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   Kashmiri Writers

Koshur Music

An Introduction to Spoken Kashmiri



The Tradition of Lalla Ded

By Prof. M.L. Koul

'Lalla-Ded wrote her poetry with fury and passion and even with intellectual arrogance. Her poetry came to her in a fit of emotions, seized her whole being and inspired her to vomit gems of Kashmiri literature. Lalla Ded vakhs are forceful enough to hit you on the face before you realise what has hit you. More, importantly, you should not read or hear them in English translation'. - Bilhan Koul, Kashmir Sentinel, Nov, 2006.

Fire and fury, spirit and passion, fervour and zest are the distinguishing hall-marks of Lalla-Ded Vakhs which entrench her credentials as an outstanding poet. She was innately gifted with exemplary 'pretibha which in the realms of Sanskrit aesthetics is explained as a faculty to imagine, think and articulate thoughts, ideas, feelings, emotions and experiences having a ring of novelty and creativity (nav-nav unmesh-shaalini prajna). Her vakhs are extremely poignant and have an amazing resonance. In fact, she was a wizard of expression, word and phrase. The equivalent of poet in Sanskrit language is kavi, which Lalla-Ded was, highly knowledgeable and a self-recognised soul (atma pretyabhijna).

Lalla-Ded was a miracle. But, for this miracle to happen, diligent spadework was invested by an array of poets, poetasters, rhapsodists, folklorists and even those who wrote doggerel, much below the mark of that what is accepted as impressive poetry. Prior to the happening of Lalla-Ded miracle, a meaningful tradition had already shaped out with set and visible contours which worked as a support-base or a plank for Lalla-Ded to take-off into horizons that were determined by her personal accomplishments and instinctive potentialities. Her vakhs reveal that she was deeply immersed in the subtleties and turns of Shaiva-thought and had acted out the Shaiva-Yoga praxes for ascension to the state of identity with Shiva, the Absolute in non-dual philosophy of Kashmir Shaivism. She took to Shaiva thought because it was widely current at popular level and dominated the intellectual discourse of the times she was born in and lived through. Sanskrit was the dominant idiom through which the contemporary knowledge was mediated. That is how Lalla-Ded vakhs amply testify to her firm grasp of Sanskrit language and its varied and subtle nuances. In her position as a conscious poet she had studied almost with diligence 'Satva-Chintamani' of Bhatta Narayan and 'Shiva-stotravali' of Acarya Utpaldev. The two were mainly responsible to resolve the palpable conflict between Shaiva thought and devotion (bhakti) and thus had enlarged the domain of Shaiva thought by making Shiva a staple subject of devotion, otherwise deemed to militate against the thesis of non-dualism.

Lalla-Ded chose to pour out her poignant utterances, spiritual in content, in Kashmiri language and not in the idiom of Sanskrit. It has often been said about Lalla-Ded that she deliberately ignored Sanskrit as the language of the learned and expressed herself in Kashmiri as the popular language. But, it is pertinent to refer to Bilhan Pandit, 10th century historian and poet, who categorically conveys that Sanskrit was a popular language, even women folk spoke it in addition to local dialect, desh bhasha. Sanskrit and local dialect, as in other parts of India, have had a symbiotic relationship and Sanskrit as a highly developed language broadly reinforced the local dialect in its over-all growth and enrichment in terms of linguistic parameters. Alive to the Sanskritic tradition Lalla-Ded had a natural bonding with the literary tradition of Kashmiri. The Chumma-sampredai verses and Mahanai Prakash of Shiti Kanth do substantiate that there had been a tradition of writing in Kashmiri of the shade it had evolved into through a process of linguistic evolution. It is apt to say that the established tradition had a history of evolution which is lost to us as a consequence of Cultural Vandalism resorted to by the foreign band of Sayyid-Sufis motivated to reduce Kashmir to an Iranian Colony.

