The Pious Princess

The sprawling palace of Rana Sangram Singh perched majestically on Aravalli, buzzed with festivities. Every corner of the palace was festooned with flowers. Music from clarinets and drummers echoed in the air. The royal guards stood on the ramparts holding their armour, adorning crisp saffron uniform, honouring the auspicious day. 

A group of soldiers marched forward guarding a palanquin. Leading the group was Rana Kumbha in his chariot. Meera sat holding the idol of her Giridhar inside the palanquin adorned with jasmine. The pearled flowers threaded together, rendered soft aroma lifting the excitement in the atmosphere. Draped in her red wedding dress, Meera’s forehead was beaming brightly with freshly adorned vermillion. When the men holding the palanquin placed it on the ground, the young princess stepped out demurely. 

Rana Kumbha her groom, dismounted from the chariot and stood next to her. He was tall and was looking even taller adorning his royal sapha.* The ladies of the house started showering flower petals as the couple stepped forward. The royal singers sang songs to shower blessings, praying for their long life.

The king and the queen were ecstatic to welcome Meera, who was famed for her extraordinary beauty and intelligence. Their joy knew no bound as they watched the young couple proceed towards the auspicious dais in the temple. The marriage had brought together two kingdoms, making them strong allys to fight against the Mughals. The queen had been waiting with excitement holding her pooja thali*, to bless them.

Ladies were bedecked in their best attire, loaded with gems and jewels. There was special arrangement made for the kings and noblemen who had come to attend the marriage function from near and far. The royal chefs were working non-stop, making sweets and dishes of several kinds. Every corner of the palace reverberated with jubilation. 

Meera and Kumbha bowed down together, touching the feet of their parents. 

After the queen made reverence to the deity, praying for the long life of her son and daughter in law, the king came out announcing. ‘Bring the finest goat and let it be sacrificed in honor of my daughter in law.’

Meera was shocked to hear the very words.  Her heart was filled with guilt thinking that an innocent animal was going to lose its life because of her. With a timid voice of a new daughter in law, she mustered up the courage to bring forth her views. ‘Excuse me for my impudence. But it is my request, please don’t kill any innocent animal to welcome me.’ 

All stood in shock hearing the young princess saying these words. The house of Rana Sanga, followed tradition from ancient times. Besides no one had the audacity to refute to what he said.

‘Meera, do you know what you are saying,’ Rana Sanga said searing with anger. ‘How dare… How dare you take a stand against my command.’

The bustling ambience of the palace suddenly came to a standstill. All the faces that were adorning smiles suddenly became stern. There was absolute silence. Never in their lifetime had they heard or seen a bride speaking thus!

‘Look at this girl! She has not even entered the house and she is trying to alter the customs.’ People started whispering amongst themselves.

Meera’s heart started palpitating hearing the susurration that had cropped up. She knew what trouble she had invited for herself. There was a certain code of conduct for the brides to follow. It was not at all in good taste for a bride to speak thus. That too to a person who was not just her father in law, but also a mighty king of a strong kingdom.

Nevertheless, she did not want any bloodshed to mark the auspicious day she had got married and was entering a new life with new responsibilities. 

‘How can taking life of an innocent be a mark of respect and honor!’ She mumbled with fortitude. Her eyes following a sparrow flitting under the gracious shadow of the giant mango tree outside the courtyard. She could sense the stiffness in the atmosphere, but kept herself strong.  

‘These are age old customs Meera. We all have followed them. It shall be done for you too, regardless of your wish!’ Mother queen spoke to her gently explaining about the customs. She hoped that Meera would understand this and that would bring down the temper of the king.  

But Meera stood there like an obstinate child. Come what may, she was not ready to accept that an animal was going to be sacrificed for her. 

 ‘I will not enter the house if the blood of any creature flows to welcome me.’ She murmured in her soft spoken tone, audible enough for everyone around to hear. She stood there with her head bowed, waiting to hear the orders to turn around and leave her new abode. She knew what repercussions this would bring. Her father would definitely not take it in good taste and probably come down warring with his army. Mentally she had prepared to leave the comforts of the palace and take refuge in some unknown place. 

Udabai, her sister in law stepped in. She thought it was the perfect opportunity to show how dutiful she was. ‘Meera… It is a very normal custom dear. There is no harm intended to any life as such. From when have the brave rajputs started fearing bloodshed!’ She mocked looking at her.

‘It is completely different to shed blood for the protection of our motherland, but if a single drop of blood is shed, just to honor me I will not enter the house.’ Gentle voice of Meera came out reacting to the hurtful words of her sister in law. 

‘Beware Bai sa*… She is trying to dominate you as well. Look at her audacity, she is not at all apologetic for what she has said.’ Sneered Udabai’s maid in waiting as Udabai stepped back after trying to convince Meera. 

However, Rana Sanga, a king of wisdom, was gradually moved seeing the way Meera remained adamant to her view point. He figured that her concern was genuine. Seeing Meera’s will power Rana Sanga got impressed. He recalled that Meera’s family had told him about their girl who was pious and devout in nature. 

And for the first time in the history of the house of Rana’s an old age custom was broken. The new bride was welcomed with all fanfare except for the killing of an animal. 

