Trailblazer Lal Ded Beyond ‘Ism’

Dr. Vinay Thusoo
Kashmir Shaivism has penetrated to that depth of living thought where diverse currents of human wisdom unite in a luminous synthesis. – Rabindranath Tagore
In Zen Buddhism, it is said that if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him, which means that if while walking on the spiritual path you encounter the rigid ideas and fixed laws of institutional Buddhism, you must free yourself from them too. This is also an apt introduction to the spiritual bard, Lal Ded or Lalleshvari ( 1320-92), the leading mystic of the fourteenth century, who in her spiritual quest encountered many hurdles and in the process was successful in breaking the traditional barriers and in her endeavour brought difficult Saiva philosophy out from the cocoons of the Sanskrit knowing scholars into the metrical indigenous language of the masses. She opened quintessential channels of communication between the elite and the common people and more importantly was able to establish connect in the society.That is, perhaps his most substantial contribution to our unbroken heritage of mysticism.
I grew up in Kashmir with lullabies ( cradle songs) of Lal Ded by my granny and one of the popular among all of them was, and still is, “Hukus Bukus Telli Waan Che Kus…” which was written during the time when Shavism was at its peak in Kashmir. This lullaby without doubt across sections of the society in Kashmir topped the chart of lullabies. It is believed that since ages, the tones produced by the arrangement of words in this poem as well as its rhythm has a calming effect for toddlers. Years later, I realized that over the period of time, it got lost into translation and of lately listened to correct one , which goes like this:
-Tse Kus Be Kus Teli Wan Su Kus
Who are you and who am I, then tell us who is he the creator that permeates through both you and I
-Moh Batuk Logum Deg
Each day I feed my senses/body with the food of worldly attachment and material love (Moh = attachment)
-Shwas Khich Khich Wang-Mayan
For when the breath that I take in reaches the point of complete purification (Shwas = Breath)
-Bhruman Daras Poyun Chokum
Bhruman means between the eyebrows.. so as per Kashmir Shaivism and sanatan philosophy we have a third eye in between eyebrows which is also called the main center in the human brain.
-Brahmish Tekis Takya Bane Tyuk
The brahm which I had, Brahm means confusion in Sanskrit, the brahm which I had that where is the God got clear and I got to know that it’s within myself.
In an unbroken history of 5000 years, Kota Rani, Habba Khatun, Yesovati and Arnimal made their mark in administrative and literary areas, similarly, the Lal Ded, the spiritual doyen made her mark in the area of tantra yoga and spirituality and reinforced the feeling of oneness and promoted unity in diversity. No right-thinking person can dispute to put her in the same lineage as that of Tulsidas, Kabir and Mera Bhai et al. Perhaps what makes Lalla unique among mystics is that her path was not only of bhakti but of tantra yoga. She was able to tame her prana and reach the point where every yogi aspires to reach. Scholars like Sir Richard Grierson and Sir Richard were fascinated with Lal Ded’s vakhs and they got some researches initiated into Lal Ded and in the process, several local eminent scholars of repute were roped in. It won’t be wrong to say that Lal Ded and her Vakhs popularised the local Kashmiri dialect much more, that is a reasonable proposition. From her panache Vakhs, one can get a deeper understanding of the alchemy of the cultural, religious, and whack-a-mole political landscape of Kashmir was churning through. During her lifetime she witnessed Rinchen, a central Asian Chieftain, which led to the downfall of the last Hindu King of Kashmir, Sahadeva, followed by Kota Rani and by Shams-Ud-Din Shah, who went on to found the Shah dynasty, which ruled the region for over two Centuries. Pilloried by insidious behaviour of in-laws and gullible husband, she turned into an ascetic and became a wandering minstrel. The whole tale is enshrined in one of her sayings.
Hortp’ maarytan kinu kath lali niluvath tsali nu zanh
(Whether they kill a ram or sheep, Lalla will never miss her shingle”
She became a disciple of an illustrious saint, Sidh Srikanth (Sedha Mol), who belonged to the lineage of the sage Vasugupta. Besides, Siddha Srikanth, also got trained under Swami Paramananda Tirth. The very first emphasis was to interiorize her cognisance using special techniques. Once it so happened that Lalleshwar’s husband approached her guru and beseeched him to convince her to return home, The guru agreed and the discussions that took place included an interesting insight.
No light equals the light of the sun,
No pilgrimage is there like the one to the Ganga
No relative excels a brother, and
No comfort is there like that of a wife!
Sedha Mol:
No, light parallels the light of One’s eyes;
No pilgrimage is there, like the one, on one’s knees.
No relative’s better than one’s own pocket, and
No comfort is there, like a warm blanket:
Lal Ded:
There is no light like
The knowledge of ultimate TRUTH,
No pilgrimage, like the one of the love of the Supreme,
No relative like the Lord himself
Later, in her quest for liberalisation, Saivite yogini roamed from place to place naked (digambara, a Sanskrit term meaning sky-clad) singing Vakhs of enlightenment to remain in freezing mountains and orthodox villages. She sang –
Dance, Lalla, with nothing on
but air: Sing, Lalla,
wearing the sky.
Look at this glowing day! What clothes
could be so beautiful, or
more sacred?
It is paramount for the devotees to attain the heightened state to realize that Shiva lies within our own consciousness and it is a soul searching exercise and there is nothing outside the bounds of the body. For her, Dharma is not a bunch of laws and guidelines. Dharma is logic and reason. With that reasoning, you can achieve nirvana and ultimate union with the supreme. She was vividly conscious about the impermanence of the mundane worldly things. Nund Rishi/Sheikh Noor ud-Din Noorani also known by the honorary title of Alamdar-e-Kashmir was the descendant of a Hindu Rajput family of Kishtwar, one of whose forebears had migrated to Kashmir because of a family feud. Nund’s father was converted to Islam by Yasman Reshi. It is widely believed that as a babe Nund refused to suck milk from his mother’s breast. Legend says that Lal Ded made a surprise appearance at Nund’s home and spoke to the new-born in a mystic language: When you didn’t shy away from being born, Why do you feel shy of being breast-fed? With these words the baby immediately started sucking milk from her breast. Nund Rishi effortlessly uses words from Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist, which one can observe in his shruks. This is quite clear in a line like “Nafs myon chu mad hosto (My nafs is like a mad elephant).” Here Nund Rishi speaks of the condition of the desiring self (nafs al-ammara, in Quranic terms) as that of the elephant in a state of must which invokes the legend of the Buddha’s encounter with a mad elephant. Nund Rishi calls the nafs the tortured, mad elephant that the Buddha tames in a single glance with his compassion.
I conclude my observations with the plea that there is a need to coalesce her infallible concepts into a straitjacket so that her utterances shine brightly from across the centuries as a beacon of salvation, beckoning us to reclaim our Self and sanity. Ever serene, she never altered her convictions or doctrine to conform or cater to contemporary paradigms Let us try to convey this to the world community through her metaphors which clothe her mystical practice in the form of vaakh.