Mirabai was a 16th-century Hindu mystic poet and devotee of Krishna. She is a celebrated Bhakti saint, particularly in the North Indian Hindu tradition.
Historical information about the life of Mirabai is a matter of some scholarly debate. The oldest biographical account was Priyadas’s commentary in Nabhadas’ Sri Bhaktammal in 1712.
Nevertheless, there are many oral histories, which give an insight into this unique poet and saint of India.
- Born: 1498, Kurki, India
- Died: 1546, Dwarka, India
- Full name: Meera Bai
Meera was born into a Rajput royal family of Kudki district of Pali, Rajasthan, India.
Authentic records about Meera are not available, and scholars have attempted to establish Meera’s biography from secondary literature that mention her, and wherein dates and other moments. Meera unwillingly married Bhoj Raj, the crown prince of Mewar, in 1516.
Her husband was wounded in one of the ongoing Hindu-Muslim wars of the Delhi Sultanate in 1518, and he died of battle wounds in 1521. Both her own father and her father-in-law were killed within a few years after her husband, during a war with the Islamic army of Babur – the founder of Mughal Empire in the Indian subcontinent.
After the death of her father-in-law, Vikram Singh became the ruler of Mewar. According to a popular legend, her in-laws tried many times to execute her, such as sending Meera a glass of poison and telling her it was nectar or sending her a basket with a snake instead of flowers.
According to the hagiographic legends, she was not harmed in either case, with the snake miraculously becoming a Krishna idol (or a garland of flowers depending on the version). In another version of these legends, she is asked by Vikram Singh to go drown herself, which she tries but she finds herself floating on water.
Yet another legend states that the Mughal emperor Akbar came with Tansen to visit Meera and presented a pearl necklace, but scholars doubt this ever happened because Tansen joined Akbar’s court in 1562, 15 years after she died.
Similarly, some stories state that Guru Ravidas was her guru (teacher), but there is no corroborating historical evidence for this. Some versions suggest this could likely have happened. Others disagree.
The three different oldest records known as of 2014 that mention Meera, all from the 17th century and written within 150 years of Meera’s death, neither mention anything about her childhood or circumstances of her marriage to Bhojraj, nor do they mention that the people who persecuted her were her in-laws or from some Rajput royal family.
Nancy Martin-Kershaw states that to the extent Meera was challenged and persecuted, religious or social conventions were unlikely to have been the cause, rather the likely cause were political chaos and military conflicts between the Rajput kingdom and the Mughal Empire.
Other stories state that Mira Bai left the kingdom of Mewar and went on pilgrimages. In her last years, Meera lived in Dwarka or Vrindavan, where legends state she miraculously disappeared by merging into an idol of Krishna in 1547.
While miracles are contested by scholars for the lack of historical evidence, it is widely acknowledged that Meera dedicated her life to Hindu deity Krishna, composing songs of devotion and was one of the most important poet-saint of the Bhakti movement period.