The well-founded tradition, both literary and philosophical, that Lalla-Ded inherited as a precious legacy largely moulded her whole being, trajectory of her thought perspectives and pattern of her poetic expression. Her vakhs indicate that Lalla thirstily drank at the fountain of Shaiva thought which formed a valuable part of the tradition she was a recipient to. She ardently worked out Shaiva-Yoga praxes that had wide acceptability in the rich spiritual tradition of Kashmir. The form of vakh that she chose as a vehicle to give vent to her emotion-packed experiences that she had lived through during an arduous quest of Shiva was already in vogue and usage. It is fanciful to portray her as a person who broke down in sheer angst the ramparts of tradition and bolted away in quest of vistas, un-charted and unexplored. As an exceptional person of intellectual and poetic faculties Lalla-Ded pinnacled the rooted tradition through the gems of vakhs that have a dazzle of impeccable artistic perfection. Lalla-Ded, in fine, was a perpetuator of tradition and established her brilliance as a miracle within the bounds of the same tradition.

The miracle of Lalla-Ded was highly inspiring and had deep impact in shaping the broad cultural responses on part of the succeeding generations of Kashmiris. The tradition, literary and philosophical, finessed by her has not waned in any way despite the emergence of a culture that annihilates symbols, motifs and hall-marks that have linkages with the past of Kashmir. Lalla-Ded has firmly stood the ground, both as a spiritualist and master poet. She has been famous and legendary, not so now in our times, but had attained a summit of eminence and status of a legend in the very times she lived and sonorously sang her amazing couplets with epic souls to the inhabitants of Sharda-peeth, Kashmir as an abode of knowledge and learning.

The younger contemporary of Lalla-Ded, popularly known as Nund Rishi, was the first to acknowledge the tradition of Lalla-Ded. Though pitted against the formidable foreign Sayyid-sufis in tight strangle-hold of Muslim state power, Nund Rishi basked undeterred in the luminosity and spiritual brilliance of Lalla-Ded. He in total submission prays to a Hindu god (diva) to bestow  upon him the same boon (vara) that he had bestowed upon Lalla-Ded, the inhabitant of Padmanpore (Pampore). Nund Rishi had the sure feel that Lalla-Ded had drunk an elixir (amrit) that had immortalised her and had freed herself from the rotating wheel of life and death. Without a shade of equivocation he accepts her as a divine incarnation of God on earth (avatar) which overtly speaks volumes for his own faith, religious beliefs and credos. Calling her an 'avtar is not just a tribute to her, but is a frank and full-throated expression of his acceptance of and allegiance to Lalla-Ded's entire spectrum of belief-systems, spiritual axiology, non-violence and Shaiva Yoga praxes for self-recognition (atma pretyabhijjna).

There are echoes and resonances of Lalla-Ded in the shrukhs (slokas) of Nund Rishi who in no way can equal or rival his predecessor in poetic excellences and dazzling flashes of thought. 'Yakh tulkatur ta sheen, byon byon paeda kar ashyan, yamath khotukh pur kin rava, tamath timath tryan akuy gava', a shrukh  of Nund Rishi, though in its nuances reflective of Shaiva thought, is a pale imitative version of Lalla-Ded vakh, 'turi salil khot tai ture....shiva mai chara-char zag pashya'

Nund Rishi traversing the trail of Lalla-Ded is fully aware that duality is the source of world, all its pains and sorrows. The mission of a seeker is to cut a sunder the shackles of duality that cause a deep chasm between man and God. One who attains to a position of identity with Shiva is certain to ferry across the ocean of world. Says he -

doyat travith paan yus mande

sui zon sam saras kande zava,

par ta paan yus hurry vyande

sui bava synande tarith aava.

Yoked to the powerful tradition of Lalla-Ded we can safely put that Nund Rishi as a borrower has tried to design many of his shrukhs after the thought content and manner of Lalla-Ded, whom he in all faith calls an 'avatar'. In sheer imitation of Lalla-Ded he dwells upon the theme of moderation in matters of eating as a metapor for worldly joys and pleasures and exhorts his own self to beware of ravenous or compulsive eating. He writes -

