CHAPTER 5: Merbai ni Dehri

Temple 2

The simple villagers were now getting wary of saintly figures. Mohania had shaken their faith in divinity. Even Merbai….? Could the Kuldevi do this? But that is what Mohanio claimed. It was getting too complicated.

Mohanio was an ardent devotee of Merbai. He dreamed up every full-moon night to sort out the mundane problems of the villagers. They believed in him because all his prophecies proved right! Now the same Mohanio dreamed up Merbai garlanding him as her husband! Simple deductive logic, it was. He must be telling the truth, at least his side of the truth.

“Don’t you all know who penned the bhajans that we sing? Do you know who Meerabai was? She was a princess who thought of Lord Krishna as her husband.” Geeta had told her aunt, Jamna

“Come on, that story is a fake one”, Geeta’s aunt knew what she was leading to.

“But the bhajans are for real, auntie. Can you read? Look, what she says, Mere to Giridhar Gopal, doosaraa naa koi” (Lord Krishna is all mine; no one else)

“Your education has spoiled you, Geeta. God damn this perverse education. This has nothing to do with our situation. Keep quiet or else I will send you back to your village right away” Aunt wasn’t ready to digest Geeta’s wisdom.

But the nagging doubt made aunt Jamna talk to her husband, Gopal, “Why don’t you ask this Mahatma?”

Geeta’s explanation spread like a wildfire. Even 400 years ago a princess had the guts to announce that Lord Krishna was her husband. Aren’t we damning poor Mohanio for no fault of his?

After the religious discourse was over, Dada Maharaj looked around to see that lot villagers had gathered along with his disciples.

“My pranaam all of you. So how are you all? May the all-pervading God be kind to you”

Jamna came forward to place a basket of mangoes for him.

Dada Maharaj smiled in appreciation.

“Wasn’t there a mango tree just near the water tank right there?” pointing to a patch of land.

“Yes,’ an old man confirmed “ I remember in my younger days the tree was very much there, exactly at the spot you are showing. But how do you know that Dada Maharaj?”

“Come on, dadajee (Grandpa), Mahatma is a realized soul. He knows everything” Chhanu taunted the old man.

“Well, dadajee is right.” Dada Maharaj paused to sip a glass of water, “ I know it because this is my village. I was born here. Then…”

“Then you ran away to join Saint Rang Avdhoot, didn’t you?” Dadajee completed his sentence; “ I was just a toddler then but my father revealed it to me later.

Everyone was speechless. “You, Dada Maharaj ? Belong to this village?”

“That is absolutely correct. I ran away and fell at the feet of the great Saint Rang Avdhoot; became a monk; wandered further southward; settled down to put up an ashram in a remote village, Mangaon, in Maharashtra”

“Isn’t that great? Now, will you stay here?” Gopal asked expectantly; with Mohanio having failed and Merbai playing unfathomable games, someone like the Mahatma would be an ideal spiritual entity to lean on.

Dada Maharaj’s disciples got a bit restive.

“Unfortunately, I can’t. Now I belong to my adopted village – Mangaon in Maharashtra” the Mahatma’s words had a tinge of finality.

Nevertheless, a wave of excitement swept through the villagers. Their son of the soil had returned after many years. It happened to be the right time for him to appear on the scene. Would he resolve the unnerving mystery that had befallen the village?

“Dada Maharaj jee”, the Sarpanch of the Panchayat, got up, with folded hands in reverence, “It is our earnest wish that you resolve this great upheaval caused by our Mohania”

“You must, Dada Maharaj, before you leave” the members of the Panchayat pleaded in a chorus.

Dada Maharaj smiled, “I happen to know everything. The distraught poojari briefed me last night”

“Oh, so you must have a solution at hand, Maharaj”

From his high pedestal seat Dada Maharaj spoke to the villagers who sat through the narration of the riveting story:

“This is much before I ran away from the village, my fellow brothers and sisters. We had a learned old wise man called Bhikhu Dada who often told this story to us. The story is of Kuldevi Merbai, who she was and what happened”

In the cloudless sky, the sun got harsher; Dada Maharaj paused; the group formed a smaller circle around him to sit under the shade of the great peepal tree.

