Author Topic: Narasinh Mehta: An Introduction:  (Read 2658 times)

Subramanian.R

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Narasinh Mehta: An Introduction:
« on: January 07, 2016, 03:23:29 PM »
(This is an article by Meena Devi, in Mountain Path,  Jan.-Mar. 2015:)

Narasinh Mehta lived during the 15th century in Junagadh in Saurashtra, the western peninsula of
Gujarat.  He was born into a Nagar Brahmin family , a sub-caste proud of serving society as administrators,
scholars, soldiers and educators.  Orphaned early, he lived with his brother in Talaja.  After being taunted
by his sister in law, for being still unemployed when to become a father for the second time, Mehta left
home and ended up praying in a ruined Siva temple for seven days.

According to the legend, Lord Siva granted him any boon, but Mehta insisted he only wanted what the god
loved best.  In his lyrics, he describes being taken to the court of Krishna to be the dark lord's servant
and seeing divine dancing in Vrindavan.  Mehta eventually returned home as a devotee desiring to sing
songs praising Krishna.

He settled in Junagadh, with Manek as his wife, Shamal his son and Kunwar his daughter.  There he
became popular for his kirtans of Krishna,  describing the joyous life in Vrindavan, especially Radha
and the gopis demonstrating self less love for the god.  His Nagar community found his amorous poetry
too explicit, and also publicly reviled him for singing bhajans to audiences of untouchables. Some life events,
as recorded in his own poems and later re-tellings, describe miracles that rescue him from social embarrassment.

For example, when Dixit, a visiting priest, chose Shamal to be betrothed to Ratan, the daughter of a
minister in the Kingdom of Vadnagar, Mehta suggested faith in Krishna in reply to Manek's concerns
about inequality in their status.  Their rag tag arrival for the marriage turned into a wealth-laden,
grand event at the wedding that overawed Kunwar's expectant mother ceremony was resolved
when he silenced her in laws with everything they asked for, including gold blocks  for the rocks that
her grand mother in law had presumed her father's gift would be.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.                       

Subramanian.R

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Re: Narasinh Mehta: An Introduction:
« Reply #1 on: January 08, 2016, 10:51:20 AM »
Once, his critics misled some pilgrims so that he was obliged to write a promissory note to be redeemed
in Dwaraka, Krishna's capital.  Though he had no commercial ties, a merchant called Shamal Sheth,
one of Mehta's many names for Krishna, fulfilled the bond and repaid the pilgrims.  The last life event
described in his poems is a socio-religious political dilemma when the king, Ra Mandalik the Third,
incited by his courtiers, demanded public proof of Krishna favors to Mehta.  After Mehta spent a long night
singing bhajans under guard, the audience witnessed the temple garland appear on his neck.  He is
believed to have lived in the southern coastal town of Mangrol, home of a religious uncle for another two
decades.

Religion, literature, and society, are important.  A groundswell of Vedic beliefs in southern India around
the ninth century displacing Buddhism and Jainism reached Northern India at the end of the first millenium.
Brahmin supremacy revived Sanskrit literature at the cost of creating a distance between religion and
common people. Almost simultaneously, there was an indigenous counter current from which the sacred
texts became available in local languages. At its center was a resurgence of the idea of bhakti, or devotion
drawn from much earlier philosophies.   The purpose of bhakti, an intellectual concept discussed in ancient
texts, evolved in parallel with devotion as an approachable means of attaining religious salvation.

contd.,


Arunachala Siva.   
               

Subramanian.R

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Re: Narasinh Mehta: An Introduction:
« Reply #2 on: January 09, 2016, 12:55:58 PM »
Islamic invasions that began in the eleventh and twelfth century also had various impacts. Umashankar
Joshi, a prominent mid twentieth century scholar suggests that when Brahminism defeated Buddhism
it was already weakening and faced a strong contender offering simplicity, monotheism, and freedom
from scripted rituals or social classification."In facing this new religion, this country's religious life could
not have sustained itself from rituals and reliance on scriptures as much as it did from Bhakti's asylum."

Narasinh Mehta's social origins contributed another unique dimension.   He belonged to the Nagar community
that claims descent from intermarriage between some Greeks from  Alexander's times and Kashmiri Pandit
families.  Their records of southern and westward migration emphasize special abilities in their services to
various kingdoms: scholarship, aesthetic, and linguistic aptitude, administrative and negotiation skills,
and military bravery. 