Khyama khyama karan yad no ayam

heer zuva yutuy khyata

kaali khyomut gachi zaya

hee zava payas pyata

As revealed by his genuine shrukhs Nund Rishi was a rishi in the vedic connotation of the word. Like the traditional rishis whom he has detailed with their austere ways of life, Nund Rishi also trudged his way to the dense forests in pursuit of God under a misconception that seclusion of the forests would quicken the process of recognition of his intrinsic reality as God. A stage came when it dawned on him that such a manner of asceticism was of no use and succour in matters spiritual. Echoing Lalla Ded, he says -

nasr baba janglan khasun gayam khamee

mea dop yi asi bada yabadat

sara aas karyn kuni kath

The real Nund Rishi lies buried in such shrukhs (slokas) as are couched in archaic Kashmiri, but have been left un-evaluated for fear that a new Nund Rishi might resurrect who would shatter his smoke-screened image that has been deliberately constructed by those very people who refused to hand over his shrukhs in sharda script recorded by Kati Pandit, a scholar of Sanskrit, to Dr. Grierson who was ultra keen to sift and sieve his shrukhs for an authentic edition of them in the manner he had done in case of Lalla-Ded. Prof. P.N. Push in an article published in a book titled 'Nund Rishi' had drawn attention of scholars to the dire need of presenting Nund Rishi in the relevant context of Lalla-Ded tradition. The repertoire of shrukhs that has come my way establish Nund Rishi profusely using the same yoga-related terminology that we find in the vakhs of Lalla-Ded. Muladhar, Kundalini, lama-cakra, sahasrar, shashikal are the fare of such shrukhs. Commentators keen to keep his image stuck to a particular religious creed have skirted away the issue of literary and spiritual evaluation of such shrukhs and have labelled them as ‘samskriti’ or ‘shastra’, which Prof. J.L. Koul, a brilliant and unrivalled scholar of Kashmiri language and literature, has denounced as absurd.

Rupa Bhavani, famously known as Alkeshvari, stands out as a devout poet much in the tradition of Lalla-Ded. She in all faith followed the trail that was foot-printed by Lalla-Ded in the realms of spirituality, yoga, philosophy and poetic expressions. Jonraj and Srivar who have graphically recorded the holocaust of Kashmiri Hindus during the Sultanate period have not recorded the historicity of Lalla-Ded as a civilisational sentinel of Kashmir. The credit goes to Rupa Bhavani, who unequivocally acknowledges Lalla-Ded as her supreme preceptor, sat-guru. Says she -

shuddham atyant vidhyadharam

lal naam lal param gvaram

Rupa Bhavani as a devotee of Shiva, whom she calls Parmatma, was given to dyan, dharna, and tapsya and had selected many places for the purpose. All the places where she meditated and acted out many yoga-related methodologies are calm, silent and serene, situated in soothing physical environs, thus conducive to spiritual ascension. Chashma Sahibi (Jyestha Rudra), Lar, Manigam and Vaskura are known places of her meditation. These places held in great esteem by spiritualists of all hues and devotees of Rupa Bhavani have been centres of pilgrimage for commoners seeking spiritual guidance and solace. But, sadly, the Muslim terrorists and their supporters have desecrated or destroyed some of these centres of Shaiva spiritualism.

Rupa Bhavani who lived in Mughal times was known as a great spiritualist and her stock in public esteem was very high. A Muslim of the name of Shah Qalandar, said to be a saint, drew her attention by asking her name. She said, ‘Rouf’. Shah Qalandar, a Muslim given to the religious ideology of conversions, pointedly said, ‘If you cross over, you will turn into gold’. She shot back, ‘If you cross over, you will turn into ‘mokhta’, a pearl’. The double entendre conveys that he would attain mukhti, self-realisation. The dialogue brings out the basic difference between Hindus and Muslims, one is a non-proselytising creed and the other is a proselytising faith. The Hindu saint sought his cross-over for realisation of his essence and the Muslim saint for her conversion to Islam.

Rupa Bhavani was a shaivite in her world-view and as such as a practitioner sought for union with Shiva through the same methodologies that her sat-guru had blazed for her. Shiva, to her, is sahaj, Omni-present, all-pervading and self-born. With her gaze turned inwards she is keen to have His blissful union as ‘param gati’, which is mukhti, self-recognition in Shaiva lexicon.

Says she -

sahaj sarvatra vyapi svoreth vicharyam

bahubal svabhava eekant svyambhu parmakari

antar mukhi dresthi nervan rahysa tati parmagati

Rupe Bhavani was a yogini who through regular Shaiva yoga had awakened her kundlini, which is ever luminous. She had sublimated her pranapan process through regular courses of pranayam and stilled her mind which otherwise remains disturbed through varied distractions. Kundlini through such practices moves upwards through six-cakras and touches sahasrar, which is the seat of nectar (amrit). Kundlini as per Shavites is the seat of Shiva and is the cause of manifestation. Says Rupa Bhavani  -

shuddyokht muladhari kundli mandli gavri

sed arth sukham soshupti cakra virakht shanta dhari

antarmukhi dreshti nirvan rahasya tati paramgati !

