ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Mirabai and the Spiritual Economy of Bhakti

Kumkum Sangari In an economy where the labour of women and the surplus production of the peasant and artisan are customarily and 'naturally' appropriated by the ruling groups, the high Hindu traditions sought to encompass and retain the management of spiritual 'surplus', and to circumscribe its availability along lines of caste and gender. In this spiritual economy, the liberalising and dissenting forms of bhakti emerge as a powerful force which selectively uses the metaphysic of high Hinduism in an attempt to create an inappropriate excess of transcendent value grounded in the dailiness of a material life within the reach of all This paper attempts to understand the specific character of Mirabai's bhakti as it finds shape within the overlapping yet contradictory configuration of the patriarchal assumptions of the medieval Rajput state, prescriptive brahminkal texts, and the female devotional voice as it develops in earlier and contemporary compositions of male bhaktas. What emerges is, firstly, that though the prescriptions of the smritis and Puranas do not survive as law, they are available as ideology which shapes the customary domain and self-description of Rajput ruling groups and constitute the historical moment in which Mira lives. Secondly, in the breaking and remaking of patriarchal relations, Mira's bhakti marks as well as belongs to a longer historical moment in which the prescriptions of the smritis and Puranas are selectively internalised, and the customary nexus of religious practice is translated into metaphors and emotional structures. Thirdly, though Mira's compositions are themselves ambivalently situated, there are significant differences in her personal practice and in her ideological location when compared to earlier and contemporary male bhaktas. And, finally, etched into Mira's enterprise is not only the difficulty of being 'original' in an oral tradition, but also the recalcitrance and the precariousness of personal rebellion.

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