On the one hand, this community had made a consistent efforts to blend into the new home's social
structures.  They were creating in adapting to changing circumstances, moving south as needed to
preserve themselves and adeptly taking on many different roles as needed. On the other, as a group
that had progressively taken on their coloring of their surroundings by maintaining caste and other structures.
Nagars had begun to make their stand on their status, knowledge, and power. Narsinh disregarded social
protocols and rituals in his pursuit of joyous songs.  He cared not if his cohorts and followers came from all
strata of society.  Coming from a Saiva sect, he cheerfully adopted the Vaishnavite persuasion in his Krishna
bhakti.


contd.,

Arunachala Siva.       

Subramanian.R

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Re: Narasinh Mehta: An Introduction:
« Reply #3 on: January 10, 2016, 11:20:58 AM »
While the invasions and wars forced the locals to become strict in restricting women's movements
and fighting to preserve their religious purity within the social classifications, Narsinh's songs celebrated
the equivalent of 'free love', from his view of Krishna's rasa lila, in which every milk maid or gopi had her own
Krishna-lover.  His most ecstatic poetry spoke about the woman who could scold her divine lover, 'Let go
my garment, duties, at my husbands's home are calling me with the approach of dawn.

Narsinh's Poetic Oeuvre:

Narsinh Mehta has always been a poet of the people.  To some extent this has had contradictory effects.
On the one hand, his language and content come close to human experience in so many ways that
people sing his songs or use his phrases without thinking of the man or his talent because the appeal
is universal.  On the other, he has given so much of himself in his verse, that the man and his singular
ability to achieve divine union becomes the reason for his being known.  It seems that from the earliest
scholarship on this poet, his personal experience has overshadowed other avenues of analysis.  A certain
tendency to hagiography embraces the notion of wise men glorified as saints, sants, or teachers, gurus.
This leads to emphasizing and perhaps even elaborating miraculous occurrences and associates their
talents with the supernatural or divine.  A basic clustering his work of more than 850 poems into autobiographical, narrative, and devotional,  romantic /erotic or devotional spiritual lyrical poems provide
entry into his otherwise undated creations.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.
           
« Last Edit: January 11, 2016, 10:24:20 AM by Subramanian.R »

Subramanian.R

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Re: Narasinh Mehta: An Introduction:
« Reply #4 on: January 11, 2016, 10:37:56 AM »
Mehta's autobiographical works are jhari na pad, about an incident when he thought Krishna appeared
in the Mohini form to slake his thirst at a  kirtan; putravivah na pad, describing his rescue from social
embarrassment at his son's marriage to a king's minister; mamera na pad, in which he gets aid for
social awkwardness at his daughter's expectancy ceremony; hundi na pad, which tells of a promissory
repaid by divine intervention; and harsame na pad, the largest group describing a night-long kirtan
praying for Krishna to answer the doubts of a king, Ra Mandlik, that the stories of Krishna coming to
his rescue are fakes.  One pair of poems tell his willingness to pray with untouchables, facing community
insults, and maintaining his belief that his true supporters are Vishnu followers.

Mehta's narrative poems include chaturi, sudamacharit, and danlila.  The first set is more lyrical than
strictly narrative, illustrating Radha-Krishna love in myriad moods, separation, longing, joyous union.
The second two are early examples of the medieval narrative poetic genre called, akhyan, telling the story
of Sudama, Krishna's childhood friend, forced to visit him at Dwarka's court, because of total poverty.  The
royal friend divines the need and affectionately rewards his tongue tied comrade.  The third item, more a   
cluster than a sequence, shows Krishna playing at demanding a tax from the Gokul milkmaids when
they go to sell their wares in town.  Narsinh's authorship of the third and some other pieces is now in doubt.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.                           

Subramanian.R

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Re: Narasinh Mehta: An Introduction:
« Reply #5 on: January 12, 2016, 10:53:52 AM »
The largest portion of Mehta's poetry, varied lyrical poems, takes Krishna's lives and weaves an
experiential universe through a feminine perspective, passionate, erotic and playful, and maternal.
The poet speaks as the devoted milkmaid, the companion, and the loving mother. Several of these
can be grouped by topics or themes:  childhood mischief, passion, the spring season, the songs of
messages or swinging together. Others tell of scolding, yearning, fascination with his flute or his face,
or anklets.  The theme unifying all these is a sense of fulfilled return of passionate devotion. Mehta's
poetry celebrated Krishna worship as a successful supplicant.  In so doing, his work aligns more with
those who celebrated love centered devotion positively, than with those whose verse portrays yearning
for union with the divine. 

The largest but most well known set of Mehta's lyrics are the bhakti-gnyan-vairagya na pad.  Literally,
these are songs of devotion, knowledge and detachment.  Conceptually, the central themes are spiritual,
transcendental and philosophical comprehension of love and divinity.  In these poems Narsinh distilled
his life experiences into essentials.  Metaphysics shines through the mundane and the poet tells his
listeners in many different ways to learn and see and to appreciate the way creation and life, divinity
and humanity work in this world.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.                       

