JUNE 2013
Khaas Baat : A Publication for Indian Americans in Florida

Song of Love: MYSTIC MEERABAI – Part II

Lavanya Dinesh

By Lavanya Dinesh

While poet-saint Meerabai’s devotional lyricism is celebrated in every genre of Indian music and occasionally non-Indian music as well, none are more touching and impactful than the unparalleled renditions of these bhajans by the legendary trinity of female vocalists India has given birth to in the modern era. They are inimitable colossus of Carnatic classical music M. S. Subbulakshmi, celebrated melody queen Lata Mangeshkar and the elusive diva of Hindustani vocal Kishori Amonkar. These great musicians have breathed life into mystic Meerabai’s immortal lyrics.

A talented, young and innocent Subbulakshmi’s singing and playing the title character of Meera in the 1947 feature film of the same name (shot in both Hindi and Tamil languages) captured the imagination of an entire nation. The musical lyricism of the 16th-century mystic reached the common man via a new audio-visual medium for the first time in the 20th century. Subbulakshmi’s earnest entreaties to Lord Giridhar came alive with glorious melody and spirituality. “Baso More Nainan Mein Nandalal” – make my eyes your abode oh Lord, pleaded lovesick Meera. “Chaakar Raakho Ji” – make me yours in love, a shy Meera tries to cajole her beloved Lord. When worldly life yields nothing but sorrow, Meerabai writes “Daras Bina Dukh Na Laage” – my sorrow is mitigated by a glimpse of you alone my Lord. Young Subbulakshmi sang this bhajan with mellifluous abandon in raaga Des. In her decades of dedicated live musical performances and recordings, the great Subbulakshmi always incorporated Meera bhajans into concert performances, a few of which I have been able to experience live growing up.

The dual album of Meerabai bhajans rendered by super songstress of India Lata Mangeshkar, with music by avant garde composer Hridayanath Mangeshkar are iconic indeed. Each devotional composition in this collection is a gem not only for the illustrious lyrics but also for the emotive melody and impeccable rendition.

Mystic Meerabai composed her Hindi language (dialects of Braj and Rajastani) devotional compositions/bhajans during different stages of her eventful and checkered life. Though Meera’s unmistakable love/deep-devotion for Shyaam is the common thread, myriad moods, emotions incidents, anecdotes and stories are also included. “Kenu Sangha Kelu Holi” – I play Holi (festive colors) with only thee my Lord as I have abandoned all else, says Meera with both playfulness and pathos. Mangeshkar infuses this composition set to raaga Yaman with unique charm. The gamut of emotions encompassing Meera’s haunting lyrics move from transcendental meditative love to complete surrender, confession of an unbreakable bond, eternal enslavement to coyness, playfulness and naiveté. Some of the songs are darker and reflect intense longing, feelings of abandonment, separation anxiety, anger and desperation.

“Nand Nandana Dittapadi” is a haunting bhajan sung by Mangeshkar based on raaga Gurjari Todi. “Mhara Re Giridhar Gopal” (Lord Gopal is mine alone) – raaga Malhaar, “Need Na Aave” – raaga Bhairav, the lively “Mhara Saanwara Giridhaari” and the unforgettable “Maayi Mhaano” are a few other excellent Meera bhajans in her golden voice.

Pandita Amonkar’s popular album of Meera bhajans is a classic for all generations of music lovers. Meera’s “Mharo Pranaam Banke Bihari” – paying obeisance to Lord Krishna is masterfully rendered by the vocalist in pleasing Yaman. Many of the poetess’ compositions album have been given a folksy flair by Amonkar, “Jogi Mhane Daras” and “Josida Ne Lakh Badhai” being two such fantastic opuses. Meera always concluded her bhajans with the signature “Meera Ke Prabhu Giridhar Naagar” meaning Meera’s Lord is Giridhar or “Meera Ke Prabhu Kab Re Miloge” – oh Lord of Meera when will you be mine?

Mystic Meerabai’s peerless lyrical works of devotion continue to be imbued with beauty and color by innumerable musical renditions all over the world. I would like to end with an indelible romantic vision of Meerabai’s life story – The poet-saint at one of her huge spiritual gatherings in 16th-century North India welcoming devotees from near and far … her clad in a pristine white sari playing the Ektaara (single-stringed instrument) singing with abandon "Meera dances with bells on her feet – Pag Ghungharoo Baandh Meera Naachi Re …"

Lavanya Dinesh, an accomplished performer and teacher of Hindustani classical vocal music, lives in Tampa. She regularly performs at musical venues in India and the United States. The singer has three album releases to her credit. She can be reached at lavanya@lavanyadinesh.com

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