Lal Ded was deeply influenced by the Shaiva philosophy of Kashmir as reflected in Shaiva metaphysical content of her poetry but in her heart and deeds she remains a common man’s poet. If we keenly observe her life and poetry it can be said with confidence that she neither struggled to become a poet nor aimed to be one instead her poetry was a spontaneous expression of her experiences and purposes of life.
According to Prof Jaya Lal Kaul “Lal Ded did not compose her Vaakh as a deliberate contribution to literature or philosophy, she did not sing them nor write them for kirtan, “devotional recitation and singing” as the later day Bhakti saints did. While as Jaya Lal Kaul is right in his first part of statement but equating her with bhakti poets is unjustified. Lal Ded’s Vaakhs are loaded with meanings and they compel you to think, introspect, ponder and draw a lesson. They are existential in time and are as meaningful today as they were seven hundred years back.
Lal Ded lived life like an ordinary human being and suffered the pangs of life as an ordinary human being. But despite of her normal, common and simplistic looks she had entirely a different and an extraordinary soul. Her feelings were that of a common human being i.e. the pain, agony, misery, poverty helplessness, which found expression in her vaakhs but her observations and dispensations were very rational, objective and that of an elevated soul. Through her vaakhs she connected with people of all hues and shades across all religions and she championed the cause of the human being in general and not of a particular class or religion. That is what makes her great and existential in Kashmiri literature. Even after about seven hundred years of her existence(1310-1372) her vaakhs continue to guide and aspire people across religions and classes. The vaakhs continue to be as meaningful and relevant as these were then (seven hundred years back). Her predictions about the current times kalug came true to their meaning that is what made people believe that Lal was not an ordinary poet but an illuminated and blessed soul who was perhaps a God’s messenger to salvage and guide people towards a righteous path. Her yearning to know and realize God within oneself was an eye opener to the common people who were carried away and misled by the so called guardians of religion, the priests or mullah’s. She had both guts and sound arguments to challenge their ways of thinking and doings.
What makes her great and existential in Kashmiri literature is that even after seven hundred years of her existence her vaakhs continue to guide and aspire people across religions and classes. The vaakhs continue to be as meaningful and relevant as these were then. Her predictions about the current times kalug came true to their meaning that is what made people believe that Lal was not an ordinary poet but an illuminated and blessed soul who was perhaps a God’s messenger to salvage and guide people towards a righteous path. Her yearning to know and realize God within oneself was an eye opener to the common people who were carried away and misled by the so called guardians of religion, the priests or mullah’s. She had both guts and sound arguments to challenge their ways of thinking and doings.
Lal raised her voice against the religious fanaticism based on fraud, jugglery and condemned the so called siddhis miraculous powers and equally demolished the hollow knowledge of priests and other religious heads who were cheating and exploiting people by preaching superstitions. She pleaded with people to remain unruffled by desire, anger, power etc. She was against discrimination of human beings based on religion, class or creed. She herself became immune to respect-disrespect, good-bad, joy-sorrow and said:
Well or unwell
Let it come
My ears will not hear
My eyes will not see
Through her vaakh she promoted brotherhood across people and was against any sort of untouchability or discrimination amongst people. She said “anaskhenaskya chum duush” She preached people to raise against such social taboos and discriminations.
The European scholars like George Grierson, D.R. Barnett, Richard Temple etc. agree with many other people who said that Lal was a devout follower of the Kashmiri branch of Shaiva philosophy i.e. the Trika Shaivism. She had acquired a divine grace which lead her to tread the path and she never turned her back from it. She confirms it in one of her memorable vaakh’s:
suy me laligavvaakhtIvatsun
My Guru gave me one sermon/precept
“From outward turn inward”
It came to me ( Lal) as God’s word
I started roaming unconscious/oblivious to the worldl
Lal Ded speaks of human body as vehicle for spiritual growth. For her it is a karmabhumi, a dharmakshetra i.e. a field of dharma. For her body is abode of God. She cautions of soul going astray in case all five senses (bhutas) and ten indriyas do not work at tandem. She says.
Kya karapantsandahan ta kahan
adIkyaziraavi he kahangaav
of what use are the five senses , ten indriyas and the mind as the eleventh
they scrapped this pot(body) and went away
had all together pulled (on the rope) in one direction
The eleven ( if together)would not have lost the cow
This vaakh is commonly used as a proverb by all Kashmiris to express unity amongst various groups and communities
Lal Ded lived like a common person, went through all social obligations and followed all rituals of a grahini “a domestic mortal” but as she was raised in a Shaivite Kashmiri Brahmin family, was deeply groomed in religious matrix by her Guru and achieved spiritual enlightenment due to her Sadhana her Vaakhs expressed her state of awareness which transcended the cult or common man’s religious beliefs like division of mankind on religious faith. As a result her vaakhs were acceptable equally by emancipated Hindus as they were by liberal Muslims. In her vaakhs people read a message of communal harmony and peace. These were found meaningful and relevant by all irrespective of religion they belonged to.
Lal Ded uses metaphors from everyday life, i.e. potter, weaver, carpenter, blacksmith, and other underprivileged classes mostly from the country side. She celebrates their work and trade in her vaakhs. That is the reason common people irrespective of cost, creed and religion relate themselves with her poetry and this has been an important factor towards the promotion and preservation of communal harmony.That is why there is not a single Kashmiri Hindu or Muslim, who has not some of her vaakh on the tip of his tongue, and who does not revere her memory”.
