from the introduction to "The Devotional Poem of Mirabai"
There is nothing highly wrought about Mira's style, and no erotic element in her poetry whatsoever.
But with her they are instruments used to express a deep and personally felt emotion. She may use the marriage-bed as a symbol of mystical union with God in the manner of Saint -- poets, or as a symbol of the devotee's readiness to give the Lord all that is in his power. But in Mira's poetry there is no tendency to luxuriate in devotional feelings tinged with eroticism.
Her Radha is simply an especially charming fellow devotee who grieves
when her Lord is "absent" and does all she can to please Him when He is
present, as a good devotee should. Both Surdas and Mira were concerned
with here and now rather than with the hereafter. And this is the true
attitude of the mystic. Mira believed herself to have been with Krishna
in a previous life. Mira does not hark back to the terminology of the
Upanishads. But she affirms the fundamental identity of the individual
soul with the Lord and begs to be dissolved in Him.
"Thou and I are one like the sun and its heat" and "Let my light dissolve in Your light before You depart."
The Gujarati saint Narsi Mehta, who was probably born about eighty years before Mira and with his works she may well be familiar, says "I went to Dvaraka with Shiva Himself and held aloft a burning torch while Krishna and Radha danced. I was so lost in this unparalleled sight that my hand was burnt by the torch before I was even aware of it. I took the hand of that Lover of the Gopis in loving converse. . . I forgot all else. Even my manhood left me. I began to sing and dance like a woman. My body seemed to change and I became one of the Gopis. I acted as a go-between like a woman and began to lecture Radha for being too proud . . . At such times I experienced moments of incomparable sweetness and joy. He who was sitting, singing with Radha was also at that very time ‘seated' in my own heart."
If God is symbolized in human form as Krishna, then the devotee can approach God most intimately by imagining himself as a Gopi or a Radha. Naturally this can be done with greatest intensity by a woman devotee like Mira already equipped by nature with a woman's heart.There is, however, a further point to note about Mira's love-relationship with the Lord. Generally speaking, devotee-poets of Krishna, whether they see themselves in a love-relation with the Lord like Mira or merely depict His love-relationships with the Gopis or Radha, were apt to conceive the relation as an illicit one. The Gopis are considered ideal devotees because, when they heard the sound of Krishna's flute at night they abandoned their husbands and homes and sped at once to answer the call. They preferred the tension of an illicit relationship that defied convention to the torpor of conformity with worldly values. But Mira had no need to imagine an illicit relationship to demonstrate how a devotee defies worldly convention, as she had already publicly defied worldly convention by the intensity of her religious life and by her determination to frequent the company of holy men at all costs. In fact Mira speaks very little of the Gopis. Her poetry expresses her personal love-relationship with the Lord, which is predominantly conceived as that of an utterly dedicated Hindu wife.
Mira resembled Narsi Mehta and her contemporary Chaitanya in expressing vehement emotion by dancing and singing. In this refusal to remain content with worship of the Lord conceived in manifest form (saguna), in this demand to realize her final identity with the Lord, Mira stands apart from the great Vedantic schools of Bhakti founded by Ramanuja, Madhava, Nimbarka, Vallabha and Chaitanya. On the other hand her preoccupation with temple worship in its more emotional forms sets her apart from the typical low caste Saints of Northern India, who nevertheless agree with her that the goal of spiritual life is the transcendence of all finitude.
It is not that she speaks of Krishna as "beyond form" (nirguna), at least in the poems here presented of the Padavali. And yet there is some truth in the striking remark of P.D. Barathval that she was "a Gopi whose Krishna was the Absolute." No doubt she is unclassifiable, as has often been said. But in her refusal to draw a line between worship of God face to face and complete dissolution in the deity she seems to stand closer to the school of Jnaneshvara than to any other.
