Madhav Hada’s Meera Vs. Meera explores the real Meera | By Alaka Tyagi
‘Meera Vs. Meera’ is an English translation of Madhav Hada’s highly acclaimed ‘Pachrang Chola Pahar Sakhi Ri’ done by Prof. Pradeep Trikha. The original book in Hindi that was published five years ago is a profound deliberation on Meera’s life as it has been popularly perceived in the mainstream scholarship that wrapped Meera’s life and works since the sixteenth century itself.
Madhav Hada convincingly rectifies the scholarship on Meera’s life in a balanced light. He establishes her as an empowered princess and a poised human being as opposed to merely a saint gone crazy with devotion. Moreover, he states that Meera can neither be seen merely as a rebel in patriarchal system nor a ‘vulnerable and socially ostracized woman. With a keen eye of a mature scholar, Madhav Hada reflects on the entire range of traditional hagiographic material like Priyadas’s Bhaktirasbodhini or Bhavishyapurana as well as the early European conjectures made on Meera’s life by Colonel James Tod’s in his early nineteenth century orientalist work on Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan along with the Folk-lore or Kimvadantis about Meera’s mystical character. The latter have gone through numerous additions and subtraction in last five hundred years, yet the research explorations and scholarship has been using them along with accessible historical resources.
Prof. Hada reveals that society in Rajasthan, like any other socio-political space, has not been a static society at any given time. In Meera’s time also the land was socio-politically vibrant and dynamic. This fact is often ignored by the ideologues and image-makers who perceive Meera from their own-coloured lens. For instance, Marxist’s 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 her devotion to propagate the idea of God either as an immanent or as an eternal entity or both. In this book, Prof. Hada aptly articulates that “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 wanted to look for piety and righteousness to bill her as Sagun exactly as scriptural texts ascribe, they found plenty of references in Meera’s poetry. Her work also offered ‘melody’ when they wished to hear it. Those looking for Nirgun attributes were also not disappointed by Meera.” But life of Meera cannot be reduced to serve the doctrinal objectives of any single ideology, religion or school of thought.
This book attempts to restructure 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 book tangibly brings alive the Meera who lives not only in her brilliant poetry but also in a socio-cultural set-up and engaged with it in her own wisdom. The writer uses historical records and above all the cultural memory of generations that have lived close to her are used as an evidence. Besides, imprints from her journeys along with the memories collected in the folklore from the places that she inhabited and visited also serve to fill the gaps in the story of her life.
The book has an edge over its predecessors as it reveals through authentic evidence a clear picture of the social, political, religious and cultural scenario that prevailed in the Meera’s time and in her personal world. Her individual circumstances as a woman were no way deprecatory. She was born in kingdom of Merta as a princess and grand-daughter of Rao Duda, the founder of Merta. Later she was married into Royal family of Mewar where Rana Sanga, her father in law ruled. However, these Royal families faced complex power struggles and conspiracies as they were directly affected by not only by the personal family vendettas but also the larger political upheavals that affected the country with Moghul invasions.
The author maintains that Meera was a financially independent woman. She was given ample fertile agricultural land as ‘stree-dhan’ the bride- money in her marriage. She had her own managers for the land and it is recorded that she used her wealth to maintain her executives, to help devotees, saints and sadhus.
She was widowed within five or seven years of her marriage but she refused to perform Sati, even though she had before her the example of three out of four wives of her borther in law, Ratan Singh who performed Sati when he died. Due to this, she incurred life-long resentment and acrimony from her mother-in-law and the brother-in-law, Vikramaditya who took over the throne after Rana Sanga’s death.
It is interesting that in Rajasthani customs, a woman was not left to fend for herself or at her in-law’s mercy. Arrangements were made to make sure that she had some kind of financial independence. In fact, that is the real meaning of ‘Stree-dhan’ and it is entirely different from the concept of ‘dowry’ which comes as a unethical demand from the in laws’ side.
However, what makes Meera a powerful person and an outstanding woman is not merely her saintly image and her unique devotional love poetry, but her strong will power that facilitated her ability to choose with conviction. Most significant factor about Meera’s life is her unwavering will and that she exercised her choices in every phase of her life.
Meera vs. Meera gives us a glimpse into the whole fabric on which Meera’s life was woven. Madhva Hada, who has been based in Sirohi Rajasthan has dedicated many years of his life to research to uncover the true Meera. Being an insider, Prof. Hada has access to resources, which perhaps no other researcher or scholar could have access before him.
Moreover, the English translation by Pradeep Trikha has added tremendous value to the original as it gives the text a wider audience and readership. The text in translation reads very smoothly and does not hinder reader’s perception. In that sense it is truly a bridge between the original and the target language. The paperback edition from Vani comes with a very attractive cover with two images of Meera- a saint one hand and as a princess on the other- facing each other. In all, the book is a rare piece of profound scholarship and delightful story-telling combined in one.
Bio: Fellow Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla-171005