There is a strong tradition amongst all our singers across religions to start singing with recitation of a Vaakh of Lal Ded. It has the same significance for all the Kashmiri artistes what Saraswativandana has in the beginning of a formal function outside Kashmir. Whatever the times may be Lal Ded will remain an integral and dominant factor in Kashmiri literature for ever and shall retain her motherly stature for all forthcoming generations of Kashmiri’s.
Being a saint poet her vaakhs are embodiments of wisdom on one hand and exhibit high class of poetic sensibility. Lal Ded has been a pioneer rather instrumental in establishing common spirituality and composite culture based on tolerance and mutual trust amongst Kashmiris. This fusion of saint and poet in her can be better described in the words of Dileep Chitre “because of a poet’s vision of spirituality and a saint’s vision of poetry, that she presents in her verses. Her spiritual vision, her mystical insights and her deep sense of compassion is exemplary.”
According to S.S. Toshkhani, “This very image of Lal Ded as a spiritual giant and poetic genius fused into one-reinforced by many hagiographical accounts, myths and legends surrounding her, has lead to attempts at appropriating her for ideologies and causes totally alien to her thinking and temperament. We thus come across not one but several image constructs of the saint –poetess.”
For Lal human life is a stream that flows on continuously.It is the quest for the ultimate reality for which life moves on and that is core of her mysticism. Her approach to poetry is humanistic as she feels perturbed by social injustice and discrimination and is hurt by the pretence and sham that goes on in the name of religion. Her heart bleeds for the learned man dying of starvation while as an utterly foolish person beats his cook for not cooking a delicious dish. It is clear that Lal was very much aware about harsh realities of life like hunger and poverty. Most of her poetry has basis in her personal life and that of her fellow citizens. She finds salvation in the grace of Shiva who transcends in a human being once one surrenders to him. An interesting aspect of her poetry is the usage of similes, imagery which is embedded in rural milieu of Kashmir to which she belonged and lived through. The colloquial and proverbial language of the vaakhs made these very appealing and attractive for the general masses who owned, appreciated and believed in every word of it like a religious sermon.
Sir Richard, Temple in his book. “The word of Lalla” says: “The vaakhs of Laleshwari have become part of day to day conversation in Kashmiri households. Her religion is not bookish. Her religion is a mix of people, hopes and miseries. Her vaakhs are of high standard, spiritual, brief to the point, sweet, full of hope, lively and representative of the status of common man”.
Another European scholar Sir George Grierson says in “Lal Vakhyani” “There would hardly be a language in the world which would match the popularity of sayings of saint –poetesses to those of Lal Ded in Kashmir”.
Such is the power of the Lal Ded’s poetry that even after seven hundred years of Kashmir history, full of political, social and economic upheavals, its language and content has not undergone any major changes. It is as intelligible and meaningful today as it was originally when the vaakhs were composed. The language of vaakhs besides indicating the diction of the poetess or the terminology in vogue at that time is a reflection and representation of the socio-cultural and political life of that period. The diction also reflects the shades of the personal life of the great saint poetess. e.g.
Hyath karithrajya pherinI
Dith karith triptinaa man
In ruling kingdoms there is no relief
In giving them away there yet is grief
An important tribute to Lal Ded has been paid by a famous Kashmiri mystic poet ShamasFaqir in a poem, few excerpts are given below:
zanIvin zaankar pranas gyanas
zaan milInaav bagvaanas siet’
puuzayi karnigayi manzkarmI vaanas
darmeshaas tIrnisbut khaanas
O you enlightened one, recognize the vital air and attain gnosis
To realize God;
Real worship is performed, in life’s workshop itself
What the holy scriptures truly mean
By the house of idols
Lala achieved the fusion of her vital air and ether
And thus realized God
shamasfaqirnaemi par kantas
tshayvuchtI ma chayrosiriyas
Lalla went to Nunda Rishis to teach him her doctrine
What the Rinda (mystics) call gnosis (irfaan)
O, you learned Shamas
The sun does not have a shadow
Lalla ascended to heaven like a cloud
Realize God as she did.
Still the best tribute to Lal Ded comes from her most dear devotee and torch bearer of her belief Nunda Rishi also known as Sheikhul-Alam
Tas padman porcilale
Tami gale amret chehyo
Soasaen’ avatar lovlale
Tyuthuy me var ditto dayo
That lalla of Padmanpora (Pampore)
She drank, her fill of divine nectar
She was indeed an avatar of ours (dearly loved)
Oh! God grant me the same boon
To conclude I go back to where from I started that there is hardly any historian, scholar, teacher, or a researcher of Kashmir who has not written, spoken or referred about her. The number of such scholars is swelling day after day. We have few more such names added to the list in recent years, to mention here of Mr. Ranjit Haskote, Prof ShafiShauq, Smt. Bimla Raina, Sh. Jawahar lal Bhat, Dr. R. L. Bhat, etc.
While all of us truly respect and revere her in our heart but with deep regret I say that we have failed both as a community and as individuals for not being able to create an appropriate memorial or a research centre devoted to her name and her contributions. There are hundreds of Universities and research institutions in our country but not a single chair in her name. Whatever work is done is all at individual level with no support coming from any side, Govt. or non Govt. But despite of all such handicaps the number of Lal’s admirers is increasing rapidly.