Meera is part of history. But she seems to have become more legend in the numerous variations her story has taken. What Romila Thapar calls “social memory” perhaps. The history that people’s minds make. Collective consciousness.
Of one thing we can be certain. She was born in a place called Merta in Rajasthan and was the grand daughter of King Jodha. Jodha was the founder of Jodhpur. She was born in 1498. She lived till 1547. Yes, and she became a devotee of the lord in her childhood. She remained one till the end.
A wedding procession was passing by and Meera the child asked her mother, “Who is my dulha? Who is my bridegroom?”. “Lord Krishna”, replied her mother in jest! From that day Krishna became enshrined in her mind. She had an idol of His and would play with the idol everyday.
In Merta Road, the story they relate is different. Meera’s father Duda, the ruler of Merta, found the idol of Charbhuja – the four-armed Lord Vishnu - under a cow.
The Lord had appeared to him in a vision and told him where to find it. He installed it in the temple and told his daughter to offer milk daily. The child took a bowl of milk and left it in front of the statue, saying, “Drink, otherwise my father will be angry with me.” The next day, when they returned to the temple, the milk was gone.
From that day, she became a devotee of the lord.
The Lord in this temple is in Shantharup – denoting peacefulness. It is Meera who looks angry! Just to the right of the main entrance is a statue of her as a princess glaring at the lord, who is pictured lying recumbent on the rooftop of the main temple.
Changes creep in now to the story. The common version is that she was married to Bhojraj, son of Rana Sangha of Chittor
Others, including Colonel Todd, the well known historian of Rajasthan, say her husband was Rana Kumbha. What does it matter, we may well ask! She remains a devotee of Lord Krishna.
Now, the Rajput tale – please note this is the Rajput tale – says she was a loyal wife to Lord Bhojraj. Bhojraj died early and only then did she devote herself full time to the worship of Lord Krishna.
She refused to commit Sati! Her decision not burn herself live on the funeral pyre of her husband as was the custom was supported both by her father and by her father-in-law.
In the other version, as we have all seen in M S Subbulakshmi’s film, Meera, Bhojraj was angry with her for her total devotion to the lord. She left him in her pursuit of the lord.
I wonder, were the filmmakers of “Meera” afraid to depict the Rajput tale? Her refusal to commit Sati? Not only her father and her father-in-law, but many members of society encouraged her to live. What a powerful symbol she is, of the opposition to the terrible practice of Sati. Is she feted for that? No, her historians mention it almost casually. After all she was Meera, symbol of utmost devotion to Lord Krishna.
Strange, because who was the other inhabitant of Chittor? Meera’s fellow fighter from a different time. Rani Padmini, who committed jauhar (“divine suicide”) along with her female retinue when the marauding Slave Dynasty ruler Alauddin Khilji was at the gates of Chittor a couple of centuries before Meera was born.
Well let us take it that she lived in marital harmony with her husband for many years.
What happened then? What went wrong then? Or was it right?
Bhojraj, or perhaps Kumbha, found more and more that his wife was spending time in the worship of Lord Krishna. Many people reported to him that she spent hours talking to someone. He came himself to her quarters and listened to her. Who was she talking to? Lord Krishna, of course.
People started poisoning her mind – yes, here we know or rather we think we know what happened – the poison incident. But why did Meera’s spouse decide to poison her and kill her?
There were two incidents leading up to this. In the first instance, he told Meera that at least once she should sit with him in the Durbar or court, so that people’s mouths would be shut. She got ready in the Queen’s chambers in all her finery and left for the court hall.
On the way, she heard Krishna geetham – devotional music on Lord Krishna – and she ran instead to His temple. The Rana forgave her, but soon, news started filtering in that she was meeting an old man called Rai Daswal, a cobbler. A member of the so called low castes. He became her guru or teacher. This distressed the Rana. What he did, we don’t know. Perhaps, shouted angrily at her?
In the Meera temple at Chittorgarh there is a sculptural representation that depicts that all castes are one.
Then comes the occurrence that turned Meera’s husband for ever. Her fame had spread far and wide.
Her sabhas and satsanghs (congregations) were thronged. Emperor Akbar came in disguise and listened to her musical discourse. He went away after adorning Meera’s idol of Lord Krishna with a navaratna mala (necklace made of nine gems.) News went to the King and he was disbelieving. What happened? He found the necklace with the emblem of his mortal enemy, the Mughals, adorning Lord Krishna.
He ordered that she be administered poison. She survived, just like Prahlada did. Next, he blasted the temple where she was sitting and worshipping with cannons. Miraculously, her life was not snuffed out. She left and went to Vrindavan.
No matter, I believe to the many historians of the medieval era, that this story appears anachronistic. Akbar lived between 1542 and 1605, making him roughly five years old when Mira merged with the lord.
