Lal Ded: The Yogini

The history of India has for its landmarks not wars and emperors but saints and scriptures.” - Dr. S. Radhakrishanan

Lal Ded, was one such poet saint of Kashmir, who lived in early fourteenth century. At that time Kashmir was home to bhaktas of Shiva and Vishnu, to Islamic Sufis, as also to followers of Tantric Buddhism. Lalla’s poems are a reflection of all these influences, but ultimately express her own veneration and self-realisation culminating from her meditations and yogic discipline. Her poems, though a vocalization of her spiritually intense experiences, instantly appealed to the masses because she spoke in the common metaphor of her day. Greatly respected even today her deep, effective sayings continue to inspire scholars and lay people alike in the valley. She is lovingly known by many names - Lal Ded (grandmother Lal); Lalleshwari (Lalla the yogini); Lal Arifa. 

In “Lal Ded - The Poet who gave a Voice to Women”. Prof. Neerja Mattoo says:

In the fourteenth century, a woman writing in any language was a rarity, but it happened in Kashmir. A voice, which set off a resonance heard with clear tone till today, spoke directly to the people and what is more, was heard with all seriousness, recorded in collective memory and later, the words put down on paper. This path-breaking woman is the mystic poet Lal Ded, whom the Kashmiris venerate to this day as a prophetess, moral guide and a fount of practical wisdom. Her word is quoted at every step in their lives. In fact the very language owes most of its richness of phrase and metaphor to her contribution to it. Apart from its spiritual message, her work, like Shakespeare's, has a timeless meaning accessible to people of different intellectual levels. Unlike most women who have left an imprint on history, she was not related to an important person in the social or spiritual hierarchy of the time.  (Unquote)

Tradition has it that she was from a Brahmin family from a village near Srinagar. She was married off at the age of twelve to Nika (Sona) Bhat of Drangbal near Pampore. The ill-matched marriage was doomed from the start. Ignored by her insensitive husband and ill-treated by her mother-in-law, she bore her fate as long as she could with patience. The daily humiliation she suffered is very evident from the following story. It goes that every day she was apportioned just a little rice to eat, with a stone hidden underneath to make it appear like a lot more. Without protest, with endurance Lalla would eat her meager portion, wash the stone and plate and put them back together for her next meal. This practice prompted her to say: 

they may have mutton, but for Lalla the stone is the only fare.

Lalla’s Lake/Pond

Saints of her stature always have legends and miracles associated with their lives.   One of Lalla’s chores was to fetch water for the household every morning, after ablutions at the ghat and a visit to the temple. One day, instigated by his mother, the jealous Nika broke the pitcher of water she brought home. To their utter amazement the water continued to hold its shape on her head. Not a drop spilled. With this she filled all the pots in the house.  And where the shards of the broken clay pitcher fell, there arose a fresh water spring to form what came to be known as Lalla’s Lake/Pond. This spring is now dried up but to this day it is called Laila Trag (trag means "pond/marsh"). According to history it went dry in 1925-26.

Unable to endure her distressful marriage any longer, she finally left her husband in her early twenties. She became a disciple of a respected saint, Sidh Srikanth, in the Kashmir Shaivism tradition of yoga. Later she wandered about, from village to village, going naked or nearly naked, and singing songs of enlightenment (Vakhs). Indeed there are many similarities between her life and her near contemporary Mirabai.

She sang -

Dance, Lalla, with nothing on
but air: Sing, Lalla,
wearing the sky.

Look at this glowing day! What clothes
could be so beautiful, or
more sacred
? (1)

This is a beautiful concept – to dance with nothing on but air – to be free of social pretences and prejudices, to be in the present and enjoy the sacredness of simply Being. Delving beyond the apparent meaning, one sees Lalla’s heightened state of awareness in her words. 

About her critics she said

gaal ga'ndiy-nyam bol pa'diy-nyam
Dapineym tiy yas yih routse,
Sahaza-kusamav puuz karineym,
Boh amalloun ta kas kyaah mvotse

They may abuse me or jeer at me,
They may say what pleases them, 
They may with flowers worship me.
What profits them whatever they do?
I am indifferent to praise and blame.

