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Bhakti and Worship in Scriptures in Kashmir Shaivism and Lal Ded Vakh

By Prof. M.L. Koul

Bhakti as per the traditional mould can be defined as motive­less service to God. It has close linkages with actions (karman) that human beings routinely perform during the span of their life. It is axiomatic that the world de­pends on actions (loko ayam karma bandanah). Actionless-ness is a marker of death and decay. In the dynamics of life action is what integrates a man in a bond of cohesion with other members of a social group. Re­nunciation has come to occupy a dominant position in the tra­jectory of Indian spirituality. But renunciation never stipulates giving up of action. But what is to be renounced is desire, attach­ment or fruit accruing from a par­ticular action that is performed. In the words of Prof. Hiriyanna, ‘The Gita-teaching stands not for renunciation of action, but for renunciation in action’. Human beings within the bounds of this world have to act to live, exist and carry on the material activi­ties, but what is desired is that any action of any form or hue should not have the motivations of desire, attachment or fruit. A motiveless action has a close nexus with knowledge too. A true Jnani, a knower, alone can sur­render himself to God who has assured him of protection (na me bhaktah pranashyati). Bhakti, therefore, features total surrender to God.

The main locus of bhakti is Maheshvar, call Him Shiva, Ram or Krishna. The bhakta reposes full and unflinching faith in Him and totally depends on Him for grace (shakhtipat). Absolute de­pendence and unflinching faith formulate the two critical ingredients of bhakti. A sinless bhakta in the embrace of a virtuous life has full faith in his Maheshvar that He will liberate him from the rotating wheel of life and death. A bhakta even if mired in sinful life can also depend on Him to ferry him across the ocean of samsar. A bhakta can serve his Maheshvar  as a servant (dasa) serves his master. He can cultivate a relation of friendship with Him and worship and adore Him for spiritual gains. This type of relationship has generated an enchanting treasure of aesthetics in the domain of art and poetry. There can be a bhakta who defies all constraints and starts loving his Maheshvar. But, in such a relationship of love, he rises above the trivial form of love in mundane life. The loving relationship with Maheshvar elevates him to such a state of heightened consciousness where margins between him and his Maheshwar fade away and the two become indistinguishably as one.

The rishis and munis have written tracts on bhakti which delineate their experiences in their varied relationships with Maheshvar either as servants, friends or lovers. What one gets from these expositions is that Bhakti is all through experiential, not a subject for theorisation. The fact remains that bhakti as an emotional expression of a bhakta can be portrayed in concordance with the world-view that he harbours. The great poets like Tulsidas, Surdas, Vidyapati, Jaidev et al have delineated their forms of bhakti as moulded by their views on man, world and Maheshvar. Despite philosophisation of bhakti, a bhakta is and has to be completely involved in his service, friendship or courtship unto his Maheshvar. The suffering (arta), the searcher (Jijnasu) and the self-interested (artharthi) are on the peripheries of bhakti as they in their forms of bhakti are not totally involved in the relationship that they forge with their Maheshvar. It is only the wise (Jnani) who is the true bhakta because of his total involvement in his object of service or love, that is Maheshvar.

Gleaning through the pages of the Indian scriptures of yore it becomes evident that bhakti, its contents, forms and contours have evolved through ages in consonance with the philosophical-cum-religious consciousness in India. The 'Nasidiya Sukhta' of the Rig Veda typifies the vedic rishi's mind that is intensely curious to probe and know the origins of universe. Riddled with doubt and indecision, the rishi oscillates between sat (being) and asat (non-being). The whole sukhta vividly reflects his amazement at 'the prospect of universe' (vishva). He is completely lost in the perennial problem of knowing the origins of cosmos, how and wherefore of it. The Vedic rishi is equally beset with a sense of fear in face of awful forces of nature. That is why vedic gods symbolise powers of nature. Observes Max Mullar,  'These gods were the first philosophy, the first attempt at explaining the wonders of nature'.

