LALDED

 

Lalla’s married life and liberation.

A great deal of controversy exists as to precisely when Lalla was born. Some writers give the date of  her birth as the middle of the fourteenth century while other sources indicate that Lalla could have been born somewhere between A.D 1317 and A.D 1320 (even as early as 1300-1301), and that she died in the 1370s or 1380s.

Lalla was given in marriage to Nicha Bat of Pampore at a young age. Her in-laws gave her a new name—Padmavati. The custom of naming a new bride when she is accepted into her husband’s family still exists among Kashmiri Hindus. It symbolizes a married woman’s new identity as a wife and daughter-in-law. However, in her verses, she always refers to herself by her maiden name Lalla and it is this name that has come down to posterity.

Maltreated in Marriage, Legends speak about her mother-in-law as a tyrant who filled her marital life with suffering. Both Lalla‟s family and that of her husband Nica Bhat belonged to different Śaiva Tantric sects that were at odds with each other. This was perhaps another source of tension for poor Lalla. 

Lalla was not given enough to eat. Her mother-in-law would give her small servings , making them look larger by hiding a stone underneath the food on her plate. Lalla would quietly eat whatever she was served. Lalla plays along with the ruse, making the guests think Lalla is treated like a queen. She dutifully washes the stone at the end of the meal, placing it back on its shelf each time. 

 A special grahashanti ceremony (a prayer for bringing peace into the house) was once held at her house. As she went out that day to fetch water from the river, one of her neighbors teased her that she would have a feast that night. Lalla’s reply that has become a famous proverb in Kashmiri was :

 “hund maritan kinah kath noshi nalvat tsalih nah zanh”

which means - whether a lamb or a sheep is killed at her house, the daughter-in-law will always get a stone.

Some legends describe that her marriage was not consummated, while others say she was a disobliging wife who preferred to keep to herself.

Her morning chores would invariably be her daily visit to the temple where she performed her sādhana, or a riverside, or a well to fetch water sometimes alone or other times with other women. Sometimes she is followed & seen disappearing into white light. At other times , she is encountered in deep trance by the river. 

One day, the mother-in-law finally succeeds in casting enough doubt into the mind of her son, that he decides to follow Lalla as she goes about her morning chores. Suspecting her of infidelity, her husband followed her to the river bank where he found her sitting alone in a meditative posture. He went home and waited for her to come back. Soon Lalla returned with an earthen pitcher full of water on her head. Filled with rage, her husband hit the pitcher with a stick. While the pitcher broke into pieces, the water stayed miraculously intact on her head. Lalla calmly went inside the house and poured the water into smaller vessels until all vessels were full. She threw  the leftover water outside the house where a pond is believed to have formed. Later on, this pond was named Laltrag ( the Pond of Lalla), which remained full for many centuries.

The miracle of the water pitcher makes her very famous as does the springing of the pond .

This incident represents a turning point in Lalla’s life .The fact that Lalla is able to nourish her household with that water without reacting or responding to the torrent of raging emotions from her in-laws, is symbolic proof that she has achieved a higher level of transformation. She is a realized soul who no longer requires to continue with the meaningless married life. So it is a culmination of the maltreatment meted out by the mother-in-law and the final act of breaking the pitcher of the ego, freeing the waters to flow where it wills which truly frees her from bondage of the ego, and not just the unfortunate marriage. 

In this story, among the elements that seemed to spark such a response of awe and admiration were Lalla‟s dedication to daily spiritual discipline despite the demands of her  family life; her ability to remain calm and accepting in the face of adversity; and the transformation of the heroine.  

As Lalla rejects social conventions, she is subject to ridicule, which causes a great deal of pain to her. At the same time it makes her focus even more intensely on her spiritual quest, now that she occupies a space outside the system. She says in a verse:

The chain of embarrassment will only break When I can tolerate taunts and mocking words Robe of self-pity will burn away When the inner unbridled horse (restless mind) is brought under control .

So she begins the life of a wandering ascetic, who many times is depicted as naked or semi-nude.

This is a very controversial issue among authors who have written about Lalla.  Many writers have difficulty trying to reconcile their awe and reverence for Lalla with the problematic image of a naked woman.  That she took up this mode of life seems to be supported by one of her vaks:

Gwaran  von nam kunuy vatsun
Neybra dop nam anndaray atsun;
Suy gav Lali mey vaakh ta vatsun,
Tavay mey hyotum nangay natsun.

 

My Guru gave me but one precept; “From without withdraw your gaze within, And fix it on the Inmost Self.” I, Lalla, took to heart this one precept, And therefore naked I began to dance .

Lalla’s wandering in a nude state could refer to her divesting or de-robing herself of all worldly attachments, including her family, friends, and the comfort of a home. Nakedness expresses vulnerability and humility, but it can also be inherently freeing, like that of a naked child at play, innocent of the shame or danger that adults experiences impose upon the state. 

It is not out of a desire to shock, nor in a mood of self-mortification. It is just in her “fine madness” she had become completely unselfconscious. She is then made out to have cast away her apparel to go about dancing in the nude. Her craving for breaking  the conventional bonds of societal mores by liberating herself was expressed early on in her life:


mandachi haa'nkal kar tshe'nyam

When can I break the bonds of shame ?
When I am indifferent to jibes and jeers.
When can I discard the robe of dignity ?
When desires cease to nag my mind.

 

 

Lalla meets Hamadani  - The Baker story

 

This story has very interesting dimensions.

