Lalleshwari, affectionately called Lal Ded or Didda (Granny or Dadi) exuded syncretism. She was known as Lalla A’rifa to Muslims, elegantly appropriated with artistic and aesthetic sects of Islam. She was the most revolutionary and progressive spiritualist in Early Medieval India.
Condemning superficialities and trivialities such as idolatry, superstition and practice of excessive rites, she discarded pomp and beseeched her followers to adjudge all using the yardstick of one’s own conscience. She urged the masses to do away with Aadambar (Ritualistic pomp), ridiculed sole Brahmanical prerogative over religious practices, and asked people to focus on the core abstraction, than its context-specific implementations. She criticised blind investment of faith (as in a particular stone, a specific hereditary community, or self-stylised Godmen), and her verses, albeit innately poetic and artistically profound, depict an unprecedented rationalisation. This made her universal and invariable in appeal.
Lal Ded inspired contemporaries, and helped usher in the preeminent Reshi (lit. hermit) order of Sufi ascetics and mystic saints. The Reshi sect were a lineage of much-venerated spiritualists of Kashmir who were ambidextrous with Islam and Hinduism, particularly Shaivism. They enabled reconciliation and harmonisation of practitioners of either monotheistic faiths for centuries. Lal Ded’s verses have been analysed with an Islamic lens in popular culture, and are compatible with any spirituality-seeker, irrespective of their faith and practical nuance(s). Disregarding petty particularities and notwithstanding material elaborations, she transcended narrow sectarian bounds and divisive distinctions. She forewent typecast roles, caste, gender, religion and communality, and became immortalised as a unanimously beloved folk figure. Truly Lal Ded’s figurative transcendence, corresponds to having a literally wide-angle, all-encompassive general worldview from a high vantage point.
Six of her vakhs (quartets or pair of couplets), which are mystical in nature yet use common grassroot imagery, and are one of the earliest compositions in the Kashmiri language, are hereby curated:
Ami pana so’dras nAvi ches lamAn
Kati bozi Day myon meyti diyi tAr
Ameyn tAkeyn poniy zan shemAn
Zuv chum bramAn gara gatshaha.
With a rope of loose-spun thread am I towing
my boat upon the sea.
Would that God heard my prayer
and brought me safe across!
Like water in cups of unbaked clay
I run to waste.
Would God I were to reach my home!
This verse of Ded’s, discusses materialism and explores the classical theme of the carnal body being a corporeal vessel for the formless soul. It is the essential, ethereal spirit, that transcends material attributes of form, distinction and rigid traits. It fluidly adapts to whatever surrounding it encounters, until it escapes and effuses into infinitude. The soul (rooh) is that all-pervasive ether. The concept appealed to the Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists of the valley, alike. This is largely own to the pureness of her description of divine: one, formless, and able to assume any form one wants. She laments her ineptitude, and susceptibility to be readily cajoled by worldly pleasures and trivial materials, in spite of knowing it to be futile. She resists the pang but regrets continually, gradually succumbing to it.
La’lith-la’lith vaday boh vAy(bo dAy*)
Tseyta muhac peyiy mAy
Roziy no pata looh-laengarac tshAy
Niz-swarup kyAh mothuy hAy
I will weep and weep for you, O Mind;
(my Soul) The world hath caught you in its spell.
Though you cling to them with the anchor of steel,
Not even the shadow of the things you love Will go with you when you are dead.
Why then have you forgot your own true Self ?
Clinging (tanhaa) is a distinctively Buddhist concept, roughly translating to materialism. Lal Ded beautifully summarises it with unprecedented brevity. Unlike the preceding, rather dry narratives, the futility of material accumulation, a central dogma in all religions, is essentially exemplified here.
diiva vattaa divur vattaa
Peythha bvona chuy ikavaathh:
Puuz kas karakh huutt bhattaa,
Kar manas ta pavanas sangaatth.
The idol is but stone,
The temple is but stone,
From top to bottom all is stone.
Whom will you worship, O stubborn Pandit ?
Let praana and the mind unite
(as an offering to your God).
The priestly fallacy of materialism, embracing the very thing one proclaims to chastise, is tersely explained here. This bold verse contains a wisdom, heftier than the mountain, the idol was cast from. It instructs one to look for divine beyond the realm, within one, or all around, and not associated with an objective particularity.
gagan tsu’y bhuutal tsu’y,
Tsu’y chukh deyn pavan ta raath,
Arg tsanndun, posh poyni tsu’y
Tsu’y chuk soruy ta laagizi kyaah ?
Thou art the earth, Thou art the sky,
Thou art the air, the day and the night;
The sacrificial corn Thou,
And unction of the sandal-paste.
Thou art the water, Thou art the flowers,
Thou art all these and everything.
What may I, in worship, bring to Thee ?
A testimony to the intrinsicness and omnipresence of the Almighty, this verse attempts to exhibit the inherent underlying unity of material reality. It establishes the futility of worldly distinction. The verse attempts to illustrate the naivete of offerings and excessive sacrificial rites, and the classic folly of metaphorical associations taken literally.
abhyaa’sy savikaa’sy layi vo’thuu,
Gaganas svagun myuul samitsratta,
Shunya gol Anaamay motuu,
Yuhoy vopadiish chuy bhatta.
By oft-repeated practice, the wide expanse
of manifested universe is lifted to absorption;
And the saguna world, of forms and qualities,
merges in the vastness of the Void
with a splash of water on water falling;
Then the ethereal Void dissolves,
and the Ineffable Supreme alone remains.
*saguna: lit. with attribute i.e. formful
Alluding to the Extrinsic, the Intrinsic, both, and none, all at the same time, this eloquently flowing yet objectively upright, tight-bound verse resonates with a euphoric cosmic dance. It captures the ultimate, broadest perspective of Lal Ded’s metaphysical realm, a macrocosm of macrocosms in itself.
makuris zan mal tso’lum manas
Ada mey labam zanas zaan,
Suh yeli dyuuenthhum nishi paanas
Soruy suy ta bo’h no kea’h
Foulness from my mind was cleared
as ashes from a mirror,
Then recognition of Him came to me
unmistakable and clear.
And when I saw Him close by me,
He was all and I was not,
(and there was nothing else).
This verse echoes the very sentiment, the pangs of elation and ecstasy reminiscent of the Dervishes of Turkey and the esoteric poets of Persia. Divine consummation or revelation, deed, is cast to an innuendo, using interhuman love as an analogy.
Kashmir’s Sufi tradition and the valley’s shrines have forever been hallmarks of unity, humanism and compassion. With the resurgence of hardline narratives on either side, nonexistant contours have been fabricated, as aversion to all forms of shared culture grows. Thus a reminder of the homology of Hindu and Islamic spiritualism and the ambidexterity of a maternal figure, is crucial to today’s era of alienation, ignorance of shared heritage and induced polarisation. Lal Ded’s conduct was her message, her message was her life, and it is timeless.