The mammoth corpus of Vedic literature throws up the Vedic Rishis bearing a mind beset with 'wonder' and 'fear'. The two, singularly or in combination had not the potential to generate an impulse of 'bhakti' and 'worship'. In absence of a motivating impulse there could be no relationship, personal or impersonal, between the rishis and the plethora of gods. Yet, we glimpse the first germinations of 'bhakti' and 'worship' in the hymns (richa) sung by the vedic rishis. Sacrifices were offered to gods through yajnas only to propitiate them for bestowal of prosperity in life, abundance of crops and protec­tion of cattle-wealth. They were also propitiated as not to wreak havoc on them through earth-quakes, floods and other natural disasters. The Vedic hymns in general are purely formalistic de­ficient in the basic sentiments that pave way for ‘bhakti and ‘worship’.

The Upanishads are an impor­tant milestone in the development of philosophical and religious consciousness in India. The first seeds that were sown in the Vedic hymns burgeoned forth in the upanishadic tracts as the crux of human excellence. De­flecting away from the formalities of sacrifices and ‘complexus of ceremonies’ upanishads pointer to a ‘deepening inwardness’ by focusing on ‘Atman’, the Self, a region of new quest, vaster than the objective world’. Philosophi­cal ruminations and over-all religious consciousness morphed into a genre that marked a depar­ture from what we had in the Vedas. The upanishadic formu­lations and conceptualisations proved trend-setting and deter­mined the future course of In­dian philosophy and dharma.

Swami Ranganath Nanda puts, ‘The upanishads not only gave a permanent orientation to the Indian culture and thought, but also blazed a trail for all subsequent philosophy in East and West'.

Upanishads in their essence are knowledge-oriented and also the path that they blazed is based on knowledge (Jnan). The knowledge-path (Jnan marg) poses insurmountable difficulties for a bhakta with an intent to tread upon it. It has been characterised as 'ksurasya dhara nishita duratya durgam pathah'. The high-brow upanishadic formulations like 'aham brahmosmi', 'tat tvam asi' and 'soham', though replete with path-breaking philosophical content, could not attract the popular sentiment because of the lack of elements in them that form the sheet-anchor for 'bhakti' and 'worship'.

With the passage of time the knowledge-oriented spiritual goals suffered a dilution and space thus created was occupied by 'bhakti' and 'worship' that allowed a free play to aesthetics and human emotions. The emerging trend got crystallised in the Narayan upanishad, Krishna upanishad and Ramtapni upanishad that focussed on bhakti and worship of Narayan, Krishan and Ram as gods in human form. The three gods were presented as manifest forms of Brahman, as the ultimate Reality and got merged in the same ultimate principle. Though 'bhakti' and 'worship' were the main focus, the trend as such could not materialise as an independent path to God-realisation.

Buddhism debated philosophical and religious issues from ascetic and regressive points of view. 'Sarvam dukham and Sarvam mithya' were sympbols of the Buddhist philosophy  of pessimism and rejectionism. At the philosophical level the non-soul doctrine of the Buddhists coupled with momentariness of everything failed to find resonance in the Indian mind. Kashmir as the pivotal centre  of Buddhist thought and dharma stemmed the negationist trend when the Kashmiri Pandit thinkers  as masters of the Buddhist philosophy gave it a positive and affirmative orientation. Mahayana Buddhism in a new mould blazed the trail for 'bhakti' and 'worship' of Buddha as a divine incarnation.

Shankaracharya as a colossus striding the domain of Indian philosophy and dharma gave a new orientation to the vedantic philosophy and dharma.  He systematised it in a manner that Max Mullar in awe appraises him as 'the  finest flower of Indian wisdom'. Shankar's philosophy is monistic  in approach and logic. Brahman, to Shankar, is the absolute reality and phenomenal world is only illusory and false (branti and mithyaa). He has distrust for the role of action for it has 'a reference to the world which is dual and false'. He emphatically stresses the path of knowledge (Jnan marg) as it leads a seeker ‘out of the dualist eddies of the world’. Like kierkegaard, the existentialist, Shankar has pointed out the limitations of reason and intellect in self-realisation as it is an ‘intuitively lived and felt experience’.

