In This Article Mirabai

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works in Hindi
  • Devotion
  • Gender and Feminist Analysis
  • Exemplary Power for Women
  • Performance, Oral Traditions, and Resistance
  • Gandhi and Mirabai

Hinduism Mirabai
by
Nancy M. Martin
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 June 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0070

Introduction

Mirabai (also known as Meerabai, Mira, Meera) is the most well known of the women bhakti (Hindu devotional) saints of India. According to tradition, this 16th-century royal devotee of Krishna was born in Merta in Rajasthan in the kingdom of Marwar and dedicated to Krishna from childhood, but married into the royal family of Mewar in Chittor, most say against her will. She refused to behave as a woman of her caste and class was required to do and instead fearlessly danced and sang for her Lord in the public space of the temple and kept company with holy men and people from all walks of life. The rana, the ruler of Mewar (identified variously as her husband, her father-in-law, or her brother-in-law), tried to stop her, in many accounts repeatedly trying to kill her for these transgressions. Most famously, he sent her a cup of poison in the guise of holy water, but she remained unharmed and undeterred. Ultimately, she departed to become a wandering religious leader, reportedly traveling to holy places associated with Krishna, including Vrindavan (the land of his youthful incarnation) and Dwarka (the capital of the mature Krishna’s kingdom), where she ultimately merged with his image. Though admired by devotees of many different branches of devotional Hinduism, she remains formally unaffiliated and is explicitly rejected by the followers of Vallabhacarya. If she is said to have a guru at all, she is most often associated with the untouchable leatherworker saint, Raidas (also known as Ravidas, Rohidas). She is known not only for her story but also the devotional songs of love and longing she is said to have composed. A multitude of stories have circulated about her as her fame spread across India, and an immense body of songs are attributed to her, with those that might have been composed by this individual woman inseparable from those composed by others in subsequent centuries in her name and style. She has come to inspire many, her popularity crossing the borders of caste, language, religion, culture, and time.

General Overviews

Hawley and Juergensmeyer 2004 provides the most comprehensive general introduction in English to Mirabai and the scholarship around her. For a concise summary of her life, poetry, and appeal, see Martin 2007, and for a very brief introduction, see Tharu and Lalita 1991. Kishwar and Vanita 1989 also provides a broad and accessible introduction, with an emphasis on the norms for women that Mirabai rejects and the place of women saints in bhakti (Hindu devotion). For the broadest introduction to her poetry in translation, see Alston 1980, though the author uncritically follows Hindi academic literature shaped by nationalist and Rajput formulations of the late 19th century in his introduction to her life (see History and Historiography). In contrast, Mukta 1994 situates Mirabai primarily within low-caste communities and oral traditions. See Martin 1995 for a more extended comprehensive study of the saint and Hawley 2005 for detailed analysis of current scholarship and selected issues.

  • Alston, A. J. The Devotional Poems of Mira Bai. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1980.

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    This influential work includes 202 songs from the most popular edition of Mirabai’s poetry in Hindi, that of Parasurām Caturvedī—Mīrābāī kī Padāvalī, 18th ed. (Prayāg, India: Hindī Sāhitya Sammelan, 1989)––offering accurate English translations that are faithful to the originals. His introduction follows the vulgate “historical biography.”

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    • Hawley, John Stratton. Three Bhakti Voices: Mirabai, Surdas and Kabir in Their Times and Ours. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

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      In this collection of both previously published and new work, comparative essays explore author and authority, the nirgun/sagun (formless/form) distinction, the morality of saints, and the gendered presentation of longing, while those focused primarily on Mirabai examine early manuscript sources, Mirabai as wife and renouncer, and the 1972 “Mirabai” Amar Chitra Katha comic book (see Popular Literature and Fiction).

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      • Hawley, John Stratton, and Mark Juergensmeyer. Songs of the Saints of India. Rev. ed. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004.

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        Originally published in 1988. Contextualizes Mirabai in Hindu devotion and Indian society, outlines her story with variations, details the difficulties that arise in trying to determine her historical biography and original works, and analyzes themes in the poetry attributed to her, as well as offering accurate, compelling translations. Excellent introduction for advanced undergraduates (pp. 118–140).

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        • Kishwar, Madhu, and Ruth Vanita. “Poison to Nectar: The Life and Work of Mirabai.” Special Issue: Women Bhakta Poets. Manushi 50–52 (January–June 1989): 74–93.

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          Incorporates legendary material and songs in presentation of Mirabai’s story, voice, and symbolic power with particular attention to normative gender expectations, contextualizing Mirabai among other women bhakti saints and addressing the ambivalence that attends Mirabai’s character and actions. Includes an inset on “Gandhi’s Mira” (pp. 86–87). Excellent introduction for advanced undergraduates.

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          • Martin, Nancy. “Dyed in the Color of Her Lord: Multiple Representations in the Mirabai Tradition.” PhD diss., Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA, 1995.

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            Extended study of Mirabai examining hagiographic and legendary traditions surrounding the saint; the 19th-century Rajput “historicizing” of Mirabai’s story; contrasting folk epics of her life sung in Rajasthan; her poetry in manuscript, print, and oral performance; and her role as a model for women, including living women religious leaders today called by her name. Reference work.

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            • Martin, Nancy M. “Rajasthan: Mirabai and Her Poetry.” In Krishna: A Source Book. Edited by Edwin Bryant, 241–254. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

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              This concise essay provides a brief introduction to the life, poetry, and appeal of the saint together with English translations of sixteen songs, drawn from both written and oral sources and thus reflecting the broad traditions of song associated with the saint. Useful short introduction for undergraduates.

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              • Mukta, Parita. Upholding the Common Life: The Community of Mirabai. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1994.

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                Groundbreaking work, examining oral traditions of Mirabai among low-caste communities in Rajasthan and Saurashtra (in Gujarat). Argues that Mirabai belongs primarily to these communities and her songs provide a language to express solidarity and resistance to patriarchal and feudal authorities, with middle-class and upper-caste appropriations portrayed as inauthentic.

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                • Tharu, Susie, and K. Lalita, eds. Women Writing in India: 600 B.C. to the Present. Vol. 1, 600 B.C. to the Early Twentieth Century. New York: Feminist Press, 1991.

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                  Very short introduction to Mirabai including translations of four poems, with attention to feminist scholarship on the saint. Mirabai is presented in this text in the context of a multitude of other women writers in India across time. Useful for undergraduate assignment as a very brief introduction. See pp. 90–94.

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                  Reference Works in Hindi

                  A vast academic literature in Hindi and other Indian languages has grown up around the study of Mirabai, with comprehensive works looking at her life, poetry, and devotion, as well as comparative and more focused analysis. Brajaratnadās 1970 is among the first of the comprehensive works that survey and reproduce the original hagiographic, literary, and historical passages in which references to Mirabai can be found, as well as collecting her poetry from a variety of sources. A number of other highly respected scholars of Hindi literature have also turned their attention to Mirabai, reiterating past scholarship, presenting new manuscript sources for her poetry and criteria for authenticity as well as additional information about her life from both textual and oral sources, and offering their own analysis and interpretations. Among the most significant and prolific authors are the following works: Śarmā 1967, Śabnam 1973, Śekhāvat 1974, Tiwārī, 1990, and Prabhāt 1999. It is Caturvedī 1989 (originally published in 1932), however, that has become a classic for both her life and poetry, published in its eighteenth edition in 1989. New scholarship on Mirabai continues to proliferate, including a journal, Mīrāyan, dedicated entirely to the saint, first published in 2007.

                  • Brajaratnadās. Mīrā Mādhurī. 3d ed. Varanasi, India: Hindī Sāhitya Kuṭīr, 1970.

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                    One of the earliest truly comprehensive studies of the saint, setting a standard for many subsequent works in the exhaustive combing through of hagiographic sources and subsequent literature for references to Mirabai (presented in full text) and incorporating the previous historical study to examine both Mirabai’s life and poetry. Originally published in 1948.

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                    • Caturvedī, Parasurām. Mīrābāī kī Padāvalī. 18th ed. Prayag, India: Hindī Sāhitya Sammelan, 1989.

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                      Extended introduction to the saint and collection of 202 songs that is the most widely used general reference work on Mirabai in Hindi, published in multiple editions with the eighteenth edition coming out in 1989. Used in Hindi literature courses in India, this volume has also greatly influenced international scholarship. Originally published in 1932.

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                      • Mīrāyan.

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                        Quarterly journal, founded in 2007, entirely dedicated to the study of Mirabai. A publication of the Mirabai research institute Mīrā Smṛti Sansthān in Chittorgarh, Rajasthan, the site of the royal fort of the Sisodiya rulers of Mewar where Mirabai is said to have lived her married life.

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                        • Prabhāt, C. L. Mīrā Jīvan aur Kāvya. 2 vols. Jodhpur, India: Rājasthānī Granthāgār, 1999.