Meera slowly won favour of her respected and glorious father in law. However, this incident had sown a seed of jealousy and resentment among many in the family. And amongst one of them was Udabai. She did not sleep peacefully from the day Meera had come. She would always keep an eye on whatever Meera did. 

Meera was a devout princess and adorned Lord Krishna since she was a child. She would spend most of her time sitting on the floor of the temple and sing soulful songs in praise of the Lord. Listening to her mellifluous voice soaked in devotion, people in the palace would come and sit around her, listening to her songs. Udabai made a note of all this!

‘She sits amongst the people of the palace. She sits and dances before the common folk.’ She said in taunting tone to Rana Khumba. ‘Does it befit a queen of such a stature to sing and dance in the presence of menials?’ She started filling his ears.

At first Rana Khumba ignored what Udabai said. But slowly he noticed how his wife was being discussed and talked about by the common people. 

‘How melodiously Rani sa* sings!’ 
‘Rani sa dances so elegantly.’
‘There is no one here like new Rani sa.’

Hearing talks like these from the bourgeois made the blood of Rana Khumba boil. 

‘Meera there are certain decorum we need to maintain. It does not look nice for a lady of your stature to sing in public.’ He tried to persuade her.

But Meera had a completely different perspective for the world. For her no one was big, no one was small. She saw her Lord’s light inside every being. For her the flowers and the birds, the stars and the moon, the rivers and the lakes were all brimmed with the beauty of her Lord. She was unable to understand why she should keep herself away from people who loved to hear the praise of her Lord. However, being a dutiful wife, she assisted diligently with her household affairs and then she would sit down and sing songs soaked with devotion.

Every time Udabai saw her going to the temple she would smile wickedly to herself. ‘She thinks she can control everyone by her charming ways… huh! Meera I will break the false notion you have put up. I will expose you’.

Udabai started filling ears of the family members. Raving that Meera was bringing a slur on the reputation of the family. She went ahead making false and defamatory remarks about Meera.

‘She can worship our family deity Ma Amba. Why does she have to worship only Grirdhar?’ Udabai started conspiring against her. 

‘People are coming and thronging around her. She seems to be lost in a trance all the time. She is simply bringing shame upon our family by mixing so frequently with seers and sages!’

‘She talks to an idol! Hah! Can you believe that? I am telling you she has another man in her life. She doesn’t give any time to her poor husband.’

Udabai went on relentlessly spreading rumours and poisoning ears of all the family members including her husband. 

One of the days when Meera was sitting in the temple playing her tanpura*, the gardener brought a basket full of flowers. Udabai had got a deadly cobra hidden in it. In the course of time she had developed hatred for Meera. She had become very bitter towards her from the bottom of her heart. She despised Meera’s theory that God lived in everybody’s heart. It was difficult for her to digest that all people were on the same pedestal in front of the supreme power. Meera’s talks did not make any sense to her and she wanted to get rid of her. She plotted having her killed thus. No one would doubt her in case of snake bite as it the most natural way of having an unnatural death.

But to Udabai’s surprise, when Meera set her hands in the basket to take out flowers to offer to her Lord, instead of the snake out came a garland! 

For Udabai it was nothing less than a miracle as she had herself supervised the gardener. Udabai realize that Meera was indeed blessed. Some supreme power was always around her to protect her. 

She realized her folly and sat down in trance looking at the flame flickering in front of the temple. She saw how cool and composed Meera had been all through the adversity created by her. Though she had tried making Meera a victim of concocted stories but now she repented from the bottom of her heart.

Her eyes filled up with tears as the vision of the flame became hazy. As the mellifluous songs of Meera melted in her ears… Udabai sat still, closing her eyes. The frown on her face was slowly replaced by a gentle smile.  She was literally transcended to another world. All she could hear and feel was the sound of her breath, coming in and going out…

Opening her eyes slowly she saw the lamp kept in front of the temple she had lit before sitting down for meditation. 

Udabai had another journey today sitting in her small room. Meera was no longer with them. She had taken refuge in her divine abode. 

Udabai was old now. She lived a life longer than anyone could have imagined. With the passage of time she had taken refuge in a secluded village. People often wondered there who is old lady was. They would come down to listen to her stories and songs which she had learned from Meera and remember her.

Udabai’s skin was wrinkled and body had become fragile, but Meera had kindled the same love for the divine in her heart which she reflected. A perpetual resplendent glow emanated from her face. Her sharp and shrewd tone had now become soft and sombre. She could feel the same joy which Meera had felt for her Lord. Meera, the queen of Chittor, the queen who had Giridhar in her heart! Many queens came and went but it is only Meera everyone remembers for her unpretentious and unconditional love for Giridhar Gopal, reflected Udabai, the pious princess.
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Author’s note: This story is a work of fiction inspired from the life of Meera Bai and does not intend to hurt anyone’s sentiments. 

Glossary:
Sapha : turban
Pooja thali : a plate containing material offered during prayer
Bai sa : honorable sister
Tanpura : stringed musical instrument
Rani sa : honorable  queen 
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Shristee Singh
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