Narsinh Mehta [Adi Kavi] (1414? – 1481? / Talaja, Bhavnagar, Gujarat / India)
Biography of Narsinh Mehta
Narsinh Mehta (Gujarati:નરસિંહ મહેતા)also known as Narsi Mehta or Narsi Bhagat was a poet-saint of Gujarat, India, and a member of the Nagar Brahmins community, notable as a bhakta, an exponent of Vaishnava poetry. He is especially revered in Gujarati literature, where he is acclaimed as its Adi Kavi (Sanskrit for "first among poets"). His bhajan, Vaishnav Jan To is Mahatma Gandhi's favorite and has become synonymous to him.
Narsinh Mehta was born in the ancient town of Talaja and then shifted to Jirndurg now known as Junagadh in the District of Saurashtra, in Vaishnava Brahmin community. He lost his mother and his father when he was 5 years old. He could not speak until the age of 8 and after his parents expired his care was taken by his grand mother Jaygauri.
Narsinh married Manekbai probably in the year 1429. Narsinh Mehta and his wife stayed at his brother Bansidhar’s place in Junagadh. However, his cousin's wife (Sister-in-law or bhabhi) did not welcome Narsinh very well. She was an ill-tempered woman, always taunting and insulting Narsinh mehta for his worship (Bhakti). One day, when Narasinh mehta had enough of these taunts and insults, he left the house and went to a nearby forest in search of some peace, where he fasted and meditated for seven days by a secluded Shiva lingam until Shiva appeared before him in person. On the poet’s request, the Lord took him to Vrindavan and showed him the eternal raas leela of Sri Krishna and the gopis. A legend has it that the poet transfixed by the spectacle burnt his hand with the torch he was holding but he was so engrossed in the ecstatic vision that he was oblivious of the pain. Narsinh mehta, as the popular account goes, at Sri Krishna's command decided to sing His praises and the nectarous experience of the rasa in this mortal world. He resolved to compose around 22,000 kirtans or compositions.
After this dream-like experience, transformed Narsinh mehta returned to his village, touched his bhabhi's feet, and thanked her for insulting him. In Junagadh, Narsinh mehta lived in poverty with his wife and two children, a son named Shamaldas, and a daughter for whom he had special affection, Kunwarbai. He revelled in devotion to his hearts’ content along with sadhus, saints, and all those people who were Hari's subjects - Harijans - irrespective of their caste, class or sex. It also seems that he must have fallen into a somewhat ill repute for his close relations with Lord's sakhis and gopis, Narsinh mehta's women followers, with whom he danced and sang. The Nagars of Junagadh despised him and spared no opportunity to scorn and insult him. By this time, Narsinh had already sung about the rasaleela of Radha and Krishna. The compositions are collected under the category of shringar compositions. They are full of intense lyricism, bold in their erotic conception and are not without allegorical dimensions, this saves the compositions from being something of erotic court poetry of medieval India.
Soon after his daughter, Kunwarbai's marriage (around 1447) to Srirang Mehta of Una's son, Kunwarbai became pregnant and it was a custom for the girl's parents to give gifts and presents to all the in-laws during the seventh month of pregnancy. This custom, known as Mameru, was simply out of the reach of poor Narsinh who had hardly anything except intransigent faith in his Lord. How Krishna helped his beloved devotee is a legend depicted in ‘Mameru Na Pada’. This episode is preserved vividly in the memory of Gujarati people by compositions by later poets and films. Other famous legends include 'Hundi (Bond)' episode and ‘Har Mala (Garland)’ episode. The episode in which none other than Shamalsha Seth cleared a bond written by poverty stricken beloved, is famous not only in Gujarat but in other parts of India as well. The Har Mala episode deals with the challenge given to Narsinh by Ra Mandlik (1451–1472) a local king, to prove his innocence in the charges of immoral behavior by making the Lord Himself garland Narsinh. Narsinh depicts this episode. How Sri Krishna, in the guise of a wealthy merchant, helped Narsinh in getting his son married is sung by the poet in ‘Putra Vivah Na Pada’. He went to Mangrol where, at the age of 66, he is believed to have died. The crematorium at Mangrol is called ‘Narsinh Nu Samshan’ where perhaps one of the greatest sons of Gujarat was cremated. He will ever remembered for his poetic works & devotion to Lord Krishna. He is known as the first poet of Gujarati.
