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Table of Contents
  Index
  Contributors
  Preface
  Introduction
  Contributors
  Bibliography
  Section 1: Paper Presented at the Seminar
1. The Guru and the Pandit
2. A Re-appraisal of Lal Ded
3. Lal Ded : Her Spiritualism and World Order
4. Reconstructing and Reinterpreting Lal Ded
5. Lal Ded - The Poet Who Gave a Voice to Women
6. Language of La
l Ded's Poetry
7. Lal Ded and Kashmiri Chroniclers
8. Lal Vaakhs - Their Journey from Memory to Manuscript
9. Lalleshwari the Liberator
  Section 2: Book Extract
10. Lal Ded
11. Lalleshwari and Kabir
12. Concluding Remarks
  Section 3: Some Select Lallavaakhs
13. Some Vaakhs of Lal Ded and their English Translation
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CHAPTER 11

Lalleshwari and Kabir

by Prof. C.L. Sapru

The medieval period is important in Indian history for a number of reasons. After the advent of Islam, a process of acculturation started in India that inspired thinkers, saints and poets. An astonishing feature of this process was that though the saint- poets belonged to different regions, and wrote in different Indian languages, the ideas they expressed were remarkably similar. Their poetry had a tremendous impact on the entire age and it opened a new chapter of synthesis in Indian culture. Take Lalleshwari and Kabir, for example. They were two different persons, living in two different regions, but there was an amazing degree of similarity in their ideas. This was due to the harmony that prevailed in the society and the political and religious conditions of the times.

Lalleshwari is popularly called Lal Ded by common. Kashmiris. She was born in a cultured Kashmiri Brahmin family, and had a disastrous married life in which she had to suffer great torture like lovelorn Mira. A hostile mother-in-law and a suspicious husband forced her to break the fetters of social bindings and codes of behaviour, and she set out on the course of spiritual quest. She was guided this path by Siddha Mol, her Guru. Siddha Mol was a Kashmiri Shaivite scholar and his teachings broadened Lalleshwari's mental horizon. Lalleshwari's birth is an actual fact of history and she was real person who lived in age of transition which saw the decline of Hindu political power and rise of Muslim political power in Kashmir. It was a period of great conflict, and was marked by religious oppression, tyranny, chaos and political turmoil in Kashmir.

With the decline of Hindu power, a state of despondency prevailed among the common people and a sense of insecurity gripped their minds. In Iran, Taimur had unleashed an atmosphere of terror and tyranny, as a result of which religious missionaries known as Sayyids fled from there in their hundreds . As many as five hundred of them came to Kashmir led by Sayyid Ali Hamadani who has been given the name of Shah-i-Hamadan by Kashmiri Muslims. Sayyid Ali Hamadani played a prominent role in propagating Islam in Kashmir. It is said that he met Lalleshwari and was amazed by her spiritual powers.

Kabir too was born in similar political, social and religious circumstances. And it was because of this similarity of circumstances in which they took their birth that many of their beliefs, ideas and ideals also coincided. Kabirdas was brought up in a low caste family of weavers. He did not acquire spiritual knowledge in the regular way. It was in the company of saints and great religious personalities that he came to be acquainted with spiritual concepts and devotional lore. Lalleshwari, on the other hand, got the opportunity to learn religious texts, in particular those related to Kashmir Shaivism, when she stayed with her Guru Siddha Mol at his house. The spark of devotion was ignited, and the light of wisdom illumined her mind. Kabir's fame spread throughout the length and breadth of North India. His verses were included by the Sikhs in their holy book, the Granth Sahib. But Lalleshwans name remained confined to Kashmir alone, probably due to geographical reasons.

Conflict between Hindu and Islamic cultures in Kashmir Valley resulted in continuous political reverses for the Hindus, but at the social level there was a happy interchange between the two communities. A process of synthesis between Islam and Vedanta (Kashmir Shaivism in the Valley) started preparing the ground for the development of Sufism. In Kashmir, Sufis were given the name of Rishis by the common people. Sheikh Nur-ud-Din, the founder of the Rishi Order, known as Alamdar-i-Kashmir or the Standard Bearer of Kashmir, was also called Nunda Rishi. It may be recalled that his famous shrine was burnt down by the notorious Pakistani terrorist Mast Gul three years back. Sheikh Nur-ud-Din's grave lies inside this shrine along with the graves of his twelve disciples, two of them being Hindu, namely Rupa Rishi and Lakhyman (Lakshman) Rishi.