 

The essence of the story where not much is contested is that her credentials as an evolved soul were fairly well established. The body of work – Vakhs attributed to her are ample proof of this fact. It is also accepted that when this incident happened, she was a wandering ascetic.

 

What is contested is ,her wandering as a poorly clad or naked ascetic ,her conversion to Islam, her spiritual ascendance  with respect to her Muslim contemporaries.

The story begins with Lalla, who has taken to roaming poorly clad, claiming “there are no real men” here so why should I wear clothes?  She would spend most of the time in her Sadhana away from the crowds .She was a practicing Yogini from the Kashmir Shaiva tradition. One day, she joins the people who have gathered to welcome this Sufi Saint from Hamadan .

The historical context of Hamadani’s journey to Kashmir is briefly described here to put the events in context .  The stern but generous ruler Timur back in Persia was in the habit of disguising himself and going out and giving to the poor, but a “greedy Sayyid  neighbour” caught wind of one poor woman’s fortune and stole it from her.  After a long detailed drama, which is longer than the baker story, the conclusion of this drama results in Timur’s announcement that all Sayyids must prove their purity by passing the ordeal of riding the hot iron horse. Only Mir Sayyid `Ali Shah Hamadani, who was a sufi saint of the Kubarwiya  order is said to have gone successfully through the ordeal .Timur’s insistence that all of Ali Hamadani’s followers too have to pass the test made their stay in Hamadan untenable. Timur is also said to have ordered Ali Hamadani to go to Kashmir. So you find him in Kashmir on the mission to spread Islam in Kashmir.

Hamadani  saw from a  distance a poorly clad woman but bright like lightning. The moment she saw him and the party, she ran shrieking “I’ve seen a man! I’ve seen a man!” and runs for cover. She first runs into the shop of the grocer or butcher, who yells at moving towards her and sends her back out.  Then she runs across the street into the baker’s and jumps in the oven. Baker faints out of fear of what the King would do to him. Then to his shock and relief he sees  Lalla emerging in fine clothing and then hastening after Hamadani. 

Lalla had purposely threw herself in the oven to show Hamadani that the ordeal he had endured at the hands of Timur was an easy job for persons of advanced occult powers.  On seeing Lal Ded coming out of a furnace of fire attired in fine clothes , his pride of riding the fire horse was humbled, and he becomes a constant companion of hers. In this story Lalla is now a saint in her own right meeting another saint on the path. 

This was the period when Islam was making inroads in Kashmir. Sultans had already established their kingdom. Islam was patronized by them. We find Lalla identified and revered by both Hindu and Muslim religious traditions, despite her Hindu heritage.  Perhaps this is due to the temporal placement of her life.  She lived at a time when the presence of Islam was growing in the valley, and the recognition of her by the Sufis was a natural inclination especially as she was in any case propagating oneness of God as against the highly ritualistic religious beliefs of the original settlers -Kashmiri Pandits.

Adopting the local saint ,as a means to allay the fears and anxieties around the strange and new, seems rather ingenious. By incorporating her into the narratives of great saints, she becomes part of the greater narrative that develops around Islam in Kashmir. It also perhaps helped to  keep  the deeper roots of the cultural identity structure intact, connecting the past to the present.

Conversion of prominent Kashmiri Pandits & to use it later for propagation finds a very frequent mention in the history. In fact these converts have inflicted  more atrocities than the foreigners themselves.

It will be pertinent to note that Lalla ‘s vaakhs were  orally transmitted for over 300 years before her name was mentioned by Persian scholars in their works.The 20th & 21st narrators include Kashmiri Pandit Scholars, Kashmiri Muslim scholars, Britishers, Journalists, Internet bloggers and diaspora.

The first scholarly accounts of Lalla, originating from British colonialists, Temple and Grierson in the early part of the twentieth century, provide some form of scholarly legitimacy to her existence and indicate her worthiness of further study.

Scholarly attention from Lalla’s fellow Kashmiri Pandits also reclaims her as one of their own, reasserting her connections with the Kashmiri Śaiva tradition, and her identity as one. 

Similarly, Lalla serves as a uniting force that transcends religious identity in favour of community identity, bringing Kashmiris together in their love of Lalla and her story.                                                   

There is no doubt that the history of Hamadani’s seven hundred followers fleeing from Timur‟s edict and settling in Kashmir had a profound effect on the Kashmiri community, changing the very fabric of the society.

Sayyid Hamadi was a great proselytizer, but one wonders how in his book "Zakhirat-ul-Muluk" to guide a Sultan in treating his non-Muslim subjects, he could bring  in conditions which perhaps even  Quran-sharif did not lay down on how to treat non-muslims. He was no doubt a disciplined & trained Islamic proselytizer.  He is regarded as the greatest influencer to bring Islam to Kashmir.

Life is a story, and Lalla is just one of them – A shining connection to intermingling  identities for Kashmiris and spiritual explorers.  Her universal elements will continue to draw in the explorers of story and symbolism, while her unique Kashmiri qualities will shift and change with the times and the narrators. 

 

ASHOK DULLU

Acknowledgements:

  • LOCATING KASHMIR IN LAL DED: COMMUNICATING IDENTITY AND MEANING THROUGH NARRATIVE : Diane Fereig

 

Note: This write up  is meant to bring out some striking aspects of Lalla to fore for our community .It rests heavily on the material as indicated in Acknowledgements.