It was a rude shock to the Shankarites when Shankaracharya authored a work like 'Saundariya-lahiri' and stotras like the Dakshinamurti Stotra'. In the said-works he appreared to impair his own essential position as a non-dual philosopher and the knowledge path he had advocated as a means to self-realisation (moksa) . The very change in the philosophical position of Shankaracharya confirms his visit to Kashmir as described in 'shankar Digvijay'. His contact with the Kashmiri Pandit Shaivites left him convinced of the Shaivite philosophy of non-dualism. The switch over to the path of 'bhakti' and 'worship' opened new vistas for the seekers keen to realise their spiritual goals and aspirations.

Ramanujacharya, vaishnavite to the core, made a judicious mix of non-dual thesis of absolutism with personal theism (belief in Mahashvam). He was not the innovator. In fact, such an attempt was already made in the Bhagvatgita, Mahabharata and the Vishnu Puran and Bhagvatam. It is apt to put that Ramanujacharya was mainly inspired by the Alvar saint-poets who had marked a trail of powerful tradition which a philosopher of the calibre of Ramanujacharya furthered and perpetuated. The non-dual thesis of Shankaracharya set in a frame of philosophical rigour was controverted by a plethora of Indian thinkers of repute. The critical treatment that they gave to the Shankaran non-dual thesis gave rise to the philosophical schools of qualified monism, pure monism, non-dualism and dual-cum-non-dualism.  The new schools of thought with their own specific approach to the issues of philosophy were tagged with the label of Viahsnaivism which made a significant contribution to the dissemination of 'bhakti' and 'worship' at popular level.

The Alvar saint poets from  Tamil-land fully cyrstallised the new trend of 'bhakti' and 'worship' through their enchanting hymns brimming with intense love of Vishnu. Instinctive knowledge of God and His contemplation are the dominant themes of their

hymns. The saint-poets are the ardent devotees who have completely resigned themselves to the mercy of Vishnu and have expressed their total dependence on Him  for deliverance. The deep impact of Rigveda on the Alvar saint-poets can be realised when they conceptualise the world as the body of Vishnu and feel transported to dizzying levels of ananda by dedicating themselves to His Service. The alvars in the tone and essence are extremely passionate in their yearning which is divergent from coarse and worldy passion. The philosophical frame to the Alvars was provided by the Acaryas like Nathmuni who had made their own insightful forays in the realms of philosophy.

The trend-setting wave of 'bhakti' and 'worship' travelled all the way from south of India to the North where an eminent sage, Rama Nand, found it significant for impulsing a new movement of 'bhakti' and 'worship'. To his numerous disciples he imparted the mantra of ‘Ramayanamah’ which unleashed a momentous movement of bhakti creating a heightened consciousness at grass-root level to stem the tide of Muslim invasion on the very civilisation and culture of India. Kabir, Gurunanak, Tulsi Das, Sur Das and other literary luminaries forming vanguard of the movement played their part as bhaktas with an amazing sense of history.

Bhakti and worship in Kashmir Shaivishm

Shankaracharya as an immaculate philosopher of non-dual absolutism considered 'bhakti' & 'worship as antithetical to the rope-snake metaphor that establishes the primacy of knowledge (Jnan) in matters of release from the shackles of 'bandan' (bondage). Philosophically speaking, he made no attempt to explore a possibility of developing a concordance between bhakti and worship and his principal thesis of knowledge (Jnan). He thought that any type of reconciliation between bhakti and worship and his thesis of non-dual absolutism would fracture his total fabric of thought.

Kashmir Shaivism, though a philosophy of non-dual absolutism, does not contribute to the Shankaran thesis of exclusion of bhakti and worship from the realms of non-dual philosophy. The Shaivites of Kashmir are essentially integrati-onists who have dialectically maintained the integrity of their non-dual thesis by giving legitimacy to the precepts and practices of bhakti and worship. Kashmir Shaivism has been appraised as 'more monistic than monism itself'. Bhakti and worship as per it do not in any way impair the tone, essence and unity of its thesis. A concordance has been established between bhakti and worship and knowledge (Jnan) by re-naming 'bhakti' as 'atma bhakti' and puja (worship) as 'atma puja' (self-worship.

