Poem, Mirabai 4

krishna image

Bhakti poets—who were in some cases lower-caste Hindu women—and their audiences drew emotional sustenance from these verses, which expressed a pure devotion to Hindu deities. Their poetry, written in local languages beginning in the 6th century in South India and the 12th century in North India, attracted large audiences among the marginalized in Hindu society, such as women and “untouchables.”

In this poem Mirabai (ca. 1498–ca. 1546) writes of her devotion to her Lord Krishna, which included ecstatic dancing and singing out of sheer love for the Divine. Certainly her behavior was not appreciated by her in-laws, who made many attempts to subdue Mirabai’s passion for her Lord. Here Mirabai is referring to the coloring of her lord Krishna, generally pictured as blue or black. Krishna is an avatar of the Supreme God Vishnu, who is also associated with the color blue, given his association with water. Mira here is making a connection with her own longing which is having the effect of making her ill and thus explaining the discoloring of her complexion. She also writes of the attempt made on her life by a member of the royal household, through poisoning. The Rana (king) simply could not accept her strange behavior, and particularly, Mirabai’s detachment and even rejection of her earthly husband. Just as Krishna had been poisoned by the nursemaid Putana in order to thwart the powers of the infant Krishna, yet ultimately was killed by the child, so too the poison of the Rana could have no adverse effects on Mirabai, except for her discoloring.

Source: “I’m colored with the color of dusk, oh rana.” In Songs of the Saints of India. Edited and translated by John Stratton Hawley and Mark Juergensmeyer. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

“I’m colored with the color of dusk, oh rana,
colored with the color of my Lord.
Drumming out the rhythm on the drums, I danced,
dancing in the presence of the saints,
colored with the color of my Lord.
They thought me mad for the Maddening One,
raw for my dear dark love,
colored with the color of my Lord.
The rana sent me a poison cup:
I didn’t look, I drank it up,
Colored with the color of my Lord.
The clever Mountain Lifter is the lord of Mira.
Life after life he’s true-
colored with the color of my Lord.