Lalla Arifah (1320-1392), a 14th-century Sufi saint who is also locally recognized as Lal Ded, was a Kashmiri mystic and spiritual personality. She is known by many other names like Laleshwari, Mother Lalla, Lal Didi, Lalishri, and Lalla Yogishwari (Richard Carnac, 2003). Lalla Arifa created the style of mystical poetry called Vakhs, literally “speech” (vocal sound or voice). Her stanzas are the earliest and most basic masterpieces in the Kashmiri language. They are aptly called ‘Lal Vakhs’ and are a significant part in the history of Modern Kashmiri literature (Koausa.org). She influenced, motivated and networked with many Sufis of Kashmir (Dhar, 2006). In fact, she was the contemporary of Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani, also known as Amir-i-Kabir (the Great Commander), and widely known as Shah-e-Hamadan (Al-Islam.org).
Early medieval Kashmir was characterized by and noted for the Sufis, particularly Sayyid Ali Hamadani and Lal Ded who contributed very much to the growth and development of Islam in Kashmir which is known as Rishibhumi, the land of sages, Saradapitha, the seat of goddess Sarada, and the Peer Waer, the green and fresh abode of Sufis (Qadiri, 2010). When Amir-i-Kabir, a Persian Sufi saint of the Kubrawiya order, came to Kashmir , Lal Ded used to wander nude; very few had realized her divine connection with Allah. When she came across Amir-i-Kabir she ran away like an uncontrolled storm because it is said that she for the first time felt embarrassed of her being unclothed in presence of the great charisma of Amir-i-Kabir. On her, brisk walk trail, she jumped into a burning oven of a bakery shop. The baker was horror-struck. He covered the opening of the kiln with a lid and pretended obliviousness or witlessness. Amir-i-Kabir approached the baker and expressed his desire to see the lady. The baker was averse and reluctant but to the astonishment of all present there Lal Ded came out of the oven outfitted like a fairy. She paid respect and tribute to Amir-i-Kabir. And then a conversation followed between the two.
Amir-i-Kabir: What is the reason that on seeing me you concealed yourself in the red-hot coals of the oven when so far as you used to roam about somewhat bare?
Lal Ded: I came across a gentleman for the first time, or else women do not feel embarrassed about crassness or vulgarity in the company of each other. Therefore, I chose red-hot and scorching fire as my housing so that you couldn’t get sight of me. But then, your existence altered fiery and blistering wood into blossoms;
Amir-i-Kabir: A man does not deserve to be called a man if he is lethargic and sluggish of the heavenly and divine enigmas, and a woman surpasses man in all respects if she is aware of divine enigmas and riddles. As you are a woman par excellence it is mandatory on us to direct you on the right path. It is at this juncture that at the age of forty-four Lal Ded arrived at the delineations and silhouettes of Islam.
Lal Ded quotes:
‘‘Gutulah Akh Wuchhum Bochi Sate Man’’
It means she came to Islam and its outlines through a wise man (Amir-i-Kabir) dying of hunger for the knowledge of Islam. According to her, religion is the place for the enlightenment of the soul and reinforces imaan and we must, for that reason, safeguard it. Her Vakhs traces different aspects of the life of mankind. It speaks of Tawheed, Taqwa, social welfare, justice and equality. Furthermore, it imparts us great moral standards and ideals of life which is why she deserves to be in the category of great Muslim thinkers, and a Sufi saint par excellence. The big journey in Sufism is vanishing into God, letting all the traits and qualities of yourself to wane, disclosing the deeper light of your soul which we call Fana (Qadri, 2017). And she was ready to get Fana for the sake of Almighty as she was greatly influenced by Aakhirah (life hereafter) which is heart and soul of Islamic philosophy. Furthermore, she helped in the development of art and culture of the Kashmir valley which labels her one of the great poets of Kashmir.
The evils of Hinduism greatly facilitated the growth and development of Islam in the Kashmir. The social and economic stratification in the Hindu society gave vent to social and economic inequalities and created discomfort among the masses. In the top of the hierarchy were the Brahmans and in the bottom were Shudras, the common people, and the peasants. The upper caste people were privileged with many perks that were unavailable to lower caste people. This discrimination and stratification became the starting point of conversion for the non-Brahmans and low caste people towards Islam that preached equality and brotherhood. Lal Ded was well versed with Vedas, which are four in number: Rigveda, Samaveda, Yajurveda, and Atharveda, and other Hindu texts with the help of which she was able to find out and disclose the teething troubles in the Hindu society. Brahmanism was very conservative in nature and gave rise to arrogance and conservatism among the Brahmans which became the root cause of their loss of intellect. People were taught black magic, stone worshipping and what not. It was Lal Ded who realized that we should embark upon the discovery of Allah within.
After Lal Ded, a series of spiritual and mystic poets added feathers to the cap of Sufism and mysticism.
Lal Ded played a great role in the reformation of Kashmiri society which , at that time, was defined oby superstitions, prejudices, and mores. She preferred silent worship and devotion over and above religious rites, rituals and rigid dogmas for they are the straight path to reach Allah. There is a considerate need for revisiting Lal Ded’s philosophy for she is not only the person who understood the nature and purpose of Islam, enduring the tough times with utter patience, but also openly encouraged moral tenets of Islam through her Vakhs. It was only after dialogue making with Amir-i- Kabir that she went to the journey of discovery of Allah and found her in her own heart which was as pure as fresh air.
M. G. Chitkara. (2002). Kashmir Shaivism: Under Siege (https://books.google.com/books?id=5CK0DFijayQC&pg=PR14). APH Publishing. pp. 14–. ISBN 978-81-7648-360-5.
Koausa.org. n.d. Lal Ded’s Vakhs. Retrieved from http ://www .koausa .org/ Saints /LalDed/article7.html
Qadiri, A. N. (2010). My Kashmir, My Life. Published by Nazir, A. Qadiri, Ganjipora, Pattan, Kashmir.
Qadri, B. (2017). Sheikh Nur-ud-din Reshi (R.A.) as an environmentalist. Insight Islamicus. Vol. 17. ISSN-0975-6590. Shah-i-Hamadan Institute of Islamic Studies, University of Kashmir.
Triloki Nath Dhar (1 January 2006). Kashmiri Pandit Community: A Profile.Mittal Publications.p. 7. ISBN 978-81-8324-177-9.Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=oyvsZrTFXVYC&pg=PA7.
Rao, V.S. (n.d.). A History of Kashmir (Up to 1947). Academic Publications, Darya Ganj, New Delhi. Printed at Taj printers, New Delhi.
Richard Carnac Temple (2003). Word of Lalla the Prophetess.Kessinger Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7661-8119-9.Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=Ec1Bv2wW_xkC.
The author is a Research Scholar at the Department of Economics, Central University of Kashmir, an Academic Counsellor, IGNOU STUDY CENTRE 1209,S.P. College, Srinagar and an Editor in EPH – International Journal of Business and Management Science & Asian Journal of Managerial Science. She is also an Ezine Articles Expert Author; IJRULA title awards, 2018 winner (Best Researcher, 2018) and can be reached at: email@example.com