Mirabai is the best-known Bhakti poet and Krishna Devotee of medieval times in India. Her devotional songs are sung across India. Most of us know her as the queen of Chittorgarh. Not many of us know that she was the princess of Merta, a small kingdom located between Jaipur and Jodhpur.
This time when I was exploring Pushkar, I took a small detour to visit Merta. The Internet told me of a few things that you can see there, but like so many places in India, Merta too pleasantly surprised me.
From Pushkar, we drove through Aravali Hills, many of which are chipped off for their stone. Some with the temples on tops challenged with the steep steps leading to them. The not so crowded road made for a pleasant drive on a sunny morning.
History of Merta
Merta is the kingdom of Mertia Rathore Rajputs. Rao Duda, the grandfather of Mirabai is the best-known ruler of this land in the early 16th CE. His fort and palaces can still be seen in some form and shape in Merta. The kingdom changed many hands as battles took between the Rajputs and Sher Shah Suri. By the time Mirabai was married into the Sisodia family of Chittorgarh in Mewar, her brother Jaimal was ruling the Merta state. However, he was killed in a battle soon after and the kingdom merged with the kingdom of Jodhpur.
The royal house of Merta takes pride in the fact that they never gave their daughters in marriage to Mughals as many other royal families did. Another exception being the royal family of Mewar, into which Mirabai was married.
Mirabai Places to see in Merta
Merta has some of the best-maintained places to see, unlike many other small towns of this size. There is one main temple and a fort converted into a museum, and both of them are a delight to visit, especially if you are inspired by Mirabai.
This temple built by Rao Duda, the grandfather of Mirabai is the heart of Merta. It is a temple dedicated to the 4-armed avatar of Vishnu. Charbhuja, literally meaning four-armed. The temple complex also houses a small temple dedicated to Mirabai bang opposite the main temple.
When I reached the temple, many women in their colorful attire were singing bhajans. I walked past them to the sanctum and had a long conversation with the priest. He told me stories that were also etched on the walls around us.
Legends from Mirabai’s childhood
It is said that Rao Duda dreamed of this Vishnu Murti. He learned that a Mochi or cobbler’s cow has been visiting a certain place and leaving all her milk there. Rao Duda followed the cow and asked his men to dig where it was milking. They found this beautiful Murti of Vishnu. Rao Duda got a grand temple built for it. He used to worship it every day and offered milk to the Murti. The milk came from the cows of the Mochi community. Even today, the milk offered at the temple comes from the same community.
Young Mirabai used to watch her grandfather offer milk to the Charbhuja Murti and as a young girl, she believed that Vishnu drinks the milk. Once when her grandfather was away for a few days, she was entrusted with the responsibility to offer milk to the deity. She stood there to watch the deity drink milk. It did not happen, so she went out and watched through the window, but the deity did not move. She started crying and insisting that he drinks milk else her grandfather would be angry. They say the milk in the bowl went away. The window can still be seen in the temple.
All the stories are painted on the walls of the sanctum of the temple.
The Charbhuja Murti is about 4 feet high. It is holding the chakra in its lower hand which means that it is the Shanta or peaceful avatar of the deity. When he is ready to kill, chakra would be in his top hands. The priest gave prasad to the visitors while narrating me the story, everyone wished each other by saying ‘Jai Charbhuja’ and I know this would make it to ‘ 20+ ways to greet in India’.
Pandit Ji also showed me a small Ashtdhatu Murti of Krishna that Mira used to worship. We know that when Mira’s mother told her that her groom was Sri Krishna, she devoted herself to Krishna from that moment as his bride. This was the beginning of Mirabai the saint and poetess we all know.
The Charbhuja Temple is full of wall murals and glass paintings. As I was walking around, a frail woman in saffron Sari walked up to me and asked if I was traveling alone. I said, yes and she had all the subsequent questions like why my husband is not accompanying me. We were facing the Mirabai temple and I asked her – Did she not travel all alone across the country, 400 years ago? Are we not her descendants? She and I had a hearty laugh, as she said – you are right. Sometimes the repeated conditioning on our real values needs to go.
I stood before Mirabai, for she is my ancestor in many ways. She walked across the length and breadth of this country in an age when it was unthinkable. I looked around for the sign of courage and devotion in this land that gave her these qualities. Each of the women walking in the temple looked like Mira to me, they are potentially genetically related to her.
I walked around the temple for some time trying to absorb the fact that Mirabai grew up playing and praying here.
The temple complex is full of many small shrines including a Shivalinga and a temple to Hinglaj Mata.
This is the fort of Mirabai’s family that has now been converted into a museum on Mirabai. It is a lovely museum that documents her life and stories. You have a life-size Murti in the middle, folios from manuscripts in large format talking about the stories of her life.
One room has representations of Mira in different forms of art and literature. Another room showcases places like Dwarka, Vrindavan that were visited by Mira Bai. Each place has a story related to her, including her interactions with the people there.
I learned that a stamp was issued on Mirabai a few years back.
A gallery has illustrated the poetry of Mirabai with some couplets written along. There are tablets in clay depicting the life of Mira.
There is a library dedicated to books on Mira. I could see a part of it, as the other part is not open to the public. Mira Research Institute operates from the same premises. I was not even aware that something like this exists.
A temple dedicated to Nagnechaya Mata – the Kuldevi of Rathore clan is inside the premises of Mira Samarak or Merta Fort. She is an incarnation of Chakreshwari Devi who was brought here from Kannauj by a Saraswat Brahmin.
Veer Kalia is another deity in the temple, who is treated as a folk deity now but was a brave journal who fought the armies of Akbar.
It is a lovely memorial cum research center dedicated to the daughter of the land Mirabai.
Other Things to See in Merta
Just outside the gates of the fort, stands a lovely clocktower in white marble.
In the markets surrounding the women were selling colorful lac bangles in primarily yellow and red colors considered auspicious in Rajasthan.
On the side of a lake, I could find ruins of a palace. Now it is just a ruin standing like a mute spectator, as the city goes on.
Merta can be easily done as a day trip from Ajmer, Pushkar or Jodhpur.
You need 1-2 hours to see it properly.