A'saa bol pa'ddiy-nyam saasaa
Mey mani waasaa khiid na heaye;
Boh youd sahaza Shankar-bakts aasaa,
Makris saasaa mal kyaah peyye

Let them mock at me and call me names.
If a true devotee of Siva I be,
I shall not feel distressed nor hurt.
Can a few ashes a mirror befoul?

Lalla had a profound impact on both Hindus and Muslims. She urged people to rise above caste, creed and colour and see the light within.

"Shiva is all-pervading and present in each particle.
Never differentiate between a Hindu and a Muslim.
If you are shrewd and intelligent, know THY SELF.
There lies acquaintance with god
".  *

Like Kabir, who of course came much later, she did not hesitate to lash out even at priests

“Idol is of stone temple is of stone;
Above (temple) and below (idol) are one;
Which of them wilt thou worship O foolish Pandit?
Cause thou the union of mind with Soul
.”  #

And again in this short poem where she minces no words

O fool, right action does not lie
in observing fasts and ceremonial rites.
O fool, right action does not lie
in providing for bodily comfort and ease.
In contemplation of the Self alone
is right action and right counsel for you
. (2)

In the words of Prof. M.L. Koul

No right thinking person can dispute the status of Lalla Ded as Shaiva yogini . She took the Shaiva-praxis to recognise her essential worth as Shiva. Lalla Ded was a bhaktin too, who is consensually ranked with great bhaktas like guru Nanak, Sant Kabir, Meera Bai, Raidass, Tulsi Dass et all. Prof. B.N. Parimu in his monumental studies on Lalla Ded uneqivocally calls her the fore-runner of the Bhakti. Movement in India. As yoga and bhakti are not mutually contradictory to each other, Lalla meticulously practised bhakti yoga. Her self-image as a ‘bhaktin’ had fortified her against the zig zags and adversities of life and world, and had invested her person with absolute equipoise and equanimity of temper and deportment.*

Towards the end of her life Lalleshwari is believed to have gone to Bijbehara town in Anantnag district in South Kashmir where, her soul arose as a flame, to merge into the Supreme Soul.

An interesting anecdote associated with her death is analogous to that of Kabir’s. Both Hindus and Muslims staked a claim to her body, so she settled the dispute in a miraculous way. It seems her spirit asked those present to bring two large washbasins. The body is said to have sat inside one with the other inverted over the head. Thereafter the body is stated to have shrunk slowly till the two washbasins overlapped. When her followers lifted the inverted basin, they found there a liquid formation. Half of the liquid is said to have been taken by the Hindus for cremation (?) and the other half by the Muslims for burial adjacent to the local Jama Masjid. 

Give up imagining that the skill of killing desire,
and meditating on the Self are too costly to buy;
He stands close by you! Do not look for Him far away.
The void was dissolved in the Void!”

* Bhakti and Worship in Scriptures in Kashmir Shaivism and Lal Ded Vakh by Prof. M.L. Koul
(1) Poetry Chaikhana

# Poet Seers
Other Web Sources
Saints and Sages of Kashmir   
Image courtesy: koausa.org

Next: The Naked Saint 

Related Article: Shiva Yogini of Kashmir – Lalla Devi by Dr. Rama Rao Vadapalli V.B.


More by :  Shernaz Wadia

Top | Spirituality

Views: 4620      Comments: 16

Comment I have read and still reading lives of great saints of all communities but the Yogini, Lal Ded, attracted me a lot. I am a regular You Tuber surfing through lives of saints from allover India.

I am 80 year old from Bangalore and I am more interested in reading great lives of our Country.

In case you r interested, I can give few names of such saints who can be googled.

I enjoyed the article on LAL DED.



Jaganmohan Rao
18-Jul-2022 04:54 AM

Comment is it possible to have all these articles in Hindi

kishore m kkade
16-May-2015 05:37 AM

Comment Dear Kala,

My pleasure. Thank you so much for reading and commenting. Love, shernaz

02-Jun-2014 04:12 AM

Comment Dear Shernaz,

Wasn't aware about Lal Ded. Thank you so much for this clear, lucid explanation of her philosophy.
Thanks a million

Kala Ramesh
01-Jun-2014 06:00 AM

Comment Dear Sunanda, I feel happy that you could relate to and understand the importance of a childhood ritual after reading this. Thank you for reading and responding.

