Narsinh Mehta, also known as Narsi Mehta or Narsi Bhagat (1414–1481), was a poet-saint of Gujarat, India, notable as a bhakta, an exponent of Vaishnava poetry. He is especially revered in Gujarati literature, where he is acclaimed as its Adi Kavi. His bhajan, Vaishnav Jan To is Mahatma Gandhi's favorite and has become synonymous to him.
Narsinh Mehta is well known all over India as a bhakta–poet. His devotional bhajans are sung to this day – mostly in Gujarat and Saurashtra – since he wrote them in Gujarati.
Bhajans of Narsinh Mehta
Suratsangram, Krishna Janma Vadhai, Ras–sahasra Padi, Saburi Chhatrisi, Chaturi Shodashi, Bal Lila, Dan Lila, Ras Lila, Sudama Charit and Nrusinhvilas.
The bhajans number about 740. His poetry greatly enriched the bhakti literature of medieval India. He died at the age of 66 but through his bhajans, he has attained an eternal place in the hearts of bhaktas.
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 girlfriends on the one side and Krishna and his friends on the other.
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.
Life of Narsinh Mehta
Narsi Mehta was born at Talaja and later moved to Junagadh (then Jirndurg) in Saurashtra, Gujarat. He lost his parents when he was 5 years old. He could not speak until the age of 8. He was raised by his grandmother Jaygauri.
He married Manekbai probably in the year 1429. Mehta and his wife stayed at his brother Bansidhar's house in Junagadh. However, Bansidhar's wife (Sister-in-law or bhabhi) did not welcome Narsi very well. She was an ill-tempered woman, always taunting and insulting Narsi Mehta for his devotion (Bhakti). One day, when Narasi 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 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 to the pain. Mehta, as the popular account goes, at 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 divine experience, the transformed Mehta 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. Indeed, such is the virtue of Lord Krishna's (Supreme Personality of Godhead's) devotee!
In Junagadh, 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 reveled in devotion to his heart's content along with sadhus, saints, and all those people who were Lord Hari's subjects – Harijans – irrespective of their caste, class or sex. It also seems that he must have fallen into a somewhat ill repute amongst the Nagars following incidents like accepting invitation to sing glories of Lord Krishna in association of devotees belonging to lower social strata. The Nagars of Junagadh despised him and spared no opportunity to scorn and insult him. By this time, Mehta had already sung about the rasa-leela of Radha and Krishna. The compositions are collected under the category of shringar compositions. They are full of intense lyricism, based upon pastimes of conjugal love between the Supreme Lord and His most intimate devotees - the Gopis and are not without allegorical dimensions, far from being something of erotic filthiness of contemporary European works.
Soon after his daughter, Kunwarbai's marriage to Shrirang Mehta of Una's son, Kunwarbai conceived and it had been 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 materialistically poor Narsi who had hardly anything except intransient 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 Mehta by Ra Mandlik (1451–1472), a Chudasama king, to prove his innocence in the charges of immoral behaviour by making the Lord Himself garland Narsi. Mehta depicts this episode. How Sri Krishna, in the guise of a wealthy merchant, helped Mehta in getting his son married is sung by the poet in Putra Vivah Na Pada. He went to Mangrol where, at the age of 79, he is believed to have passed away. The crematorium at Mangrol is called 'Narsi Nu Samshan' where one of the sons of Gujarat and more importantly a great Vaishnav was cremated. He will forever be remembered for his poetic works and devotion to Lord Krishna. He is known as the first poet of Gujarati Adi Kavi.