Key to the Understanding of Lal Ded
(Part 2)

by R. N. Kaul

'Lali me nilavath tchol no zah'

1. Life and Legend

It is not only natural but almost imperative to blend fact with legend when dealing with the lives of saints or mystics. Miracles become integral parts of their messages or of their personal experiences. Even if no miracles occur, it is sometimes necessary to invent some in order to brighten the halos round their heads and then great saints, mystics and prophets become God's instruments to bring under discipline the moral and spiritual and even secular lives of men and women living on this planet of ours. These miracles become proofs of their spiritual powers or of their powers of endurance and self-restraint. Divested of these their lives become dull studies and their messages fail to convince the masses.

Little is historically known about Lalla's life. She lived in the fourteenth century (1320? to 1389?) as the oral tradition declares. She was born and brought up in the reign of Alau-ud-Din (1344-55) and died in the reign of Sultan Shihabud Din (1355-73). Her name is first mentioned in 1654 by Baba Dawud Mushkati in his Asrarul-Abrar (The secret of the Pious). Then followed her mention in Waqiate Kashmir completed in 1746. Some names testify to her life and to her miracles. Her vaakhs too furnish some internal evidence to her existence and to some of the hardships she had to undergo. That her immediate successor, the mystic Sheikh Noorud Din Noorani (1377-1438) should mention Lalla's name in one of his outbursts confirms her existence. It is said that she fed the newly born babe (Sheikh Noorud Din) at her motherly breast and that he became her disciple in the mystic lore and experience.

Hence it follows that the legends that are associated with her name are things taken for granted by the people. In all hagiologies, whether written or handed down through tradition, it is that the miracles associated with a saint assume greater significance. In fact though never verified these miracles establish the greatness of these aints in peoples' hearts. In this no rational analysis can be offered. The 'bluish something' as Gandhi called Lord Krishna lifted the hill Goverdhan on His little finger; Hanumana brought an entire mountain from the Himalayan ranges to the southern shores of Bharat; Christ walked the waves and brought the dead to life. And Lal Ded remembered her past janamas (lives) as a woman giving birth to a son, in another janama getting born as a filly at village Marhom. The filly died and was reborn as a pup at Vejibror. There a tiger killed the filly in the disguise of a pup. This was verified by Lalla's guru Sidha Shrikanth. All the cycle of birth and death was repeated the seventh time at Pandrethan. She was born at Sempore near Pampore and at the age of 12 was married to Nika (Sona) Bhat of Drangbal near Pampore. Her vaakhs tell us of Lalla Ded's belief in transmigration of the soul. She refers to her herself having witnessed the whole valley being changed into a vast lake from Hannukha in the north-west to Konsar Nag in the south of Kashmir. Was she alive during the period when the valley was Sati Sar?

But it is after her marriage that more miracles and legends begin to gather round her life. Born and brought up till her marriage in an atmosphere of leaming that she obtained in her parent's home. Lalla became a mistress of the spiritual lore, of the Bhagwad Gita, of tantric practices prevalent at the time, especially of Trika Shastra or what is Popularly known as Kashmir Shaivism. She had learnt and imbibed certain spiritual sadhanas before she was locked in marital relationship with Nika Bhat. In picking up Laya Yoga, the inspiration and guidance of Sidha Mol, her family guru, must have been extra-ordinary indeed. In those days girls were married even before they attained puberty and the marital communication took place when the girl had advanced far beyond her teens. It is therefore safe to assume that at her in-laws' Lalla continued her Sadhana. In those days the atmosphere at the in-laws for a maiden daughter-in-law was naturally conservative and extremely orthodox. And it must have been particulary suffocating for the spiritually and aesthetically sensitive Lalita, who had now become Padmavati. Her beloved was Sankara, and estrangement between the husband and wife must have surfaced much earlier. The villains of the peace must have been

(i) the malignant and proverbially harsh mother-in-law and

(ii) Lalla's own sadhana which must have made her averse to sensual indulgence. The mother-in-law's behaviour has given rise to another legend. The father-in-law is generally generous and of caring nature whereas the mother-in-law is only practising the persecution she herself must have home at the hands of her own mother-in-law. And the son is always led by the nose by the mother acting as the wire-puller at the 'puppet show'. The story goes that Lalla's mother-in-law would invariably conceal a stone (nilavath) beneath the small fare of rice that was Lalla's share. And she gulped down the little rice without any grumbling. Had she complained, she would have been shown the door. Hence Lalla moans- they may have mutton, but for Lalla the stone is the only fare.

