Thursday 4 August 2011

Lalleshuri -Yogini of Kashmir

Lalleshuri (Lal Ded) of Kashmir (1317-1388) has attracted the  attention of a number of scholars throughout the world. Her poetic compositions or Vaakhs as they are popularly called in Kashmiri,  are the extempore outpourings of a highly awakened Yogini and exhibit high quality poetry with a deep philosophical content.
  We find her personal spiritual experiences unfolded in a simple form besides terse principles of Yoga exemplified with easily graspable day-to-day activities.
Lalleshuri communicated her spiritual teachings in the language of the common man,  using verbal medium and the impact was so great that her poetry safely has carried through centuries by memory lane as a divine word with negligible distortion of language.
The Vaakhs of Lalleshuri is a vast canvas with varied hues spread over by a great literary artist, a highly awakened Shaivite Yogini and a religious philosopher. Her sayings about the futility of worldly existence and the escape route through the practice of Yoga have received wide recognition and continue as such. She had detached herself completely from the material world, becoming  a wandering ascetic displaying a frightful aura devoid even of her clothes to cover her nakedness.
Her poetic compositions were instantly committed to public memory and sung as divine songs to make retribution to God for one’s sins. A highly awakened soul, a Yugpursha and a living incarnation of Lord Shiva, she gave out rare gems or Vaakhs in the common man’s word showing a clear path towards self- realisation.
 She has castigated man time and again for collection of material belongings, ignoring the real divine treasure that alone  is capable to give safe passage through temporal existence. She was shocked to see people enjoying life’s glamour which they knew was nothing but an illusion and how eager she was to see people shun the lure of the world.
Repeatedly,  she like a  preacher, stressed upon man not to take the false for the true. She says it was only their ignorance that bound them to the falsehood and thus waste the precious moments of their lives that could otherwise be fruitfully used for higher purpose.
Dedicated to her Guru she expresses  her gratitude to him in guiding her in all her progress.   She says that her Guru is both father and mother to her, who made her blind eyes capable to see, her bare body able to wear the celestial garments and thereby discriminate between falsehood and the truth.
 Lalleshuri has repeatedly described the importance of a teacher in the way to self-realisation. She says one who develops full faith in his Guru and follows his directions religiously, is able to control all five senses with the help of Gyan Yoga and succeed in overcoming the sea of ignorance. He is lifted above the  material world and all worldly events, joys and sorrows, sound immaterial to him.
Lalla says in one popular Vaakh— she asked her Guru a thousand times who was the one who was nameless and beyond comprehension,  but she didn’t get a reply.
When she got tired and  helpless, she got suddenly satisfied without an answer and understood the truth of life and its creator who was responsible for all creation and still beyond comprehension.
The Guru guides his disciple in all circumstances and the seeker does not fall short of guidance in association with him. Lalla says she has washed her body with the Gangajal of the Gura-Shabda (word of her Guru) and thus attained pure salvation while living in the same material body
Lalleshuri is a great interpreter of the divine word Aum. She extensively explains the validity of Aum in achieving higher stages in yoga through Pranayama and advancement of the self by mastering efficiently the recitation of Aum. She says one who is able to master the recitation of this divine word with the rhythm of his breath without any digression of thought can form an easy bridge between him and the universal consciousness.
Lalla says that she gradually mastered the recitation of Aum in a way that she began feeling a strange sensation, and with it her whole ego vanished, and thus detached from the world. She was enlightened. At this stage, says Lalleshuri, she closed all the doors of her body i.e. controlled all her physical senses and took to recitation of Aum with the beats of the heart and thus achieved the higher echelons of consciousness. Here she cautions the seeker to inhale and exhale slowly with a particular rhythm such that there is a transformation of self as from a baser metal into gold and no stopping at any stage till the goal is reached.
 Lalleshuri points to a stage where the seeker gains full control over the five senses and to him the world of matter vanishes completely. His soul is released from the bondages of the body and that is liberation.
 Nothing can be achieved without full control on the material self and ego. Lalleshuri expresses her personal experience in this context.  She felt the presence of Lord everywhere and became herself too part of the infinity. She was wonderstruck that she had lost her identity and merged with the supreme. The fully realised yogi ultimately achieves that stage of perfection as Lalla says when Lord Shiva becomes a horse to ride for him, Lord Vishnu the saddle and Brahma to hold the stirrups. That indicates the fulfillment of purpose or the ultimate liberation from material bondages.