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                          Builds on his 1965 publication and expands on a century of Hindi academic literature on Mirabai. Volume 1 includes full texts and analysis of hagiographic and historical references to Mirabai, and Volume 2 focuses on the collection and interpretation of her poetry, including previously unpublished early songs. Key comprehensive reference.

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                          • Śabnam, Padmāvatī. Mīrā: Vyaktitva aur Krititva. Varanasi, India: Hindī Pracārak Sansthān, 1973.

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                            Comprehensive study of Mirabai’s life and works building on the author’s earlier Mīrā: Ek Adhyanan (1950) and Mīrā Brihat Pada Sangraha (1952) and includes 601 songs attributed to Mirabai. Contributes to the debate on Mirabai’s possible authentic works and the validity of some of the conclusions made by historians.

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                            • Śarmā, Purohit Harinarāyan. Mīrā Brihatpadavalī. Vol. 1. Edited by Kalyāṇ Singh Śekhāvat. Jodhpur, India: Rājasthān Prācyavidyā Patiṣṭhān, 1967.

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                              Includes 662 of Mirabai’s songs collected by Śarmā in over forty years of study of Mirabai together with his introduction from his earlier 1944 publication. Draws on correspondence of this respected literary scholar with a wider range of scholars working on Mirabai. Some of this correspondence is published in Paramparā 63–63 (1982).

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                              • Śekhāvat, Kalyāṇ Singh. Mirabai kā Jivanvritta evam Kāvya. Jodhpur, India: Hindī Sāhitya Mandir, 1974.

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                                Drawn from the author’s doctoral dissertation. Provides a comprehensive review of Hindi literature to date of publication, details of the author’s extensive manuscript studies and interviews with oral genealogists in Rajasthan, and his own synthesis of the narrative of Mirabai’s life. Author remains one of the most active and prolific Mirabai scholars in India.

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                                • Tiwārī, Bhagawāndās. Mīrā kā Kāvya. 2d ed. Allahabad, India: Sāhitya Bhavan Limited, 1990.

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                                  A comprehensive study of Mirabai’s devotion and her poetry, following Sukul (see Early Manuscripts). Builds on the author’s earlier doctoral dissertation, Mīrā kā Bhaktī aur Unkā Kāvya-Sādhanā kā Anusīlan, published in 1974 simultaneously with Mīrābāīkī Prāmānik Padāvalī, his detailed analysis of poetry with variants. First published in 1981.

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                                  Life Story

                                  Mirabai’s story has captured the imagination of innumerable people. History is largely silent with regard to her existence, but there is no shortage of voices ready to tell her tale, drawing the saint into their own worlds and making her over in their image, adapting her story to a wide array of agendas and genres from hagiography to romance for varying audiences, to be sung, enacted, and read. Her life has also become the object of historical study and the subject of films, television programs and weekly serials, comic books, and novels. The result is a series of related families of circulating stories that continue to influence each other, with no definitive first telling or original story, to which others might be compared as variants, and no definitive final telling, the possibility of new tellings ever present.

                                  Hagiography

                                  Mirabai is first and foremost a saint in the bhakti (Hindu devotional) tradition, and early references to her life story are found in hagiographic works. Brajaratnadās 1970 and Prabhāt 1999 are representative of the many Hindi scholars who have carefully sifted through this vast literature to identify and catalog a multitude of such references, reproducing the relevant texts in full. A wide range of different traditions about Mirabai’s life were in circulation in different regions of India by the 18th century. Hawley and Juergensmeyer 2004 details the earliest references in the works of Nābhādās (c.1600 CE) and Priyādās (1712 CE) from Rajasthan and Vrindavan (center of Krishna devotion as the land of his childhood and adolescence), and Hawley and Mann 2008 provides access to a contrasting 1693 CE Sikh tale of Mirabai from the Punjab. Bhāṭī 1984 introduces and gives the text of an 18th- or 19th-century Rajasthani work, Sukhasāraṇ’s Mīrābāī rī Paracī, and Pauwels 2010 provides a translation and careful analysis of related passages in the 18th-century Padaprasaṅgmālā by Nāgrīdās, a Rajput ruler turned devotee from the saint’s natal family. Martin 1995 surveys the full range of hagiographic literary references found in Hindi literature, while Ramanujan 1982 offers a helpful framework for understanding standard elements in the hagiographies of Indian women saints.

                                  • Bhāṭī, Narāyan Singh, ed. Mīrābāī rī Paracī va Paracī Kāvya. Paramparā 69–70. Caupasani, Jodhpur, India: Rājāsthānī Shodh Sansthān, 1984.

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                                    The full Rajasthani text of Mīrābāī rī Paracī together with an interpretive commentary in Hindi. Eighteenth- or 19th-century narrative, attributed to Sukhasāraṇ, which includes an account of Mirabai’s previous birth. Example of Mirabai’s story in the genre of paracī (didactic hagiographic texts that provide extended introductions to the miraculous lives of saints).

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                                    • Brajaratnadās. Mīrā Mādhurī. 3d ed. Varanasi, India: Hindī Sāhitya Kuṭīr, 1970.

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                                      Reproduces the actual texts for a systematic and comprehensive set of hagiographic references to Mirabai, thus providing a rich resource for subsequent scholars. Important next step in scholarship, however, is to review the author’s sources for these hagiographic texts to check dates of editions and manuscripts as well as possible variants. Originally published in 1948.

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                                      • Hawley, John Stratton, and Mark Juergensmeyer. Songs of the Saints of India. Rev. ed. Delhi: Oxford Univesity Press, 2004.

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                                        Includes translation of the passage on Mirabai in Nābhādās’s Bhaktamāl, the earliest extended hagiographic reference to her life (c. 1600 CE) and analysis of the more complete tale from Priyādās’s 1712 CE commentary, laying out the basic plot line that will structure many later tellings (pp. 122–128). Originally published in 1988.

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                                        • Hawley, John Stratton, and Gurinder Singh Mann. “Mirabai in the Pothi Prem Ambodh.” Journal of Punjab Studies 15.1–2 (2008): 199–226.

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                                          An interpretive introduction and full English translation of an alternate story of Mirabai from the Pothī Prem Ambodh, a 1693 Gurumukhi script text composed for performance at Sikh Guru Gobind Singh’s court in the Punjab, revealing the diverse traditions about Mirabai already circulating at this early date.

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                                          • Martin, Nancy. “Dyed in the Color of Her Lord: Multiple Representations in the Mirabai Tradition.” PhD diss., Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA, 1995.

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                                            Includes survey of the breadth of the hagiographic references to Mirabai appearing in the Hindi literature in terms of both genre and content, with extended comparative analysis of the differing portrayals of Mirabai appearing in the works of Priyādās, Nāgrīdās, Sukhasāraṇ and 18th-century Maharashtrian hagiographer Mahīpati.

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                                            • Pauwels, Heidi R. M. “Rāṭhauṛī Mīrā: Two Neglected Rāṭhauṛ Connections to Mīrā—Jaimal Meṛtīyo and Nāgrīdās.” International Journal of Hindu Studies 14.2–3 (2010): 177–200.

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                                              Analyzes the passages related to Mirabai in Nāgrīdās’s Padaprasaṅgmālā as exemplifying a distinctive 18th-century positive valuation of Mirabai by a member of her natal family (the Rāṭhauṛ Rajputs of Merta), but also problematizes the date and authorship for these passages, pointing to the need for further scholarship.

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                                              • Prabhāt, C. L. Mīrā Jīvan aur Kāvya. Vol. 1. Jodhpur, India: Rājasthānī Granthāgār, 1999.

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                                                Draws together all the Hindi scholarship on Mirabai in hagiographic materials and is an excellent companion to Brajaratnadās’s early work in this area, offering both further textual examples and analysis by a leading scholar of Mirabai.

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                                                • Ramanujan, A. K. “On Women Saints.” Paper presented at a conference held at Harvard University, June 1978. In The Divine Consort: Radha and the Goddesses of India. Edited by John Stratton Hawley and Donna Marie Wulff, 316–324. Boston: Beacon, 1982.

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                                                  Identifies five shared components that structure hagiographic narratives of women saints in India: childhood devotion, avoidance of marriage, rejection of social norms, initiation, and marriage to God. Based on a comprehensive survey of Indian women saints’ lives. Important for understanding Mirabai’s story told in this context.

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                                                  History and Historiography

                                                  References to Mirabai in traditional historical documents are extremely limited. Devīprasād 1954 offers the first full “historical” biography of the saint, drawing heavily on hagiography. This biography is combined with other legendary and nationalist elements to generate an important family of related tellings of Mirabai’s story—of which Macauliffe 1903 is the earliest in English and Goetz 1966 lauded as the most historical. Bhāṭī 1986 is representative of the continuing rigorous and extensive study of historical sources possibly relevant to Mirabai and her time in Hindi literature. Though this family of tales continues to dominate many people’s understanding of the saint’s life, Martin 2000 challenges their claims to historicity, linking the portrayal to nationalist and Rajput identity politics. Taft 2002 defends this historical study, providing a comprehensive review of historical sources that could have been available to and support Devīprasād and others, though Taft 2009 does note that no reference to key elements in historical documents can be found in manuscript copies definitively dated before 1843. See Hawley 2005 for an integrated summary of the current state of scholarship on this issue.

