Book Review : LAL-DED REVISITED: JAWAHAR LAL BHAT (Reviewed by Deepak Budki)

Lal-Ded Title cover

Lal-Ded Title cover

Lal-Ded Inner pages

Lal-Ded Inner pages

Kashmir, often called Raesh-Vaer, has been an abode of many Rishis and Sufis. The valley has stood as an epitome of multi-cultural and multi-religious ethos foundation of which was laid by some reputed visionaries. Since time immemorial it developed into a seat of learning and discourse about human existence and purpose of life. Philosophies like Shavism, Tantra and Trika were propounded by great thinkers like Somananda, Vasugupta, Utpaldeva, Abhinav Gupta and Lakshamandeva. On the other hand Kalhana pioneered historical research in the subcontinent followed by Jonaraja, Srivara, Prajyabhatta, Shuka and the rest. With the advent of Islam in the valley, a syncretic ideology was propagated by both Hindu and Muslim seers who emphasized on worship of one God through devotion called Bakhti Marga or Sufism rather than through academic pursuit and study of scriptures called Gyana Marga. Sufis and Saints like Nund Rishi, Rupa Bhavani, Arni Maal, Parmanand and Krishen Joo Razdan came forward to guide people towards their ultimate destiny. The most outstanding among them was Lalleshwari (Lalla-Arifa) of Padmanpore (Pampore) who is revered by both Hindus and Muslims equally. The famous quatrains of this fourteenth century mystic poet, called Vaakhs in Kashmiri (Vaakh originated from Sanskrit word Vakya meaning Sentence) have ever since been filling the air with fragrance of divine and celestial lyric ever since. These short, pithy, moral aphorisms carried through word of mouth for many centuries in the past, often distorted, interpolated and mutilated, in the absence of a written word so much so that it became difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Kashmir has an age old tradition of singing and playing music in places of worship as also on personal functions of merriment like weddings etc. At the beginning of a singing or dancing session, a singer generally starts with recitation of a few Lalla-vaakhs which is regarded as a good omen. Well trained singers often sing these quatrains as a separate genre with utmost devotion.

In the recent past a good number of scholars made commendable efforts in collecting and explaining Lalla-Vaakh and various books got published from time to time. Mention of such scholars has been briefly made in the present book. Still a number of quatrains have been lost while some stand substituted. The latest collection of these quatrains has been attempted by Jawahar Lal Bhat, an English teacher by profession, who, after extensive research and verification of their genuineness, has included 244 Lalla-vaakhs in his book entitled ‘Lal-Ded Revisited’. The book stands as a testimony to his life time achievement. What gives this book an edge over others is that the book is written in English, a language read and understood all over the world; the Kashmiri vaakhs are printed in three different scripts viz Roman, Devnagri and Nastaliq for the convenience of different readers; with a bried translation at the end of each vaakh; and last but not the least, each vaakh has been further elucidated in the light of its contextual import as also its religious and spiritual background in order to make her philosophy intelligible to the reader. The foreword of the book has been penned down by an eminent Kashmiri scholar T N Dhar ‘Kundan’ who has aptly set the tone of the book with dexterity. In the introductory chapters, Jawahar Lal Bhat has discussed the life and works of the great mystic poet, Lalleshwari, who was fondly called Lal-Ded by Kashmiris. Proud of Brahmanic descent, the Yogini was revered by both Hindus and Muslims alike. Lal-Ded believes that universe is controlled by the Supreme Lord, who has no religion, caste or creed, and therefore, people should seek refuge in Him and attain the said goal through self-realization. (V111):

Shiv chuy thale thale rozaan,

Mo zaan hyund ti Musslman;

Trukay chukh ti panun paan parzaan,

Soy chaey sahibus zaenie zaan.

(The presence of Shiva can be felt everywhere, n every object and creature. How stupid— to discriminate between individuals—Hindus and Muslims! If you are truly sensible recognize your own self. It will help you achieve the eternal truth- the Supreme Lord)

The author has set at rest many myths related to Lallas life as false. However, he has confirmed the ill-treatment meted out to her by her husband and in-laws which she herself confirms in a few vaakhs besides the ridicule, jeering and fun poked at her by the public (V54 & 105). These acts drove her to seek peace and enlightenment through worship of Shiva, the absolute, at the feet of her Guru, Shri Sidh Srikanth known as Sedh-Mol. She strongly believes that only a good teacher (Guru) can show us the right path and one must choose the right Guru to attain salvation in life (V 202-209). In vaakh 206 she writes;

Guraey mol tay guraey maejey,

Guraey divaan nyaetren gaash;

Yem tchaeris maeris vastir laegiy,

Chuy punyaes bhaegiy te papan nash.