We can imagine how Lalla's endurance must have exhausted the vindictive powers of her mother-in-law. She took recourse to other more reprehensible tricks. It was Lalla's habit to rise early go to the ghat with an earthen pitcher under her arm and before collecting water, she would spend time on ablutions and yogic exercises like breath control etc., while going across to the temple of Natakeshaw Bhairaw. The mother-in-law had insinuated to her son that Lalla was not faithful to him. And on one fine morning another miracle occurred. Her husband waited for Lalla to return, with the firm resolve to shove her out of his home. He had his diabolical form and his stick behind the door. As Lal Ded approached, Nika Bhat struck the pitcher. It is believed that the pitcher broke into pieces but the water content remained intact in a frozen state. Lalla filled each household pot with water till not a drop more was needed. The broken pitcher was flung outside where at once a fresh water spring appeared. This spring is now dried up but to this day it is called Laila Trag (trag means "pond"). As the historian Pir Ghulam Hassan has stated, this spring went dry in 1925-26.

The miracle of the pitcher turned out to be a watershed in Lalla's relationship with her in-laws and in her much more important relationship with the Supreme Consciousness. By this time most probably she had still to receive the 'word', the occult, rather cryptic or esoteric light from her guru as to what course she should adopt to know the Eternal in her own Self. She left her in-laws for good and took to wandering as an ascetic, a sanyasin in search of Enlightenment. The story goes that she wandered almost naked like a mad person who does not care for any formality of dress. The legend goes that her lul or belly protruded forward, bent itself to cover her private parts. People therefore forgot her original maiden name of Lalita (shortened to Lalla in Kashmir) and began to call her Lalla Ded/Lal Ded, the granny with the belly dangling down. This is surely hearsay and cannot be reconciled to the fact that she was christened Lalita. Muslims later on claimed her conversion to Islam and called her Lalla Arifa. But the reality is that all kinds of stories and legends grew up as time massed on and threw a pall of obscurity on the period during which she lived her life. Yes, for her the Hindu ritualistic system became meaningless to find the Source in her own body. Distinctions between religions and castes became redundant for the mystic of Lalla's stature:

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The Lord pervades everywhere, There is nothing like Hindu or Musalman; (All distinctions melt away) If thou art wise, know thyself, Seek the Lord within.

The legend of the belly bulging downwards appears to be mischievously invented because if Lalla Ded were moving naked in the streets how could she have incarnated herself as the Muse of knowledge or, more precisely speaking, as the Muse of Poetry. If true, the legend confirms her miraculous powers.

And finally the legend associated with her mahasamadhi, getting freed from the mortal coil of her body and getting blissfully merged with that which shall last for ever-the Infinite Soul, Lalla's Siva. When claimed by both the Hindus and the Muslims alike, Lalla performed a postmortem miracle. There arose a flame of light from her dead body and without anyone realizing what was happening, it vanished into the void

"shoonyas shoonyaa meelith gav"

Many such miracles are associated with the mahasamadhis of saints and mystics or even prophets. Christ's body left the Cross and ascended as if divinely winged to the abode of the Lord to be resurrected again. Sant Kabir's corpse proved mystically elusive to the Muslims and to the Hindus who were fighting each other to claim it for their distinctive funeral rites. It is said that Mira Bhai's soul merged with the idol of Ranchodeshji making the body invisible. Lalla Ded is said to have attained Nirvana in 1389 or so. But her metaphors which clothe her mystical practice in the form of vaakh continue to inspire mankind.

[The author, Prof. R.N. Kaul, former Principal, is one of our veteran scholars of English and a fine writer, well-known for his book on Shiekh Mohd. Abdullah. He lives in Jammu.]

               Article reproduced from:
              Patrika

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Lal Ded
Kashmiri Saints