Mukta Bai or Muktai was a saint in the Varkari tradition. Mukta Bai was born in 1279 in Alandi near Pune and belonged to a Deshastha Brahmin family. She was the younger sister of highly revered Dnyaneshwar (Jnanadev), the first Varkari saint, but Muktabai is a profound poet-saint in her own right. Mukta Bai wrote forty-one Abhang throughout her life span. “Tati ughada dnaneshwara” is one of her most insightful works, being a conversation with Saint Dnyaneshwar. It is regarded as one of the most significant woks of Marathi literature. According to Mukta Bai, the definition of a saint is “Sant jene vahave; jag bolane sosave” or a saint is the one who can digest criticism of people. Jnanadev was the Guru of Sopan and Mukta Bai. All were devoted to Lord Vittal of Purandhpur.
The parents of Mukta Bai were Vittalpanth and Rukma Bai. Vittalpanth was a seeker of truth since a very young age. After his marriage with Rukma Bai, Vittalpanth decided to renounce the world. However, after knowing that he is married, his guru sent him back to his family. This incident brought social stigma to the family and the couple was looked down upon in the community. The couple bore four children, named Nivrithinath or Nivrutti (renunciation), Jnana or Jnanadev or Dnyaneshwar (knowledge), Sopan (stairway), and Mukta (liberation).
The people of the village regarded Vittalpanth and his children with contempt and treated them badly. Ultimately, the parents died of a broken heart, leaving the children as orphans. Nivrutti brought up his younger brothers and sister. After the death of Vittalpanth and Rukma Bai the children resorted to begging to earn their living. Yet from this family emerged a spiritual vision of the highest stature.
Nivrutti is regarded as the incarnation of Lord Siva, Jnanadev as the incarnation of Sri Krishna, Sopan as the incarnation of Brahma and Mukta Bai as the incarnation of Saraswati or Adi Sakti. Grahinath was the Guru of Nivrutti and Nivrutti was the Guru of Jnanadev. Dnyaneshwar arrived at salvation or Samadhi at a very early age after which Nivrutti and Mukta started off for a pilgrimage along the River Tapi. Unfortunately, after getting struck in the thunderstorm, Mukta drowned in the river water and subsequently Nivrutti took his salvation at Tryambakeshwar. Nivrutti is believed to have penned down over 375 Abhangas, many of them face disputed authorship owing to different viewpoint and writing style.
Dnyaneshwar or Jnanadev was the second brother of Mukta Bai. Nivruttinath, his elder brother instructed him to write a commentary on Bhagavad Gita. To follow his brother’s instruction Dnyaneshwar started writing and by the time the commentary was completed Dnyaneshwar was only 15 years old. Considered masterpieces of Marathi literature, Dnyaneshwar’s 18 chapters are composed in a meter called ‘ovi’. Dnyaneshwar has translated the divine knowledge from Sanskrit to Prakrit (Marathi) to make it available to the commoner.
Younger brother Sopandev attained Samadhi at Saswad near Pune. He wrote the book Sopandevi based on Bhagvad Gita’s Marathi interpretation along with 50 or so Abhangas.
Preparation of Sweets: Once Mukta Bai planned to prepare sweet buns for her brothers. She set off to the village asking for clay plate from the potters. However, confined by the order of the village leader Visoba Chaati, she was barred from getting a clay plate. When the disappointed sister arrived home, her elder brother Jnanadev asked her to prepare dough assuring that the hot plate would be ready soon. Jnanadev then bent down on the ground and heated his back so that her dearest sister could roast sweet buns on his back. Cruel Visoba peeped into Mukta’s house and watched the whole episode with utter astonishment. This incident marked the renunciation of Visoba Chaati as he emerged out as a great saint who achieved Self-Realization and also became the renowned guru of Saint Namdev.
Removal of Ego: Mukta Bai was responsible for removing the film of ego from Saint Namdev’s mind. When the siblings first met Namdev in Pandharpur, Namdev was full of ego. Mukta Bai decided to remove false pride from the mind of Namdev. Along with Gora Kumbhar (the potter saint), she planned an eye opening lesson for Namdev. She asked the potter saint to test the pots and he broke the pots on the head of Nivrutti, Jnanadev, Sopandev, Namdev and other saints present. No one but Namdev reacted and got extremely furious with this gesture. Thus the saint potter proclaimed all the saints fully baked, except Namdev whom he proclaimed half-baked. Disappointed Namdev went to Lord Vittal (Lord Krishna) who explained him that since he was seeing god only in Lord Vittal, he was considered half-baked, while the others were aware of the all-pervading Creative Presence. After this incident Namdev went to Visoba Chaati who rendered unto him the complete enlightenment.
