M eera Vs. Meera is an English translation of Madhav Hada’s highly acclaimed Pachrang Chola Pahar Sakhi Ri , done by Pradeep Trikha. Published five years ago, the original Hindi book is a profound deliberation on Meera’s life as it has been perceived in mainstream scholarship since the 16th century.
Hada convincingly rectifies the scholarship on Meera’s life, establishing her as an empowered princess and a poised human being, and not just a saint crazed with devotion. Moreover, he argues that Meera cannot be seen as either a rebel in a patriarchal system or a ‘vulnerable and socially ostracised woman’. With the eye of a mature scholar, Hada reflects on the entire range of traditional hagiographic material including Priyadas’s Bhaktirasbodhini and Bhavishyapurana, as well as the early European conjectures about Meera’s life by Colonel James Tod in his 19th-century orientalist work, Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan, along with the folklore or kimvadantis about Meera’s mystical character. Much has been added to the latter and much has been lost over the past 500 years, yet scholarship has not been hesitant in using this material freely alongside other historical sources .
Hada emphasises the fact that Rajasthan — like any other society — was a socio-politically vibrant and dynamic space, in Meera’s time and later too. This fact is often ignored by ideologues and image-makers who perceive Meera through their own coloured lens. For instance, Marxist scholars celebrate Meera’s egalitarian spirit. Feminists see a rebel in her. Others see her as a victim of patriarchy. Religious pundits appropriated her mysticism and devotion to propagate the idea of god either as an immanent or transcendent entity, or both.
As Hada aptly says, “Meera’s poetry, being flexible and diverse, and not being confined to historical bounds, allowed the critics to obtain what they were looking for.” When they looked for piety and righteousness to bill her as belonging to the saguna tradition, they found plenty of references in her poetry; those who looked for nirguna attributes weren’t disappointed either. But Meera’s life can’t be reduced to serve the doctrinal objectives of any single ideology, religion or school of thought.
The book brings to life Meera’s persona as a historical woman who was born with privileges and powers and who was evolved enough to make her choices in the given circumstances. The writer uses historical records and above all the cultural memory of generations that lived close to her. Besides, imprints from her journeys along with memories collected in folklore from the places that she inhabited and visited also serve to fill the gaps in the story of her life .
Meera was born into the royal family of Merta as the granddaughter of Rao Duda, the kingdom’s founder. She was married into the royal house of Mewar where her father-in-law, Rana Sanga, was king. These families were involved in complex power struggles, on the level of personal feuds as well as the larger political upheavals brought by the Mughal invasions.
She was widowed within five or seven years of her marriage, but refused to perform sati , even though she had before her the example of three out of four wives of her brother-in-law, Ratan Singh, who had performed sati when he died. Due to this, she incurred life-long resentment and acrimony from her mother-in-law and another brother-in-law, Vikramaditya, who took the throne after Rana Sanga’s death.
The author maintains that Meera was a financially independent woman. She was given ample fertile agricultural land as stree-dhan , bride-money, a custom that’s entirely different from conventional notions of dowry. She had her own managers for the land, and it is recorded that she used her wealth to maintain her executives and to help devotees, saints, and sadhus.
Meera vs. Meera gives us a glimpse at the fabric in which Meera’s life was woven. Based in Sirohi, Rajasthan, Hada dedicated many years of his life to uncovering the true Meera. As an insider, he had access to resources that perhaps no researcher has had before him.
The English translation by Trikha is valuable, as it makes the text accessible to a wider readership. The text in translation reads smoothly and does not hinder the reader’s perceptions. The paperback edition from Vani comes with an attractive cover that has two images of Meera — as a saint and as a princess — facing each other. In all, the book is a rare piece of scholarship and delightful storytelling combined in one.
The writer is a fellow at IIAS, Shimla.