Revisiting Lal Ded in Times of Conflict: Discovery of the Poetics of Peace.

Master Showkat Ali

Master Showkat Ali 

The problems that currently plague the world are communalism, casteism, war, genocide, terrorism, poverty and ecological crisis. It is trivial, or against the wisdom, to explore only the aesthetic themes at a time when the world is bereft of the avenues of healthy and sustainable human survival. The cause of suffering lies in the conflict present both at individual as well as collective level, and particularly in the personalities and their followers who are influencing the major affairs of whole world. In order to take back the world on the path of peace and human-harmony, there is a dire need to address the issue of conflict primarily at individual level by fine tuning the human “self” with the Self or its Creator.
To a large extent among the different genres of literature, mystical poetry, like that of Rumi (as seen in the West), has got the remedial power to address these conflicts at both the individual and collective level in human history.  In the same context, it has been found that an eminent and influential poetic voice Lal Ded from Kashmir, through her poetry/mystic verses tries to eclipse the boundaries of conflict prevailing both in the human self and life. 
This paper upholds the premise that revisiting the poetry of this great mystic is among the few guiding lights, which can help us find solutions to the various and varied conflicts we are facing today.
Keywords: Lalla, Conflict, Peace, Self, Suffering, Love etc.

Revisiting Lal Ded in Times of Conflict: Discovery of the Poetics of Peace.

It is sufficient to introduce Lal Ded through a seminal book Great Ages of Man: A History of the World Cultures a 21-Volume historical encyclopedia. One of its volumes titled Historic India edited by Lucille Schulberg and co-editors, documents the main important events of Indian culture and civilization right from antiquity, and its chapter discussing the 14th Century India titled “Thought and Culture” is based on a single event from whole of India; that is “Kashmiri Female Poet Lal Ded”. It reflects the greatness of our “Mother Lalla” and it is undoubtedly an honour for every Kashmiri (Kaul 2005: 11). One may or may not agree with the content of Lalla’s mystic thought, but the impact and quality of her mystical poetry is widely acknowledged. The unique feature of these mystic verses is that they mostly deal with the make-up of human self or soul. B K Behl writes that the great Kashmiri saint and poetess Lalla, who deeply nourished the Kashmiri thought, speaks repeatedly of the concept of the divine manifestations of the Ultimate and the rapturous relationship of the soul with God. Her philosophy is a synthesis of mystical Shaivism and Sufism, which penetrates the hearts of the masses: that is why she becomes Lalla Arifa for Muslims and Lalleshwari for Hindus. Lalla’s poetic testimonies have become so influential that they are part of today’s collective consciousness. They have entered the global imagination through translations. That is why even those commentators who are hostile to mysticism or mystical-poetic thought readily accept the central importance Lalla has played as a pioneering Kashmiri poet in inspiring the sustainable human harmony while renouncing the dividing line based on caste, creed, status and religion. She always comes out as a spiritual messiah for all and sundry, emanating peace and harmony with emphasis on humanity rather than religiosity and universal brother-hood. She never discriminates between a Hindu and a Muslim. Her poetry lays more stress on recognizing one's own self, which is the true source of knowledge regarding God and the world created by God. She says:

shiv chhuy thalyi thalyi rav zaan
mav zaan hyond ti musalmaan
trukh hay chhukh ti paani prazaan
sway chhay tas siity zeenyiy zaan

God abides in all that is, everywhere;
Then do not discriminate between
                    a Hindu or a Muslim.
          If thou art wise, know thyself;
That is true knowledge of the Lord.              (Kaul 107)

Keeping in view the spiritual malaise of current times, Charles Taylor a living Canadian philosopher and theologian in his book A Secular Age while writing the critique of modern culture and faith asks a valid question, “why was it virtually impossible not to believe in God around 15th century, while towards the end of 20th century many of us find this not only easy, but even inescapable (10).” One understands, after going through the writings of modern and post-modern theologians like Soren Kierkegaard, Paul Tillich, Karl Barth, Karl Jaspers, and Gabriel Marcel who have criticized modernity and post-modernity and its value system from a religious-mystical point of view, that this change is not due to a lack but abundance of religious and scientific knowledge and the conditions of “belief” in our age. The modern world is a pluralist one where many forms of belief and unbelief jostle, and due to lack of proper social structures, one is prone to skepticism. As a result we are settling into somewhat a state of comfortable disbelief, suffering from a deep-seated psychological disorder, melancholy and angst. We have distanced ourselves from the central unifying essence that is God and God-consciousness, and our buffered self has reached to a stage, where our common situation mainly shares three features: huge diversity, huge movement, and huge capability to be shaken by other positions. We as modern men want to eliminate the transcendent dimension of our life and yet not suffer from suffocation in the two-dimensional world – mainly based on material progress – a self proclaimed creation which we have crafted for ourselves. We want to kill God and yet remain human, which is a contradiction precisely because man can remain human only by being faithful to his theomorphic nature. Kierkegaard calls the so-called progress of modern man “blind progress” but at the same time sees glory of the human condition primarily in our ability to choose. It is the ability to choose ourselves by choosing God that fulfills the human telos (an ultimate end). But this choosing only finds its fulfillment when we achieve a synergy/communion with what God chooses, which is that we become who we truly are.  
Around 700 years back Lal Ded leaves the same message for the coming generations that social emancipation can be achieved only through self-realization. For Lalla, in essence the human soul is one with God. He is the only reality behind the changing phenomenon of the world. She understands that the secret of attaining union with the Ultimate lies hidden in engagement of fathoming the human “self”. This attraction and love within one’s self towards the Divine gives birth to the realization that this life is very short and its pleasures are transient and that one is not created only to eat, drink, clothe, marry, and build home or to boast of one’s prestige and power among mankind. Lalla makes us realize that when one makes a shift from the outer world to the inner world, all the veils of ignorance are removed and one begins to comprehend the real purpose of life. She talks about the same in her vaakh:
Gwaran voninam kunuy vatsun
Nyabri dopnam andar atsun
Suy gav lalyi mye vaakh ti vatsun
Tavay mye hyotum nangay natsun                (Lal Ded 84)