Subramanian.R

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Re: Narasinh Mehta: An Introduction:
« Reply #6 on: January 13, 2016, 10:50:54 AM »
His Poetry:

A poem singularly illustrating entire range of Mehta's zeitgeist is Kon punye kari nar hum avatari,  'What
good deeds gave me birth as a woman?'  We must first acknowledge that his poetry is sung. It is full
effect, broad and deep, manifests when the bhajan, the prayer song receives life in the singing.  Still,
the word selection ultimately give the foundation for the powerful impact of the sung/heard experience.
Even in the translated text, the image imparts the genuine sense of wonder and awe.

The first stanza sets up the conundrum.

What good karma flows from my past that I am born a woman?
   And God Himself courts my favors?
Immortal, inexpressible, beyond understanding,
   The Lotus Lord clings to me.

Mehtra writes joyously of birth of as a woman.  What an amazing benefit is it to be born a woman
that God Himself politely asks permission to come to be with her?  No human psychology can account
for this situation.  The husband of Goddess Lakshmi wants to put His loving arms around her neck!   

In the first two lines, Narsinh Mehta takes the idea of an 'avatar' to a whole new level, in using the
verb form of feminine gender, 'avatari' to describe 'being born' as a woman.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.   

Subramanian.R

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Re: Narasinh Mehta: An Introduction:
« Reply #7 on: January 14, 2016, 12:09:23 PM »
By the fifteenth century, the term 'avatar' to signify an incarnation of Lord Vishnu is a commonly accepted
concept in all parts of India.  What does this mean in the context of Mehta's poem?  First, instead of just
being born, a condition every mortal is subject to, this speaker looks at herself as an incarnation.  Second,
the term evokes the status of women are neither special nor important. Her 'beyond the norm entitlement'
is located precisely in the fact of her gender. It is because she is born as a woman that the indscribable
Lotus Lord, the husband of Lakshmi, goddess of wealth, now is a supplicant before her.  She knows that this
must be because of some unusual act. What kind of good deed has she had done to deserve this?

Having set up the problem, the speaker goes on to work out the quesion.

Perform rituals, meditation, and penance precisely;
  Hari comes not even in a dream.
That same Hari appears most easily,
 When sought with devotional passion.

As far as she knows, the usual methods of achieving the sight of God are to perform ceremonial prayers
faithfully, meditate sincerely, and even do painful sacrifices to assert your devotion.  But, she knows
that even after all such proofs of sight of the Lord is not a guarantee. In contrast, she finds that just because
she loves the Lord passionately, he arrives in an instant.  The speaker is stunned.  Is achieving oneness
with God so simple?  I love him and He loves me back!

Shesh Nag's comfortable cradle we gain
  In the heavenly palace for our pain.
Greater than that is my temple; adoringly the
  Yellow Garbed One comes to my bed.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.             

Subramanian.R

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Re: Narasinh Mehta: An Introduction:
« Reply #8 on: January 15, 2016, 12:18:26 PM »
She has learned or heard that as a reward for good deeds and sacrifice we mortals will be given a
place of comfort in the coils of the eternal serpent, who cradles Vaikunth, the abode of Vishnu. And
she realizes, that even more remarkable than such a heaven is her own place her temple, as it were,
where God visits her.  The reversal of the normal, devotees go to the temple and here God comes to
the devotee, causes her much wonder.

The Vedic Puranic scriptures declare
  Proclaim him devotee lover, I say,
Well met are You, Narasinh's Lord,
 Granting me grace, knowing me frail.

At last she begins to understand. All the holy texts, the Vedas, and Puranas, always describe God as
one who loves those who love Him.  Well then, it is only natural.  Thus she is able to say, in that case,
Narsinh's Lord, I am glad you came to meet me.  You knew that I am the weak one and it is appropriate
that you should be gracious towards my effort at love.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.
 

Subramanian.R

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Re: Narasinh Mehta: An Introduction:
« Reply #9 on: January 16, 2016, 11:18:09 AM »
Whether or not we credit the popular legend that he personally witnessed the Ras Lila of Lord Krishna,
in Vrindavan because of the boon Lord Siva granted him, this poem illustrates that strictly in terms of
his poetic imagination and ability.  Mehta here presents an artistic tour de force in celebrating womanhood
and love at their highest peak.  It is a paean to the feminine principle that reverberates much more powerfully
than any feminist tract. Joy is in the celebration of who you are.  Here, the male principle of Godhead, Power
(Siva or Vishnu) is complete only in union with its complementary other half, then female, the source of
Energy or Abundance (Sakti or Lakshmi).  Mehta's talent thus transcends the perceptions of gender
limitations that prevailed in his time and that continue in some form even into the twenty first century.