A bhakta conforming to the Shaiva thought cannot perform worship or devote himself to the service of Shiva in a manner that smacks of dualism. He sees his own intrinsic-essence as Shiva when he worships Shiva or sets up a warm relation of friendship and intimacy with Him. Shiva as per the theoretical asumptions of Kashmir Shaivism has prominent attributes of omniscience, omni-presence, eternity et al. A bhakta while devoting himself to Shiva super-imposes the same attributes of Shiva on himself. So does the worshipper. This is how the Shaivite thinkers have resolved the conflict between bhakti and worship and knowledge of Shiva (Shiva-Jnan).

The Shaiva bhakti is superior to any form of Jnan (knowledge). Successes in the domain of Shaiva yoga do not crystallise without bhakti. Bhakti is both means to an end and an end in itself. The highest knowledge of non-dual philosophy is featured as the highest form of bhakti. Says utapaldev-

Jnanasya parma bhumi yog asya parma dasha

tvad bhakti tya vibho karhi purna syat arthita

Bhakti is considered spiritual knowledge (adhyatam vidhya). 'Shivo bhutva shivam yajet' is replaced by 'bhakto bhutva shivam yajet'. The state of identity with Shiva is not acceptable if its medium is not bhakti.

Utpaldev sings--

bhavat bhakti amrit asvadat bodhyasya syat para api

dasha sa mam preti swamin asvasyeva shukhtah

Bhakti is the distilled essence of worship (puja) . It is more efficacious and helpful in recognising one's essence as Shiva than yoga and its allied practices. yogis strictly practise yam, niyam and pretyahar to come to the state of samadhi, but bhaktas ascend to the same state through bhakti (devotion) and maintain the state even in active consciousness (vyuthan).

Bhakti has been defined as samavesh which means direct entrance into the supreme consciousness of Shiva, 'milan' is named as sukhi' and 'virah' is named as 'dukha'. Sukha is perpetual unity with Shiva and dukha is separateness from Shiva. In the lexicon of love-poetry they are usually phrased as 'samyog' & 'viyog'. To go to the shelter of Shiva (sharan) is to have unity with Shiva in normal active life. A true bhakta wears the same temper and attitude of equipoise when he is in unity with Shiva or when he is in a state of duality.

The Kashmiri Shaivites as celebrated aesthetes have classified bhakti as rasa. It is a continuous and perpetual source of joy, happiness and ecstasy. A bhakta when in union with Shiva finds himself in the same state of 'anand' which a lover of wine is immersed in. Bhatta Nayak and utpaldev apexing an uninterrupted tradition of 'bhakti' and 'worship' as was prevalent in Kashmir have often used wine as a metaphor. Both are poets of bhakti which, to them, is a rasa that not only intoxicates but also transports to partake of Shiva's consciousness that exudes the nectar of anand.

A bhakta establishes a personal relationship with Shiva as his Ishta Deva. He serves Him devoutly as a servant serves his master. The Shaivas consider the relation of a servant with his  master based on 'dasta bhava' as superior to any other relationship with Shiva. He can be His friend. He can even establish a relation of courtship with Shiva. These are the manifold forms of personal relationships that a bhakta can forge with Shiva.

Shiva has a transcendental aspect as well. He is consiciousness Supreme, something that is not tangible. Shiva in His manifest form of Shakti is the subject for Shaiva bhakti. It is the being of Shiva who is chidanand, that forms the subject and theme of the Shaiva bhakti. Neglegible examples of impersonal form of bhakti are certainly available.But, the dominant relationship that bhaktas form with their Ishta-deva, Shiva, is warmly personal.

The Hindu history of Kashmir buttresses the view that Kashmir has been a seat of Shaivism through ages. The plethora of gods and goddesses in the Shaiva pantheon have been adored and worshipped. Temples have been built and consecrated to Shiva, Shakti, Kumar, Ganesha and other bhairavs. People throng to Shaktipeethas for worship. The devotees firm in faith and conviction melodiously sing vedic mantras and Shiva-stotras. The way they worship establishes that there is a fusion of vedas and agamas in the methodology. The worship of Ishta devas and Ishta devis is resorted to ‘deepen the gaze within’.

