Celebrating seven centuries of Lalleshwari this year, attention has again been drawn, by the Kashmiri Pandit community, to pay attention to the ongoing narrative of Lal Ded that shifts the ancestral cultural and intellectual capital of Kashmiri Hindus away to credit her insights, literary genius, religious values and philosophy to Islamic sources such as Sufism. In addition, there is a notable trend to stereotype Kashmiri Brahmins as rigidly conservative elitists, to blame them for initial invasion soon after Lal Ded’s birth around 1301-20, and to be drawn into a Utopian fantasy that exists only on paper where, despite frequent description of the period as one of extensive bloodshed and turmoil, the happy communion between Lal Ded and the Sufi missionaries somehow illustrates what is called “Kashmiriyat”. The latter is constructed over many centuries by cherry picked statements within Lalla’s vakhs, some of which are highly dubious and inconsistent to her general purview. Upon not seeing difference between Hindu and Muslim, given the historical context, it is more realistic to read as admonition for the discrimination she saw, and which was enshrined in Sharia law during her time. Further interpretations that advocate her as a rebellious proto-feminist are again, not consistent with the fact of continuity in the tantric tradition of yoginis and siddhas throughout time. They rely upon the tired Marxist accusation that women have been traditionally excluded from engagement with the spiritual life of Brahmins, even though no such gendered divide was practiced in Kashmir except by duress of foreign rulers and, in the tantric paradigm, despite her being a Brahmin herself, like Abhinavagupta, no such “rebellion” or “reactionism” was necessary. Just as men were fit to practice yoga and become Rishis, so were women.
Her views on sex, caste, class, and ritual need not be drawn from outside the anupaya framework to which she clearly rose as demonstrated in her vakhs. Already prior to leaving her household, she is said to have had siddhis enough to hold water above her head without a container simply by her sadhana by the river for which it is said, her young husband became suspicious. Delegating the family abuse to ‘Hindu custom’ again, to warrant her teachings against objectification of the body and her identification as an empowered woman, or Shakti, is to accuse Kashmiri Shaivism, the predominant culture, of being especially prone to ‘patriarchy’ or domestic violence when secular cultures today are simply riddled with it and do not contain within their own cultural paradigms the concepts of emancipation, that are considered intrinsically more potent in women than in men in Kashmir Shaivism. Another issue is the assertion her model required the influence of Sufism, an Abrahamic religion, well known for its dualistic and patriarchal ideology, to articulate the same cosmopolitan sentiments attributed to Kashmiri culture due to its being a trade and international scholarship nexus for millenia prior to Islam. This set of standardised arguments within the mainstream narrative are the continuation of a long attempt to portray victims of Islamist colonialism as oppressive, to legitimate the forced conversion of Kashmiris through the ‘mystical’ side of what has proved in fact to be a gateway to Wahhabi terrorism.
Sufism in Kashmir developed under the name of Rishism, demonstrating the prior culture’s presence in the Valley, by culturally appropriating and impersonating Hindu system belonging to the Aboriginals. According to European Foundation of South Asian Studies (2017):
The origin of the Rishi order goes back to pre-Islamic times, when during Vedic period, hermits renouncing the worldly pleasures retired to caves in forests and mountains to meditate subjecting themselves to severities. However, in Kashmir the Muslim Rishi movement was started by, Nuruddin Nurani (1377-1440), by moulding the pre-existing Rishi tradition for the spread of Islam, using local institutions to make Islam more comprehensible to the people of Kashmir.
If this date for Nuruddin is correct, then Lal Ded left her family home to wander as a yogini, between 40 and 60 years before the advent of Sufism. The literature in English on Lal Ded for the past century oscillates between crediting her as Saivite or Sufi or most often, both. The two ideologies are highly incompatible, as testified to by the seven hundred years of suffering brought upon the Hindus in the valley. Each iteration of this stereotypical the me regarding the influence of Lal Ded, loosely refers to similar cultural representation set out below in 1925 by SM Edwardes:
She was, as her verses indicate, a yogini or female exponent of the Yoga discipline associated with the worship of Shiva, one of the two great gods of neo-Brahmanic Hinduism: but while expressing in her life and poems the utmost devotion to this aspect of the Hindu religion, she was influenced to no small extent, as Sir Richard Temple points out, by the ideas and teaching of the Muham-madan saints of Kashmir, chief among whom was Sayyid All Hamadani, leader of the Nakshbandi Order of Sufis.