(The Guru is both mother and father to his disciple. It is he who gives his eyes the spiritual sight and clothes his bare self with celestial garments. The guru is the partaker in the returns for his good deeds and a crusader for all sins committed by him.)

Lalleshwari acknowledges that she learnt the truth about existence only through discourse (V18) and believes that most of us are led astray because we choose wrong skills and paths to reach out to the absolute (V20). She further forbids people from wasting time in rituals like chanting of mantras or counting beads of a rosary (V26). As regards spiritual attainments she says that some are blessed by God without asking, others are bestowed with spiritual powers after hard work and labor while there are still others who despite achieving the objective let it go waste due to negligence (V98).

In V29 & 85 Lal-Ded highlights the ephemeral character of life and material acquisitions which have to be abandoned ultimately. In this connection the poetess says in Vaakh 165;

Kus mari tay kasu maran,

Mari kus tay maran kus;

Yus Har Har traevith ghar ghar kare,

Adhi suy mari tay maran tus.

(Who will die? Who will be killed? One who is always worried about the interests of his self , home and family and forgets entirely the name of Lord would certainly die and be killed for sure.)

As against Sanyas , Lal-Ded believes that a seeker need not give up his/ her Grahst ashram (normal family life) in order to seek union with the Absolute. Yet she wants a human being to give up sensual pleasures, material wealth and ego for better spiritual experience through suffering and awakening of soul which is a reflection of Hindu philosophy. In Vaakh 123 she says;

Traishe bochche mo kraishnavun,

Yani tcheye taane sandarun deeh;

Phrath chon daarun te paarun,

Kar vopkarun suy chuy krey.

(Don’t torture your body by refusing it food and drink to appease Gods. Feed it whenever it needs. Hell with expensive clothes and delicious foods, these can’t make you better. Help others in their need, there is no better worship.)

Lalleshwari believes in maintaining a moderate life style coupled with contentment (V99). In some vaakhs she uses the Socratic dialogue method by asking questions and then trying to find answer for them to reach goal of life (cf 102-103,237-238).

As per Lalla awakening of soul and self-realization is essential for attaining salvation from the pain of continuous cycle of births and deaths. Her teachings are strewn all over her quatrains like gems of pearl which the author has tried to make a rosary of. As per the author, “ Lalleshuri was one of the leading expounders of Kashmir Shaivism ,the internationally renowned philosophy depicting oneness of man with the absolute. As a poet and an ascetic she sang in an easily intelligible word the terse principles of Kashmir Shaivism, Yoga and Tantra henceforth limited within the corridors of highly educated scholars and saints of yore.” Further she relates her ecstasy when she watched Shiva and Shakti together in their heavenly abode as per V 177.

From vaakhs 215 to 221 she has thrown light on the importance of ‘OM’ which she considers as pivotal to life since it represents the basic sound of life (Naad) that sustains the world. In Vaakh 215 she says;

Omai akuy achchur porum,

Suy ha mali rotum wondus manz;

Suy ha mali kani paeth gurum ti tchurum,

Aises saas ti sapnis soen.

(I chanted repeatedly the unique divine word OM and saved it lovingly in my heart with my persistent dedication and love. I was just ash and by its divine grace got transformed to gold.)

Lalleshwari’s similes and metaphors which enrich her poetry are drawn from normal life. At times she uses common items like Kangri and charcoal made from Chinar leaves as symbols to explain her viewpoint so that the common man can understand her philosophy quickly and vividly (V199). This is one of the reasons why her poetry became very popular and is quoted even today despite many archaic words in it.

The exegesis at the end of the book in the form of ‘Notes’ is exhaustive. For the sake of convenience the author has classified the quatrains into seven groups and arranged them accordingly though their order may not be chronological. This has been done to link the vaakhs with similar disposition together and bring out the unity of the vaakhs through such linkage. The groups are; i) Personal celestial experience, ii) The essential purpose of life, iii) The concept of Universal Lord, iv) On Pranayama and Kundalini Yoga, v) Guru Saadhna vi) On the divine syllable ‘Om’, vii) Miscellaneous.

It may not be an exaggeration to say that the book is a direct result of author’s faith, devotion and hard work and hopefully will be received well by the reading public more so by those who want to understand her philosophy and the ancient thought of Kashmiri sages.


The book has been reviewed by Deepak Budki, a reputed urdu writer. Quotations and their meanings have been extracted from the book. (deepak.budki@gmail.com)

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