After this, the different story lines converge. After spending sometime at Vrindavan she went back to her home town of Merta Road and to Dwarka, where she merged with her lord.
She is deemed the foremost exponent of Prema Bhakti or Divine Love.
Merta road is situated in Nagaur District and getting there poses a lot of difficulty. It is off the tourist circuit and only the very persevering or very devout go there. It is a small town with narrow roads that are difficult to navigate. We feel we have come to the wrong back, but the signboards on the shops assert that it is Merta, birthplace of Meera. The road virtually spills onto the temple. We heave a sigh of relief and get off.
It is a pretty but virtually nondescript white structure. It does not look over 400 years old.
Meera’s grandfather Rao Jodha built the temple 550 years ago, according to the temple priests. The idol is of Vishnu, called Charbuja here. He has four arms, bearing the shankha, chakra, gadha and padma. In an inversion of the customary, the lower arms bear the conch and the discus, while the upper arms carry the mace and the flower. This means that the lord is depicting shantha mudhra or peace.
The ornaments made by King Dhudha are common to both Vishnu and Parvathi, which is both the male and the female. Just outside the garbha griha, which has a shikara atop it, are depictions of Lord Vishnu and Goddess Mahalakshmi in seated posture.
The priests belong to the lineage of one Kaluram. He was in the jungle at one time and the lord came in a vision and asked him to do seva or service at the Merta Road temple. After he came to Merta he got married and started a family. He is the poorvaraj of the current priests. The paintings in the enclosed corridor built of red granite, leading to the sanctum sanctorum, are modern, done after the eighties. They depict Lord Krishna, Lord Rama, Lord Shrinathji and many others. Most of them were done in the year 1983. There are paintings on the ceiling too.
At the entrance is a silver figurine of Garuda, the vehicle of Lord Vishnu. The large silver doors that open out onto the corridor are carved with the 24 incarnations of Lord Vishnu. In Rajasthan this is the belief, contrary to the common belief that he incarnated 10 times – Dasavatar. An illustration is Dhanvantri, which is Lord Vishnu in medicinal form. The first avatar is not Mathsya but Sanathkumara. Others include Narasimha, Rishabdev, Naranarayana, Hayagreev, Kaschyap, Kapildev, Budha, Mohini.
The outer mantap is pillared. It is fully covered in Rajasthani style with paintings and gold work and silver work. The marble outer door has the doorkeepers or dwarapalakas sculpted on them. To the right of these doors is a statue of Garuda and to the left, a statue of Hanuman. The pillared hall extends on either side and behind the sanctum sanctorum. During the circumambulation one comes across the prabhudwar – its equivalent in the south being the vaikuntavasal or gateway to the heavens.
We do the round after the priests interrupt their tale for the harathi. For this a dozen or so local men stand in formation at the door and sing a chant peculiar to the south Indian ears, to the sound of a gong. The gong resembles a flat dosa plate, which is struck. It is not a bell. The silver lamp used for the harathi is shaped like a serpent. Harathi is taken for the Meerabhai idol in the temple too. There are two such idols.
The temple has paintings of Lord Srinivasa and Padmavathi of Tirupathi in Andhra Pradesh and Goddess Andal with the Srivilliputhur Temple in Tamil Nadu, where she is the main deity, in the background. These are gifts.
To the right of the prabhudwar there are tableaux-like depictions of Radhakrishna and the cave temple of Vaishnodevi.
Lord Charbhuja is decorated every year after Basant Panchami.
Outisde the temple is a statue of Sant Raidas, Meera’s guru. The entrance to the temple is in nagara style.
As one enters the temple, there is a marble-paved courtyard. To the left is an idol of Meerabai and she is looking upwards. She is looking at the carving of a recumbent Lord Vishnu on the white ceiling or rooftop of the main temple.
It is best to stay in Jaipur and go by road to Merta Road. A very good hotel to stay in Jaipur is the award- winning Arya Niwas. Foreigners stay there for days on end, and use it as a base to leave their luggage and travel to different parts of Rajasthan.
Their “alu pudina” (potatoes flavoured with mint) is something to talk about. Non AC economy double is advertised at Rs 1200 and AC value small double at Rs 1600. Phone 911414073450 and 911414073400 email firstname.lastname@example.org
Address: Behind Amber Towers, Sansar Chandra Road, Jaipur 302001
If Arya Niwas is booked up, one can stay in Jai Niwas. All rooms are air conditioned. AC Family Deluxe with four beds is quoted at Rs 2400 per night while AC Economy double is Rs 1300. The rooms are heated in winter. Phone 911412363964
Address: Jalupura Scheme, Near LIC office, off MI Road, Jaipur 302001
Access: Merta Road is about 200 km from Jaipur and one can take a taxi or a bus to the town.
Weather: Best in autumn and winter