Two texts of Jnaneshvara express in philosophical form the mystery of the combination of devotion to God with a sense of one's final identity with God which we encounter in the poetry of Mira. He says, "If you can hew out of the rock a cave which contains a temple, the image of God and the figures of a concourse of worshippers, why cannot you combine non-dualism with devotion?" And again, "The fact that intuition of non-duality can be combined with devotion is a matter of immediate experience. It can never be explained in words." (Quoted Chaturvedi, Vaishnava Dharma p.120)
The spiritual teaching in Mira's Padavali, which is what most interests the person who reads her songs in English, may be summarized as follows, drawing largely on Acharya Chaturdevi's work. Mira's experiences of death and bereavement in a Rajput family taught her the flimsiness of all worldly supports. Life is short. The body will soon mingle with the dust. Whatever mode of human life be adopted, it will be like the sporting of sparrows that will end at nightfall. Committing suicide at a holy place or the formal adoption of the life of a monk will not help, as without the intervention of the Lord one remains caught in the net of rebirth. The spectacle of the way people live in the world when bereft of associationship with holy men evokes tears. Without worship, man's life is a poor thing, a mere burden.
Mira cherished visual images of the beauty of the Lord in His manifest form as an adolescent boy (Kishor) in Gokul. She sings of his divine sports. She dances before His image in the temple. She drinks His footwash after Puja in the temple. She ensconces His image in her heart. She longs to embrace His feet and be His personal servant. Whatever He clothes her in, that she wears.
The path of devotion is difficult and the devotee finds unexpected obstructions. Desire comes like a cur and imposes his fetters. Pride is like a mountain on the slopes of which water will not settle. Mira was loyal to her aristocratic lineage in the very courage with which she rejected its customs. Her love was hidden at first, but later it expanded, like the seed of a bunyan tree, for all to see. At the beginning of her love she might have restrained it. But once she was in midstream there was no turning back. She follows the guidance of her Lord wherever it leads her, like a puppet attached to the thin threads of love. She accepts praise or blame with equal humility and passes on. In one sense, Mira is ever conscious of the presence of her Lord within her heart.
"Only she whose Beloved is abroad needs to write letters: my Beloved rests ever in my heart." She has actually seen Him, present in her heart, (darasa lahyam sukha-rasi). Hence her every act is an act of worship. Wherever her feet touch the earth she is dancing in love of her Lord. Yet the paradox holds that as long as worldly life lasts He is both present and absent. The lover of God is he who, being awake to the presence of God, feels His absence, hidden by the world of multiplicity, all the more keenly.
"The nectar of the sense of absence abides in love like honey in the honeycomb." Mira loves the Lord with the fidelity and loyalty of a young wife faced with the absence of her husband. Only those who have felt the gash know the pain of love-wounds. The sights and sounds of nature in spring or the rainy season only add to the pain. Both the sense of the absence for the Lord and the awareness of His presence are capable of filling the devotee with such emotion that he is reduced to impotence. In the absence of her Lord, Mira wishes to write him a letter, but her hand trembles and she is unable. Love is a state which reduces one to silence. The Gopis distributing curds in pots are so carried away by the sight of Krishna that they cannot remember the word for curds. But Mira dwells with particular insistence on the effect of the senses of the absence of the Beloved. It is felt so keenly as to induce a kind of madness, involving an indifference to all worldly objects and values.
Mira predominantly worshiped God "with form" (saguna). But her love is of the kind that demands and presupposes identity with its object, and when she emphasizes the identity-aspect her lines remind us not only of the Sants but sometimes even of the Upanishad sages. Adoration of the beautiful Shyam is the dominant theme in her poetry, but the Beloved is Himself said to be "like the Indestructible Principle."
Mira is conscious of her identity with and separation from God at the same time. She can say, "Thou and I are on like the sun and its heat" and "Come to my house, Thy coming will bring peace" in the same song. She speaks mysteriously of an "impenetrable realm, that Death himself trembles to look upon."
"There is no difference between (the Lord) with form and beyond form. So sing the Vedas and Puranas, the sages and enlightened souls. He who is attributeless, formless, unborn, transcendent - He it is who assumes manifest form, constrained by the love of His devotees," says Shri Ramakrishna, the great apostle of Love for Mother Kali.