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An Introduction to Spoken Kashmiri

Panun Kashmir


Symbol of Unity


All Roads Lead to Lal Ded

By Bilhan Kaul

Of all the literary greats of Kashmir, Lal Ded takes the cake as number one poet not only among her peers but extends to six centuries down the line in our age as well. Hence the question that is most important is her number one ranking in Kashmiri literature justified? In doing so, we have not to resort to sentimentality or romanticism which Bertand Russel describes as love for the past but put her to the rigours of critical  analysis and evaluation.

Firstly, whether she was a saint poet and mystic is immaterial to present occupation and need not detain us to explore her number one position among the poets of Kashmir whether of past or of present.

Lal Ded, had she lived in present times could easily have been existentialist scholar but that she was saivite yogini as Richard Temple calls her reflects the mood of the age in 14th Century. Kashmir Saivism was the fashion of 14th Century Kashmiri Hindus and was followed by both classes and masses in equal measure. The fact remains Lalla was a poet of high quality and that is to state the obvious. She was definitely a Saivite Yogini and used it as an instrument to give way to her poetic genius. In the end, she chose her own path with inspiration often preceding the thought.

Lal Ded wrote her poetry with fury and passion and even with intellectual arrogance. Her poetry came to her in a fit of emotion, seized her entire being inspired her to vomit gems of Kashmiri literature. Lal Vaakhs are forceful enough to hit you on the face before you realize what has hit you. Most importantly, you should not read or hear them in English translation. In doing so, as in the case of all poetry does not convey even the one fourth of original Idea or to put it differently, does not convey in any manner the skills of Lalla. Therefore, read them in Kashmiri language. Never mind if the alphabets are Roman or Devnagri.

Lalla was more than a mere saivite Yogini. She was a philosopher, teacher, pacifist, social reformer. But her genius lay in her poetic compositions. Incidentally, her competitor as number one Kashmiri poet is another woman Habbakhatoon. Lal Vaakhs are forceful while Habbakhatoon's composition are more down to earth. Lal Vaakhs are philosphers's stone as against Habba Khatoon whose concerns are more mundane. Lal Ded preaches as against Habba Khatoon's compositions which are born in the backdrop of intense agitation and poetic sermons acts as a balm on that agitation. Lalla walks alone confident of herself and her knowledge. Habba Khatoon is not so sure of herself and creates poetry for her solace. Lalla creates poetry to confirm her confident status.

She is a mystic and her concerns are universal. Habba Khatoon is an out and out a Kashmiri poet and uses Kashmiri beauty to create a top class imaginary. The theme of her poetry is that she has just missed the bus. Lal Ded was already on board surveying the scene as an outsider. Habba Khatoon wanted to swim with the tide as against Lal Ded had no inclination to swim with current. She was forever a rebel. A rebel with purpose. A rebel with cause. Her sympathies are not for people or for even her own self. She searched for meaning in life and it was life long mission for her. Habba Khatoon created poetry to create sympathy for her and for her condition. Her poetry was created in isolation and yet was meant for people. Habba Khatoon's Vatsun was meant to create awareness. As against Lal Vaakhs, where, search was more essential.

In the end, Lal Ded beats Habba Khatoon as premier poet of Kashmir because Lal Ded had more skill and her Vaakhs viewed with cool head created more impact.

Some scholars notably PN Bazaz has suggested that she was influenced by Sufis and that she brought about synthesis between Islam and Hinduism. I must say that this is quite outrageous claim. We have no evidence that Lalla was influenced by Sufism. In any case, Islam was just beginning to penetrate Kashmir during Lalla's time and the interaction of Lal Ded with Hamdani is totally false. She was out and out a Hindu who was impressed with Saivism. Her Guru Sedamol initiated her in Saivite philosophy and in following Vaakh she conveys her gratitude.


Gurun Dupnam Kunny Vachun

Nuybrai Dupnam Andar Achun

Sui Gau Lali Vaakh Tu Vachun

Tavwy Huytam Nangai Nachun

That Lalla was in the practice of Yogic penances can be seen in the following Vaakh which is easily her best.


Damadam Kaurmas Daman Hale

Prazuloym Deef t Nanayum Zaath

Andrum Prakaash Nubar Chotum

Gati Rotum t Karmus Thap.

This Vaakh is simply mind blowing in its intensity. Watch out for skills and dexterous use of Kashmiri language and watch out for metre in the above Vaakh. Marvellous is least one can say. This Vaakh is also noticeable for the force with which it is uttered.

There is hint of rising above religious dogma in the following Vaakh.


Muda Krai Chai N Dharun Tu Parun.

Muda Krai Chai N Rachinai Kai

Muda Krai Chai N Deh Sandarum

Sahaz Vuyachurn Chui Vapudesh.

In the last two stanzas she is also contradicting herself what has been stated earlier. In view of the difficulty in writing Kashmiri language in Roman script I limit myself to following one Vaakh to convey to reader her poetic genius.


Lal Bu Drayus Kapsi Poshi

Kadai tu Dunyu Kadnam Lath

Tuiyi Yali Kharnam Zauz Tuyi

Vovir Vaan Gayum Alunz Lath

Dhobi Yali Chavnas Bu Kani Pyathai

Saz Tu Sabun Machnum Yachui

Suchi Yali Phirnam Hani Hani Kachai

Ad Lali Mai Prayum Parmai Gath.

The above mentioned Vaakh confirms why Lalla is premier poet of Kashmir. It also confirms why she walks tallest among the many great poets of Kashmir. It is a show piece poetry. It is a poetry of highest order. It has all the ingredients of greatest poetry written by mankind. It has everything which poetry lover wants to find. Skill, imagery, metaphor, philosophical outpourings and the determination to come through.

We accord Lal Ded as number one position keeping in view number of factors. And when we consider those factors all roads lead to Lal Ded. She rules among the minds and hearts of Kashmiris.

Her influence is also evident when a section of Kashmiri society tried to communalize her name and give it Islamic connotation. Lot of effort was undertaken to appropriate her in Islamic ethos. All we can say is that Lal Ded belonged to mankind and not just to Kashmiris.

In fact, Lalla was quite appalled by depredations carried by Muslim invaders. This is evidenced by following Vaakh.


Shiv Chui Thali Thali Rozan

Mu Zan Hind Tu Muslaman

Trukh Hai Chuk Paan Praznaay

Soi Chai Shvi Sati Zam Zan

It is certainly not the Vaakh that makes non distinction between Hindus and Muslims. It tells foreigners to maintain human dignity and not discriminate between man and man. It tells them to look inwards and realize one's own self as God is seeing in the heaven.

In the end, it is a tribute to Lal Ded that she continues to occupy our minds and hearts even after more than six centuries after he death. She defined Kashmiri poetry and set standards for others to follow. And to tell the truth her standards are still hard to climb. She was her own self and genre of poetry that she created was unique. Lal Ded's poetry gives the impression that she was poet of intellect. Yet, all her poetry rose from deep recesses of the heart.

The english translations of her compositions fail to do justice to her. Because translator seeks to focus on wards and search for its equivalent. By doing so flavour and unity of the poetry is lost. That is why translations by Prof. Jaya Lal Koul or PN Bazaz in English fail to do justice to her compositious. Because poetry is not all about meaning it should be captured by senses much before one seeks to get the meaning.

Source: Kashmir Sentinel



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