Mirabai – Hindu Devotee and Poet
This post is one of a five-part series on women mystics, one from each of the five major world religions: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. Click here for the full series.
Mirabai was a 16th century Indian Hindu mystic and teacher famous for her devotional poems and songs. From a young age, Mirabai demonstrated profound religious fervor, particularly for the Hindu deity Krishna. She worshipped his image daily, and often claimed to have visions of him. Born into a religious upper caste family, her devotion was initially encouraged by her parents, but they eventually came to view it as excessive, and as a hindrance to her household responsibilities.
As was customary, she married at a young age to a man selected by her family. However, she soon ended up in conflict with her in-laws over her spiritual longings and refusal to worship their own family deity. According to legend, she spent hours every evening worshiping Krishna through religious prayer and song, often entering into ecstatic trances. Her husband and in-laws became increasingly angry with her, and threatened to throw her out of the house.
When Mirabai’s husband died at a young age, his family ordered her to commit suicide, as was legally their right at the time. But Mirabai refused, saying Lord Krishna had ordered her otherwise. After much suffering in the household, she eventually escaped and moved to the holy city of Vrindavan to live the life of a penniless devotee, studying with local saints, a fate unheard of for a woman of her caste.
Although at first she was scorned by many for her intense practices and trances, over time visitors began to see her as a living embodiment of pure and selfless religious devotion. Word of her began to spread, and she developed a following of her own. She composed hundreds of poems and songs in devotion to Krishna, many of which are still well-known within India today. Her poems express a profound love of God through the personage of Krishna, and espouse the path of religious devotion as the highest and most joyful spiritual path.
The other posts in this series are on Margery Kempe (Christian), Hannah Rachel Verbemacher (Jewish), Sukhasiddhi (Buddhist), and Rabia Basri (Islamic). For books on more women mystics, check out the Women’s Spiritual Book List or the Women Mystics page.