Bhakti Poets: Poem, Mirabai
Bhakti poets—who were in some cases lower-caste Hindu women—and their audiences drew emotional sustenance from these verses, which expressed a pure devotion to Hindu deities. Their poetry, written in local languages beginning in the 6th century in South India and the 12th century in North India, attracted large audiences among the marginalized in Hindu society, such as women and “untouchables.”
In Caturvedi 42, Mirabai (ca. 1498–ca. 1546), famous devotee of Krishna, speaks of her struggles within the domestic sphere, particularly with her in-laws, as a high-caste woman who chooses to defy conventional expectations and family roles. Here we see how her extended family through marriage is attempting to dissuade Mirabai from her associations with fellow devotees of Krishna. Her in-laws (particularly the king, the rana) are said to have attempted to poison Mirabai who was breaking all societal norms in search of her true love, Krishna. Krishna, here presented as the “Mountain Lifter,” refers to a story of Krishna widely known in Rajasthan, where Krishna held up Mount Govardhan to protect the cattle and herders from the rain-god Indra’s wrath; Indra’s anger was directed at the people of Braj because they turned their devotion away from him and toward Krishna instead.
“Life without Hari is no life, friend,
And though my mother-in-law fights,
my sister-in-law teases,
the rana is angered,
A guard stationed on a stool outside,
and a lock is mounted on the door,
How can I abandon the love I have loved
In life after life?
Mira’s Lord is the clever Mountain Lifter:
Why would I want anyone else?”
(Caturvedi, no. 42)
“Life without Hari is no life, friend.” In Songs of the Saints of India. Edited and translated by John Stratton Hawley and Mark Juergensmeyer. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.