Kashmiri Mystic Poetry: Some Recurring Themes

Kashmiri Mystic Poetry: Some Recurring Themes


This is an attempt to present a brief introduction to some of the most important recurring themes in Kashmiri mystic poetry. Before mentioning some of these themes, I want to make two disclaimers beforehand. Firstly, although these terms that we are about to discuss here belong to Kashmiri language, the mystical concepts that they represent are universal and perennial in nature. Second, we need to bear in mind that although the poetic experience is of primary importance here, these words/concepts are the best attempts to convey that knowledge to a larger audience. Hence, understanding these main terms/themes is of vital importance. Mystic experiences are not to be ridiculed as something trivial. We need to realise that the great traditions of prophets and sages which transformed the world around them were also initiated by some kind of fantastic experiences.
Let’s start by one of the most often repeated themes of Kashmiri mystic poets: it has to do with the very force of life. It is as Shamas Faqir would say, “sar kar pan’nuy paan” or as Souch Kraal would say, “gath kar pani’ney aastaanay”. What is understood from these phrases is that if we look around we see the miracle and magic of life. We see life in a bird chirping or flying, in an awesome tree, in the whole universe. There is also realisation of it when we look at ourselves. We see that we, too, possess the same life/force. Therefore, if we want to understand the reality around us, we have to look within, because it is there that this life/force resides which is the soul of all existence. The gift of self-consciousness enables us to do this. It is pertinent to mention here that mystics quote an often repeated Quranic phrase, “wa fee anfusikum afalaa tubsirron”, which means “and in your own selves why do you not see/reflect”.
Let’s come to the second most repeated theme and that is as Shamas Faqir would say, “marnay bronthey mar darwesho” or as Laal Saab Aargami says, “merith zinday be dar maqbar”. This refers to the famous phrase, ‘die before you die’. What does dying before dying mean? What is understood from this terminology is that once a person realises that the underlying reality of existence is one and persistent, then one can escape the finitude of the body. The life/force that the physical self embodies is not subject to death at all. You may die but the birds will continue to sing, trees continue to blossom, and thus the life/spirit continue to display its magic through various other life forms/manifestations. Dying before death means to realise that the physical self is just one manifestation/potentiality of life, which is the underlying reality. It is worthwhile to mention here that many mystics quote a Prophetic tradition which says “mutoo qabla anta mutoo” which literally means “die before you die”. This Arabic phrase is also repeated as it is by many Kashmiri mystic poets at many occasions.
This concept is also related to another similar theme of “rising above physicality” as one sufi poet says, “laa ilaa ilallaa sar gasii karnuy, haa mati ad’e naa marnuy zahn”. The sacred word “laa” is very important here. As Ahad Zargar says, “laa goam kan’ney sapdum faan”. This is to make people realise that ‘the physical is not final’, as it may seem. Although we have differences and infinite variation in the physical but the underlying reality is common. There has to be this common underlying substratum because a tree cannot be/create a bird nor can an animal create/be a flower. These are different manifestations of one underlying reality which is neither bird/animal nor a flower/tree but holds potential of all of these. In essence, being/absolute has to be only one. There cannot be two infinites. Rest are all manifestations realised/actualised. “Souch Kral wanaan gous, kehn nay ous gaeri Allah, be wane’nishan wesith pious paanay ous be bahaanay”!
Let’s come to our third and last theme for today and that is “nothingness” as Souch Kral would say, “Kehnas maan’ey wan’nuy gous paanay ous be bahaanay”. This ‘Kehnay’ surfaces in many other poets like Ahad Zargar who says, “chu kehnai karith kehnas Ral, wuchum kehnai mey deedan tal”. The term kehnay/ shooniy/ nothingness is found in all mystic traditions across continents with different names. The underlying reality which is the source of creation is undefined and infinite. It is the abode of infinite creation/ possibilities. It is limitless and unconfined. It cannot be labelled by any one name and therefore is referred to as “nothingness”. It is no-thing that you know of (laysa ka mislihee shay). The Quran beautifully sums it by “subhan Allahi ammaa yushrikoon”!
Although there are many other recurring themes that are no less important, I feel these three are enough for a good start. It is hoped that after reading this piece, readers should somewhat begin to appreciate the metaphysics within our mystic poetry. As said in the beginning, understanding these basic themes is critically important to access this treasure.

The writer is a student of Philosophy, Psychology & Religious Studies. [email protected]

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