The worship of a god in a temple has been a standard practice of the Shaivas. Classified as external worship (bahya puja) it has been doctrinally recognised as beneficial to the initiates on the Shaiva path. To develop a mood of concentration and revert the gaze within, an initiate takes to external worship of any form. Such a worship is categorised as 'anavopaya'. By gradual stages he learns the highest form of bhakti and worship which is atmabhakti and 'atma puja'.

Bhakti in Lalla Ded Vakh

No right thinking person can dispute the status of Lalla Ded as Shaiva yogini . She took the Shaiva-praxis to recognise her essential worth as Shiva. Lalla Ded was a bhaktin too, who is consensually ranked with great bhaktas like guru Nanak, Sant Kabir, Meera Bhai, Raidass, Tulsi Dass et all. Prof. B.N. Parimu in his monumental studies on Lalla Ded uneqivocally calls her the fore-runner of the Bhakti. Movement in India. As yoga and bhakti are not mutually contradictory to each other, Lalla meticulously practised bhakti yoga. Her self-image as a 'bhaktin' had fortified her against the zig zags and adversities of life and world, and had invested her person with absolute equipoise and equanimity of temper and deportment.

Says she--

bo yod shankar bakhach asa

makris sasa mal kya peye

Lalla Ded had been an ardent devotee of Shiva. When she was a child, she would foot her way to the Shiva temple at Harsheshwar for worship. She continued with the practice after she got married at Padmapur (Pampore). Chanting of mantras and the name of Shiva at the Shiva temples assisted her to gain calmness of mind and concentration too. She took to a plethora of practices till she deepened her spiritual awareness.

As a restless worshipper she joined a guru who put her on a path that could not help her in realising her spiritual yearnings. It is in pain and agony she cries 'abakh chyan pyom yath razdane'. She gained confidence as a bhakta only after she got a sat guru, a perfect soul, who awakened her into a new consciousness of a true bhakta of Shaiva extraction.

As a conscious shaivite, well-groomed in the theory and praxis of Shaivism, Lalla Ded had marched far on the high road of bhakti and worship. Under the insightful guidance and initiation of her sat-guru she realised that real bhakti was 'atma bhakti' and real worship was 'atma worship'. As shiva is the only subject and we are His emanations, not outside Him, but in Him only, He, therefore, cannot be accessed on the plank of a separate polarity. Bhakti and worship based on a premise that is separate from Him, are not a source to the spiritual recognition of one's essence as Shiva.

Lalla Ded came to a stage in her spiritual journey where she rose above the formalities of formal worship. That is why she stressed the unity of vital-airs with that of pran as pranna as essence of Shiva in life.

Resonates Lalla--


deva vata divar vata

pyatha bon chuya ekvat

kas puzi karak hoola bata

kar pranas to pavanas sanghat

Bhakti in Kashmir Shaivism cannot climax until a bhakta surrenders himself to the grace (shaktipat) of Shiva. This view of Shaivas is buttressed even by Bhagvatgita. Lalla Ded as a Shaiva-Bhaktin burnt away the dirts (malas) and killed her petty desires to arouse the divine volition (Iccha) and surrendered herself to Shiva for grace. Says she--

dali travamus tati

Lalla Ded had Shiva as her personal god. She had forged a variety of relationships with Shiva. She served Him as a servant, made friends with Him and loved Him intensely.

Intense moments of love she sang out her love-lorn song to awaken her beloved within her frame for unity and absolute purity. Sings Lalla--

pota zooni vathith mot bolnovum

dag lalanavam dayi sanzi prahe

lali lali karan lal vozanovum

meelith tas man shrochyom deh

Lalla Ded was a proud Shaiva-bhaktin who as a self-recognised soul harboured a consciousness of unity with Shiva even when she engaged herself in normal chores and responsibilities of world and life.

Source: Kashmir Sentinel



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