The Mother Divine
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Early life

Narsinh Mehta was born in the town of Talaja (now located in Bhavnagar district, Gujarat). As a member of the Nagar Brahmin community, Narsinh’s father held an administrative position in a royal court. Narsinh was mute until the age of eight. He began to speak only after meeting a holy man who had him utter the phrase ‘Radhe Shyam’. His older brother, Bansidhar, was 17 years his senior. Narsinh’s parents died when he was five years old, and he was left dependent on his older brother and his sister-in-law.

Based on the language, style, and emotion of Narsinh’s poetic works, it is believed that he studied in his Nagar family tradition and had knowledge of literary tradition and creativity. However, his poetry focuses exclusively on religious devotion and is attributed to being a devotee of Krishna.

Becoming a devotee of Krishna

Narsinh and his wife Manekbai lived in his older brother Bansidhar’s home, but were treated very poorly by Bansidhar’s wife. An ill-tempered woman, she taunted and insulted Narsinh repeatedly. One day, when Narsinh had had enough of her taunts and insults, he left the house and went to a nearby forest in search of some peace, where he fasted and meditated by a secluded Shiva lingam at Gopnath Mahadev Mandir for seven days. Pleased by his devotion, Shiva manifested before Narsinh and took him to Vrindavan where he saw Krishna and the Gopis dancing (ras leela). There, he was given the service of holding the torch which lit the grounds for Krishna and the Gopis. He was so engrossed in watching Krishna that he didn’t realize that the torch was burning his hand. Krishna was pleased with Narsinh’s devotion and granted him a wish. Narsinh asked to have never-ending devotion of Krishna and the ability to sing about his glory. Krishna granted him this, along with the constant vision of ras leela and the promise to always be at Narsinh’s side. Narsinh resolved to compose around 22,000 kirtans or compositions.

After this transformative experience, Narsinh returned to his village, touched his sister-in-law’s feet as reverence, and thanked her for insulting him for had she not made him upset, the above episode would not have occurred. Thereafter Narsinh moved out of his brother’s home and into a small house in Junagadh, where he began a life of devotion dedicated to Krishna.

Time in Junagadh

In Junagadh, he lived in poverty with his wife and two children, a son named Shamaldas, and a daughter for whom he had special affection, Kunwarbai. His popularity grew as a bhajan singer, as he sang and danced the praises of Krishna in the company of all, regardless of gender, class, and caste. The Nagar Brahmin community, which Narsinh belonged to, found it offensive that Narsinh associated with those deemed a lower caste. The Nagar Brahmins were considered ‘high ranking’, and known for their elegant manners, musical skills, and court appointments. Many Nagar Brahmins at the time worshipped Shiva, and some sources state this contributed to their opposition and torment of Narsinh, who was an ardent Krishna devotee.

Narsinh’s autobiographical works as well as later compositions from other poets provide a glimpse of certain key incidents from his life, depicting Narsinh’s bhakti towards Krishna.

The wedding of Shamaldas

The family priest of an influential individual named Madan Mehta, came to Junagadh in search of an appropriate partner for Madan Mehta’s daughter. A local Nagar Brahmin suggested the priest meet Narsinh’s son Shamaldas, hoping that the priest would experience Narsinh’s poverty and spread this news to other towns. However, the priest approved of Shamaldas and announced the engagement. Narsinh invited Krishna to the wedding, much to the ridicule of the other Brahmin’s who mocked Narsinh’s poverty and his hopes that Krishna would help him. The wedding party of Shamaldas, full of people with meagre means, left from Junagadh and arrived with much pomp and grandeur beyond everyone’s expectations. It is believed that Krishna miraculously provided Narsinh’s family with everything needed to celebrate the wedding of Shamaldas.

Putrah Vivah is a composition that depicts this incident and portrays Krishna coming to the aid of his devotee.

Promissory note

Many in the community questioned the poverty of Narsinh and assumed he was deceiving everyone. The local Nagar Brahmins once convinced a group of pilgrims to get a promissory note from Narsinh for ₹700, telling them that Narsinh was actually a rich man despite appearances. When approached by the pilgrims, Narsinh understood he was being tricked, but he accepted the money and wrote a promissory note to a merchant in Dwarka, where the pilgrims were traveling to.

The merchant named in the note was Shamalsha Sheth. Upon arriving in Dwarka, the pilgrims found that no one had heard of an individual with this name, and they assumed that they had been scammed out of ₹700 by Narsinh. To their surprise, an individual named Shamalsha appeared looking for the pilgrims and paid the principal with substantial interest. It is believed the Krishna appeared as Shamalsha to fulfil the promissory note.

Narsinh’s composition ‘Hundi’, is famous not only in Gujarati but in other parts of India as well, and was written as a prayer to Krishna after he accepted this bond from the pilgrims (“Mari Hundi swikaro Maharaj re Shamala Giridhari...”, which translates to “Oh God, please accept my note of credit...”

Ceremony for Kunwarbai’s pregnancy

One noteworthy autobiographical composition is based on Narsinh’s daughter, Kunwarbai, and the ceremony that occurred in honour of her pregnancy. The tradition at the time dictated that the parents of the mother-to-be would give gifts to their daughter’s in-laws during the seventh month of pregnancy, a custom known as mameru. Given Narsinh’s extreme poverty and his total immersion in devotion to Krishna, he arrived at his daughter’s in-laws home empty-handed. When he asked them for a list of customary gifts to provide, Kunwarbai’s in-laws provided a list of expensive items that would be unattainable for Narsinh. Upon receiving the list, Narsinh prayed to Krishna and soon a merchant, assumed to be the form of Krishna, appeared with gifts in abundance. [2]

This episode has been captured in Narsinh’s autobiographical composition – ‘Kunvarbai nu Mameru’ or ‘Mameru nu Pad’. The legend of Krishna coming to Narsinh’s aid is also preserved through compositions by later poets and films.

Garland from Krishna

The Nagar Brahmins continued to oppose Narsinh, and instigated the King of Junagadh, Raja Mandallika to test Narsinh. The king falsely accused Narsinh, and demanded that Narsinh ask Krishna to send him the garland from the murti in the temple of Damodar. This alone would provide Narsinh’s innocence and spare his life. Narsinh prayed all night and pleaded with Krishna to make the king’s demand come true, so that others would not fear pursuing a path of devotion. The next morning, Krishna placed the garland on Narsinh’s neck and Narsinh received an apology from the king.