Lal Ded - Lalleshwari
Forerunner of Medieval Mystics
"Her sayings echo
and re-echo to this day"
P.N. Kaul Bamzai
As in the rest of India,
the middle of the 14th century was a period of religious and moral
fermentation in Kashmir. Buddhism had practically disappeared from the
Valley, though we find mention of Buddhist priests and viharas in the
later Rajataranginis. Tilakacharya, described as a Buddhist, was a
minister of Zain-ul-Abidin. Most of the Buddhist theologians and saints
finding the Valley uncongenial, had left for Ladakh and Tibet. The long
period of political instability which followed the peaceful and
enlightened reign of Avantivarman (855-83 A.D.) was responsible for the
ossification of the predominant religion, Shaivism, into elaborate and
complicated rituals which dominated all social and cultural activities.
Shaktism, born of the love for Durga worship, had degenerated into
grotesque forms of rites and ceremonies. Vaishnavism was not a strong
element in the religious fabric of the Valley, but in the 11th century
it received further nourishment from the teachings of Ramanuja who
travelled all the way from Madras to Kashmir to fight Shaivism at its
fountain-head. And with the destruction of temples and images by several
Hindu kings like Harsha, as well as by Muslim zealots, Hindu worship was
driven to the seclusion of the home or of 'natural' (Svayambhu) images -
rocks, or ice formations, or springs. Sanskrit became the domain of the
learned few, the common man having taken to a form of Prakrit which
though retaining its essentials, was yet wholly different from the
'Language of the Gods'.
Impact of Islam
In this troubled period
of political uncertainty and changing social values, the people of the
Valley were subjected to the impact of Islam. From a close contact
between the two religions and their deep influence on each other, there
resulted the evolution of what may be called Medieval Reformers or
For more than two
hundred years Islam had, in central Asia and Persia, been similarly
influenced by the teachings and dogmas of Mahayana Buddhism and
Upanishadic philosophy, resulting in the emergence of a cult of Islamic
mystics. Fortunately, the new religion entered the Valley in this form,
being carried there by enlightened Sufis like Bulbul Shah. With their
humanistic approach to religion, they found a ready and sympathetic
response from the Kashmiris, already permeated with the teachings of
mystic saints and "seers".
For, it was during this
period of religious fermentation that a need had been felt for a new
approach to religion embracing all creeds and castes appealing to the
'heart' rather than the 'head'. Thanks to its rich religious and
philosophic traditions, Kashmir rose to the occasion and produced a
number of mystics and saints who by their teachings and their lives of
complete self- abnegation were the living embodiments of true religion
Mother Lalla Appears
Foremost among them was
the great mystic "seer", Lalleshwari, popularly known as Lal
Ded (Mother Lalla), who profoundly influenced the thought and life of
her contemporaries and whose sayings still touch the Kashmiri's ear, as
well as the chords of his heart, and are freely quoted by him as maxims
on appropriate occasions. She was born in about the middle of the 14th
century of the Christian Era in the time of Sultan Ala-ud-din. Lall's
parents lived at Pandrenthan (ancient Puranadhisthana) some four and a
half miles to the south-east of Srinagar. She was married at an early
age, but was cruelly treated by her mother-in-law who nearly starved
her. This story is preserved in a Kashmiri proverb: Whether they killed
a big sheep or a small one, Lalla had always a stone for her dinner - an
allusion to her mother-in-law's practice of putting a lumpy stone on her
platter and covering it thinly with rice, to make it look quite a big
heap to others. And yet she never murmured.
accidentally found out the truth. He got annoyed with his wife and
scolded her. This incident invited more curses on Lalla. Her mother-
in-law poisoned the ears of her son with all sorts of stories.
Ultimately, the anomalies and cruelties of wordly life led her to
renunciation and she discovered liberty in the life of the spirit.
She found her guru in
Sidh Srikanth, whom she ultimately excelled in spiritual attainments:
Gav Tsatha guras
She pursued Yoga under
Sidh Srikanth, until she succeeded in reaching the 'abode of nectar'.
But she did not stop there. All around her was conflict and chaos. Her
countrymen and women needed her guidance. She had a mission to perform,
and well and effectively she did it. Her life and sayings were mainly
responsible in moulding the character of her people and setting up
tradition of love and tolerance which characterises them even today.
Tyuth var ditam Diva
The disciple surpassed the Guru:
God grant me a similar boon
Eventually she gave up
her secluded life and became a wandering preacher. She led a severely
ascetic life, clad in the bareness of one who had forsaken comforts, and
by example and precept conveyed her teachings to the masses. Like Mira
she sang of Siva, the great beloved, and thousands of her followers,
Hindus as well as Muslims, committed to memory her famous Vakyas.
There is a high moral
teaching which Lalla demonstrated when during her nude state a gang of
youthful rowdies were mocking her. A sober-minded cloth vendor
intervened and chastised them. On this she asked the vendor for two
pieces of ordinary cloth, equal in weight. She put them on either
shoulder and continued her wandering. On the way some had salutations
for her and some had gibes. For every such greeting she had a knot in
the cloth, for the salutations in the piece on the right, and for the
gibes in the piece on the left. In the evening after her round, she
returned the pieces to the vendor and had them weighed. Neither had, of
course, gained or lost by the knots. She thus brought home to the
vendor, and her disciples, that mental equipoise should not be shaken by
the manner people greeted or treated a person.
