During the Prakrit era, Buddhist scholars wrote some books in Kashmiri for the propagation of their religion. "Miland Panha" and "Brihad Katha" are examples of this literature. Later during the Muslim period prior to 1470 AD. some religious texts were rendered into Kashmiri for purposes of propagation of Islam but no trace of these manuscripts is found now.
Three stalwarts stand out as the true founders of Kashmiri literature. They are Shitikanth (13th Century), author of Mahanai Prakash "Lal Ded (b. 1335/50) and Nund Reshi (b. 1377). "Banasur Katha," composed around 1446 AD by Avtar Bhatt, is another early specimen of Kashmiri literature, Persian dominated from the beginning Of Mughal rule (1586) right upto the end of the Muslim period, in 1819.
Vaakh (Short, crisp saying ) was the characteristic of the earliest verse. It reached its zenith in the time of Lal Ded. Shitikanth, who lived 100 years earlier and also wrote vaakhs was perhaps the first poet of Kashmir. Nund Reshi too wrote Vaakhs which, however, came to be termed as shruk (a Corrupt form of shalok! Vatsun is a long poem of four line stanzas, the last line of all stanzas being common.
The history of Kashmiri literature during the 15th century and the first half of the 16th century is clouded in oblivion. The famous queen-songstress, Habba Khatoon, born in 1541, innovated the genre of melodious 101 lyrics which are matched only by those of Arnimaal of the eighteenth century. Both of them had undergone similar physical and mental trauma. The celebrated Rup Bhavani of the early eighteenth century also wrote delectable Vaakhs and Vatsuna in the tradition of Lal Ded. Mirza Kak, also of this period, wrote Vaakhs which were published 126 years after his death in 1934.
Literary history repeated itself in Kashmir towards the end of the 18th Century when -ólike Habba Khatoon--Arnimaal, the deserted wife of a scholar and savant, Munshi Bhavani Dass Kachru, poured out her heart's agony in titillation 101 lyrics full of such grief, pathos and poignancy that could not be surpassed by any other poet after her. We find this lovelorn, passionate and distressed woman, Arnimaal (d. 1801), knocking at the portals of the 19th century with a unique wailing and yearning, an intensity of feeling, touching means and sobs, dismay and frustration and a vain but cherished hope of reunion with her husband whom the Afghans had externed from Kashmir. The whole flora and fauna, brooks, lakes and mountains seemed to echo her heartbeats.
After this brief review of the ancient and medieval literature of Kashmir and the venous genres used by the poets and writers of those days, I may now legitimately turn to the main aim of this articles --- introducing to the reader the commendable work done by Shn Prithvi Nath Razdan, well-known elderly journalist, educationist and literateur of Kashmir, who is now living a life of forced migration in Jammu in the form of the present volume, entitled "Gems of Kashmiri and Kashmiriyat--- Trio of Saint poets
Although much has been written already, on the three great poets covered in this volume, by Prof. Jaya Lal Kaul, Prof. B. N. Parirnoo, Ghulam Nabi Gauhar, Braj Bihari Kachru, Shashi Shekhar Toshakhani and others. Razdan Sahib's deep insight and analytical mind have largely succeeded in throwing fresh light on the unforgettable cordon made by them to Kashmiri language and literature. He has taken great pains, despite his old age, to analyses with clarity and vision the spiritual philosophy of the three saint poets ad of whom urge the sadhak to retire within, from without, as the best means of realising the Truth. In this way, Shri Razdan has rendered Yeoman's service to his mother- tongue and motherland both and his work will surely be judged as a good contribution on his part.
Let me now dwell a while on the art of the three illustrious off springs of the Happy Valley.
1. Lal Ded: Saint poetess Lalleshwari, popularly called Lal Ded, is by far the greatest litterateur produced by Kashmir. She represented the Trika philosophy and was the most towering pillar of the shaivite tradition. However, it was only in 1779 AD, more than four centuries after her death, that 60 of her vaakhs were first discovered and compiled in the Sharda script by Bhaskar Razdan. They were got published by the Research and Publications Department later, thus removing the dark mask of time under which this poetess had remained hidden for centuries. It was left to Sir George Grierson and Lionel Barnett to later trace more of her vaakhs, edit them and get them published in London in 1920 under the title of "Lalla Vakyani". Lalleshwari is not only the greatest saint -poetess of Kashmir but also a profound Shaivite Philoshpher sage, Seer and a creative genius so far unsurpassed by any other Kashmiri thinker:
My Guru gave me but one guru shabad:2. Nund Reshi: Nund Reshi (popularly known as Sheikh-ul alam) of late who was Lal Ded's contemporary wrote shruks. He too was a great upholder of the mystic tradition. In fact, he can be termed as the first sun poet of Kashmir and the father of Kashmiri nazm. (No less credit for evolving this genre, however, goes to Mahmud Gaami b. 1765). Nund Reshi was a great exponent of Islamic tenets and founded the 'Reshi' cult in Kashmir. This cult goes a long way in synthesising different cultural ways of life.
