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Lalleshwari: Life of Lal Ded and her vakh poetry

life of lal ded and her poetry

A cursory glance through the pages of Kashmir history reveals that this "Paradise of the world" has not produced only great kings like Lalitaditya ad Zain-Ul-Abidin, famous for their spirit of toleration and humanism, but also great saints and ascetics like Lalleshwari, Shah Hamandan, Sheikh Nur-ud-Din (popularly known as Nund Rishi), Roopa Bhawani and Jaman Ded. Lalleshwari, however, was the most leading of all saints and ascetics.

Long smeary hair and bare bodied, her appearance were fierce as a Bhairavi. She had discarded the social conventions and codes of behaviour to discover the truth through her spiritual quest. Every Kashmiri is proud of Lalleshwari for it was she who, centuries ago preached religious toleration by recognising only one god for all, Hindus whether Hindus or Muslims.

She said- 
"Shiva is all-pervading (Present in each particle); never differentiate between a Hindu and Musalman. If you are shrewd and intelligent, know thy own self; therein lies your acquaintance with god."

Her principles of religious toleration won her equal reverence Hindus and Muslims. Through generations, Hindus called her Lalleshwari and Muslims 'Lal arifa' More popularly she was known as Lal Ded (Mother Lalla)

Lalleshwari was born in 1335 A.D in a Kashmiri Pandit Family. In those days Sultan Aalu-ud-Din was the king of Kashmir. Her parents lived at Pandranthan (the ancient Purandaishthan), four miles south-east of Srinagar. She received her early education at home from the family priest, Sidh Sri Kanth. It was this family priest who, noting Lalla's spiritual advancement from her very childhood initiated her into the mysteries of Shaiva sampradaya. Gradually, it is said, she surpassed him also in spiritual advancement.

Lalleshwari was married at an early age, as was the custom in those days. She was married at Pampore (the ancient Padampore) and her husband, being of a different temperament could not easily reconcile himself to the religious leanings of his young wife. So a rift developed between the husband and the wife. The rift became all the more serious day by day due to the ill-treatment of her step-mother-in-law. Lalla bore this ill-treatment quite patiently. Lalla, was, however, loved much by her father-in-law. At her in-law's place, Lalla was named as Padmavati. Her mother-in-law always used to scold her however, her father-in-law was ignorant of this.

It is said that her mother-in-law, would every morning and evening, place a round heavy stone in her plate and spread over it a handful of boiled rice to give the impression that the plate was full of boiled rice, though actually, it contained very little, Lal ded would eat the little rice, wash the stone and the plate and return both to her mother-in-law. Padmavati bore this ill-treatment for twelve years and never complained about it to anyone, nor even to her husband. This fact came to the knowledge of her father -in-law when an incident took place. One day her father-in -law arranged a feast at his house. That very morning, when he chanced to pass by the stream where Lalla and other women of the neighbourhood were talking while filling their pots with water, he heard the women enquiring of Lalla, "Lalla, your father-in-law has invited many people today to the feast. You will, therefore, have a nice dish in the evening." Lalla's reply to them gave a surprise to her father-in-law. She told them: "hund maritan kinah kath noshi nalvat tsalih nah zanh" (Whether they kill a big or a small sheep, it is all the same for the daughter-in-law, who is used to the round heavy stone)

Her father-in-law to ascertain the truth of Lalla's remarks, snatched the plate from Lalla's hand when she was having her evening meals. He found the stone there, fell at Lalla's feet in reverence and apologised to her for how she had suffered. This, however, increased the cruelties of her mother-in-law. At last, Lalla renounced her home and led a secluded life. She roamed from place to place in search of truth and sang songs of divine love and glory. Her preachings and sayings are known as vakhs which both Hindus and Muslims committed to memory. Like Mira, she sang for Shiva. The only difference between the two would be that Mira was devoted to the saguna or god with attributes, Lalleshwari, on the other hand, was for the nirguna brahman.

There are several stories of Lalla's spiritual powers told in almost all Kashmiri households. One such is narrated here: It is said that once she went to a temple where her Guru was worshipping an idol. The local pandit asked her the reason for her coming to the temple. She said she wanted to answer the call of nature in that covered place. The local priest was taken aback at this and took her to the place outside the temple meant for that purpose. She removed some earth and the same idol which was in the temple was there. The guru then took her to another place where the same idol was found. The priest was very much embarrassed but Lalla told him:

"An idol is a mound of stone and so is a temple.
Top above and bottom beneath are one.
Whom will you offer worship,
O unintelligent Pandit (scholarly but not, a realised soul)?
cause a communion of mind and vital air (by breath-control and self-restraint)."
 Some of the sayings (vakhs) of Lalleshwari, as translated from the original Kashmiri into English by Shri Shambhu Nath Bhatt 'Haleem' and Shri Janki Nath Bhan published in Kashur Gazette are reproduced in Not just an opinion for the benefit of readers.
"Which direction I came from or which way I came by,
to which direction I have to go I do not know at all.
Well; if I get right guidance,
that alone will stand me in a good stead.
How can one rely on empty breath alone?
(breath-control alone will do nothing unless right initation and grace of the supreme are there)"

In search of him high and low, I, Lalla, was tired
and spend out. My efforts were beyond my capacity.
While my eyes were set at my ai (him),
I found the doors of his abode bolted.
This roused my quest all the more
and deepened my yearning,
and with single-minded devotion.
I pursued for his darshan.

I burnt away all the impurites of mind
and crushed my desires and passion
I came to acquire my name Lalla
(attained self-realisation) only when I,
in self-denial and self-abnegation,
dedicated myself to him.

There are some whose wives are like shady chinar trees.
They (you) go near and feel comforted with the shade.
There are some whose wives are like bitches at the door;
they (you) go out and are anapped at by them.
There are some whose wives create confusion and complication for them.
Yet there are some whose wives are of a mixed temprament and behave as the need arises;
like sun and shade they stand by them.

Kashmir had a great influx of inspired thinkers, saints and poets who contributed to the heritage of the land that helped to flourish the literature to its peak in the valley. Lal ded is one such poetess who has inspired generations of seekers with her mystic musings. While people know about Kabir Das and his sayings which notably bears semblance of Lalleshwari. People may not be aware of the Shaiva scholar due to geographical reasons but it makes for an interesting read to learn about the life of Lalleshwari. Be sure to read more of vakh poetry and tell us what you think about the beautiful gem of Kashmir whose verses still ring a bell in Kashmiri homes.
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