My teacher taught me but one lesson,
Odyssey from the without to the within
This is what I say in my songs,
And I wander about without a guise.
In our times, we have been prompted to believe that technological advancements and modernization will produce for us physical comforts and through these comforts we can attain inner peace and external harmony. Pursuing the same goal, we are selling our souls in a Faustian manner to gain dominion over natural and human environment; and we are creating a situation in which the very control of the environment is turning into our own strangulation, bringing in its wake collective suicide (Nasr 04). And Lalla in her mystic and creative seclusion makes the diagnosis of the human malaise where intuition reveals to her that the self needs to be a keen observant of the guile of distractions in the outer world. Instead, one should focus on one’s own self with love and devotion to have guidance guiding towards emancipation and eternity:
Lal bo draayas loolaryey
TshaanDaan luusum dyan kyoo raath
Vuchum pandyit paninyi garyey
Suy mya roTmus nyechtar ti saath

I Lalla set out with the fervor of love,
Spent days and nights in the search;
Finally I found the Pandit in my own house,
A good auguring moment it was for me        (Shauq 61)

In another poem like a true mystic, after unveiling the covers of ignorance, she accepts herself as a nonentity before God which brings humility as a result of self-effacement while resolving every kind of conflict in life. She says:
Mukras zan mal tsolum manas
Adi mya lebim zanas zaan
Su yelyi DyuuThum nyishyi paanas
Sooruy suy ti bo noo kyanh

As the rust of the mirror of my mind is removed
Full recognition of the self I attain;
I discover Him so intimately near,
All is He, I am nothing.  
According to Jaya Lal Kaul, Lalla does not observe the formalities of ceremonial piety as she is “vehemently critical of orthodoxy, its dogma and ritual, its hypocrisy and exclusiveness (03).” Through her poetic verses Lalla tries to eclipse the boundaries of conflict prevailing both in the human self and life. Her verses continue to guide those who are in search of a way out of the darkness within which modernism and post-modernism has confined us, and to grapple with the corrosive forces which threaten the very existence of global peace. For her peace is not to attain the quietest state in one’s life, but true peace is that emerges from inner poise and silence and leads to action for the promotion of an egalitarian society. Her poetic utterances, pondered over seriously to speak to herself, mostly maintain a dialogue with herself. This contemplative act of her poetry makes it penetrate deep into the soul, and evoke contemplative states in its hearers and readers to bring about a transformative change. She propagates in her vaakhs the message of love while saying:

myithyaa kapaTh asath troovum
manas korum suy vwapdyiesh
zwanas andar kyiaval zoonum
anas khyanas kus chum dwe-ysh
I renounced fraud, untruth, deceit;
I taught my mind to see the One
             in all my fellow-men.
How could I then discriminate
              between man and man,
And not accept the food offered to me
              by brother man?                                       (Kaul, p. 107)

What prevents one person from welcoming one’s fellow brethren without making any kind of inhuman discriminations? Lalla identifies the monstrous instincts present within every man and guides us how to exterminate them permanently through meditation. The beasts like lust, anger, desire and pride thwart the possibility of mutual love at both local and global level as she says:
maarukh mari buuth kaam kruud luub
nati kaan beryith maarnay paan
manay khyan dyikh swa vyatsaari sham
vyishay tyihund kyah kyuth druuv zaan
Slay the monsters of evil – lust, anger and greed,
Before they slay you with their deadly darts;
Feed your mind with the silent meditation,
Know thoroughly the meaning of these forces.     (Shauq 81)
The main thrust of Lalla is on the individual self wherefrom both vice and virtue, good and bad, envy and content, love and hate emerge. The individual needs to keep vigil over the satanic forces by keeping them in control otherwise he will turn inhuman:
hye gwaraa parmyeshwara
baavtam tsye chhuy antar vyod
dwashvay vwapdaan kandyi puraa
huu kavi turun ti hah kvi tot

