I fell under Mirabai’s spell in Manhattan, when a western friend who had just returned from India handed me a slim book about her extraordinary life. At the time I was still struggling to make sense of what appeared to be a chaotic, violent and apparently loveless world in which I could see no sign of what the citadels of monotheism called “the moving finger of God”. If such an entity existed, I decided in a fit of pique, he’d made a royal mess of things.
Absorbing Mira’s amazing story, I found the courage to go deeper within myself. Now here was a rebel I could identify with, an Indian female who had fought with infinite grace to become light, joyous and free—that too in a distant era when Hindu women were most often forced into claustrophobic prisons constructed by outdated custom and patriarchal mores.
When I read the version of her life that described how Mira had courageously refused to obey her father-in-law’s order that she leap on to her husband’s funeral pyre, I was exultant—now this was my idea of a heroic Indian woman! Not only had she stood up to her royal father-in-law—a terrible sin in those archaic times—but she had won!
Another vivid image from Mira’s incredible life polished my own view of Absolute and Relative Realities, an eastern concept that had turned my own vision inward. In essence, the Absolute is our true nature—immortal and blissful; the Relative is our finite form, the divine clothed in flesh. The task of the committed seeker is to break through the prison of personal identity and into cosmic consciousness, into the pure knowing that we are all One. Mira’s guru explained this to her in a simple way that I instantly resonated with. Here is his metaphor, which I call Cracking the Matka, in my own words:
A matka is a clay pot used by village women in India mainly for cooking and carrying water. If you take a matka to the river to fill it, and it happens to strike a sharp rock and cracks when it is brimful of water, the water within the pot and the river water will merge and become instantly indistinguishable. And so it is at the moment of enlightenment, when all the doors of consciousness open and the individual seeker merges with the Divine!
Many great souls have inspired me to follow my own razor’s edge walk to liberation; among those who have been my guiding lights, Mirabai shines like a great diamond. So let me end my own paean of praise to this distant spiritual sister with one of her own moving odes to Krishna, the perennial lover who never abandoned her, unlike the mortals around her, many of whom wished to see her burned to cinders for daring to defy their social norms.
The dagger of love has pierced my heart
I was going to the river to fetch water,
A golden pitcher on my head.
Hariji has bound me
By the thin thread of love,
And wherever He draws me,
Thither I go.
Mira’s Lord is the courtly Giridhara:
This is the nature
Of his dark and beautiful form.