                                                  • Bhāṭī, Hukam Singh. Mīrābāī: Iatihāsik va Sāmājik Vivecan. Jodhpur, India: Ratana Prakāśan, 1986.

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                                                    Careful review of all the available historical evidence together with legend, hagiography, and poetry in an attempt to present as close to a historical account of Mirabai’s life and the society in which she would have lived as is possible given the paucity of specific historical references to her. In Hindi.

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                                                    • Devīprasād, Munśī. Mīrābāī kā Jīvan Charitra. Calcutta: Bangīya Hindī Pariśad, 1954.

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                                                      Influential first full “historical biography,” relying on hagiography for events in Mirabai’s life and a reference to her possible husband to situate her life in the larger historical and social context of 16th-century Rajasthan, while also portraying Mirabai as an ideal Rajput wife and challenging alternate portrayals of the saint. In Hindi. Originally published in 1898.

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                                                      • Goetz, Hermann. Mirabai: Her Life and Times. Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1966.

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                                                        Widely accepted work by respected historian. Gives final form to the “historical biography” of Mirabai, rationalizing the miraculous elements of her story and politicizing the causes of her persecution, while incorporating elements from decidedly nonhistorical sources and coming up with imaginative explanations to incorporate otherwise historically improbable ones.

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                                                        • Hawley, John Stratton. Three Bhakti Voices: Mirabai, Surdas and Kabir in Their Times and Ours. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

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                                                          The chapter “Mirabai in Manuscripts” (pp. 89–98) reviews all the available literature, drawing on hagiographic sources as well as historical study (with the exception of Taft 2009), and presents a clear summary of the current state of research and the challenges inherent in manuscript study in this context.

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                                                          • Macauliffe, M. A. “The Legend of Mīrā Bāī, the Rajput Poetess.” Indian Antiquary (August 1903): 329–335.

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                                                            Blend of history, legend, hagiography, and popular traditions to give the first extended and composite portrayal of Mirabai in English. Integrates all the information available from 19th-century Hindi and English sources. Author acknowledges Deviprasad’s work without claiming to write history, instead presenting what he calls the “legend” of the saint.

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                                                            • Martin, Nancy M. “Mirabai in the Academy and the Politics of Identity.” In Faces of the Feminine from Ancient, Medieval and Modern India. Edited by Mandakranta Bose, 162–182. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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                                                              Details the emergence of a distinctly new Mirabai, portrayed as an ideal wife who upheld Rajput honor, in historical writing in the latter decades of the 19th century in the context of Indian nationalism and the assertion of Rajput identity, calling into question claims for the historicity of such accounts.

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                                                              • Taft, Frances. “The Elusive Historical Mira: A Note.” In Multiple Histories: Culture and Society in the Study of Rajasthan. Edited by Lawrence A. Babb, Varsha Joshi, and Michael W. Meister, 313–335. Jaipur, India: Rawat, 2002.

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                                                                A careful examination of the early historians of Rajasthan who wrote of Mirabai and the historical sources they may have used in their accounts of her life, plus a helpful survey of the types of historical documents available for such study and a discussion of Mirabai’s possible date of birth.

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                                                                • Taft, Frances. “Six Incarnations of Mirabai.” Paper presented during the Fifth International Conference on Rajasthan. In Culture, Polity, and Economy. Edited by Varsha Joshi and Surjit Singh, 163–172. Jaipur, India: Rawat Publications, 2009.

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                                                                  Companion essay examining sources for the “historical Mira” appearing in Vīr Vinod, the first modern history of Rajasthan by Rajasthani historian Shyāmaldās, importantly acknowledging no manuscript copies for the key 17th-century source mentioning Mirabai dating earlier than 1843, raising the possibility that the Mirabai reference may be a 19th-century interpolation.

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                                                                  Popular Literature and Fiction

                                                                  Beginning in the final decade of the 19th century, a vast popular print literature around Mirabai began to grow, including dramas and narratives in Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, Tamil, Telegu, Sindhi, and English. Behari 2008 (originally published in 1935) is the most widely available example of this type of literature and the culmination of a process of integrating historical, devotional, and nationalist narratives. Chandrakant 1972 condenses and illustrates Behari 2008 in comic-book form, and Hawley 1995 analyzes this picturized presentation, comparing it to earlier hagiographic literature. In the latter decades of the 20th century, explicitly fictional accounts of Mirabai’s life began to appear, in novels like Miśra 1993. Nagakar 1997 tells her tale in English from the point of view of her husband, and the London-born author of Joshi 2006 chooses Mirabai as the subject for her first novel. Mira’s example, songs, and character are also invoked in a range of fiction exploring women’s position and agency in a changing world, from the short story Tagore 1990 to novels like Deshpande 2001.

                                                                  • Behari, Bankey. The Story of Mira Bai. Gorakhpur, India: Gita Press, 2008.

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                                                                    Currently in its twelfth reprint, this widely distributed, influential tale joins nationalist and Rajput narratives with bhakti sentiments to portray Mirabai as a saintly heroine who upholds wifely virtue and Rajput honor and is the virtual embodiment of devotion. The author indicates that he writes a “truth” about Mirabai transcending historical and academic study. Originally published in 1935. Also published in multiple editions as Bhakta Mira (Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan).

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                                                                    • Chandrakant, Kamala. Mirabai. Amar Chitra Katha 535. Bombay: India Book House, 1972.

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                                                                      This comic-book version of Mirabai’s story portrays her as a good wife, condensing and picturizing Bankey Behari’s popular print version of her life. Widely distributed in Indian schools and circulated to children of diaspora Indian communities, this work has become a primary source of information about Mirabai for many.

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                                                                      • Deshpande, Shashi. The Binding Vine. New York: Feminist Press, 2001.

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                                                                        The heroine in this novel discovers the hidden writings of her husband’s mother named “Mira,” who died with his birth, revealing a woman and poet who suffered but refused to be silenced or broken by violence and who inspires the heroine to find her own inner strength and voice. First published in 1993 in the United Kingdom by Virago Press and in India by Penguin Books.

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                                                                        • Hawley, John Stratton. “The Saint Subdued: Domestic Virtue and National Integration in Amar Chitra Katha.” In Media and the Transformation of Religion in South Asia. Edited by Lawrence A. Babb and Susan S. Wadley, 107–134. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995.

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                                                                          Analyzes the portrayal of Mirabai in this popular comic-book series, comparing it to the earlier hagiographic account found in Priyadas, and revealing the domestication of Mirabai from radical saint to obedient wife. A useful companion essay to the comic book for undergraduates. Republished in Hawley 2005 (cited under History and Histiography).

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                                                                          • Joshi, J. A. Follow the Cowherd Boy. Victoria, BC, and Oxford: Trafford, 2006.

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                                                                            The first novel of a young woman born and raised in North London who consciously imagines the intricacies of the relationships among Mirabai, her husband, and his siblings, fraught with family intrigue and political turmoil. The low-caste saint Ravidas (Rohidas, Raidas) plays a key role as her guru.

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                                                                            • Miśra, Bhagavatīśaraṇa. Pītāmbarā. Delhi: Rajapala and Sanza, 1993.

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                                                                              The most widely distributed and read of a number of novels about Mirabai’s life appearing in Hindi and Gujarati starting in the 1970s, in a clear acknowledgment of the imaginative engagement required in the telling of Mirabai’s life.

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                                                                              • Nagakar, Kiran. Cuckold. New Delhi: HarperCollins, 1997.

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                                                                                This novel about Mirabai is written from the point of view of Bhoj Raj, the prince to whom she was married according to Rajput historians. Set in the complex political intrigues of 16th-century Mewar, the tale sympathetically portrays the frustrated passion of the prince for his saintly wife who loves only her blue lord Krishna.

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                                                                                • Tagore, Rabindranath. “A Letter from a Wife.” In Of Women, Outcastes, Peasants and Rebels: A Selection of Bengali Short Stories. Translated by Kalpana Bardhan, 96–109. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.

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                                                                                  The heroine invokes Mirabai as she writes to her husband, telling him she is leaving his oppressive home. An independent-minded, outspoken woman, she—like Mirabai—chooses not suicide but life. Shows Mirabai as an empowering example for women’s agency. Written in Bengali in 1914 and first published in 1926.

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                                                                                  Film and Television

                                                                                  Rajadhyaksha and Willemen 1999 provides details of the picturization of Mirabai’s life in some eighteen films from the earliest days of the Indian film industry to the present, and Mukta 1994 offers the most extended analysis of multiple Mirabai films. Duncan 1945 and Gulzar 1979b are the most influential of these films, and Gulzar 1979a provides an inside look into the production of the latter. Kishwar and Vanita 1989 critiques this film, and Pauwels 2010 gives further nuanced analysis based on genre as well as gender. Mirabai’s life is further picturized in serial form for television in (Meerabai1993) and (Meera2009).

