This book is a compilation of the presentations made at a National Seminar on
Lal Ded organized jointly by the Kashmir Education, Culture and Science Society
and N. S. Kashmir Research Institute in New Delhi on November 12, 2000.
Participating in the one-day Seminar, which was titled: "Remembering Lal
Ded in Modern Times", scholars presented the celebrated saint-poetess as
one of the greatest symbols of Kashmir's spiritual culture. Focussing on her
greatness both as a saint and a maker of Kashmiri language and literature,
they explored various aspects of Lal Ded's poetry and personality. Lal Led, they
pointed out in their papers, is quintessentially Kashmiri, her verses reflecting
a sense of values and ideals that form the bedrock of the civilizational ethos of
Kashmir; yet, they said, her appeal is universal as she talks of the oneness of
all existence and shows an extraordinary awareness of the human condition in all
its complexity, her Shaivite world-view providing answers to so many of the
fundamental existential questions that disturb the human mind. Lal Ded's vision
of reality as the manifestation of one indivisible consciousness pervading
everything, her insistence on the inwardness of the spiritual experience and
rejection of all kinds of sham and pretence, her revolt against dogma and
external ceremony, her broad humanistic concerns and the strong egalitarian tone
of her verses-all these can be considered as factors that explain her pervasive
hold on the Kashmiri psyche and also her relevance in the present day world.
Lal Ded is also remembered today for her unique poetic idiom which derives
its power and charm from the images of everyday life. Lal Ded moved among the
ordinary men and women of her times with whom she shared her deep spiritual
insights and to whom she made accessible some of the most profound truths of the
Trika philosophy. She preferred to talk to them in their own colloquial speech
instead of the elitist Sanskrit - although her compositions are predominantly
Sanskritic in its diction - reflecting the actual linguistic situation of the
times. It is this choice of the medium of expression, together with her liberal
humanistic approach to the questions confronting her age, that accounts for her
phenomenal popularity as a spiritual leader who guided her people through a
period of tremendous civilizational crisis that threatened to tear apart the
entire social fabric of the 14th century Kashmir in which she happened to live.
The importance of Lal Ded's role at that point of time in Kashmir's history lies
in her success in ensuring continuity and simultaneously ushering in change. As
a poet, she attained heights which no other Kashmiri poet has been able to scale
so far. Her verses, called vaakhs, along with the shruks of
Nunda Rishi, formed the basis for a new indigenous identity of Kashmir
to evolve. No wonder, therefore, that her name evokes such deep resonances in
the minds of ordinary Kashmiris more than six hundred years after she
left her mortal coils, her poetry giving them both spiritual solace and moral
strength to face the challenges of life.
Yet another important point that should engaged scholars' attention is the
need for preparing an authentic text of Lallavaakhs. This,
has acquired a great urgency in view of the massive interpolations that
have been introduced in the intervening centuries, both inadvertently and
deliberately, confusing the ordinary reader's mind and confounding the serious
scholar in his attempt to interpret their real meaning.
The way spurious verses are made to pass as genuine utterances of Lal Ded has
led to numerous distortions of the facts of life and misinterpretations of her
thoughts and beliefs. That there is a definite design behind such exercises, is
shown by the persistent attempts being made to appropriate Lal Ded to
belief-systems totally alien to her. This view. expressed by several scholars,
underlines the great importance of sifting the spurious vaakhs attributed
to the saint-poetfrom the genuine ones that could be considered to have
actually fallen from her lips. The best way to arrive at an authentic Lal Ded,
they suggest, is to compare the linguistic features of her vaakhs with
the language of extant Kashmiri works belonging to the period immediately
preceding or following her.
