Four Famous Poetesses of
by Jawahar Kaul Ganhar
which is known as the 'paradise on earth', has been the abode of eminent
scholars, savants, historians and poets, like Bilhan, Mamatachary,
Anandavardhana, Gunaverman, Abhinavagupta, Jonaraja, Kalhana, etc. These
luminaries had mastery over Sanskrit language. During the Muslim rule, Persian
became the court language. Kashmiri scholars did not lag behind in acquiring
mastery in this language also and produced scholars and poets like Gani
Kashmiri, Munshi Bhawani Dass Kachroo, Hyder Malik Chadura, Narayan Kaul Ajiz,
Muhammad Azam Didmari, etc. Besides them, there were saints and poets who
preferred to use their own Kashmiri dilect for conveying their messages and
thoughts. These included both men and women. Most prominent among them were
Sheikh Noor-u-Din Noorani, Lal Ded, Rupa Bhawani, Habba Khatoon and Arinimaal.
Lalla Yogeshwari or Lel
Ded and Rupa Bhawani are famous for their spiritual eminence and truth to their
devotees and the people. As against these two saint-poetesses, Arinimaal and
Habba Khatoon are famous for their love lore and romantic poetry.
Lal Ded and Habba Khatoon
belong to the Pampore area of the Valley, which is famous for its saffron
cultivation, while Rupa Bhawani belongs to Srinagar city and Arinimal to village
Palhalan. These poetesses were married but their married life was not happy and
blissful. They were ill-treated by their husbands and mothers-in-law. Another
common trait among these great poetesses is that whatever they have said or sung
is in their mother-tongue - Kashmiri.
Lal Ded was a saint-philospher,
born in the middle of the 14th century of the Chnstian era, which was a period
of political and religious turmoil in Kashmir. Her parents lived near
Pandrenthen Sempore, which is about 5 miles away from the capital city of
Srinagar. She was married at an early age to a Brahmin boy in village Pampore.
She was maltreated at her in-laws. Her mother-in-law always starved her, but she
never raised the finger against her. It is said that once there was going to be
some feast in her home. While fetching water from the river, she was told by her
friends: "You must be having lavish dishes at home tonight"?
Lalleshwari replied: "Whether they (in-laws) slaughtered a big sheep or a
small one, Lalla always has a stone for her dinner" (a practice with her
mother-in-law of putting a stone in her thali and covering it thinly with rice
to look it like a big heap to others).
Lalla left her home and
became a yogni. Her guru was Sidha-Bayu, an eminent scholar (of Sanskrit
literature) of the time. She learned yoga and meditation under the guru and
later on she excelled her guru. She had an opportunity to meet the Sayeds who
came from Iraq. She had long discussions and frequent arguments with them on
religion, etc. She fills her teachings with many truths that are common to all
religious philosophies. All religions were to her merely paths leading to the
same goal. She never differentiated between a Hindu and a Musalmaan. Her vaakhs
(poetry) lay more stress on recognising one's ownself, which is the true
knowledge of God. She says that the cause of all our troubles is ego, which must
be renounced. One must be moderate in food or drink. Overeating, she says, will
lead us nowhere, while not eating will give rise to conceit. She has said that
if one cannot realize God in this life, how can one realize Him after death.
Many myths, legends and
miracles are woven round her name, which indicate the reverence in which she was
held by Hindus and Muslims alike. The famous Patron saint-poet of Kashmir, Nund
Rishi of Chrar-e-Sharief held her in high esteem and reverence. Her vaaks are
commonly sung in Kashmir by all communities and have passed from generation to
Lal Ded Hospital
It is said that Lal Ded
lived a long life, preaching her gospel of love, brotherhood, unity and
tolerance. and roamed within the Kashmir Valley. She was equally claimed both by
Hindus and Muslims as their own at the time of her death. When the winding sheet
was uncovered from her body, only a few flowers were seen on the bier to the
pleasant surprise of all. After her death there was no monument in her memory.