Nunda Rishi was greatly influenced by Lalleshwari, who was his senior contemporary. He has expressed his reverence for her in these famous lines of his:

Just as you bestowed your grace on Lalla of Padmanpur 

Grant me the self-same boon, O God.

There are scholars who have compared Lalleshwari to Mira. It is true that she stopped caring about social codes of honour and about family responsibilities and set out in the quest of the Beloved, but there is one basic difference between her and Mira. Whereas Mira was attracted by the physical charms of Krishna, and became a devotee of the saguna or God with attributes, Lalleshwari was devoted to the nirguna or God without attributes. It was the path of knowledge as propounded in Vedanta and Shaiva philosophy. Mira appeals to us emotionally, while Lalleshwari impresses us at the intellectual level. If Lalleshwari is to be compared to any Hindi poet it can be Mahadevi or else Kabir. Lalleshwari and Kabir can be regarded as two sides of the same coin. If Kabir is opposed to external rituals and superstitious beliefs, so is Lalleshwari. In one of her vaakhs (verses), she assails empty bookish knowledge. The Pandits are churning water, she says, how can they hope to obtain butter from it? They read the Gita as a pretension, just as the parrot repeats the name of Rama in the cage. It makes them only more and more self-conceited. Even after reading it they remain as ignorant as ever. I too have read the Gita and am still reading it.' This looks something quite similar to what Kabir says in this saakhi (couplet) of his:

People weary themselves out reading books after books

But that does not make anyone learned

He who reads just the few letters of the word 'love'

Alone is really learned

Kabir asks both the Hindus and Muslims to adhere to the true way of worship. He cautions them about the futility of shouting Allah's name loudly to call the faithful to prayer, and explains that the all-knowing God is omnipresent and pervades every atom:

If God can be attained by worshipping stones

Then why not worship the mountain

Better still is the millstone

It provides the flour for the whole world to eat!

Or

They raised a mosque by laying together pebbles and stones

And from its top the Mullah cries hoarse to call the faithful to prayer

As though God is deaf

Lalleshwari too appears to be saying the same these lines others:

Shiva resides in every atom of the universe

Do not differentiate between a Hindu and a Muslim

If you are wise, then you should realize your true self

That alone is your acquaintance with the Lord

Like Kabir, Lalleshwari's verses reflect the light deep mystical experience. Says Kabir:

He has no face, nor forehead

He is neither beautiful nor ugly

The Lord is a unique entity­

Subtler than the fragrance of a flower

And Lalleshwari says:

The idol is stone and the temple too is stone

From top to bottom all is of the same stuff

Who will you worship, therefore, O foolish Pandit?

Unite your vital airs and your mind

In another verse of his Kabir says:

The rosary toms in the hand

And the tongue toms in the mouth

The mind turns in all the ten directions

This is no way to remember God

Lalleshwari also cautions us about such meaningless acts:

O man why are you twisting ropes of sand?

Holding on to it, you cannot hope to move you

The idea implicit in Kabir's 'jhini jhini chadariya' finds expressions in one of Lalleshwari's most poignant vaakhs:

I Lalla went forth hoping I would blossom

Like a cotton flower

But the ginner's and the carder’s blows

Scotched me hard

The spinner spun me into a fine yarn

And the weavers suspended me on his loom in his shop

The washerman dashed me on the washing stone

And the tailor's scissors made me aware of way

To attain what is the supreme state

Lalleshwari believes in attaining the supreme state through goodwill, right thought, unostentatious living and purity of conduct. And so does Kabir:

Live peaceably in the company of everyone

Be on intimate terms with every person

Say “Yes Sir, Yes Sir" to all

That is how you should live in your village

In another verse he says:

Just as there is oil inside a sesamum seed

And fire inside a flint stone

Your Lord resides within you

Wake up if you can!

And here is what Lalleshwari has to say about her realization:

The lamp blazed and my true self was revealed to me

Then I diffused outside my inner light

And seized it in the darkness of the night

If Kabir believes God to be formless and without attributes, Lalleshwari’s conception of God is not much different:

You alone are the heavens and you are the earth

And you alone are the day, the air, the night

You are the offerings of rice grain, sandalwood, flowers and water

You are everything, so what to offer to you?

There is no doubt that Lalleshwari and Kabir are two representative voices of the same age. One is the voice the Vitasta, the other of the Ganga. Both are immortal singers of the ageless unity of the Indian soul.

(Translated from Hindi by Dr. Shashi Shekhar Toshkhani)

Lal Ded: The Great Kashmiri Saint-Poetess

 

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