Sunday, November 27, 2005

Sunday Poem: Mirabai

The Heat of Midnight Tears

Listen, my friend, this road is the heart opening,
kissing his feet, resistance broken, tears all night.

If we could reach the Lord through immersion in water,
I would have asked to be born a fish in this life.
If we could reach Him through nothing but berries and wild nuts
then surely the saints would have been monkeys when they came from the womb!
If we could reach Him by munching lettuce and dry leaves
then the goats would surely get to the Holy One before us!

If the worship of stone statues could bring us all the way,
I would have adored a granite mountain years ago.

Mirabai says: "The heat of midnight tears will bring you to God."

[Translation by Robert Bly. Holy Fire: Nine Visionary Poets and the Quest for Enlightenment; Harper Perennial, 1994.]


Mirabai (also sometimes called Meera; 1498-1550, dates uncertain) is believed to have been born to a well-to-do Rajput family in the village of Merta (200 miles from New Dehli) in a region now known as Rajastan. Being a princess, she married Bhoj Raj, the crown prince of Mewar, in 1516. He died in battle five years later, at which time Mirabai began to spend more and more time worshipping Krishna and visiting sadhus (holy men).

Mirabai openly rebelled against all things conventional and rejected her affluent background and the restrictions that allowed only those from lower castes to become bhakti (ecstatic religious poets). She devoted her life to a profound and passionate pursuit of Krishna, eventually adopting the sadhu lifestyle (constant travel, poverty).

Much of her poetry (there are nearly 5,000 poems attributed to her, though only about 200 are believed to be authentic) is erotic and expresses a subtle sexual longing for Krishna, who is often described as her husband, lover, lord, or beloved. The erotic component of her verse speaks to her intense and deeply personal desire to experience union with Krishna, expressed in a most intimate manner. A popular belief in India holds that Mirabai finally achieved that union with Krishna and disappeared from his temple, leaving only her sari wrapped around his statue.

For more information, try the following sources:
"Mirabai: The Rebellious Rajput Rani," by Bill Garlington
"Viraha in Bhakta Meera's Songs," by Vasanti Mataji
A 2002 bibliography (partially annotated) of Mirabai translations and studies
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