In her ecstasy, Lalleshuri describes her encounter with the supreme. With  tears of joy she washes the divine feet but feels the divine presence on her head indicating the ultimate success of a yogi. She says that the lord is without name, form, shape, caste or creed and is still the nucleus of the universe, so there is none else worthy to be worshipped. She feels the presence of the lord shining everywhere, she listens to the divine talk and Lalla nowhere, already merged with the supreme.
The influence of the lord (Shiva) is everywhere in the cosmos and it is only the human mind that can work to tune it in its favour in its lifetime. When human mind is absorbed in worldly affairs it is quite non-receptive to divine influences, alternatively when one is absorbed in meditation and looking within his self it naturally becomes sensitive to divine vibrations by losing interest in material advancement and shunning all egos.
Lalleshuri gives a very beautiful description of her journey towards her liberation. Comparing her birth to the bloom of a cotton flower she says that she came to this world as a cotton flower, which is a symbol of purity and innocence. Soon the weaver took her control and gave her knocks and beatings to make the thread out of it capable to be taken to the loom for weaving a coarse cloth. The cloth was then taken by the washerman who washed it by beating it again repeatedly on his washing stone to be finally given to the tailor.   Still her ordeal was not over as the tailor again mercilessly cut it into pieces and joined them by sewing them with sharp needles to give it the shape of a garment to be worn gracefully.
The purpose  is to bring home to the seeker that the way to perfection is full of trials and tribulations,  but the end is quite rewarding.
Lalleshuri says she didn’t seek wealth or power, remained away from sensual pleasures, adopted moderation in taking foods, bore lot of pain and suffering but took refuge in her lord, her love. She didn’t attach herself with the material possessions but cultivated intense desire to reach her goal by keeping her mind fixed constantly on her beloved Lord.
The pain  she suffered cannot be estimated by a layman. She wore the robes of pain and anguish, wandered lonely door to door to seek the divine grace. She left all forms of caprice and deceit, she didn’t differentiate between a Hindu and a Muslim, and she simply tried to look within her self to get awakened and get acquainted with the Lord.
In a very popular Vaakh,  Lalleshuri describes her journey through her life. She says she is towing the boat of her life through the murky waters of the sea of life pulling at the frail untwisted cotton thread praying constantly to her lord to help her across.
Her life is like an unbaked earthen pot with water gradually seeping through ready to fall apart, but she is still aspiring to get liberated from the agony of life and reach her real home, the house of her Lord. She says further that the flesh of the soles of her feet wore off while going on the rugged path towards her goal, but she sustained and was finally rewarded and was now dancing with joy.
Why not, it was an occasion for celebration, but instantly she wondered that her lord was nowhere else but within  her heart and enjoins upon the seeker to find out and meet Him there.In her deep ecstasy, Lalla had a chance to see Lord Shiva and His consort Shakti in close embrace. She took a deep dip into this celestial spectacle and was graced eternally and thus freed from the cycle of life and death.
 Thus she got admittance into the abode of immortal bliss which she calls the garden of most beautiful flowers. Here she calls upon the aspirants to seek this stage of immortality as there remains nothing beyond to be achieved further.
Lalleshuri has given exhaustive description of Kudalini Shakti and the exercise of Kundalini Jagran. The Kudalini Shakti is a latent energy in the form of a coiled serpent with its abode in the lower end region of the spinal cord of the human body.
On purification and awakening of this energy which is a systematic Yog-Kriya the divine energy takes an upward course through spinal cord called Kundalini Jagran performed with the inhalation and exhalation of breath (Pranayama) and gradually with sustained efforts the energy reaches the top of the head of the Yogi. On acquisition of this energy the seeker attains the final and most comprehensive truth about the entire universe.
This is the highest stage in Yoga and when the seeker reaches this stage all his passions for worldly pleasures retire and he is freed from the cycle of birth and death, a stage of eternal bliss.
 Lalleshuri calls Kudalini Shakti in the form of a coiled serpent a Shah-Mar (king serpent) and calls upon the seeker to lift the lid off the container of this energy by the power of exhalation and inhalation of breath and diving deep into the supreme consciousness.
The Vaakhs of Lalleshuri are an ocean of learning and spirituality, an authentic guide to the science of Yoga and self realisation and above all a treasure of masterpiece poetic compositions.
The symbols and similes, metaphors and picturesque compositions are the creations of a super artist. The world of literature is yet to recognise the greatness of the poetry of Lalleshuri. The greatest hurdle here is of language which has a limited readership and so the responsibility of Kashmiri  scholars is to open these gems of Vaakhs without prejudice before the world so that the worth of Lalleshuri is established further as a poet and a Yogini. 
Article by : Jawahar Lal Bhat
Source: Bhavan's Journal 31 October 2009
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