Narsinh Mehta is a pioneer poet of Gujarati literature. He is known for his literary forms called " pada (verse) ", " Aakhyan ", & " Prabhatiya ". One of the most important features of Narsinh’s works is that they are not available in the language in which Narsinh had composed them. They have been largely preserved orally. The oldest available manuscript of his work is dated around 1612, and was found by the noted scholar K.K.Shastri from Gujarat Vidhya Sabha. Because of the immense popularity of his works, their language has undergone modifications with changing times. Narsinh Mehta wrote many bhajans and Aartis for lord krishna and they are published in many books. The biography of Narsinh Mehta is also available at Geeta Press.
For the sake of convenience, the works of Narsinh are divided into three categories:
Autobiographical compositions: Putra Vivah, Mameru, Hundi, Har Same No Pada, Jhari Na Pada, and compositions depicting acceptance of Harijans. These works deal with the incidents from the poet’s life and reveal how he encountered the Divine in various guises. They consist of ‘miracles’ showing how Narsaiyya’s Lord helped his devotee in the time of crises.
Miscellaneous Narratives: Chaturis, Sudama Charit, Dana Leela, and episodes based on Srimad Bhagwatam. These are the earliest examples of akhyana or narrative type of compositions found in Gujarati. These include:
Chaturis, 52 compositions resembling Jaydeva’s masterpiece Geeta Govinda dealing with various erotic exploits of Radha and Krishna.
Dana Leela poems dealing with the episodes of Krishna collecting his dues (dana is toll, tax or dues) from Gopis who were going to sell buttermilk etc. to Mathura.
Sudama Charit is a narrative describing the well-known story of Krishna and Sudama.
Govinda Gamana or the Departure of Govind relates the episode of Akrura taking away Krishna from Gokul.
Surata Sangrama, The Battle of Love, depicts in terms of a battle the amorous play between Radha and her girl friends on the one side and Krishna and his friends on the other.
Miscellaneous episodes from Bhagwatam like the birth of Krishna, his childhood pranks and adventures.
Songs of Sringar. These are hundreds of padas dealing with the erotic adventures and the amorous exploits of Radha and Krishna like Ras Leela. Various clusters of padas like Rasasahasrapadi and Sringar Mala fall under this head. Their dominant note is erotic (Sringar). They deal with stock erotic situations like the ossified Nayaka-Nayika Bheda of classical Sanskrit Kavya poetics.
See Vaishnav jan to, his popular composition.
Narsinh Mehta's Works:
Narsinh Mehta. Narsinh Mehtani KavyaKrutiyo (ed.). Shivlal Jesalpura. Ahmedabad:Sahitya Sanshodhan Prakashan, 1989.
Kothari, Jayant and Darshana Dholakia.(ed.). Narsinh Padmala. Ahmedabad: Gurjar Granthratna Karyalaya, 1997.
Rawal, Anantrai.(ed.). Narsinh Mehta na Pado. Ahmedabad : Adarsh Prakashan, 1994.
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- Cover me with a blanket O Kanha,
- Dark clouds thunder and Madhava dances!
- Dearer than life is the Vaishnava to me
- Don’t untie the threads of my choli
Play 'raas' with us love
'Play raas with us love,
Play your sweet flute to us!'
'More alluring is Vrindavan than Vaikunth, show it to us, love.
Play raas with us love,
Play your sweet flute to us!'
On the banks of Jamuna, Jadava plays his honeyed flute,
The gopis slip away, seduced by the sound,
Leaving their crying kids behind.