Mirabai Cracks The Matka…3 of 3

mirabai-artist-v-v-sagar-pinterestI 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and free—that too in a distant era when Hindu women were most often forced into claustrophobic prisons constructed by outdated custom and patriarchal mores.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! Continue reading

And Mirabai Sang the Blues…1 of 3

Meerabai_painting-wikimedia-commons-orgSix hundred years or so ago in the fabled land of Rajasthan, Home of Kings, Princess Mira blossomed under the benevolent guidance of her grandfather. Many versions of her amazing life in 14th century India abound; this particular retelling is not to please the historian or the scholar, for I am neither, but merely to give you a sweet taste of the soul of an exceptional female who transformed both her inner and outer worlds.

Mira was exquisitely lovely, talented and intelligent; her life was a sparkling tapestry of everything a young royal could dream of. Aware of her unusual potential, her grandfather encouraged Mira to immerse herself not just in the scriptures and in the art of making superb music, but also to acquire the skills of archery, fencing, horseback-riding and chariot-driving, for that was a time of frequent war.

At fourteen, Mira was persuaded to marry Rana Kumbha of Mewar, who adored Mira not just for her beauty but for her passionate love of god. Mira could well have lived out her life as just another of India’s pampered royals; instead her unflinching passion for the Blue God in the face of the hostility she faced from her in-laws—for refusing to abandon Krishna for the family deity Goddess Durga, for befriending holy men, and for proclaiming the Blue God as her true husband—gradually metamorphosed her into a mighty exponent of Prema Bhakti (Divine Love). Today, six centuries after her death, Mirabai is famed as an inspired poet-saint whose tender odes to Krishna have endeared her for all time to the Indian masses. Continue reading

Shiva’s Spectacular Gender Divide – Part 5/6

Manu-CartoonDeepa Mehta, one of our finest film-makers, was asked why she thought the attitude towards women in India is so depressingly ugly. “Patriarchy,” she retorted succinctly. “We’ve always felt that the girl child is worth nothing and should in fact be aborted even before she is born. The boy can do no wrong. If the girl is treated as a sub-human, or the boy is raised to believe he can do no wrong, then this is what will happen.”

But India was not always this way. So what did happen?

My own elliptical quest for answers led me to partially blame the so-called sage Manu, ancient teacher of sacred rites and laws and author of the Manava Dharma-shastra (dates for the creation of this text vary all the way from 1500 BCE to 500 AD) for callously tossing the Indian gender ball down the hill. Some say Manu compiled the laws at the request of ten great sages following a great flood; others claim he was given the sacred laws by Brahma the Creator himself, rendering the Manusmriti divine. Continue reading