He told me to move within from without.
That hit my, Lalla's nail on the head:
I realised myself and shed off the veil.
Self realised, I began to dance naked.
(L.V. No. 3)
In the midst of the sea.
With unspun thread
I am towing the boat;
Would that God grant
My prayer and, Ferry me too, across;
Water in my unbaked earthen plates
I yearn_____ and yearn
(L.V. No. 23)
Prof. B.N. Parimoo, in his delectable treatise on Nund Reshi entitled "Unity in Diversity", has dwelt on this cultural rejuvenation in the following words: "Lal Ded and Nund Reshi have come down to us, over the centuries, as apostles of true knowledge. They had a message to give and could not, perhaps, help singing as an inspired compulsion. They touch the deepest cords of human sensibility. It is not for nothing that we recite the vaakhs of Lal Ded and shruks of the Sheikh with gusto and feeling. The meaning comes home, mixes with the blood and becomes part and parcel of our being. A cultural rejuvenation takes place.
"The connotation of 'religion' becomes more comprehensive. It encompasses the Universal Spirit, the attainment of which become the goal of life. It has its roots firm in the conviction that life is a means to an end, not an end in itself. 'What have I earned by my birth in the world? is the refrain of the song of life. World is deemed but a play field where we have our time of fun and frolic, of our allotted sunshine and rain. But, however absorbing the world may be, we are warned not to forget our Eternal Home, the blessed presence of god. Thus the goal is defined. "
Mark the marvellous similies used by Nund Reshi in one of his famous shruks:
A saint was lost amongstAnd note how humbly he admits the superiority of Lal Ded in the spiritual realm:
A gang of thieves:
A gorgeous swan, was lost
Amidst a flock of crows;
- Shruk No. 5
That Lalla of Padmanpora3. Parmanand: The third of the pre-eminent saint poets of Kashmir, Parmanand (b.1794), nourished the Lila movement founded by Prakash Ram (b.1819), together with Master Zinda Kaul and Krishna Razdan. This movement represented the Bhakti tradition set by Parmanand himself. He, along with some others, followed the Rama Krishna canon of Hindu mythology.
Gulp by gulp who nectar drank.
And saw Shiva face to face...;
Grant me that boon, O Deva;
- Shruk No. 21(a)
Parmanand was a towering literary personality, he was a great devotee of Lord Krishna and Lord Rama. He composed three long narrative poems of devotional nature, besides a large number of bhajans and lilas. His narrative poems are Shiv Lagan, Radha Swayamvar and Sudama Charit. His work is thoroughly permeated with the teaching of Kashmir Shaivism. He wrote litanies too, addressed to Hindu gods and goddesses such as Vishnu, Shiva, Parvati and Ganesh. He also composed poems on yogic practices and mystic symbolism.
His most remarkable poem in the last category is 'Karambhoomika'. The seeds of contentment will blossom into the fruit of ecstasy. This poem provides an intimate picture of rural Kashmir of his time. In this didactic piece he aims at preparing a sadhak for the purification of soul necessary for the attainment of gyaan. I quote here the introductory stanza:
Reinforce thy field of action withThe whole poem is full of symbols like "the yoke of love", "block of patience", moisture of malice", "wet sods of contemplation", "water of Tapa", "sickle of renunciation", "logs of meditation", "shine own karma is the store of your Fate (Prarabdha)", etc. etc.
The spirit of duty and devotion;
The seeds of contentment will then
Grow to bear the fruit of Eternal Bliss.
Hamess the oxen of twin-breath
To plough the field day and night;
Lash them on to work hard
With the Kumbaka whip.
Arise, awake and work on to see
That not a patch remains unploughed.
- PP No. XV
In his short introduction to one of the poems, Shri Razdan says: "while Parmanand is absorbed in the blissful aura of Lord Shiva almost to the limits of trance, he urges people not to be mad after caste and creed in the quest for godliness and godhood, brotherhood and love. Nor does he ignore the scientific method of observation and experiment to arrive at conclusions in the spiritual field ."
Parmanand believes that repentance will not help the wrong-doer. See how beautifully he expresses this truth in the following couplet:
What I sowed, grain by grain,Emphasising the great importance of Bhakti which culminates in man's elevation to godhood, he says:
Shall I reap, ear by ear.
Blessed is he who is experienced:
Devoid of sight, what use is
A lamp to the blind, in darkness?
Only he sees, whom He
Asks to open his eyes:
Having found the pearly necklace
Free you are to wear it;
Who forbids you?
Who approves it?
You are all in all.
You are all in all.
- PP No.V111/7
(T. N. Kaul)
Retd. Chief Sub-Editor
The Times of India