                                                                                  • Duncan, Ellis, dir. Meera. Madras: Chandraprabhu Cinetone, 1945.

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                                                                                    Very popular film starring South Indian singer M. S. Subbulakshmi as Mirabai, released first in Tamil and then in Hindi (1947). Canonical set of eighteen Hindi Mira bhajans from film released on L.P. (Dum Dum, India: Odeon, 1965). Clips of song portions of the 1947 Hindi film readily available online.

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                                                                                    • Gulzar, Sampooran Singh. Mīrā: Kathā, moṃtāj, anusandhān aur paṭkathā. New Delhi: Rādhākṛṣna Prakāṣan, 1979a.

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                                                                                      This volume, by director and screenwriter Gulzar, provides extensive inside details of the making of the 1979 film Meera, produced by Premji and starring Hemā Mālinī, from the writing of the screenplay to its filming and final editing. In Hindi.

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                                                                                      • Gulzar, Sampooran Singh, dir. Meera. Premji, 1979b.

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                                                                                        Influential film on Mirabai. Gulzar was the screenwriter as well as the director, with music by Ravi Shankar. Though not originally a box office success, it is rescreened repeatedly and widely available on DVD from Shemaroo Entertainment Ltd. with English subtitles.

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                                                                                        • Kishwar, Madhu, and Ruth Vanita. “Modern Versions of Mira.” In Special Issue: Women Bhakta Poets. Manushi 50–52 (January–June 1989): 100–101.

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                                                                                          Critique of Gulzar’s film Meera and the Amar Chitra Katha comic-book version of Mirabai (see Popular Literature and Fiction), suggesting that both simultaneously vulgarize and mystify the saint, but with the film ambiguously portraying her devotion as childish while simultaneously asserting her right to choose in the trial scene.

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                                                                                          • Meera. Sagar Productions for NDTV Imagine, 2009.

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                                                                                            This new serial on the life of Mirabai that began airing in 2009 is a creation of Sagar Productions, the studio that produced the hugely popular and influential Ramayana series that aired on the Indian public service broadcaster Doordarshan in 1987–1988. Many song scenes available online.

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                                                                                            • Mukta, Parita. Upholding the Common Life: The Community of Mirabai. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1994.

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                                                                                              Chapter 9 (pp. 201–210) includes discussion of a range of Mirabai films as well as the popularization of certain Mirabai songs by professional bhajan singers and commercial recording and popular visual representations of Mirabai, characterizing these as middle- and upper-caste class appropriations and distortions of the Mirabai tradition.

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                                                                                              • Pauwels, Heidi R. M. “Who Is Afraid of Mirabai? Gulzar’s Antidote to Mira’s Poison.” In Religion in Literature and Film in South Asia. Edited by Diana Dimitrova, 45–67. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

                                                                                                DOI: 10.1057/9780230105522E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                Analysis of the 1979 film Meera (Gulzar 1979b), claiming Gulzar updates but also “domesticates” the saint, as he adopts Bollywood conventions. Argues that Mirabai’s behavior is shown to lead to unhappiness through a sympathetic portrayal of her husband and the introduction of a contrasting story of another princess who willingly sacrifices herself by taking poison.

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                                                                                                • Rahi, Ved, dir. Meerabai. Doordarshan, 1993.

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                                                                                                  This weekly television serial in Hindi shows clear influences from Gulzar’s 1979 film (Gulzar 1979b), with a focus on the destructiveness of valorizing war and the plight of Rajput women in medieval times. Starring Mrinal Kulkarni, Parikshat Sahni, Bharat Kapoor, and Dinesh Kaushik, the soap-opera like series is incomplete, terminated after twenty-six episodes. Available on DVD with English subtitles through Global Movies Direct.

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                                                                                                  • Rajadhyaksha, Ashish, and Paul Willemen. Encyclopedia of Indian Cinema. Rev. ed. London: British Film Institute, 1999.

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                                                                                                    Encyclopedia containing references to some eighteen films made about Mirabai across the 20th century beginning in the silent era, as well as films with Mirabai-like characters, such as Jogin and those that incorporate Mirabai bhajans in the scores. Also includes helpful essays on broader topics such as “Saint Films.”

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                                                                                                    Poetry

                                                                                                    As a bhakti (Hindu devotional) saint, Mirabai is known as much for the beautiful and poignant songs sung in her name as for the story of her life. These songs belong primarily to the fluid realm of oral performance, with other devotees composing in her name and style across the centuries and adding their own interpretations. The earliest records we have of these songs are in manuscript collections of the songs of multiple saints, followed by manuscripts dedicated to her. With the introduction of print and the deliberate collection of songs from oral sources, the number of known songs multiplies dramatically. Designed to evoke similar depths of devotion in those who perform, hear, and compose them, the songs carry the experiences and voices not only of the saint but also of these same participants, articulating suffering and defiance as well as love and longing, resonating across religious as well as social, political, and personal concerns.

                                                                                                    Early Manuscripts

                                                                                                    No critical edition of Mirabai’s poetry or even an early corpus of poems attributed to her is available, with manuscripts containing substantial collections of her poetry not appearing until the late 18th century and with an ongoing tradition of composition in her name and style by subsequent devotees over five centuries. Sukul 1949 claimed to have found multiple editions of very early manuscripts traceable directly to the saint, publishing a set of 103 poems that have been accepted as authentic by some and reproduced in a number of subsequent Hindi works. However, the author’s claims have been refuted on multiple grounds by subsequent scholars, including the authors of Callewaert 1991 and Hawley 2005. Gupta 1949, Śekhāvat 1975, Śekhāvat 1984, and Martin 1995 provide texts and analysis of songs from other manuscripts assigned 17th-century dates. Callewaert 1991 gives the text and translation of the earliest known poem of Mirabai together with an annotated bibliography of the Hindi literature documenting songs of Mirabai. Hawley 2005 incorporates subsequent scholarship and provides a translation and detailed discussion of the very limited number of poems verifiably from the 17th century, including a song Pauwels 2006 posits may be another early song recorded c. 1600. On the larger question of the nature of authorship and authority in bhakti poetry, see also Hawley 2005.

                                                                                                    • Callewaert, Winand M. “The ‘Earliest’ Song of Mīrā.” Orientalia Lovaniensia Periodica 22 (1991).

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                                                                                                      This essay identifies and translates the earliest recorded song of Mirabai found in a 1604 recension of the Sikh Adi Granth, though clearly removed from the orthodox version. The author also refutes Lalit Prasad Sukul’s claims and provides an extended bibliography of references to Mirabai and her songs and English translations.

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                                                                                                      • Gupta, Jagdīś Prasād. “Mīrā ke kuch Aprakāśit Pad.” In Mīrā Smriti Granth. Edited by S. N. Śarmā, et al., 141–152. Calcutta: Bangāya Hindī Pariṣad, 1949.

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                                                                                                        Gives the texts for ten songs from 17th-century manuscripts found in the collections of Gujarat Vidya Sabha, Ahmedabad, including eight from manuscript D477K dated 1638 and two of three from manuscript D350A dated 1644.

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                                                                                                        • Hawley, John Stratton. Three Bhakti Voices: Mirabai, Surdas and Kabir in Their Times and Ours. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

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                                                                                                          The chapter “Mirabai in Manuscripts” (pp. 89–98) reviews the earliest poems attributed to Mirabai, offering texts, translations, and analysis, and discusses the larger issues around such manuscript study. Volume also addresses larger question of “Author and Authority in Bhakti Poetry in North India” (pp. 21–47; first published in 1988).

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                                                                                                          • Martin, Nancy. “Dyed in the Color of Her Lord: Multiple Representations in the Mirabai Tradition.” PhD diss., Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA, 1995.

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                                                                                                            Reports and translates three Mirabai songs from manuscript 30346 in the collection of Rājasthān Prācyavidyā Patiṣṭhān dated 1656, as well as surveying the known poetry attributed to Mirabai available in a wide range of manuscripts with 17th-century and 18th-century dates.

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                                                                                                            • Pauwels, Heidi R. M. “Hagiography and Reception History: The Case of Mīrā’s Padas in Nāgrīdās’s Pada-prasaṅga-mālā.” In Bhakti in Current Research, 2001–2003. Edited by Monika Horstmann, 221–244. Delhi: Manohar, 2006.

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                                                                                                              Details seven songs of Mirabai in Nāgrīdās’s 18th-century hagiographic work, including one in a passage on saint Nārāyaṇdās. Given that this song also appears in Nābhādās’s c. 1600 account, though without Mirabai’s name, the author argues that this may also be a very early record of a Mirabai song.

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                                                                                                              • Śekhāvat, Kalyāṇ Singh. Mīrā Brihatpadavalī. Vol. 2. Jodhpur, India: Rājasthān Prācyavidyā Patiṣṭhān, 1975.

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                                                                                                                Author of this collection carried out extensive manuscript research throughout Rajasthan, and the collection includes 405 songs, more than half not previously published. Provides texts of songs from a manuscript given V.S. 17th-century (c. 1700 CE) date, Caupasani #1667.

