Mirabai in Popular Imagination

Reading Bhakti Canon in Contemporary Context


  • Ritu Varghese Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, National Institute of Technology Rourkela, India




Mirabai, Bhakti, Gandhi, Indian Freedom Struggle Movement, Promiscuity, Women in Public Spheres.


The immense popularity of Mirabai, the sixteenth-century bhakti poet-saint, transcends time and space. Beliefs have it that she renounced her kshatriya and royal identity for spiritual pursuits in the public domain. She was challenged, critiqued, ostracised, and castigated within her community and was labelled as a woman of questionable character. Mirabai wandered to various places, singing and dancing to bhajans negotiating the public and the private while becoming both virtuous and promiscuous in multiple narratives. Mirabai has been accommodated within the marginalised and subaltern communities and gradually, a community of destitute women has formed around her. With the revival of Mirabai during the Indian ‘nationalist’ period by popular spokespersons such as Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi as an ‘ideal’ and ‘chaste’ historical character in their public speeches and private letters, the promiscuous image of Mirabai, perpetuated through centuries, witnessed transgressions and she was eventually elevated to the status of a saint. This paper with literary, biographical and hagiographical representations explores the mechanism of the paradoxical plane that allowed the promiscuous image of Mirabai to achieve sainthood and become a cult name in the bhakti tradition.


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