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The story of the sixteenth-century Hindu saint Mirabai is told and performed in a multitude of genres in India across the centuries, and her songs generate a tradition of continuing composition in her name. Her popularity readily moves across boundaries of language, caste, class, religion, and culture not only within India but also beyond, taking root in American culture more broadly in the latter decades of the 20th century, as Americans begin looking for figures for inspiration and canonisation within an emerging non-institutionalised global spirituality and women around the world mine the past to find their spiritual foremothers. Her popularity quickly moves beyond even this broadly defined religious context, as her life story is invoked by poets and philosophers, psychologists and ecologists, and a multitude of others seeking authenticity, wholeness, and healing. The history of Mirabai's appropriation and transformation in such diverse cultural forms raises a number of issues. What are the features that invest a religious story or symbol with generative life that can extend across time and diverse cultures? What forms can the continuation of such classic traditions as hagiography and devotional poetry take, and how should the boundaries of legitimate participation in that tradition best be understood?


This is a pre-copy-editing, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in The Journal of Hindu Studies, volume 3, issue 1, in 2010 following peer review. The definitive publisher-authenticated version is available online at

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Oxford University Press