“Many years ago, while Bhikhu Dada himself was a young boy, a poojari family lived in the same house that Ramjibhai lives in. They just had one daughter, Merbai. She was very beautiful. Just like Mohanio, she used to accompany her poojari father to worship Lord Krishna here where I am sitting right now. She would get ecstatic and start dancing and praying aloud in praise of Lord Krishna, particularly on the Janmashtami day.

A passing Sadhu (monk) had once had told her the story of the great Saint Meerabai and how she spent her entire life in the worship of Lord Krishna as her husband. As you all know, she composed a great number of bhajans in praise of the Lord and sang in gay abandon.

Our Merbai, in her childhood fantasy, imagined herself to be that Meerabai and remained immersed in the worship of Lord Krishna as her husband. Her behavior did not go well with the conservative villagers. She stopped attending to the ritual worships at the shrine and spent all her time in her little room, playing with the image of Lord Krishna that the Sadhu had gifted her. “

At this moment, Ramji and his wife Reva joined the group

“Some of the elders of the village asked the poojari to get her married off and get rid of the nuisance that she had become the talk of the cluster of villages surrounding our village. But who would marry a crazy girl who claimed that she was the reincarnation of Saint Meerabai and that Lord Krishna was her husband? People threatened to ostracize the poojari family. The agony of having such a crazy girl as their daughter was so acute that the parents abandon the village in the dead of one dark night and disappeared, never to be found.

Now what to do with this girl? Nobody was prepared to feed her. She got weaker but continued with her ways.

On the night before the great Janmashtami festival, it rained very heavily, the kind the villagers had never seen in their life. The river breached the banks, the tank overflowed. The waters began to rise. People feared for their lives. The roofs of several houses had been blown off. Everyone sat in pouring rains, shivering, and praying.

Then they saw her. Merbai, emerged from her room, with a determined gait that amazed the onlookers. She had her little image of Lord Krishna in her right hand. She waded through the water all the way to this place where a temple of Lord Krishna stood. The high level that of the land that you see now dates back to that day. She motioned everyone to follow her. The rising waters were left far behind. Everyone followed her to the high ground at the temple. She began chanting prayers in praise of Lord Krishna, unmindful of the fury of the rains.

The fury of the rains started subsiding, the water level began to fall, and the river regained its original course. My brothers and sisters, the village was saved,.

A new Saint was born that day. She saved the village single-handedly, just like  Lord Krishna did thousands of years ago by lifting the Govardhan hill.

Merbai was not done yet. She continued to sing as she went around the temple, again and again, six times. People watched in amazement and sang with her, clapping their hands rhythmically.

As she turned for the final seventh round and momentarily disappeared behind the temple, a giant wave rose from the water and swept her away.

The cheers turned into cries of agony. Oh my God, save her, save her.  But she was gone.

Was she the reincarnation of Saint Meerabai? Was that her faith in Lord Krishna that saved the village from destruction? No one knows. Was that a miracle? Good Lord, I have no idea.

The practice of immersing an image of Merbai in the tank on Janmashtami day started for this reason.”

“But what do I do now, Maharaj?” Reva prostrated before him, sobbing

“Oh my sister, have faith in the Almighty,” Maharaj uttered the wisdom handed down for centuries

“But, Mohanio…..?” Reva covered her mouth with the loose end of her saree to muffle her uncontrollable spell of sobs.

“Arey Sarpanch jee,’ Dada Maharaj hailed the Chief of Panchayat “ Come and meet me in my room along with the panchayat members, the poojari Ramji and his wife. We will find a way out”

The next day, it would be the first day of the second fortnight of the Hindu month of Shraavan. Things were falling in place with the Saintly intervention of Dada Maharaj. The villagers slept peacefully that night.

Merbai ni Je

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