Here is a subtle dilution of Lalla’s tantric worldview being called Neo-Brahmanism. This posits a distinction between her views and those of the Brahmins proper and in doing so, negates her message being firmly rooted in traditional teachings, which would help to promote a view of her as a ‘reformist’ as if such a thing would be simple to achieve after Abhinavagupta. It is coupled with an assertion that her vakhs are not simply drawn from what she admits to having practiced and read, which, being a ‘Brahmin’, having access to literature would suppose she read Sanskrit and was well versed in the extent philosophical materials from Panini, to Patanjali, to Shankaracharya and the Trika masters from Vasugupta.
Hamadānī, credited for her ideas, is said to have arrived in Kashmir, however, just a few years before she died, specifically to convert the Hindus, with 700 missionaries. His reasoning for this, Gerherd (1985) claims, is that Brahmins were an oppressive class, ‘riddled with caste’, which made ‘37000’ convert “peacefully” to Sharia. Counter to this he reports that Kashmir was already ruled from 1320 to 1373 by Muslims. It is not my intention to brood over dating, but to highlight the logical inconsistencies in the predominant narrative. In this setting, “women were subjected to inhuman treatment”, “Sati and Devadasi practices had become the order of the day”, “widows were simply non-existent”, “Buddhism had lost ground”, and “Hinduism was in decline”. This is a degraded Hinduism, again…
Taking these factors together, since they are said to have driven Hamadānī’s ‘missionary mercy’ it remains to be addressed how it is that‘ caste oppression’ could be due to the Brahmins if they were not then ruling. It is perhaps more likely due to the enigma that Kashmiri converts to Islam retained their Hindu names and proliferated in caste categories, as they still retain them, some 700 years later. Lal Ded is credited for inspiring a ‘peaceful co-existence’ between Muslims and Hindus, however her ideas are repeatedly outsourced to Sufism. Meanwhile the story of Hamadānī clearly demonstrates the Sufi attitude toward Hindu subjects was aimed at demographic monopolisation and cultural genocide, not communal harmony. This monopolisation continues with land encroachment, ‘domicile laws’ for Kashmiri Hindus attempting to return to their ancestral lands, plus an attempt to instate restricted work permits to the demographic majority.
Other proud histories of Hamadānī’s genocidal greatness, tell us of magical feats that supposedly impressed the Kashmiri Hindus sufficient to convert. In one story, Hamadānī had gone to the aid of Hindus due to complaints of an oppressive Priest at a Fateh Kadal, Kali temple. After apparently forcing this flying Priest to be dashed to the ground by throwing his shoes at him, the Kali murti was divided in four and the temple razed to the ground to be replaced by a platform where Hamadānī delivered sermons. Now it is a mosque.
In addition to this act of wanton cultural heritage destruction, Hamadānī set the rules for Sharia law. The King had special obligations to Muslims to build their temples, roads, and bridges. If they were found committing a crime, they were to be granted three days without punishment to repent so as not to scare them from their religious loyalty. For the kuffirs, they were not allowed to construct any new temples or repair any old ones. They had to accommodate Muslim travellers in their temples and houses. They cannot prevent a family member from embracing Islam, they have to respect Muslims and they have to receive Muslims respectfully at any meeting they are having. They cannot dress as Muslims, change their names to a Muslim name, ride horses with bridle and saddle, carry weapons like sword, bow and arrow. They cannot dress like, so to remain distinguished from Muslims, practice their customs or bury their dead around Muslims.
This injunction restraining public practice of non-Muslim faith rules out any chance that Lal Ded would have found favour with him for teaching on the streets like she is said to have been doing when she first saw “a man” in the form of Hamadānī and hid in a baker’s oven, coming out again, ‘reborn’ and clothed in either gold or flowers. The rules of Hamadānī could, due to the clause about being able to practice ‘paganism’ at home, partly explain, if such a rule was actually made, that even after ‘conversion’, why Kaw (2010) reports, Kashmiri Muslims were still found worshipping their Hindu idols in their homes whilst attending the mosques publicly.
After Hamadānī, was Sikander. According to the European Foundation for South Asian Studies (2017):
Sultan Sikandar (1389-1413), and his Prime Minister Suha Bhatt indulged in brutal killings, forcible conversion of Brahmins and mass destruction of their temples. He banned all celebrations and would not listen to music. He imposed Jizya (tax on non-Muslim subjects) upon Kashmiri Pandits. Sanskrit books and schools were burnt and Kashmiri Pandits were given 2 options: Either accept Islam or die. Whole villages were converted to Islam, by force. To escape the religious violence during his reign, many Brahmins converted to Islam, many moved to other places in India, particularly to the South, and several others were killed.