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                                                                                                                • Śekhāvat, Kalyāṇ Singh. Mīrāvānī. Jodhpur, India: Garg and Company, 1984.

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                                                                                                                  Collection of songs of Mirabai from manuscripts found in the Maharaja Mansingh Pustak Prakāś, the royal manuscript library of Jodphur. A summary table gives the details of the manuscripts, and the texts of the songs follow, including two from a collection dated 1674 CE.

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                                                                                                                  • Sukul, Lalita Prasād. “Padāvalī Paricay” and “Mīrā Padāvalī.” In Mīrā Smriti Granth. Edited by S. N. Śarmā, et al. Calcutta: Bangāya Hindī Pariṣad, 1949.

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                                                                                                                    This essay presents 103 poems of Mirabai as verifiably authentic, claiming 69 were from a manuscript written by Mirabai’s maidservant Lalita with the full 103 found in a 17th-century collection reproduced in multiple other early manuscripts. Though these claims have been proved false, the collection has been reproduced in Hindi literature.

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                                                                                                                    Major Collections

                                                                                                                    With the advent of print and the development of the academic study of Hindi literature, dedicated collections of poetry attributed to Mirabai began to be published from the mid-19th century. Among these are the popular Belvedere Press collection first published in 1909 (Basu 1934) and Swāmī 1930 (reported to have come from a single manuscript). However, it is Caturvedī 1989, drawn from unspecified sources, that has become the standard, republished in at least eighteen editions, and translated in full in Alston 1980 (cited under General Overviews). Even though its author’s claims of antiquity and authenticity would prove unwarranted (see Early Manuscripts), Sukul 1949 also became an important collection, analyzed and reproduced in multiple scholarly works and providing an integrated set of songs popularly attributed to the saint. The largest collection by far is Swarūp 1957 with 1,312 songs. Śarmā 1967 is of particular note because of the careful annotations the author provides of some sources, and Śekhāvat 1975 adds considerably to the known songs attributed to Mirabai through Śekhāvat’s exhaustive search through available manuscripts. Gupta, et al. 2004 gives a set of 108 poems supposedly selected by consensus as authentically Mirabai’s by an assembly of leading Mirabai scholars from across India in this ongoing debate (though it largely reproduces Sukul 1949).

                                                                                                                    • Basu, Anath Nath, trans. Mirabai: Saint and Singer of India, Her Life and Writings. London: Allen & Unwin, 1934.

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                                                                                                                      English translation of Mīrābāī kī Śabdavali (Ilāhābāda, India: Belvedere Press, 1909), a collection reported to have initially included 39 poems that has been republished in multiple editions with the available 1964 seventh edition including 167 poems. Basu translated a set of fifty poems, first into Bengali and subsequently into English, said to be drawn from this work.

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                                                                                                                      • Caturvedī, Parasurām. Mīrābāī kī Padāvalī. 18th ed. Prayag, India: Hindī Sāhitya Sammelan, 1989.

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                                                                                                                        The most influential collection, published in multiple editions, used in courses on Hindi literature, and translated in full by A. J. Alston (see Alston 1980, cited under English Translations). Containing 202 poems together with commentary with selection criteria indicated, as well as extended introduction to the saint. Originally published in 1932.

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                                                                                                                        • Gupta, Āśutoṣ, Swāmī Om Ānand Saraswatī, and Satyanārāyan Samdāni, eds. Mīrā Padamālā: Mīrābāī ke Prāmānik 108 Pada. Chittorgarh, India: Mīrā Smriti Sansthān, 2004.

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                                                                                                                          Collection of 108 Mirabai songs deemed “authentic” drawn from 147 selected by consensus at a workshop of leading Mirabai scholars from across India convened in Chittor, Rajasthan, in 1993 to review the collections of Sukul, Caturvedī, Purohit Harināryān Śarmā, Narottamdās, and Śekhāwat. However, all but one poem from Sukul included in published selection.

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                                                                                                                          • Śarmā, Purohit Harinarāyan. Mīrā Brihatpadavalī. Vol. 1. Edited by Śekhāvat Kalyāṇ Singh. Jodhpur, India: Rājasthān Prācyavidyā Patiṣṭhān, 1967.

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                                                                                                                            Includes 662 songs attributed to Mirabai collected by its author from a range of sources over more than forty years of dedicated study of Mirabai. Sources are carefully annotated when available, making this collection an invaluable resource for those researching where particular songs might be found and variants.

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                                                                                                                            • Śekhāvat, Kalyāṇ Singh. Mīrā Brihatpadavalī. Vol. 2. Jodhpur, India: Rājasthān Prācyavidyā Patiṣṭhān, 1975.

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                                                                                                                              Collection of 405 songs with some 215 previously unpublished, drawn from the author’s extensive research in the manuscript libraries of Rajasthan. Supplemented by the author’s Mīrāvānī (Jodhpur, India: Garg and Company, 1984), which adds additional songs from the Māhārājā Mānsingh Pustak Prakāś collections.

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                                                                                                                              • Sukul, Lalita Prasād. “Padāvalī Paricay” and “Mīrā Padāvalī.” In Mīrā Smriti Granth. Edited by S. N. Śarmā, et al. Calcutta: Bangāya Hindī Pariṣad, 1949.

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                                                                                                                                Sukul published this collection of 103 poems, claiming they were the authentic works of Mirabai based on early manuscripts. Though many scholars have rejected his claim, others continue to accept it. An important collection nevertheless, as an example of songs commonly recognized among scholars as “authentic” Mirabai songs.

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                                                                                                                                • Swāmī, Narottamdās. Mīrā Mandākinī. Agra, India: Gaya Prasad and Sons, 1930.

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                                                                                                                                  Author claims that this collection of 161 songs was drawn from a single 19th- or 20th-century manuscript from a Ramsnehi branch of Vaishnava devotion, with the songs in a pure form of Rajasthani (though it is unclear whether this is original to the manuscript or an editorial imposition).

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                                                                                                                                  • Swarūp, Swāmī Ānanda. Mīrā Sudhā Sindhu. Bhīlwārā, India: Śrī Mīrā Prakāśan Samiti, 1957.

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                                                                                                                                    The largest single collection with 1,312 songs attributed to Mirabai assembled from unidentified sources. Some songs are variants of others within the collection. Provides an excellent source to review the breadth of songs attributed to the saint and also to compare variations across collections.

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                                                                                                                                    English Translations

                                                                                                                                    A considerable number of English translations of Mirabai’s poetry begin to appear starting in the 19th century, initially a few songs accompanying short descriptions of her life story but then in the form of dedicated volumes beginning in 1901. However, it is Alston 1980, a translation of Caturvedī’s 202 poems (Caturvedī 1989, cited under Major Collections), that proves the most influential reference outside of India for subsequent poets and interpreters alike. Also drawing primarily on Caturvedī, Hawley and Juergensmeyer 2004 offers a set of translations that are both accurate and poetically beautiful, as does Kishwar and Vanita 1989, while Mukta 1994 (cited under General Overviews) provides translations of poems from oral traditions. Futehally 1994 offers a personal interpretation for those familiar with Mirabai, even as a classical singer might, drawing on an alternate source. Schelling 1998 and Bly and Hirschfield 2004 provide further interpretations of Mirabai, offering not only English but American cultural translations even as the voices of these talented poets and those of Mirabai merge. Martin 2010 provides a comparative review of these and other English translations, and Prabhā 1974 is an indispensable tool for those engaged in translation.

                                                                                                                                    • Alston, A. J., trans. The Devotional Poems of Mira Bai. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1980.

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                                                                                                                                      Set of 202 poems drawn from Caturvedī’s canonical work (Caturvedī 1989, cited under Major Collections). Translations are accurate and consistent, if sometimes in overly formal language. This collection serves as an essential reference for subsequent American translators, particularly for those unfamiliar with Hindi.

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                                                                                                                                      • Bly, Robert, and Jane Hirschfield, trans. Mirabai: Ecstatic Poems. Boston: Beacon, 2004.

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                                                                                                                                        Combines Bly’s groundbreaking first translations of four poems of Mirabai in 1980 with his subsequent work as well as with translations by Hirschfield in a compelling set of fifty-two lively poems. Includes introductory essays by translators and an afterword by J. S. Hawley. Beautiful poetry and accessible 20th-century American interpretation of the saint.

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                                                                                                                                        • Futehally, Shama, trans. In the Dark of the Heart: Songs of Meera. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1994.

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                                                                                                                                          Translations of thirty Mirabai songs side by side with the original texts. Offers a sensitive interpretation informed by the author’s personal affinity for the saint, one that readily appeals to those familiar with Mirabai’s poetry, as Subbulakshmi’s opening praise confirms. Not as accessible to the uninitiated and sometimes varies significantly from source.

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                                                                                                                                          • Hawley, John Stratton, and Mark Juergensmeyer, trans. Songs of the Saints of India. Rev. ed. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004.

