Lalleshwari who was commonly known as Lal-ded was born at Pandrethan, a village in Kashmir in the year 1355 AD. Lal-ded is a famous Kashmiri Pandit saint respected across religious lines. She spoke in Vakhs (in verses) much like saint Kabir of Hindi heartland. The exact date of death is unknown but it is believed she died in Bijebehara when she was in her seventies. Lal-ded is today celebrated as a literary giant who defined the modern day Kashmiri language but for Kashmiri Pandits she is a spiritual master whose Vakhs have been revered for 700 years. Lal-ded lived in turbulent times when thousands of local Kashmiris were massacred and converted under the rule of Shams-ud-din Mir, an invader who had come from present day Swat, in Pakistan. More than 250 Vakhs of Lal-ded are in circulation in folk traditions and popular culture. Her Vakhs were written many years after her death and it is also believed that some of the Vakhs in circulation are falsely attributed to her. These later Vakhs have been attributed by elements who have tried to appropriate her.
Born in a Kashmiri Brahmin family, was married at the age of 12 into a Brahmin family at Pampore in Kashmir. Her mother in law was very cruel and her husband was indifferent to her problems, which resulted in her quest for spirituality. In later years she roamed from one place to another almost naked, singing praises of Lord Shiva. She was a strong supporter of Hindu-Muslim unity, she said in one of her Vakhs
“Shiva abides in all that is, everywhere,
then do not discriminate between,
a Hindu or a Mussalman,
if thou art wise, know thyself,
that is true knowledge of the Lord”
Nunda Rishi a Muslim Kashmiri Sufi saint was greatly influenced by Lalleshwari, he has expressed his reverence for her in these famous lines of his “Just as you bestowed your grace on Lalla of Padmanpur, grant me the self-same boon, O God”. Some of her Vakhs are mysterious and difficult to understand and others are simple and direct. However, analysis of her mysterious Vakhs shows deep influence of Srimad Bhagwad Gita. In one of her Vakhs she says
“Ah me! the Five, the ten ,
And the Eleventh,
scraped this pot and went away,
Had all together pulled on the rope,
Why should the Eleventh have lost the cow ?
The numbers in this vakh and what they refer to can be understood in the light of verses 6 and 7 of chapter 13 of Bhagwad Gita which reads “the five great elements, false ego, intelligence, the un-manifested, the ten senses, mind the eleventh, ….”. In another of her Vakhs, Lal-ded says
“By pandering to your appetites, you get nowhere, by penance and fasting, you get conceit, Be moderate in food and drink and live a moderate life, The gates of Heaven will surely be thrown open wide for you.”
This Vakh echoes the sentiment expressed by Sri Krishna in verse 16 to 20 chapter 6 of the Bhagwad Gita which reads as “Arjun, those who eat too much or eat too little, sleep too much or too little, cannot attain success in Yoga…”. In another of her Vakhs, she says
“In time past, we were, In time future, we shall be
Throughout the ages, we have been, forever the sun rises and sets,
For ever Siva creates, dissolves, and creates again”
Again one reads in Chapter II, Verse 12 of Bhagwad Gita “Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you…”.
Lal-ded was exponent of Kriya Yoga and in verses 29 and 30 of chapter 4 of Bhagwad Gita, Kriya Yoga is briefly described as – “Still others offer as sacrifice the outgoing breath in the incoming breath, while some offer the incoming breath into the outgoing breath…”. Laleshwari describes the process of Kriyayog more explicitly in one of her Vakhs
“Oh Guru, you are as a god to me, tell me, you know the secret truth,
Both Praana-s rise from ‘Kandapura (the ”place of the Bulb”, the navel region)
Why is haah hot, why is huh cold ?
Another of her Vakh where she speaks about Kriya Yoga –
“At the navel region is the Place of the Sun, where Prakriti glows as hot as fire, From here hot breath rises to the throat, at the crown of the head is the Place of the Moon From here cool nectar down the naaddi-s flows ,thus haah is hot, and huh is cold ”
In her early twenties, Lalleshwari renounced family life and became a disciple of Sidh Srikanth.
In one of her Vakhs she talks about importance of Guru
“He who has faith in Guru’s word, and with true knowledge for the rei guides aright the seed of mind, and holds his senses in control,
‘Tis he enjoys the peace of mind, he will not die, nor be slain”
In verses 34 and 35, chapter 4, Bhagwad Gita talks about Guru, “Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master (Guru), the self-realized souls can impart knowledge unto you…”. Lalla was illiterate but she was wise and full of wisdom and discussed everything in verses from life, Yoga, God, Dharma and Atman. In the following vakh Lal-ded talks about anger, lust and greed-
“Slay the murderous demons, lust, Anger and Greed,
Or, aiming their arrows at you, they will, surely shoot you dead,
Take care, feed them on self-restraint, and discrimination of the Self,
Thus starved these demons will become, powerless and weak
Who slays the highway robbers three, greed, Lust and Pride,
And yet, in utter humility, serves his fellow-men
He truly seeks out the Lord, disregarding as worthless ashes all other things”
In the above verse, Lalleshwari was echoing what was stated by Lord Krishna in verses 21 and 22, Chapter 16 of Bhagwad Gita which reads – “there are three gates leading to this hell-lust, anger, and greed. Every sane man should give these up, for they lead to the degradation of the soul…”. In another of her Vakhs Lal-ded mentions
” Realization is rare indeed, seek not afar, it is near, by you, First slay Desire, then still the mind, giving up vain imaginings,
Then meditate on the Self within, and lo! the void merges in the Void”
The verses 20-22 of chapter 6 of the Bhagwad Gita reads – “when the mind disciplined, by the practice of meditation becomes steady, one becomes content in the Self by beholding Him…”.
Lalvakh verses have been perceived as mysterious and metaphorical. The metaphorical nature of her Vakhs can be understood if we interpret them in the light of the Bhagwad Gita. This author is not aware of any other study done on the influence of Shrimad Bhagwad Gita on Lalvakhs.
Laleslwari being a saint of Shaiva traditions and yet so much of influence of Gita on her Vakhs is interesting because she belonged to a time when Abhinavagupta had created strong influence of Kashmir Shaivism through the length and breadth of Kashmir. In future studies this author will attempt to explore influence of Shiva Sutras and Upanishads on the poetry of Lal-ded. There has been a tendency in the research community to portray Lal-ded against the grain of Hindu scripture and philosophy. The author feels that primary evidence in Lal-ded’s own poetry does not support such a claim and she is rooted firmly within Indic spiritual traditions.