Something about her captivated me. Her waist was so narrow I thought it could fit between my thumb and pointer. Her eyes were wide and earnest and far away. She was enraptured, tortured, swimming in the deep waters of pain and love. Her soul married Krishna, a Hindu God, butter thief, lover of women, and consultant to Kings, when she was five years old. Her parents later married her body to a powerful lord, but she remained faithful to Krishna in her heart.
Her love for Krishna over family led to her being ostracized and attacked by her powerful in-laws. Krishna protected her from these assaults. He turned poison to ambrosia. He transformed a bed of nails into a bed of roses. Venomous snakes became garlands of flowers. She fled her in laws home and traveled the country, composing hundreds of song in praise of Lord Krishna. She became famous for her beautiful songs and the purity and strength of her devotion. She grew old but did not die. She spent her last moments on earth performing rapturously in front of a crowd of hundreds, collapsed at the feet of a statue of Lord Krishna and vanished.
Meerabai. Poet- saint. Chanteuse. Her Raags are still performed today.
I met her in a comic book when I was 8 or so. She was a beautiful illustration of a woman in love, a persecuted soul, a spiritual leader. I fantasized myself into those pages. My long eyelashes drooped sorrowfully and a playful half smile formed on my lips. I held my veena to my body, caressing the strings with a passion that I could detect but did not yet understand. I would name my daughter Meera in hopes that she would follow in the footsteps of this tragically mortal woman immortalized in pastels and word blocks. She was more beautiful than Cinderella, braver than Snow White, and more tortured than Belle. She was my fairy-tale princess. She was better than a fairy-tale princess. She was a real person.
In my 20s I worked as a rape crisis counselor and prevention educator. As a counselor, I was surrounded by women in love, persecuted, and tortured. Their lives were not romantic, beautiful tradegies. Life was painful, complicated, and real. As an educator, I spoke to hundreds of teenage boys and girls. I talked about the power of stories and the messages in fairy tales. I wanted them to know that love did not have to equal pain and abuse. During those years, I thought often of Meerabai. Her story glorified pain and suffering. I would not name a daughter after her. I did not even know if I wanted children anymore. Comic books and fairy tales were fantasies concocted for and by men. For a time, I let Meerabai go.
She has been calling to me lately again. There is an itch inside of me. A place in my mind that flashes her picture. A small voice in my head trying to remind me of this one thing – Meerabai was no fairytale. She was a real woman.
She was born in 1498AD. She wrote hundreds of songs that are still sung today. She refused to join her husband on the funeral pyre. She left her family to wander the country. She sang to crowds of hundreds. She challenged the priests of the day with her devotion and piety. She did not heed the words of men because Krishna was the only true man. These are the things we know about her. How much more is there that we do not know?
I want to know the herstory of Meerabai. I do not want to be her, or name my daughter for her. I do not want to fetishize her or idolize her. I do not want to know the comic book version of her. I want to know her pain, and her resilience, and her conviction and her insanity woman to woman. That is the story I can learn from. That is a story I can tell my children. Meerabai lived.