Upholding the Common Life: The Community of Mirabai

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Oxford University Press, 1994 - Social Science - 269 pages
Mirabai, the legendary princess of Mewar, is revered as a saint all over India. It will therefore come as a surprising revelation that in her own home state of Rajasthan her name was often used as a term of abuse for promiscuous women. Mira, a devotee of Krishna, refused to accept the King of Chittor as her husband, thereby defying male prerogative, as well as Rajput honour, especially the honour of the powerful ruling clan of the Sisodias. The Rajputs retaliated against this public humiliation by suppressing her name not only in written records but in the very fabric of Rajasthan society itself. The devotional songs or bhajans of Mira, so popular all over the country, were not sung openly in Rajasthan until recently. But the poet-saint Mira did live on in the minds of ordinary people. Parita Mukta has used bhajans heard during her field work in Rajasthan and Gujarat to construct a powerful image of the 'people's Mira', which says as much about those who sing her bhajans as about the saint herself. We see here the complex nature of community formation of socially marginalized people based on retrieving a common history. The upholding of Mira's memory through the singing of her bhajans validates a 'people's morality' separate and distinct from the 'official morality'. This book makes interesting use of bhajans to give shape to popular culture. It maps out the changing contours of Mira bhakti from feudal times through the nationalist period - when Gandhi described Mira as the foremost Satyagrahi - to recent representations in films, calendar art and audio cassettes.

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