With these themes dominating the course of discussions at the Seminar, Lal
Ded emerged as a symbol that maniced the connectivity of all Kashmiris with
their tradition-a symbol that has become all the more significant in the context
of the present troubled situation in Kashmir. Her unique vision of spirituality,
it was realized, was essentially poetic and her vision of poetry essentially
spiritual. The various views put forward by the scholars participating in the
Seminar comprise the first section of this book, which has been divided into
three sections for the convenience of the readers. It is the universality of Lal
Ded's spiritual vision that Mr. M.K. Kaw, Secretary Education, Government
of India and President KCESS focussed on in the keynote address he delivered at
the Seminar under the title, "The Guru and the Pandit". "Lal Ded",
Mr. Kaw says, "believed that the entire facade of outer ceremony that all
religions create has nothing to do with spirituality". The distinction that
she sought to draw between the Guru and the Pandit is, according to Mr. Kaw,
"of essence in our understanding her true message for it removes the
cobwebs of our thinking so far as religon is concerned." Describing as
"outdated" the "copyright that traditional religions claim on the
original science of spirituality", Mr. Kaw says that "Lal Ded's
philosophy was an attempt to break these monopolies and create a universal
science of spirituality."
After Mr. Kaw's brief but brilliant presentation on "the essence of Lal
Ded's teachings" we have scholar, writer and a former Head of English
Department, Kashmir University, Prof. A.N. Dhar giving his rationale for
"A Reappraisal of Lal Ded" as "the need of the hour". Prof.
Dhar considers it necessary to sift the genuine outpourings or vaakhs of
the great saint "from the spurious ones before attempting to reinterpret
them with a view to removing "numerous misconceptions and erroneous
notions" about Lal Ded, some of which, he believes, are "based on
deliberate distortions and even lies spread to serve a vested interest".
Prof. Dhar strongly rebuts a claim that Lal Ded at a later stage of her life
came under the decisive influence of Islam followed by her so-called conversion
to Islam, citing Prof. Jayalal Kaul to support his views. The celebrated
Kashmiri mystic poets Sheikh Nur-ud-Din and Shams Faqir, he points out, have
both used conspicuous Sanskrit words in their poetic tributes to Lalleshwari so
as to "categorically recognize her religious background and faith".
Reviewing various works of Lal Ded scholarship published so far, Prof. Dhar
rightly describes Prof. Jayalal
Kaul's book "Lal Ded" as "a monumental little volume that will
serve as a guide book to the respective researchers". While agreeing with
Prof. Kaul that Lal Ded was a Shaiva yogini, he nevertheless states that
he does not find Vedanta altogether different from the Trika philosophy she was
steeped in. He urges Lal Ded scholars not to "overstress Lalla’s being a
Shaivite poet", as that may make us "overlook her catholicity".
"Lal Ded", he concludes, "is a great poet precisely because she
is intensely spiritual, and conversely she is highly spiritual because she is
gifted with extraordinary poetic sensibility.''
In his paper 'Lal Ded : Her Spiritualism and Present Scientific World Order',
Prof. S. Bhatt, well-known environment scientist, author, former
Professor of International Law, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, and Vice
President, KECSS, explains Lal Ded's poetry and spiritual, philosophy in terms
of the principles "which could reconcile the new philosophy of science and
modern man's concern for mysticism and spiritual development". Quoting the
view of Einstein and post-Einstein scientists like Prigogine, Prof. Bhatt feels
that with profound change in the scientific concept of nature, the world today
is "strongly shifting towards a revival of mysticism". "The
world", he says, "is witnessing a new dialogue between mysticism
practiced by seers like Lal Ded that produces pure consciousness in human beings
and the new philosophy of science". Prof. Bhatt wants it to be conveyed to
the world community that Lal Ded's spiritual philosophy is bound to create a new
cosmic vision of mankind "which will greatly benefit the present world
order". Her vaakhs "have a freshness that is perennial",
Prof. Bhatt observes. "Their truth is eternal and appropriate for the
In his paper 'Reconstructing and Reinterpreting Lal Ded', Dr. S. S.
Toshkhani, Convener of the Seminar and Chairman, NSKRI, contends that most
of the image constructs built around Lal Ded are not representative of the
personality that is reflected in her verses, nor do they agree with the basic
framework of her thought and expression. These constructs are "confusing
and even mutually contradicting" as they are "linked inextricably with
the motives, predilections and perceptions" of their creators, Dr.
Toshkhani observes, emphasizing the need to reconstruct Lal Ded's image "in
light of facts authenticated by the evidence of her verses."