Narsinh Mehta's work embodies deep philosophy made very approachable in simple yet poetic language.
His linguistic skill transformed medieval Gujarati from a vernacular to a successful literary medium and a
modern language. His poetic skills deserve an independent exposition to analyze and highlight literary
mastery.  In this current article I can only invite the reader to appreciate the richness with another few
examples.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.     

Subramanian.R

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Re: Narasinh Mehta: An Introduction:
« Reply #10 on: January 17, 2016, 09:55:24 AM »
Whole Universe: 

(First line in Gujarati reads:  Akhil Brahmanada Ek Tu Srihari...)

Sri Hari, you alone are the universe;
In myriad forms you appear infinite.
As soul in the body, you are the essence in the light,
Living in the void as the word.

You are the wind, you the water, you the earth;
Spreading support tree-like you span the skies.
Bliss became Life by the desire to
Savor countless joys in multifaceted creations.
Vedas assert, as proved in heard and memorized texts,
Between gold and ear-rings, no incongruity exists.
Shapes form, then names become diverse.
Gold ultimately is always gold.

Garbled texts tell no truths.
Each worships the god of his choice.
Truth is what mind, word, and deed confirm
And the intellect knows intuitively.

You are the seed in the tree and you the tree in the seed;
The same appears on both sides of the curtain.
Says, Narasaiyyo, in the mind's quest,
Revelation emerges in loving with love.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.           

Subramanian.R

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Re: Narasinh Mehta: An Introduction:
« Reply #11 on: January 19, 2016, 11:14:42 AM »
Awakening:


(First line in Gujarati reads:  Jagine Joun To Jagat Dise Nahi.)

Awakening, I look and cannot see the world
In sleep checkered delights appear.
Intellect and Soul are engrossed in entertainment
The supreme spirit flirts with the supreme spirit.

Fundamental elements five, born of the Supreme,
Atom to atom each stays clinging.
Flowers and fruits know to be of the tree,
Nor is the branch separate from the trunk.

Vedas assert this, proved in heard and memorized texts,
Between gold and ear rings no incongruity exits.
Shapes get formed, only then names become diverse,
Gold ultimately is always gold.

Life and Joy emerged by their own desire
Creating fourteen universes, differences they made.
Says, Narasaiyo, you should understand straight;
Recollecting this, so many sages have been saved.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.
 

Subramanian.R

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Re: Narasinh Mehta: An Introduction:
« Reply #12 on: January 20, 2016, 11:06:46 AM »
Innocent God:

(first line in Gujarati reads:  Bhola Bhola Sambhu Tamne Viswa Vakhane Re...)

Oh so innocent Lord Sambhu, whom whole world praises,'
Your real roots no one grasps.
Your asceticism claims I know too well.
What is hidden then in your matted locks?

Some bring the beloved on their back, some by the hand.
Hidden within your head, Sivji, whence did you bring her?

She is yellow silk draped and fair of skin.
Why hide your thievery, Sivji, you are found out.

Deny it, Sivji;   I will untangle your matted locks,
With such tricks, I will never slake your thirst.

Pundit of pleasures savoring swallow-wort, thorn apple, and opium,
Lord of Narsinh Mehta, you8 are an old sage indeed.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.         

Subramanian.R

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Re: Narasinh Mehta: An Introduction:
« Reply #13 on: January 21, 2016, 12:24:23 PM »
I choose to end this article with this particular poem to offer a true spectrum of Mehta's worldview.
Here he speaks at Parvati, Siva's consort.  She has caught the ascetic bringing home another woman,
the River Goddess Ganga, concealed in his matted locks.  Her fond teasing illustrates the poet's complete
understanding of his own early revelation.

What the ascetic Siva loved best was joyous union that Krishna exemplified in his life and so the boon
meant taking this human supplicant to the Life Preserver, Vishnu, in his incarnation as the Symbol
of Love, Krishna. Mehta's lightly amused language portrays the kind of deep comprehension that forgives
foibles with affection as only an enlightened soul or the Supreme can.  Appropriately, he chooses the
enlightened souls or the Supreme can.  Appropriately, he chooses the Mother of the Universe, the Female
Energy, to voice this Total Love.

This is the same laughing loving spirit animating the lyrical voice of Yasoda, Krishna's mother and Radha/
Rukmini, the soul as the confident lover beyond social norms and the equally confident consort who
bemoans in one poem that, if one were merely married one could discard the husband, but how to get
rid of one you chose to worship in your heart?

concluded.

Arunachala Siva.