Pran Thaki Mane Vaishnav Vahala, Gun Ana Hu Gavu Re…
Narsinh Mehta (1414-1481), one of India’s most respected poet-saints and among the pioneers of the Bhakti movement, was born in 1414 AD and the lovers of his Krishna love poetry are celebrating his birth anniversary.
He was known to have written close to 800 songs, poems, ballads and other forms of incantations. In modern times Mehta is most readily associated with a single bhajan or a devotional ballad ‘Vaishnav Jan To’.
The song has become as symbolic of Narsinh Mehta as it has of Mohandas Gandhi who considered it to be a guiding force of his life. It was Gandhi’s support of the song that has given it national and international immortality it enjoys even though it was always highly accepted in Mehta’s native Gujarat for centuries.
Narsinh Mehta was born in Vadnagar Nagar community at Talaja and later moved to Junagadh (then Jirndurg) in Saurashtra, Gujarat. He lost his parents when he was 5 years old. He could not speak until the age of 8. He was raised by his grandmother Jaygauri.
He married Manekbai probably in the year 1429. Mehta and his wife stayed at his brother Bansidhar’s place in Junagadh. However, his cousin’s wife (Sister-in-law or bhabhi) did not welcome Narsinh very well. She was an ill-tempered woman, always taunting and insulting Narsinh Mehta for his worship (Bhakti). One day, when Narasinh Mehta had enough of these taunts and insults, he left the house and went to a nearby forest in search of some peace, where he fasted and meditated for seven days by a secluded Shiva lingam until Shiva appeared before him in person.
On the poet’s request, the Lord took him to Vrindavan and showed him the eternal raas leela of Krishna and the gopis. A legend has it that the poet, transfixed by the spectacle, burnt his hand with the torch he was holding, but he was so engrossed in the ecstatic vision that he was oblivious to the pain. Mehta, as the popular account goes, at Krishna’s command, decided to sing His praises and the nectarous experience of the rasa in this mortal world. He resolved to compose around 22,000 kirtans or compositions.
After this dream-like experience, the transformed Mehta returned to his village, touched his sister-in-law’s feet, and thanked her for insulting him. In Junagadh, Mehta lived in poverty with his wife and two children, a son named Shamaldas, and a daughter for whom he had special affection, Kunwarbai. He revelled in devotion to his hearts’ content along with sadhus, saints, and all those people who were Hari’s subjects – Harijans – irrespective of their caste, class or sex. It also seems that he must have fallen into a somewhat ill repute for his close relations with Lord’s sakhis and gopis, Narsinh mehta’s women followers, with whom he danced and sang.
The Nagars of Junagadh despised him and spared no opportunity to scorn and insult him. By this time, Mehta had already sung about the rasaleela of Radha and Krishna. The compositions are collected under the category of shringar compositions. They are full of intense lyricism, bold in their erotic conception and are not without allegorical dimensions, this saves the compositions from being something of erotic court poetry of medieval India.
Soon after his daughter, Kunwarbai’s marriage (around 1447) to Shrirang Mehta of Una’s son, Kunwarbai became pregnant and it was a custom for the girl’s parents to give gifts and presents to all the in-laws during the seventh month of pregnancy. This custom, known as Mameru, was simply out of the reach of poor Narsinh who had hardly anything except intransigent faith in his Lord. How Krishna helped his beloved devotee is a legend depicted in ‘Mameru Na Pada’.
This episode is preserved vividly in the memory of Gujarati people by compositions by later poets and films. Other famous legends include: ‘Hundi (Bond)’ episode and ‘Har Mala (Garland)’ episode. The episode in which none other than Shamalsha Seth cleared a bond written by poverty-stricken beloved, is famous not only in Gujarat but in other parts of India as well.
The Har Mala episode deals with the challenge given to Mehta by Ra Mandlik (1451–1472), a Chudasama king, to prove his innocence in the charges of immoral behaviour by making the Lord Himself garland Narsinh. Mehta depicts this episode. How Sri Krishna, in the guise of a wealthy merchant, helped Mehta in getting his son married is sung by the poet in Putra Vivah Na Pada. He went to Mangrol where, at the age of 79, he is believed to have died.
The crematorium at Mangrol is called ‘Narsinh Nu Samshan’ where one of the sons of Gujarat was cremated. He will be remembered for his poetic works and devotion to Lord Krishna. He is known as the first poet of Gujarati.