Devotion of Meerabai – in a contemporary musical

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What are the aspects of saint-poet Meerabai’s life story that you didn’t know about? The musical ‘Meera’ with English dialogues will be premiered online on December 25, on Mokshada Ekadashi, a day dedicated to the worshipping of Lord Krishna.

Meera, a musical, is premiering online (aolic.org/onlinemeera) on December 25. Although we have seen films and television serials bringing the crowning achievement of India’s celebrated 16th Century saint-poet, this Art of Living production is said to be one-of-its-kind where the nearly two-hour contemporary musical delves deeper into Meera’s zealous devotion. “Our study of Meerabai brings in points for introspection, and we have made the reach wider to have the revolutionary poet’s life described in English dialogues. The melodic tracks have some of Meerabai’s hitherto unheard of poems with 183 artists taking part in the production,” says Bharathy Harish, coordinator of Madhurya Creations in Bangalore who has done the screenplay for the musical. Well, known playback artists have lent their voices for recording Meerabai’s poetic brilliance and weaving them for several classical genres of dance.

Madhurya, the revival boutique of the Art of Living Ashram, has done the costume designing.

Saint Mirabai is significant amongst the Indian women saints and notable figures amongst the foremost of the mystics of the world. The production ‘Meera’ is a culmination of several versions that also show Meera in a comfortable relationship with her husband Rana Kumbha (known as Bhojraj) of Mewar in Rajasthan. It’s the societal narrow-mindedness that disturbs their free-flow of their life, coupled with circumstances that lead Rana to suspect Meera’s good faith. Bharathy Harish of Madhurya speaks more on points that make ‘Meera’ a contemporary musical, in an exclusive. Excerpts…

Which are the versions of saint Meerabai that you referred to for writing a screenplay for the musical?

We went through several versions of her life-story that helped us with a historic sequence of events. We spoke to traditional folk-storytellers (addressed as Bhagat ji) in Mewar, through whom we could feel the deep reverence that people have for Meera. However, the essence of this rendition is seen through the eyes of wisdom. I have had the opportunity to hear Bhanu didi (sister of Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankarji) speak about Meera on multiple occasions and her perspectives deeply inspired the approach that the screenplay took. When you see the life of Meera from the point of view of the world, there are endless difficulties. But when seen through the eyes of wisdom, there is only bliss. We also see how Meera challenged several social evils during her time in such a natural and innocent way, while she was unyielding in her commitment to protect and honor life. Her sensitivity was seen through her strength, gentleness, and steadfast devotion.

Tell us about the music employed, as it is crucial to the production?

You could term Meera’s outpourings as a dreamy fantasy, a prayer arising from helplessness, longing, faith, dispassion, and surrender. The melody communicates these emotions through a meticulous selection of ragas and compositions for a musical arrangement. Apart from tuneful verses from Bhanu didi, several known names including B. Prasanna, Sachin Limaye, Chitra Roy, Srinivas Shalini, and Gautam Dabir have been involved in arranging music. And we have renowned artists KS Chitra and Gayatri singing them, apart from budding talents Keerthana and Kavya Limaye. One highlight is the fact that we have lesser-known compositions of Meera selected in an effort to popularise them.

What are the dance forms employed to make the choreography interesting?

What makes it rare is the inclusion of dance forms like Kathak, Bharatanatya, Odissi, Dandiya Ras, Mor Chau, Katputli, Garba, and contemporary freestyle and lyrical yoga! The dances were choreographed by Srividya Varchaswi, who also stars as Meera in the production.

Do the English dialogues, to convey Meera’s resolute mind, make it reach better to a contemporary audience?

Perhaps yes. English helps reach out to Meera’s inspiring story globally. We think of the current time as ‘modern’ but the values and the strength that Meera represented are timeless and universal. If a simple young princess in a male-dominated social setting could show the resolve that Meera did in such an unassuming way, then there is certainly something for us even today to learn from it. She stopped the practice of animal sacrifice, she challenged the custom of Sati, for almost 25 years she traversed the width of India’s villages on foot singing songs that kindled the spark of devotion. So Meera’s source of security was something beyond a so-called home of her own, and her bhakthi is so tangible and real even after several centuries since she walked the earth.

Do you think Meera’s story is a message empowering women to follow their passion, or seen as an adamant trail of her strange fantasy of being one with her Lord?

I would invite you to watch the musical and it may open up newer perspectives of her life and its message, even beyond these two. There will be something relatable and profoundly valuable for each of us, as 300 people worked for six months on the production.

Madhurya has designed the costumes, so what are the aspects brought into it that speaks of fashion history?

A study of the kind of attire that was worn at that time, the techniques of embroidery that were used, the vibrance of the color palette that was predominant in those times – all these inputs were combined and enhanced further with contemporary touches in the silhouettes. The motifs used in each garment were also a way to communicate the setting in which Meera found herself in. Her lehenga, as a queen, is rich in double-layered pink and purple with gota work in chevron patterns and jharoka motifs. Her Vrindavan look was embellished with delicate jasmine flowers on her double-layered lehenga with an asymmetrical silhouette. And as a saint, the vibrant and solid orange represented her consolidated consciousness.

The garments were also made keeping in mind the dances. The fabrics chosen were fluid to suit movement and expression. The outfits were further accessorized with jewelry to suit her royal and saintly looks… all outfits engineered to facilitate change within a matter of seconds.

Where and when would it be premiered for people to watch?

The production is a fundraiser for the education of underprivileged children through the gift-a-smile program of the Art of Living and can be viewed online from December 25 to 31. One can register at aolic.org/onlinemeera

Path of Bhakthi…

“Mein Giridhar ke ghar jaun” “Baso more nainan mein nand lal”… Songs of Meera poured out, it is said, when she remained in an ecstatic trance in front of her idol of Krishna. With anklets tied to her feet, she danced with commoners and sadhus. Even today the temples of Chittorgarh, Dwarka, and Vrindavan where Meerabai worshipped are a huge draw.

Meerabai, daughter of Ratan Singh Ranthor, was born in the village Kurkhi (near Merta) in Marwar, Rajasthan.  The Ranthors of Merta were great devotees of Vishnu. From the day little Meera received an idol of Krishna that kindled a one-pointed devotion for “her Lord,” there have been several versions of the saint-poet’s life documented by scholars. The commonality seen in all versions, though, is her unconditional love towards Lord Krishna. Legends talk of Meera’s mother pointing to Krishna’s statue when the little girl, seeing a wedding procession, had curiously queried her mother on who her bridegroom would be!

Although married to Rana Kumbha (known as Bhojraj) of Mewar in Rajasthan in 1516, their union did not last. The agony persists when Meerabai loses her husband, and thereby her only source of support in the royal household. Her refusal to commit sati might have added more fuel to the raging inferno of relationships in her family and society, but Meera is not seen disturbed. “Her focus is just her Lord. She brought rains and prosperity wherever she went. Her songs echoed in the gentle winds that swept across the dunes and villages and into the hearts of every man, woman, and child. They have stood the test of time and invoke the same love today,” says Bharathy Harish, who has come up with the screenplay for the musical.

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