But it was only in 1981-82 that a women's hospital in Srinagar was named after
this great saint- poetess as the Lal Ded Hospital, which was inaugurated by the
then Chief Minister Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. In Pampore town, there is a pond,
known as Lala Trag after Lal Ded. This is the only place which is associated
with her name till date.
It goes to the credit of
this yogni who spread and preached the message of non-violence, simple living
and high thinking as long back as the fourteenth century and thus became Lal Moj
or Lal Ded both for Muslims and Hindus.
Rupa Bhawani was born in
1624 A.D. to a pious scholar, Pandit Madhav Joo Dhar, who lived in Mohallah
Khanaqahi Sokhta near the present Safa Kadal. The girl born to him was named as
Rupa. It is said that Pandit Madhav Joo Dhar used to perform parikrama of Hari
Parbat daily and praying to Goddess Sharika. Due to this Bakhti and Sadhana to
MataJagatAmba, the girl born to him was angelic in appearance.
In childhood, she was
reared up with a lot of love and affection. At an early age, she was married to
a learned youngman of Sapru family. But her marriage like that of Lal Ded did
not last long. She was teased by her mother-in-law and by her husband also. It
is said that her spiritual pursuits and meditation were not liked by them. As
the marriage proved unhappy, she renounced the wordly life and became a yogni.
She studied vedanta, yoga and other Hindu scriptures under her father who was
her guru too. She wandered at a number of places in the valley and had
discussions, etc, with Yogis, Sadhus and Darveshs.
It is said that Rupa
Bhawani had during her life- time performed a number of miracles. Eyesight was
restored to a person by her. Through her mere glance, a major fire was
extinguished in village Manigam, near Lar in the present Srinagar district.
Besides Srinagar, she did meditation at Waskura and Chashma Shahi, a beautiful
place near the present Raj Bhawan. At these places, she held spiritual
discourses and attracted devotees among both Hindus and Muslims. Being yogni,
she was the mother to all, irrespective of caste, creed and religion and loved
them all as her own children. She was revered as a manifestation of Goddes
Sharika as her father was a great devotee of Her. She had faith in the Supreme
Lord as the sole master of all creation.
Rupa Bhawani was
well-versed in Sanskrit and Persian languages, but she used Kashmiri as the
medium for expressing her thoughts and teachings, known as shruk (shalok). A
Muslim faqir (saint) of her times, Shah Sadiq Qalandar, had great regard and
admiration for her. He recorded her death, etc. in a Persian chronogram.
Rupa Bhawani left her
mortal remains in the winter month of Magha Saptami of Krishna Paksha (January)
at the age of about 97 years. Kashmiri Pandits in the valley have great respect
for her. For the last more than 370 years, they are keeping a tast on her death
anniversary, which is known as Sahib Saptami, as a mark of respect to this great
Ashrams were built at Waskura, Manigam, Safa Kadal and other places by her devotees. A big hawan used
to be performed on her death anniversery by the Rupa Bhawani Alak Sahiba Trust.
On this occasion, Muslims of the area used to sell flowers, Kand (sugar candy),
milk, etc, to the devotees. But due to the rise of militancy in the Kashmir
Valley, no such ceremony takes place now in Kashmir at present since 1989-90.
To keep her sacred memory
alive after the mass migration of Kashmiri Pandits in February-March 1990, the
Pandits have constructed an ashram at Jammu near Talab-Tillo. The annual hawan
is now performed here in which Kashmiri Pandits in large numbers participate.
Arinimaal was born in
eighteenth century to a Kashmiri Pandit family at village Palhalan in the
Baramulla area. At that time, Kashmir was ruled by Pathans (Durrani dynasty).
During this period, Kashmiris were subjected to the worst rule that the valley
has ever witnessed.
It is said that Arinimaal
was married in her childhood to Munshi Bhawani Dass Kachroo. Bhawani Dass was a
respected person in the Afghan court. Jumma Khan, then Governor of Kashmir from
1788 to 1792, was less harsh than other Pathan rulers and he respected scholars
and patronised the men of learning. By dint of hard work and intelligence,
Bhawan Dass acquired mastery in Persian. Afghan dignitaries and officials were
surprised over his calibre and erudition. He was a poet in Persian language. His
Persian poems entitled "Bahar-i-Tavil" is considered a major
contribution to the Persian language. He wrote under the pen name of "Naiku".