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                                                                                                                                            A set of twelve poems of Mirabai, drawn primarily from Caturvedī (Caturvedī 1989, cited under Major Collections) carefully selected to represent aspects of Mirabai’s oeuvre and translated with both accuracy and poetic beauty. An excellent introduction to Mirabai’s works and ideal comparison to more free translations like Bly and Schelling. Originally published in 1988.

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                                                                                                                                            • Kishwar, Madhu, and Ruth Vanita. “Poison to Nectar: The Life and Work of Mirabai.” In Special Issue: Women Bhakta Poets. Manushi 50–52 (1989): 74–93.

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                                                                                                                                              Thirty-two poems interspersed within text, drawn primarily from Caturvedī (Caturvedī 1989 cited under Major Collections) and translated by S. M. Pandey and Norman Zide (unpublished mimeograph, University of Chicago, 1964) or by Ruth Vanita. Poetic, close translations on wide variety of topics, contextualized in analysis of Mirabai’s devotion and resistance to normative gender expectations.

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                                                                                                                                              • Martin, Nancy M. “Mirabai Comes to America: The Translation and Transformation of a Saint.” Journal of Hindu Studies 3 (2010): 12–35.

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                                                                                                                                                Reviews English translations with particular attention to those produced in the United States and influencing American understandings of the saint, including Alston, Bly, Hirschfield, Futehally, and Schelling. Examines the nature of these translations in relation to traditions of composition in Mirabai’s name in India and variations found in manuscripts.

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                                                                                                                                                • Prabhā, Śaśi. Mīrāṃ Kośa. Allahabad, India: Smṛti Prakāśana, 1974.

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                                                                                                                                                  A Mirabai dictionary, specifically for the collection of Parasurām Caturvedī (Caturvedī 1989, cited under Major Collections) that is an invaluable tool for those engaged in the translation of poetry attributed to Mirabai, including Alston 1980.

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                                                                                                                                                  • Schelling, Andrew. For Love of the Dark One: Songs of Mirabai. Rev. ed. Prescott, AZ: Hohm, 1998.

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                                                                                                                                                    A powerful rendition of Mirabai’s poetry by an author who is first and foremost a poet and understands Mirabai as “fearless, passionate, defiant and clear-eyed”—a rebel more than a mere devotee—yet is sensitive to the spiritual depth as well as the embodied passion of her songs. Originally published in 1993.

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                                                                                                                                                    Devotion

                                                                                                                                                    Mirabai is before all else a bhakta, or devotee, and any study of her poetry or life story necessarily addresses her devotion, though this also becomes the central focus of a number of works, particularly in the Hindi literature. As a devotee of the Divine with form (saguna), specifically of Krishna, she describes him in her poetry in standard iconographic terms, both in longing for his presence and in standing before him. She speaks of anticipating his coming and the bliss of meeting her divine beloved and husband but even more of love in separation (viraha) and the intense longing to once again experience his presence, even as she knows he also dwells within her heart. She implores him in standard vinaya forms to rescue her or give her refuge even as he has so many other past devotees and accuses him of abandoning her, even calling him a jogi or renouncer and using images drawn from the Nath tradition. Elsewhere, she speaks in terms that are more aniconic in nature and of a merger that fits easily into a more generalized conception of the Divine as beyond form (nirguna). Hawley and Juergensmeyer 2004 provides a short introduction to the nature of her devotion, as does Kishwar and Vanita 1989. Pandey and Zide 1963 offers a more extended analysis, characterizing her devotion as midway between those Krishna devotees who focus primarily on the love of Radha and Krishna and the nirgun Sant poets. Hawley 2005 provides a nuanced discussion of saguna and nirguna perspectives, challenging any hard and fast line between the two, and also examines Mirabai’s alternating characterization of her relationship with her Lord as that of wife and husband and as that of fellow renouncers. Martinez 2009 suggests that the highly saguna descriptions in Mira’s poetry and the longing for darshan (to see and be seen by the Lord) may also reflect the place of temple and image worship in Mirabai’s spiritual practice. Mirabai’s devotion is a central theme in the popular biography Behari 2008. Nilsson 1969 situates Mirabai’s devotion in standard Vaishnava orientations and practices, and in contrast Sethi 1988 provides a popular more nirgun reading.

                                                                                                                                                    • Behari, Bankey. The Story of Mira Bai. Gorakhpur, India: Gita, 2008.

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                                                                                                                                                      This widely distributed (twelfth reprint), influential telling of Mirabai’s tale portrays her as the virtual embodiment of devotion and interweaves explanations of devotional Hinduism and her particular practice of it through the telling of her story. Excellent introduction to the lived experience of devotional Hinduism. Originally published in 1935. Also published in multiple editions as Bhakta Mira by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay.

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                                                                                                                                                      • Hawley, John Stratton. Three Bhakti Voices: Mirabai, Surdas and Kabir in Their Times and Ours. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

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                                                                                                                                                        The chapter titled “Mirabai as Wife and Yogi” (pp. 117–138) explores the alternating imagery in Mirabai’s poems of marriage to the Lord and of relating as one yogi or renouncer to another, the former marked by love and the latter by longing. The chapter “The Nirgun/Sagun Distinction” suggests the fluid nature of the boundaries between these two orientations.

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                                                                                                                                                        • Hawley, John Stratton, and Mark Juergensmeyer. Songs of the Saints of India. Rev. ed. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004.

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                                                                                                                                                          Analyzes Mirabai’s devotion through poetry, offering illustrative, accurate, and compelling translations and comparisons to other bhakti poets. Notes a clear distinction between Mirabai and the gopis in some poems, the merging of their identities in others, and both nirgun and sagun elements together with interweaving themes of marriage and renunciation. Originally published in 1988.

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                                                                                                                                                          • Kishwar, Madhu, and Ruth Vanita. “Poison to Nectar: The Life and Work of Mirabai.” In Special Issue: Women Bhakta Poets. Manushi 50–52 (1989): 74–93.

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                                                                                                                                                            Includes discussion of Mirabai’s devotion, contextualized within that of other women devotees and bhakti more generally. Highlighting her orientation toward God as husband and lover, her approach as servant, her Lord as a source of delight rather than fear or command, and her simultaneous longing and realization of God as in-dwelling.

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                                                                                                                                                            • Martinez, Chloe. “Meera’s Puja: Images of Temple Worship in the Poetry of Meerabai.” In Giradhar Anurāgī Mīrā. Edited by Kalyan Singh Shekhawat and Mahendra Singh Nagar, 331–340. Jodhpur, India: Maharaja Mansingh Pustak Prakash Shodh Kendra, 2009.

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                                                                                                                                                              Relates Mirabai’s songs describing Krishna’s appearance in detail and her expressions of longing for darshan to temple worship. Notes the stillness of many of the descriptions as if standing before an image and associates the longing and anticipation articulated with standard periods when the temple doors are closed.

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                                                                                                                                                              • Nilsson, Usha S. Mira Bai. New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1969.

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                                                                                                                                                                Translation of fifty songs of Mirabai with extended introduction. Discussion of Mirabai’s bhakti (pp. 21–28) situating her devotion in Vaishnava traditions. Mirabai is compared to the gopis with a devotion combining sakhya and madhurya bhāv (the emotional stance of devoted friends and of lovers) and following standard Vaishnava practices.

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                                                                                                                                                                • Pandey, S. M., and Norman Zide. “Mirabai and Her Contributions to the Bhakti Movement.” History of Religions 5.1 (Summer 1963): 54–73.

                                                                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1086/462514E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                  Comprehensive introduction emphasizing Mirabai’s identification of Krishna as her husband, the theme of love in separation (viraha), and the presence of nirgun elements in her poetry, placing her midway between Krishna devotees focused on the love play of Radha and Krishna and the Sant devotees of the Lord Beyond Form (pp. 65–73).

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                                                                                                                                                                  • Sethi, V. K. Mira: The Divine Lover. 2d ed. Punjab, India: Radha Soami Satsang Beas, 1988.

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                                                                                                                                                                    A publication of the Radha Soami sect, this presentation of Mirabai’s life, teachings, and poetry emphasizes nirgun rather than sagun elements, particular her advocating the recitation of the name of God, describing the ultimate goal as a merging union, and her affiliation with Ravidas (also known as Raidas and Rohidas) as her guru. First edition published in 1979.

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                                                                                                                                                                    Gender and Feminist Analysis

                                                                                                                                                                    As Mirabai is one of a limited number of female bhakti poets, her poems are spoken both in the name of the feminine soul before the male Divine and by a very real woman who refused to live within the patriarchal feudal and caste structures of her society—and who suffered greatly for doing so, as her story makes clear. As a result, almost all writing about Mirabai addresses gender in some way, but a select number of works offer in-depth analysis. Hawley 2005 examines the contrasting use of imagery of wife and yogi (renouncer) in Mirabai’s poetry, and Harlan 1995 explores her marginal status with respect to norms for women as virgin wife, sati, widow, and devotee. Kishwar and Vanita 1989 also explores this gendered imagery in detail and wrestles with Mirabai’s symbolic meaning. Sangari 2006 argues that her transposition of the language of patriarchal relations to her relationship with Krishna undermines her liberative power for women. Mukta 1994, in contrast, argues for the “people’s Mira” as a strong voice of dissent, dignity, and resistance to those patriarchal structures, as do Bhatanagar, et al. 2004 and Bhatanagar, et al. 2005 in their feminist cultural history. Anderson 1998 builds on Mukta 1994, incorporating Mirabai into the author’s feminist philosophy of religion.