A seeker who has realised himself has not to take to rudraksha-maala for Japnov has he to meditate on a mantra. For such a soul there are no hopes to be cherished. He rises above the distinctions of kula (family) and gotra. He permanently resides in sahasrar and non-dual naad and bindu. Says she

ludra buchha na aasa na gutri na bashi

na kuli na kretyam mahanand rupam

shyayam thaan vaasi aadi sarva madhyam

antarmukhi dreshti nervaan rahasya tati param gati

The poetic language of the poet is predominantly Sanskrit that is laced with apt word and phrase. There is a sprinkling of Persian words that had formed a part of Kashmiri language by the time she burst out her vakhs. Her vakhs are not lacking in spontaneity and flow, yet she is less comprehensible than her poetic master, Lalla-Ded.

Parmanand, the unrivalled poet of vatsun and leela, is a devotee of Lord Krishna and uses his immense poetic acumen and fervour in depicting multifarious phases of Lord Krishna's life in the world, actually a divine incarnation of Vishnu. He is unmatchable in sweetness and beauty of language and apt use of words and phrases to generate the rasa of devotion. He has described Shiva after the Puranic style and worships Him the same way as he worships Lord Krishna.

Equally in the line of Lalla-Ded  Parmanand as an insightful poet has brought out the uniqueness of Lalla-Ded in a verse as a yogini who dwelt in dwadashant mandala, realised anahat nad and nad and bindu and thus attained to a state of Supreme Anand, beauteous bliss. Says Paramand -

Lallishwari yi yuga aas sadaran

dadashant mandal manz kuni zani

anahatnad bend om prazanavan

pravan anand aam pana vani

The Shaiva metaphysics of Shiva and Shakhti, pretyabhijjna maha-vakya of 'so-ham', 'ajapa jap', shashi-kala, nad-bindu, dyan-dharna, jnan and moksa as self-recognition are the lexicon of Parmanand, who as an ardent devotee (bhakta) is in quest of his parmatma, shiva or Krishna for spiritual union. Says he about ‘ajapa gayatri’ -

Om bhur bhuva svaha shiva shombhu

ajapa gayatri soham su

There are a number of Muslim poets who cherished the spiritual brilliance of Lalla-Ded and wax eloquent in their appreciation of Lalla-Ded as a yogini par excellence. The spiritual personality of Lalla-Ded and her tremendous poetic faculties have been a source of great inspiration for them. Despite the syndrome of ‘dislocated sensibilities’ they have by and large stuck to their race-memory and the treasure-trove of cultural inheritance. Shams Faqir, Nyama Saab, Asad Parray, Wahab Khar, Ahad Zargar, Svacchha Kraal et al are the poets who have resounding echoes of Lalla-Ded vakhs in their poetic expressions. Muladhar, Shashikal, Hridai, Sat, Paan Praznav, Jnan and similar word-hoard of yoga and other concepts of Shaiva thought form an essential part of their poetic consciousness. Their utterances have a consensual approval at mass level, but there is an order of thought that has rejected them as nonconformist. Some of them were spurned as heretics. Some of them migrated from their original places of birth and took shelter in areas where they had a support-base among the Kashmiri Pandits.

To camouflage their real identity as natives they have been burdened with the tag of sufis, which trickily uproots them from the roots of their native soil. In a study of such poets Amin Kamal titled his books as ‘Sufi Shairi’. Moti Lal Saqi also made a fruitful contribution to the editing of the works of such poets with glossaries explaining the words belonging to the domain of Yoga and Shaivite philosophy. Very lately attempts have been made to interpolate spurious materials into their works which distort their real image as poets in the tradition of Lalla-Ded.

The appellation of ‘shastar’ or ‘samskriti’ for the poetic materials of these poets is inapt and inappropriate for it does not relate the poetic expressions of these poets to the integrated personalities which they had. What they have uttered is assigned to their sufistic thought and Samskriti is just there to be kept apart as something incidental to them, not integral to them as poets.

Source: Kashmir Sentinel



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