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Table of Contents
  Section 1: Paper Presented at the Seminar
1. The Guru and the Pandit
2. A Re-appraisal of Lal Ded
3. Lal Ded : Her Spiritualism and World Order
4. Reconstructing and Reinterpreting Lal Ded
5. Lal Ded - The Poet Who Gave a Voice to Women
6. Language of La
l Ded's Poetry
7. Lal Ded and Kashmiri Chroniclers
8. Lal Vaakhs - Their Journey from Memory to Manuscript
9. Lalleshwari the Liberator
  Section 2: Book Extract
10. Lal Ded
11. Lalleshwari and Kabir
12. Concluding Remarks
  Section 3: Some Select Lallavaakhs
13. Some Vaakhs of Lal Ded and their English Translation
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Koshur Music

An Introduction to Spoken Kashmiri




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 modern mind."

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 comparison."

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 readers.

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 refreshingly different.

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

Lal Ded: The Great Kashmiri Saint-Poetess



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