                                                                                                                                                                    • Anderson, Pamela Sue. A Feminist Philosophy of Religion: The Rationality and Myths of Religious Belief. Oxford: Blackwell, 1998.

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                                                                                                                                                                      Drawing on Mukta 1994, Anderson writes that Mirabai (with Antigone) exemplifies religious belief as rational passion, marked not by passive acceptance of patriarchal and religious norms but by the rational, conscious choice to remain steadfastly devoted to God and to embrace marginality in an act of dissent and passionate yearning for love and freedom.

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                                                                                                                                                                      • Bhatanagar, Rashmi, Renu Dube, and Reena Dube. “Meera’s Medieval Lyric Poetry in Postcolonial India: The Rhetorics of Women’s Writing in Dialect as a Secular Practice of Subaltern Co-authorship and Dissent.” Boundary 2 31.3 (Fall 2004): 1–46.

                                                                                                                                                                        DOI: 10.1215/01903659-31-3-1E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                        Grapples seriously with the issue of coauthorship within the tradition but in the end offers a 20th-century feminist reading of the traditions of Mirabai, affirming the power of Mirabai’s voice in resisting patriarchal familial and feudal structures of authority via religious language.

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                                                                                                                                                                        • Bhatanagar, Rashmi, Renu Dube, and Reena Dube. Female Infanticide in India: A Feminist Cultural History. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2005.

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                                                                                                                                                                          A reading of Mirabai’s poetry as a coauthored tradition with codes that are an “open secret,” allowing others also to participate in its challenge to Rajput marriage norms, commodification of women, female infanticide, wealth accumulation, and assertion of alternative anti-patriarchal values. See chapters 6 and 7 (pp. 169–233).

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                                                                                                                                                                          • Harlan, Lindsey. “Abandoning Shame: Mira and the Margins of Marriage.” In From the Margins of Hindu Marriage: Essays on Gender, Religion, and Culture. Edited by Lindsey Harlan and Paul B. Courtright, 204–227 New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

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                                                                                                                                                                            Drawing on interviews with Rajput women, Harlan explores their ambivalence toward the saint, Mirabai’s violation of seclusion and pativratā ideals, and her marginal status as virgin wife but also ascetic, widow, sati, and bhakta––subversive but also indirectly supportive through transgressions that highlight norms and her claim to be married to Krishna.

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                                                                                                                                                                            • Hawley, John Stratton. Three Bhakti Voices: Mirabai, Surdas and Kabir in Their Times and Ours. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

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                                                                                                                                                                              Includes the essay “Mirabai as Wife and Yogi” (originally published in 1990), which explores Mirabai’s contrasting use of images of marriage (transposed to human-divine relation) with images of renouncer (a role traditionally closed to women), and the essay “Morality beyond Morality” (originally published in 1987), on saints, exploring Mirabai’s fearlessness.

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                                                                                                                                                                              • Kishwar, Madhu, and Ruth Vanita. “Poison to Nectar: The Life and Work of Mirabai.” In Special Issue: Women Bhakta Poets. Manushi 50–52 (1989): 74–93.

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                                                                                                                                                                                Analyzes Mirabai’s life and poetic imagery in the context of gender norms and women in bhakti (Hindu devotion) and her role as a symbol for women, or at least a prototype for strong creative women, who face violent opposition but persevere, ultimately coming to be highly honored in India.

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                                                                                                                                                                                • Mukta, Parita. Upholding the Common Life: The Community of Mirabai. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1994.

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                                                                                                                                                                                  Presents Mirabai’s voice as speaking against patriarchal structures of oppression and as belonging primarily to women and people of lower caste who form the “imagined community” of Mirabai. Portrayals of Mirabai that appear to be complicit with patriarchy are identified as a betrayal of the original traditions, including Gandhi’s appropriation.

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                                                                                                                                                                                  • Sangari, Kumkum. “Mirabai: The Female Voice and Oral Compositions.” In History of Science, Philosophy and Culture in Indian Civilization. Vol. 7, Part 2: Religious Movements and Institutions in Medieval India. Edited by J. S. Grewal, 228–260. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2006.

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                                                                                                                                                                                    Sophisticated analysis of Mirabai’s poetry with regard to bhakti and orthodox religion, upper-caste patriarchy and autonomy, and contrasting male and female use of feminine voice. Argues that Mirabai’s use of patriarchal imagery of servanthood and marriage with respect to God ultimately undercuts her revolutionary potential. Revised version of 1990 essay.

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                                                                                                                                                                                    Exemplary Power for Women

                                                                                                                                                                                    Mirabai plays a significant role in some women’s lives, both in their own self-understanding and the wider society’s coming to terms with their choices to live outside of the norms of marriage and motherhood. Martin 1996 documents Vaishnava women religious leaders who “live like Mira,” and Napoli 2010 examines Mirabai’s exemplary role among Dasnami and Nath female sadhus in Rajasthan. In Horstmann 2003, the saint provides a precedent for the unorthodox religious life of a Mewari woman from a highly respected family; Roy and Devi 1985 details Indira Devi’s ongoing direct experiences of Mirabai and her own development as a bhakti poet-singer and spiritual teacher. Schomer 1983 offers an alternate nonreligious example in the life of unmarried Gandhian social activist and poet Mahadevi Varma. Pechelis 2004 provides a helpful comparison with female Hindu gurus and Harlan 1992 a contrasting view of Mirabai by married Rajput women.

                                                                                                                                                                                    • Harlan, Lindsey. Religion and Rajput Women: The Ethic of Protection in Contemporary Narratives. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992.

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                                                                                                                                                                                      Explores the views of Mirabai among Rajput women in Udaipur in the 1980s. In their view, Mirabai was never a proper wife but her reprehensible actions are mitigated by her claim to be married to Krishna and Krishna’s final affirmation of this union in her merger with his image (pp. 205–222).

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                                                                                                                                                                                      • Horstmann, Monika, trans. Banasa: A Spiritual Autobiography. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 2003.

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                                                                                                                                                                                        The autobiography of a Mewari (merchant caste) woman in Rajasthan who takes up an independent religious life, drawing on Mirabai as the precedent for her unorthodox behavior.

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                                                                                                                                                                                        • Martin, Nancy M. “Mirabai: Inscribed in Text, Embodied in Life.” In Vaiṣṇavī: Women and the Worship of Krishna. Edited by Stephen Rosen. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1996.

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                                                                                                                                                                                          Study of four different women who have dedicated their lives to Krishna and become religious leaders; who sing, dance, and/or compose devotional songs; and who identify with and are identified by others with the saint Mirabai. First published in the Journal of Vaisnava Studies, 1995.

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                                                                                                                                                                                          • DeNapoli, Antoinette E. “‘Crossing Over the Ocean of Existence’: Performing ‘Mysticism’ and Exerting Power by Female Sādhus in Rajasthan.” Journal of Hindu Studies 3.3 (2010): 298–336.

                                                                                                                                                                                            DOI: 10.1093/jhs/hiq026E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                            Mirabai figures prominently in the self-understanding of these upper-caste female sadhus of the Nath and Dasnami sects living in the Mewar region of Rajasthan, as a woman devotee-renouncer like themselves and one who merged with God in loving union, consistent with nirgun conceptions of the divine common to these sects.

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                                                                                                                                                                                            • Pechelis, Karen, ed. The Graceful Guru: Hindu Female Gurus in India and the United States. Based partly on a panel presented by the Religion in South Asia Section at the American Academy of Religion meeting in Boston, 1999. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

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                                                                                                                                                                                              Useful reference to explore women’s religious leadership in Hinduism. Facilitates comparison of the saint Mirabai and the women spiritual leaders identified with her with quite different Hindu female gurus. Note that the guru “Mother Meera” has taken the saint’s name but has no other connection to her.

