defied the rule of hierarchy in the Bhakti schools. She believed in no mediator between Lord Krishna and herself.
Throughout her entire life, Meera Bai objected to all human-set rules that prevented her from offering admiration and devotion to Lord Krishna. She led a very simple life though she was born and married to stately families. She is the one, who, despite her all oppositions to the set model of the society, is even today recalled and recognized as a pious and chaste lady.
Source: Jain and Sharma (2002) Honour, Gender and the Legend of Meera Bai, Economic and Political Weekly, 37(46): 4646-4650.
The writer is a correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz.