Study Guide For Poetry Of Mystical Love

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The notion of fusing sexuality with religious devotion strikes many readers as surprising, but it is in fact an ancient theme, common in a wide variety of mystical traditions. In all of them the union of human and divine is expressed through metaphors of lovemaking. Source: From For Love of the Dark One: Songs of Mirabai, tr. Andrew Schelling (Boston: Shambhala, 1993), pp. 51, 89, 39, 48. The Hindu tradition contains many traditions of mystical eroticism. The world is created through a sexual act, Kali/Durga embodies the combined activities of death and procreation, Kama is a famous god (the Sanskrit sex manual Kama Sutra is named after him), but perhaps the most widely-known figure connected with such images is Krishna, renowned for his love of the gopis.
The 16th-century mystical poet Mirabai is famous for her life-long devotion to Krishna.
She identified herself poetically with his consort, Radha, rejected the husbands who were forced on her, and wandered the land with a band of like-minded women, singing their songs of praise for their god/lover. One tradition says that she spent some time at the court of Akbar the Great, the Mogul ruler of North India who lavishly supported the arts. Although Muslim by background, he was interested in all religious traditions, and tried to create a synthesis from Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism. However her fame developed, it has lasted to this day. Her songs are performed devotionally, but also as entertainment, live and in popular films.
This poem relates to the tradition of Bharata Natayam which was carried on by temple dancers throughout India at temples devoted to the worship of Krishna until they were banned by the British on the grounds that they commonly also served as prostitutes. In fact most did support themselves by sleeping with customers at the temples, but this was considered a traditional and legitimate part of their function, explicitly endorsed by the god.
Their dancing, however, was performed for the god himself. The dancer would often sleep overnight beneath Krishnas image, and elaborate dances were performed ritually in which the dancer communed directly with the god without any other audience being permitted. After a long hiatus, this form of dancing has been revived as an art form, with respectable young women reviving the tradition in concert halls and on television; but dancing in temples has not been resumed. Like the temple dancers, Mirabai here identifies with Radha and the Gopis who danced together with Krishna during his life on earth. The blue-skinned Krishna is often referred to as the Dark One. What is Mirabais attitude toward conventional social reputation? What religious significance would her attitude have? How does she express the intimacy of her identification with Krishna? How is the belief in reincarnation reflected in this poem? What do you thinking awaking consists in? The miracle in which Krishna protected his home village from an ...

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