Om jay-jay jagdambe, jay muktai ambe l
Nij-jankalpalate tu,karunamayi ambe ll Dhru.ll
Ganga tu,go,gayatri,gita,vasundhara l
Maha-Saraswati,laxmi,kaali,maate shakti-para ll 1 ll
Nijshakti tu,adishakti,adimaya l
Brahmaswaroopini mate,tu shuddha turiya ll 2 ll
Sarvarth sadhike tu,srimante,kalyani l
Mangalroopini nijdasa,tu Dyanesh-Bhagini ll 3 ll
Poems by Mukta Bai
Mukta Bai has composed two poems
a) Though he has no form
b) Where darkness is gone I live
(a) Though he has no form:-
Though he has no form
my eyes saw him,
his glory is fire in my mind
his secret inner form
invented by the soul.
beyond the mind
has no boundary.
In it our senses end.
Mukta says: Words cannot hold him yet in him all words are.
(b) Where darkness is gone I live:-
Where darkness is gone I live,
where I am happy.
I am not troubled by coming and going,
I am beyond all vision,
above all spheres.
His spirit lives in my soul.
Mukta says: He is my heart’s only home.
Writings: “Tatiche Abhang” and other Abhangs
Guru of Chang Deva
Mukta Bai remained virtuous throughout her life. She attained perfection. She was the Guru of Chang Deva. Mukta Bai and her three brothers were once sitting in the Ashram. Chang Deva came that way. Mukta Bai was fully clad but she appeared to Chang Deva in a nude state. At once Chang Deva turned away. Mukta Bai told him that he was not perfect as he differentiated between male and female and was attracted to her and later filled with shame as he did not see God in everything. Chang Deva learnt a great lesson from Mukta Bai and overcame his shortcomings through Sadhana. Changdev wished to make Jnanadev his Guru, but Jnanadev recommended Mukta Bai as his correct guru, instead of himself. Changdev has also made quite a few references to Mukta Bai in his Abhangs.
Mukta Bai Enlightened
It is believed that Nivrutti, Jnanadev, Sopan and Mukta Bai are the minor avatars of Lord Shankar, Lord Vishnu, Lord Brahma and Mother Saraswati respectively. Mukta Bai portrayed all the wisdom and enlightenment of Goddess Saraswati. Even though the siblings lost their parents in their younger age, Mukta Bai held together her small family.
During her childhood incident when she was refused clay plate by the potters, Mukta Bai – the embodiment of wisdom and power – composed a song describing a Yogi’s true nature. In her wisdom, Mukta Bai says that a true Yogi never loses his control by getting influenced from his surroundings. A Yogi connects this universe with the essence of peace, love understanding and forgiveness.
In her amateur and spiritually infused song, she further explains that rather than communicating with the external world for social unity, one’s connection with his/her inner-self is all the more important. Love, ego, hatred, anger are all different temporary states of mind. In the end, it is chidakasha, only the pure state of awareness matters to one and all.
During the yogic practice of self-purification, one has to digest the abuse given by others so as to free himself from his own impurities and also to gain the merits of the good deeds of others. Jnanadev received abuses and insults at the village. Mukta Bai counseled him to see this as divine grace and use it as means to his salvation.
Hearing the advice of his younger sister, Jnanadev realized his Parabrahma Swaroop or Divine Form. He became Jnaneshwar or Dnyaneshwar. He then asked his sister to prepare the dough. He knelt down and invoked the yoga Shakti in his body. In this process, his back became very hot and Mukta Bai baked the buns on his back! In this way Mukta Bai awakened the latent Divinity in her brother and helped him manifest it in full form and Jnanadev became a realized being or Sant Jnaneshwar.
Mukta Bai was a great Siddha and her Abhangas or bhajans have great meaning. She reveals the secrets of Maha Yoga and how to live a pious life by rising above false emotions, so as to reach out to God.