After abrogation of Article 370, when Kashmiri Pandits began to raise their voices against separatist protest movements such as US Kashmiri Muslim campaign, Stand with Kashmir, the same tropes re-appeared. In another example highly inappropriate misconstruction of indigenous history, at the time of the genocide Darakhshan Abdullah, at the University of Kashmir in 1991, received a Doctorate in Kashmiri History for a work titled, “Religious Policy of the Sultans of Kashmir (1320-1586 A. D.)”:
Broadly speaking the Elite Hindu Society in Kashmir was divided into two strong factions, i.e. the Shivites and non-Shivitis, while the majority of the population, who did not matter, were followers of Buddhism. The dominating factor was always the Shaiva philosophy and as such whenever in power, not only forced the non-Shivits to toe their line, but also demolished their places of worship, even. The glaring examples are found during the rule of Harsha (1089-1101 A.D,), and Susala (1111-1128 A.D,). Similarly, the non-Shivits destroyed the Veharas and built their own places of worship. While coming into contact with the Muslims the trikites (Shivites) preferred Islam and as such there was very speedy mass conversion.
In another article Abhinavagupta is held accountable for the mentality of Harsha who, allegedly reacting against Brahmins being long standing benefactors of Hindu rulers, “ruthlessly destroyed temples and syphoned off their centuries old wealth”…”partly under the influence of Abhinavagupta’s Trika Shaivism” (Kaw, p. 248). Again, Kaw writes:
Over the years Kashmiri Muslims learned to differentiate between monotheism and polytheism and stopped going to Hindu temples”…”In fact, the rejection of the Brahmanical ritualistic forms, was not a new phenomenon, but rather a continuation of the reaction articulated by an eminent scholar, Abhinavagupta, and the most able King Harsha in the early and late 11th Century. The reaction was later upheld by Lalla, a Shaiva Yogini, and Sheik Noor-ud-Din-Rishi, or Nund Rishi in the 14th Century. Lalla was fearless enough to recognise the “oneness of God” and condemn (like her Indian bhakts), stone worship in all its forms and manifestation.
Whilst readings of Hamadānī’s, value system remained strictly in accordance with Sharia. The claim that Lalla was influenced by his work is unnecessary. If there was any influence upon the development of Sufism, it was more likely after Lalla’s passing.
To reverse Sikandar’s mass genocide, the next King, his son, brought Brahmins back into the valley, but the reign of destruction is remembered today in the ruins of the Martand Sun Temple and Sharda Peetha. When scholars highlight certain verses of Lal Ded over others, such as those with themes to support alleged ‘monotheism’, ‘anti-caste’ or ‘anti-idolatory’, they apply terminology that is completely foreign to Lal Ded’s medieval cultural milieu. Lalla was herself Brahmin, as were all the men and women of Kashmir. Questions remain outstandingas to why she should need her Hindu-ness erasedat a time when her people, seven hundred years later are still bearing the burden of the injustices Lal Ded observed. If it really were true that both traditions teach there is no difference between Hindu or Mussalman, there would never have been a need for Pakistan and no need for separatism in Kashmir either.
- Abdullah, Darakhshan. (1991). Religious policy of the Sultans of Kashmir. (1320-1586 A. D.) https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/144508677.pdf
- Böwering, Gerhard. (1985). “ʿALĪ HAMADĀNĪ,” Encyclopædia Iranica, I/2, pp. 96-99, available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/ali -b-32(accessed on 4 August 2020).
- Edwardes, S. (1925). The Word of Lallâ the Prophetess: being the Sayings of Lal Ded or Lal Dîddî of Kashmîr (Granny Lal), known also as Lalêshwarî, Lallâ Yôgîshwâri and Lâlîshrî, between 1300 and 1400 AD . Nature 115, 526–527 https://doi.org/10.1038/115526a0
- European Foundation of South Asian Studies. (2017). Kashmir’s Composite Culture: Sufism & Communal Harmony – Kashmiriyat. https://www.efsas.org/publications/study-papers/kashmir%E2%80%99s-composite-culture-sufism-and-communal-harmony-kashmiriyat/
- Kaw, M. (2010). Central Asian Contribution to Kashmir’s Tradition of Religio-Cultural Pluralism. Central Asiatic Journal, 54(2), 237-255. Retrieved August 4, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/41928559