So that her teachings
and spiritual experiences might reach the masses, she propagated them in
their own language. She thus laid the foundations of the rich Kashmiri
literature and folklore. More than thirty per cent of the Kashmiri
idioms and proverbs derive their origin from her Vakyas.
These Vakyas or sayings
are an aggregate of Yoga philosophy and Saivism, expressive of high
thought and spiritual truth, precise, apt and sweet. Her quatrains are
now rather difficult to understand as the language has undergone so many
changes, and references to special Yogic and philosophic terms are
Some of these sayings
have been collected and published by Dr. Grierson, Dr. Barnett, Sir
Richard Temple and Pandit Anand Koul and apart from the consideration
that they explain the Saiva philosophy of Kashmir through the Kashmiri
language, they exemplify the synthesis of cultures for which Kashmir has
always been noted.
Lalla fills her
teachings with many truths that are common to all religious philosophy.
There are in it many touches of Vaishnavism, the great rival of Saivism,
much that is strongly reminiscent of the doctrines and methods of the
Muhammadan Sufis who were in India and Kashmir well before her day, and
teachings that might be Christian with Biblical analogies, though
Indian's knowledge of Christianity must have been very remote and
indirect at her date.
Lalla is no believer in
good work in this or in former lives, in pilgrimages or austerities. In
one of her sayings she criticises the cold and meaningless way in which
religious rituals are performed:
God does not want
meditations and austerities
All labour, to be
effective, must be undertaken without thought of profit and dedicated to
Him. Exhorting her followers to stick fast to ideals of love and service
to humanity, paying no thought to the praise or condemnation that might
follow from their observance, she says:
Through love alone canst though reach the Abode of Bliss.
Thou mayst be lost like salt in water
Still it is difficult for thee to know God.
Let them jeer or cheer
She is a strong critic of
idolatory as a useless and even silly "work" and adjures the
worshippers of stocks and stones to turn to Yogic doctrines and
exercises for salvation:
Let anybody say what he likes;
Let good persons worship me with flowers;
What can any one of them gain I being pure?
If the world talks
ill of me
My heart shall harbour no ill-will:
If am a true worshipper of God
Can ashes leave a stain on a mirror?
Idol is of stone temple
is of stone;
She further castigates the
fanatical followers of the so-called "religions" in the
following apt saying:
Above (temple) and below (idol) are one;
Which of them wilt thou worship O foolish Pandit?
Cause thou the union of mind with Soul.
O Mind why hast thou
become intoxicated at another's expense?
But Lalla is not a bigot;
she constantly preaches wide and even eclectic doctrines; witness the
following and many other instances: "it matters nothing by what
name the Supreme is called. He is still the Supreme;'' ''Be all Lhings
to all men;" ''the true saint is the servant of all mankind through
his humility and loving kindness," "It matters nothing what a
man is or what his work of gaining his livelihood may be, so long as he
sees the Supreme properly."
Why hast thou mistaken true for untrue?
Thy little understanding hath made thee attached to other's religion;
Subdued to coming and going; to birth and death.
She puts no value on
anything done without the saving belief in Yogic doctrine and practice,
one of the results of which is the destruction of the fruits of all
work, good or bad. The aspirant should try to auain perfection in this
life. He only requires faith and perseverance:
Siva is with a fine net
She is a firm believer in
herself. She has become famous and talks of the "wine of her
sayings" as something obviously precious, and alludes often to her
own mode of life, fully believing she has obtained Release:
He permeath the mortal coils
If thou whilst living canst not see
Him, how canst thou when dead
Take out Self from Self after pondering over it
I saw and found I am in
The removal of confusion
caused among the masses by the preachings of zealots was the most
important object of her mission. Having realised the Absolute Truth, all
religions were to her merely paths leading to the same goal:
I saw God effulgent in everything.
After hearing and pausing see Siva
The House is His alone; Who am I, Lalla.
Shiv chuy thali thali
The Great Mystic
Mo zan Hindu to Musalman.
Truk ay chuk pan panun parzanav,
Soy chay Sahivas sati zaniy zan.
Siva pervades every
place and thing;
Do not differentiate between Hindu and Musalman.
you art intelligent recognise thine own self;
That is the true acquaintance with God.
The greatness of Lalla
lies in giving the essence of her experiences in the course of her Yoga
practices through the language of the common man. She has shown very
clearly the evolution of the human being, theory of nada, the worries
and miseries of a jiva and the way to keep them off. The different
stages of Yoga with the awakening of the Kundalini and the experiences
at the six plexi have been elucidated by her.
Much can, indeed, be
said on her work as a poet and more, perhaps, on her work in the
spiritual realm. But at a time when the world was suffering from
conflict - social, political and economic - her efforts in removing the
differences between man and man need to be emphasised.
The composite culture
and thought she preached and the Orders she founded was an admixture of
the non-dualistic philosophy of Saivism and Islamic Sufism. As long back
as the 13th century she preached non-violence, simple living and high
thinking and became thus Lalla Arifa for Muhammadans and Lalleshwari for
She was thus the first
among the long list of saints who preached medieval mysticism which
later enwrapped the whole of India. It must be remembered that
Ramananda's teaching and that of those that came after him could not
have affected Lalla, because Ramananda flourished between 1400 and 1470,
while Kabir sang his famous Dohas between 1440 and 1518, and Guru Nanak
between 1469 and 1538. Tulsidasa did not come on the scene till 1532
whereas Mira flourished much later.