Referring to the mystic strain in Lal Ded's poetry, Dr. Toshkhani says that
it does not have a Sufist origin; its roots lie deep in devotional Shaivism of
which Bhatta Narayana and Utpaldeva were the earlier exponents. Lacing his
observation with examples from the works of all the three poets, he points out
that their images and metaphors are "strikingly similar". However,
there is no tendency in Lal Ded to separate mystic experience from everyday
experience. Ridiculing the tendency to reduce Lal Ded to what he calls "a
one verse poet", and to project her as spokesperson of the "present
day secular discourse". Dr. Toshkhani thinks that the greatest need for Lal
Ded scholars today is to reclaim authentic Lal Ded by arriving at a critical
text of her vaakhs. The best way to do so, he suggests, would be to study
the linguistic features of early Kashmiri poetry as reflected in extant works
like "Chhumma Sampradaya" and "Mahanaya Prakasha", written
before Lal Ded's time and "Banasura Katha"and "Sukha Dukha Charit"
composed in the years succeeding her.
Dr. Toshkhani's paper presents Lal Ded as a poet who is "more modern
than contemporary Kashmiri poets", and points to her poetic sensibility,
her self-awareness, her existential anguish, her grasp of the complexity of the
human situation, her catholic outlook, her sense of universal harmony and her
astonishing choice of metaphor and image.
Writer, scholar, translator Prof. (Mrs.) Neerja Mattoo's paper
looks at Lal Ded as "the poet who gave voice to women", an aspect
which has received very little attention so far. Describing the celebrated
saint-poetess as "a path-breaking woman who through her mystic poetry set
in motion a cultural, linguistic and religious revolution", Prof Mattoo
says that her work "like Shakespeare's, has a timeless meaning accessible
to people of different intellectual levels". Prof. Mattoo's paper
approaches Lal Ded's work from what can be termed a feminist's point of view,
stating that "Lal Ded's is an individual voice unfettered by norms, ritual
obeisance or conventions, a powerful voice giving expression to the wishes of
all those men and women who wish to find a way out of the labyrinth of the human
situation". And in this respect, says Prof. Mattoo in her brilliantly
written paper, Lal Ded is a precursor to Mirabai. "It is also a pointer to
the fact that Lal Ded had effortlessly transcended gender and struck a blow at
the prevalent patriarchy even as early as the fourteenth century. The so called
liberated woman of the twentieth century appears much smaller in
Referring to the images and metaphors used by Lal Ded in her vaakhs, Prof.
Mattoo says that these come from ordinary life. "The porter, wearer,
carpenter, blacksmith and other unprivileged classes, who from the backbone of
village and town economies, find their work and trade celebrated in her Vaakhs
even while they tackle abstruse Shaivite practices", she observes,
giving a subaltern context to Lal Ded's poetry. Prof. Mattoo's paper also takes
a "close look" at the "mechanics" of vaakh, the verse
form used by Lal Ded, analyzing its acoustic and semantic elements in a
refreshingly original manner.
Dr. Roop Krishen Bhat's academic paper, 'The Language of Lal Ded's
Vaakhs', analyses the linguistic aspects
of Lal Ded's poetry. Dr. Bhat is of the view that the vaakhs present
an "authentic proof" that their language was a form of
proto-Kashmiri". "It was the common man's colloquial language and not
the kind of classical language used by scholars", he observes while
examining and analyzing its phonological, morphological, syntactic and semantic
features. A well- known linguist, Dr. Roop Krishen Bhat is the Principal of
Northern Regional Language Centre, Patiala.
In his paper titled 'Lal Ded and Kashmir Chroniclers', Mr. P.N.
Kachru, well-known artist and NSKRI Treasurer, flays Kashmiri
chroniclers for their total silence on Lal Ded, lambasting them for what he
calls their "fictitiousness" and "crafty penmanship", They
have ignored the history of intellectual and cultural thought in Kashmir, Mr.
Kachru feels. His paper refers to the story given by the Sanskrit chronicler 'Jonaraja
of a Jogini" who is said to have offered Prince Shihab-ud-Din a cup of
wine. In the later Persian chronicles the contents of the cup have been changed
from wine to juice or milk so that Islamic sentiments are not offended, the
paper says. Another example of the falsification and distortion of facts by
Kashmiri chroniclers that Mr. Kachru gives is about Lal Ded's supposed meeting
with the Islamic missionary, Mir Sayyed Ali Hamadani. He describes the accounts
of the chroniclers in this respect as "untenable and unreliable".