The early period of
Arinimaal's married life was happier one. But these days did not last long. Her
husband who was an important person in the Darbar fell into bad company and
deserted her. Due to this, Arinimaal's heart broke and became dejected and
forlorn. Possibly due to this painful separation, she must have taken to poetry.
Arinimaal sang of love,
beauty and sorrow. Her poetry speaks of agony, dejection, pathos and
disappointments. Her poetry melts the people's hearts. Through her poety, one
comes across how she loved her husband. After separation, she returned to her
parents' house who were kind and sympathetic towards her. The people of the
village used to cut jokes at her expense. But it did not change her. It is said
that, at an advanced age, Arinimaal took to the spinning wheel and spent her
days in the hope that one day her love (husband) will return.
After some time, Bhawani
Dass realised that he had been unkind to his wife. He decided to be with her
again. He proceeded towards her village, and when he reached Palhalan, he saw
that she was being carried for cremation. And it was too late.
There is no monument or
anything of that sort in her memory in Kashmir but through her poetry she has
become popular and continues till today.
A few years back, RADIO
KASHMIR broad- casted a play on her. Besides, DOORDARSHAN, Srinagar, had also
made a tele-film on her.
It may be mentioned in
passing that my preceptor and eminent scholar, the late Shri Janki Nath Ganhar,
used to refer to me to some literary talks he had with the great Kashmiri poet,
the late Master Zinda Kaul, who had told the latter that many of the verses
attributed to poetess Habba Khatoon actually belong to Arinimaal. Now it is for
the eminent scholars of Kashmiri literature to delve deep into these questions
and come to correct conclusions.
Habba Khatoon was born in
the middle of sixteenth century to a poor family in village Chandhar near
Pampore. Her original name was Zoon (the moon). From her childhood, she was fond
of singing. At a very young age, she was sent to madrassa (school) where she was
taught Persian and also studied holy Quran. But her first love was poetry. Her
parents were not happy over this and got her married to a village boy. He did
not like her singing, etc. He used to feel ashamed to know that her wife was
being admired by villagers. He advised her not to sing, but she did not stop
singing. Relations between the husband and wife became strained. Her parents and
in-laws pressed her a lot not to indulge in this hobby and behave like other
girls of the village. But she ignored all advice.
It is said that one day
she was plucking flowers in the fields and was deeply absorbed in her singing.
At the same time, heir-apparent to the Kashmir throne, Yusuf Shah Chak, was
passing by. He was thrilled by her singing. He enquired about the singer. When
he met her, he was bewitched by her beauty. He craved to make her his wife. The
prince then got her divorced from her first husband and married her.
The second marriage proved
successful for some years and during this period she gave more time to her
poetry and singing. Her fame as a poetess and musician travelled far and wide.
These happy days did not
last long for her. Akbar, the Mughal emperor of India, annexed Kashmir to his
empire in 1548 A.D. Yusuf Shah Chak was taken a prisoner and sent to Bihar. This
separation caused great and unendurable pain to her and she became almost mad
with grief. It is said that she left the royal palace and wandered aimlessly at
various places of Kashmir. During her wanderings, she had been to Gurez a
village on the bank of river Kishen Ganga in the Baramulla area. In this
village, she spent some time near a small hill, which is known as Habba Bal
(Hill of Hahba Khatoon) even today. The last days of her life were full of
sorrow and suffering. It is said that she finally settled down near present
Pantha Chowk where she passed her last days and lies buried there.
On her life, DOORDARSHAN
had made a TV film and a number of dramas, both on radio and theatres, have been
played. In 1988, a famous film director from Bombay tried to make a feature film
on her but, unfortunately, it did not reach completion. To honour this Kashmiri
poetess, a ship named as Habba Khatoon was commissioned into the service of the
country by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, another illustrious daughter of