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                                                                                                                                                                                              • Roy, Dilip Kumar, and Indira Devi. Pilgrims of the Stars: Autobiography of Two Yogis. Porthill, ID: Timeless Books, 1985.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                Documents Indira Devi’s encounters with Mirabai in states of samadhi (meditative trance). She recounted songs of Mirabai and stories she witnessed and ultimately began to compose her own “Mira songs,” with Mirabai serving as guru to her guru Dilip Kumar Roy via Indira. Originally published in 1973.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                • Schomer, Karine. Mahadevi Varma and the Chhayavad Age of Modern Hindi Poetry. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                  A detailed study of the life and work of Mahadevi Varma, a Gandhian social activist and poet who never married, who was identified by others with Mirabai and who embraced that identification.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                  Performance, Oral Traditions, and Resistance

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Mirabai’s songs and stories originated in oral traditions and continue to exist in this form into the present, performed by singers in urban and rural contexts, in homes and temples, in concert halls and recording studios. Among low-caste communities in particular, these traditions remain dynamic and popular, and the songs performed speak of devotion and spiritual renunciation but also resonate with the experiences of everyday life—love and romance, caste and gender oppression, suffering and struggle, abandonment and joy, commitment and fearlessness. Martin 1999 and Martin 2000 detail low-caste Mirabai traditions of story and song in rural Rajasthan, and Panjabi 2002 documents them on film. Bryce 1961 offers a useful comparison to more general women’s folk songs in the same region. But it is Mukta 1994 that offers the most extensive analysis of low-caste oral traditions in Rajasthan and Saurashtra (Gujarat), arguing that Mirabai belongs primarily to these communities. Guha 1985 suggested that such bhakti songs in the end support oppression by spiritualizing servitude, but Mukta 1994 offers a dramatically different analysis of the power of Mirabai’s voice for resistance and the assertion of dignity and equality among low-caste people. Bhatanagar, et al. 2004 extends this argument, emphasizing the power of specifically religious language to voice resistance to secular oppression. Shukla Bhatt 2007 examines the role of performance in translating Mirabai into new linguistic and cultural contexts in Gujarat, building on Mukta and demonstrating the constant circulation of traditions among written, oral, and visual sources.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  • Bhatanagar, Rashmi, Renu Dube, and Reena Dube. “Meera’s Medieval Lyric Poetry in Postcolonial India: The Rhetorics of Women’s Writing in Dialect as a Secular Practice of Subaltern Coauthorship and Dissent.” Boundary 2 31.3 (Fall 2004): 1–46.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1215/01903659-31-3-1E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                    Argues against Guha that the religious language of bhakti provides a powerful vehicle for dissent and resistance to wider social structures of oppression, focusing particularly on the coauthored song traditions associated with Mirabai and drawing songs from a wide array of sources.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                    • Bryce, L. Winifred. Women’s Folk-Songs of Rajputana. Delhi: Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, 1961.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                      An excellent reference to compare the imagery and structure of songs attributed to Mirabai with more general women’s folk song traditions in Rajasthan.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Guha, Ranajit. “Dominance without Hegemony and Its Historiography.” In Subaltern Studies IV: Writings on South Asian History and Society. Edited by Ranajit Guha. Delhi and New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                        Pivotal essay asserting that bhakti poetry is not a language of dissent but rather promotes collaboration with dominance by spiritualizing servitude, a charge that must be addressed directly by those claiming Mirabai’s traditions to be an empowering language of resistance for women and members of low castes.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Martin, Nancy M. “Mira Janma Patri and Other Tales of Resistance and Appropriation.” In Religion, Ritual, and Royalty. Edited by Rajendra Joshi and N. K. Singhi. Jaipur, India: Rawat, 1999.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                          Presents and analyzes the tale of Mirabai as it appears in the very low-caste epic song “Mira Janma Patri” (Mira’s horoscope or birth story) performed in Rajasthan, in which caste figures prominently as does Mira’s realistic struggle to negotiate multiple levels of coercion and misunderstanding, ending ultimately in her exile.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                          • Martin, Nancy M. “Mirabai and Kabir in Rajasthani Folk Traditions: Meghwal and Manganiyar Repertoires.” In The Banyan Tree: Essays on Early Literature in New Indo-Aryan Languages; Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Early Literature in New Indo-Aryan Languages, Venice, 1997. Edited by Mariola Offredi. Delhi: Manohar, 2000.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                            Analyzes Rajasthani folk traditions of Mirabai and Kabir, sung by professional caste musicians and by very low-caste devotional performers, detailing the context and content of performance and allowing for comparison, to highlight what is specific to Mirabai in this milieu. The leatherworker Raidas (Ravidas, Rohidas) appears as Mirabai’s guru.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                            • Mukta, Parita. Upholding the Common Life: The Community of Mirabai. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1994.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                              Extensive study of oral traditions of Mirabai among low-caste communities in Rajasthan and Saurashtra (Gujarat), arguing that the traditions of Mirabai belong primarily to these communities and provide a rich resource for resistance to patriarchal, feudal, and caste oppression and the assertion of solidarity, dignity, and alternate values.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                              • Panjabi, Anjali, dir. A Few Things I Know about Her. Mumbai: Films Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, 2002.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                This award-winning documentary film explores the wealth of sometimes contradictory stories, songs, and images of Mirabai in rural Rajasthan, portraying the saint as a living presence in the lives of communities and individuals. Awarded the Silver Conch, Mumbai International Film Festival, and Golden Lotus, Indian National Film Awards.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                • Shukla Bhatt, Neelima. “Performance as Translation: Mīrā in Gujarat.” International Journal of Hindu Studies 11.3 (2007): 273–298.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1007/s11407-008-9053-0E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Examines the translation of Mirabai’s songs into Gujarati language, culture, and devotion through active performance and participation, tracing multiple sources of influence and Mirabai’s appeal as a figure of strength and resistance across caste and class, in contrast to Mukta’s claim that she functions in this way primarily for low-caste communities.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Gandhi and Mirabai

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Gandhi’s portrayal of Mirabai as an exemplary practitioner of non-violence and a model for women’s uplift have been seen alternately as betrayal of the saint (Mukta 1994) and as empowering to women (Kishwar and Vanita 1989). Mirabai’s place in his thinking must be understood within his wider and evolving understanding of women and gender. See Kishwar 1985 and Patel 1988 (which includes a review of Kishwar 1985). Drawing on Mukta 1994, Anderson 1998 sets Gandhi’s portrayal of the saint in a larger context of patriarchal religious rhetoric. Gandhi’s original writings related to the saint are available in Gandhi 1959–1983. Gandhi named his close British disciple Madelaine Slade after the saint, and for further information about her life and relation to him, see Slade 1960. Slade’s relationship with Gandhi and parallels between her life and that of the saint are explored fictionally in Kakar 2008.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • Anderson, Pamela Sue. A Feminist Philosophy of Religion. Oxford: Blackwell, 1998.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Relying entirely on Mukta 1994, Anderson presents Gandhi’s portrayal of Mirabai as a conversion of her subversion into submission, her dissent into consent, and her marginality into a given rather than a rational and conscious choice to be a voluntary outsider by a passionate individual woman dedicated to God.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • Gandhi, Mahatma. The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi. Delhi: Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, 1959–1983.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Extensive references to Mirabai appear throughout Gandhi’s collected writings, correspondence, and speeches and are easily accessed through the excellent index for this extensive work; the development of these ideas can be traced across the years through the sequential volumes.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Kakar, Sudhir. The Seeker: A Novel. Boston: Trumpeter, 2008.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Novel by noted psychoanalyst, exploring the relationship between Mirabehn (Madeleine Slade) and Gandhi. Though fictionalized, this account draws heavily on their own autobiographical writings, diaries, and correspondence as well as the correspondence and memories of others. Relates Mirabehn’s inner life to the songs and character of Mirabai.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Kishwar, Madhu. “Gandhi and Women.” Economic and Political Weekly 20.40 (1985): 1691–1702.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Nuanced analysis of Gandhi’s ideas on women, balancing his important role in advocating reforms (on such issues as child marriage, dowry, and widow remarriage) and in bringing women into the forefront of the freedom movement against his personal relations with women and attitudes toward sexuality and purity. Continued in Economic and Political Weekly 20.41 (1985): 1753–1758.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • Kishwar, Madhu, and Ruth Vanita. “Gandhi’s Mira.” In Special Issue: Women Bhakta Poets. Manushi 50–52 (January–June 1989): 86–87.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Recounts Gandhi’s use of Mirabai as a premier example of satyāgraha (“truth force” of nonviolence) but also as a model for women of autonomy, individuality, and fearlessness; also treats Gandhi’s personal affinity for her as a symbol for the power of love and as one who willingly abandoned the things of the world.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • Mukta, Parita. Upholding the Common Life: The Community of Mirabai. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1994.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Detailed analysis of Gandhi’s invocation of Mirabai, critiquing him for betraying the people’s Mirabai by turning her into an instrument to uphold rather than challenge patriarchal structures (a loving wife who willingly endured suffering to convert her husband) and failing to draw on her example in his fight against caste oppression.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                              • Patel, Sujata. “Construction and Reconstruction of Woman in Gandhi.” Economic and Political Weekly 23.8 (1988): 377–387

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                An analysis of Gandhi’s evolving understanding of women, marked by complementary equality of gender roles grounded in middle-class, nationalist assumptions, generating a high valuation of woman as wife and mother but also political agent and an independent option for the celibate woman devoted to the welfare of the nation, paralleling widowhood.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • Slade, Madeleine (Mirabehn). The Spirit’s Pilgrimage. London: Orient Longmans, 1960.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  An account of her life in the first person by Mirabehn, Gandhi’s British female disciple who worked extremely closely with him.

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