Mr. S.N. Pandita's paper 'Lal Vaakhs-Their Journey from
Memory to Manuscript', throws light on how Lal Ded's verses were transcribed
from memory to manuscript so as to be brought out in an authentic version. Mr.
Pandita, who is Secretary, NSKRI, contends in this paper that it would not have
been possible for Western scholars like Grierson to write and collect works on
Lal Ded without the help of Kashmiri scholars. He makes special reference to the
contribution of Pandit Madhusan Kaul Shastri, Pandit Laxman Kaul, Pandit Prakash
Kokilu and Prof. Nityanand Shastri in the compilation and collation of various
versions of Lallavaakhs.
We have included the transcription of an extempore speech made at the Seminar
by Mr. D.N. Munshi, Chairman, All India Kashmiri Samaj Trust, in this
book. Describing Lalleshwari as a rebel, Mr. Munshi contends that a
"whatever she said or did had some mission behind it to correct the
prevailing wrong practices and show the path to piety". In Mr. Munshi's
opinion, works of a poet-philosopher of Lal Ded's eminence have remained
confined to the Valley, making her "only a name in the exclusive academic
circle of the country as a whole", because her verses have not been
"appropriately and intensely translated into other languages."
Not all the speeches delivered in the Seminar, however, could be included in
this book either because they were too brief or because their transcripts were
not readily available. Notable among these were the views expressed by Ms.
Chandrakanta, well-known Hindi short-story writer and novelist, and Prof.
Ashok Kaul, Associate Professor of Sociology at the Benares Hindu
University. Ms. Chandrakanta said that Lal Ded had become an integral part of
the life and lore of every Kashmiri. We should be proud, she said, of the rich
legacy of poetry and thought which Lal Ded has bequeathed to us. Prof. Ashok
Kaul said that today when societies were fragmented and people reduced to
"screen miners and cyber community", ideology is dead and geography
transcended, it was tradition that could give one a sense of belonging and
purpose. "And so, I belong to the Lal Ded tradition-that's my
connectivity", he asserted.
Writer and social and cultural activist, Prof. Chaman Lal Sapru's paper
'Lalleshwari aur Kabir', originally in Hindi, has been translated into English
for the benefit of readers. Prof. Sapru is the editor of the Kashmiri section of
Koshur Samachar. Pointing to the many similarities between the two great
Bhakti poets, he says that both of them were poets of protest-fierce critics of
religious dogma, external ceremony and ritualistic forms of worship who fought
orthodoxy and assailed religious hypocrisy. Both of them spoke to the common
masses in their own language impacting with their powerful poetic idiom and
rebellious stance while emphasizing that God could be found only within one's
own self. Both believed in the fellowship of human beings and the oneness of all
existence, with the fact remaining that in all this Lalleshwari preceded Kabir.
This book has been divided into three sections for the convenience of the
The first section of this volume concludes with the "Concluding
Remarks" made by Mr. M.K. Kaw at the end of the Seminar on Lal Ded. In the
second section we have excerpts from Prof. Jayalal Kaul's monumental
book on Lal Ded condensed ably by his worthy sons, Major General (Retd. )
A. Kaul and Mr. Bhuvnesh Kaul for ready reference and for the
benefit of those readers who may not have gone through it. At the end, and as
the third section of this book, we have given twenty-three vaakhs of Lal
Ded with their English translation. Both the selection and translation of the vaakhs
has been done, quite brilliantly, by Prof. Neerja Mattoo, who has very
kindly permitted us to publish them. Expressing our gratitude to Prof. Mattoo,
we hope the readers will find the translations greatly interesting and
But, despite her towering stature as a poet-philosopher, and despite all her
attainments as a spiritual genius, the bibliography on Lal Ded is woefully scant
and wanting in many respects-hardly half-a-dozen critical works which really
provide insight into her poetry and personality. Whether or not this small
volume can be considered as a worthy addition to this list is for the readers to
decide. We hope it will revive extensive interest on Lal Ded and her vaakhs all
over India, and in many parts of world, especially among the non-resident
Kashmiris and others.
Shashi Shekhar Toshkhani