O my preceptor, O my Lord,
Tell me for you know the hidden secrets;
If both emerge from the same body,
Why is “hoo” cold and “haa” so warm?        (Shauq 105)

Lalla understands well that both vice and virtue are embedded in human-self, and virtue dominates only when man remains conscious of the divine imprint on his soul. She is aware that this earthly life is ephemeral and temporary, then for what earthly things, man should become egoistic and proud. Once man realizes this, the vicious instinct of conceit or ego as a matter of course vanishes and the feeling of pride in “I” dies forever. The renunciation of ego becomes the directive of truth for the seeker to achieve an existence filled with peace, purity and bliss. As Lalla puts it:
azipa gaayatri hamsi-hamsi zepyith
aham treevith suy adi raTh
yemy troov aham suy ruud paanay
boh no aasun chhuy vwapidyesh

In mantra of silence restrain the breath,
Renounce your pride, be absorbed in Him;
One who gives up conceit, is sure to be oneself,
Say no to ‘I’, that is the advice.                        (Shauq 99)

The counsel given here does not imply that one should reduce one’s self to nonentity, but saying no to ‘I’ means weighing oneself ‘nothing’ before God. This kind of realization commences from ‘within’ to allow the individual’s spiritual growth. And in the words of Shafi Shauq:
All her probing into the boundless depths of the self led Lalla to the conviction that, in spite of the earthliness of the corporal life, man’s being in the world is to be respected as it is the only and the inevitable stage in man’s finite existence that makes possible a leap toward the infinite. (21)
In the words of Nasr every mystic “dies to the world inwardly while outwardly he still participates in the life of society and bears the responsibilities of the station of life in which destiny has placed him (88).” Lalla realizes the same and shoulders the responsibility by propagating the message of social involvement for uplifting the humanitarian values. She rises far above the plane of formal worship and rejects adherence to the ceremonial practices if they are bereft of creating fellow-feeling and universal brotherhood:

          tryieshi bwachhyi moo kryieshyinaavun
          yaan tshyeyiy taan san-daarun dih
          phraTh choon daarun ti paarun
          kar vwapikaarun sway chhay kray

          Do not let it crave for water and food,
          Replenish your body when it feels wearied;
          A delusion is fasting and opening the fasts,
Keep helping others that is your noble deed.

The problem of modern man lies in his Machiavellian belief that ‘this world is the be all and end all of things’. This belief categorically blinds his vision in seeing the whole of mankind as creation of one God. This gives rise to the unethical behaviour, where man compartmentalizes humanity into haves and have not’s, developed and un-developed, civilized and un-civilized, black and white, Hindu and Muslim, elite and outcaste. Lalla makes us realize that it is only the service offered unto humanity that counts and opens the way to create an inclusive composite culture that includes all and excludes none. The life we live just to hoard things of earthly comfort for ourselves counts nowhere, as nothing from these things is able to postpone or avoid the scythe of death for the individual who runs after them throughout his life. Agreeing with Nasr mystics, “have always taught that man is in quest of the Infinite and that even his endless effort toward the gaining of material possessions and his dissatisfaction with what he has is an echo of this thirst, which cannot be quenched by the finite (80).”  And Lalla reminds the same when she says:
          tsaama,r che'tir rath simhaaasan
ahalaad naaTye-ras tuli paryienkh,
kyah meenith yeti sothiri aasun
kavi zan kaasi marniny shienkh

A royal fly-whisk, canopy, chariot and throne,
Merry revels, pleasures of the theater, a cushioned bed –
Which of these, you think, will go with you
   when you are dead?
How then can you dispel the fear of death?

To conclude we can say that the mystical poetry of Lalla has got the power to regenerate the blessed mood in which mundane interests are shelved and forgotten. It has over the centuries helped us to produce and nourish a spirit of understanding, tolerance, fellow-feeling and an acute sense of religious humanism. In order to bring back the world on the path of peace and human-harmony, there is a dire need to address the issue of conflict at individual level by harmonizing human “self” or creature with the Self or its Creator. By revisiting Lalla’s verses we can discover the poetics of peace and find solutions to the various and varied conflicts we are facing today. Time and again she makes one realize that one’s achievement is not in seeking earthly comforts but in seeking the right path to join back eternal life after death, as no one is able to escape it. Further she opines that one should always focus on how to return successfully while earning currency by serving humanity, to pay wages in spiritual terms to the ferryman to carry one across the river of existence, so that one accomplishes the ultimate goal of merging the individual soul with the Soul that is God, when she says

aayas vatyey geyas ni vatyey
suman swathyi manz luusum dwah
chandas vuchum te haar ni athyey
naavi taaras dyimi kyah boo

The right path I came, the right path I did not go,
My day ends as I reach the shore;
I fumble my pockets and find no money,
What shall I pay the boatman to take me across? (Shauq 64)

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