18-Mar-2011 23:12 PM

Comment Hi Shernaz, it feels very good to read such nice artical about a poetess / saint "Our Lal-ded".....I remember,since my childhood,i and other members of my family do fasting on "Sahiban Satam". It is told to me that this fast is very important ,but i was not aware of the complete history.....but after reading the artical,i know now. Thanks.

Sunanda Dhar
02-Mar-2011 07:08 AM

Comment So happy you liked it Shail...read the rest at your leisure and I hope you will enjoy them all. Thanks for the time and the comment.

24-Jan-2011 06:59 AM

Comment Dear Shernaz,

This was a lovely piece. Just loved it. Will be reading more... a bit slowly though....

Nice Day

Shail Raghuvanshi
24-Jan-2011 04:11 AM

Comment Thanks for this appreciation, Om.

15-Jan-2011 21:15 PM

Comment Shernaz,
Nice to read about this rare, woman saint. Thanks.

d.om prakash narayan
15-Jan-2011 12:14 PM

Comment You are so right, Kumarendra. If only we delved into the essence of the rich legacies of spiritual giants like Lal Ded, Kabir, Tulsidas... we wouldn't be fighting over immaterial things. Books become more important than the teachings they contain, relics are revered but the philosophy is mangled to suit the needs of the time/exponents. Our collective misfortune!

20-Nov-2010 21:58 PM

Comment Shernaz, you have given a bright picture of a saint who raised the metaphysical bar very high. It is so sweet of both the Muslims and Hindus to claim her dead body - I wish they share her philosophy of Bhakti and social harmony instead. Thank you for a great write on an equally great soul.

20-Nov-2010 08:22 AM

Comment So good of you to have read and commented on this piece. It has made it worth the time and effort I put into it. I am grateful to you.

14-Nov-2010 07:52 AM

Comment Thanks for a lucid account of Lalla Ded, the yogini.

chandra mouli
14-Nov-2010 02:13 AM

Comment A bigger thanks to you for enhancing my write-up with this informative response.

07-Nov-2010 03:37 AM

Comment Wow ! A very moving account of the life and times of this great yogini -Lal Ded !
I had never read about this spiritual leader earlier.However,your beautiful posting compelled me to do a little research on Yoginis,to enhance my knowledge.Here is what I learnt fro some other well known Yogis and Yoginis :

"I'm very sure that the future of Yoga will be safe and solid because of all the Yoginis.”- 'Sri TKV Desikachar, Yogi'

“Practicing Yoga during pregnancy is one way to heal the split between soul and spirit found in our culture. Prenatal Yoga sexualizes spirituality and spiritualizes fertility. It is the tantric practice of mothers. Once the babies come planetside, our yoga practice shifts into karma Yoga beyond belief. We become servants to our babies and our path is bhakti Yoga,the practice of devotion. Giving conscious birth is woman’s vision quest, par excellence. It is ultimate sadhana, spiritual practice, – which requires purity in strength, flexibility, health, concentration, surrender, and faith." - 'Yogini Jeannine Parvati Baker'

“As Yoginis we must conceive of a new liberation, one that does not seek a simplistic transcendence but rather a complex integration...By using yogic techniques that integrate the emotional and physical with the spiritual, women (and men who have the courage to resonate with their own feminine power) can strengthen themselves not only to resist the negativity of these tumultuous times but to positively influence the direction of life on earth.” - 'Yogini Roxanne Kamayani Gupta, Ph.D'

"Many swamis and Yogis in India told me that they hoped that in their next lives they would be reincarnated as women because women have true devotion, true humility, and this is the path to liberation." — 'Swami Sivananda Radha', an American woman who emigrated to India where she became a spiritual teacher.

Shernaz,thanks a lot for this meditative piece that took me to a lovely spiritual journey !

07-Nov-2010 02:59 AM

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