Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Spiritual Journey of Lal Ded


--Dr. S .S. Toshkhani

What is it in the vāks or poetical utterances of Lalleshwari, the great 14th century mystic woman poet of Kashmir that continues to move and inspire and enthrall generations of the Kashmiri speaking people centuries after they fell from her lips? Is it her profound mystic insights into reality, her existential angst and anguish, her deep understanding of the human condition or the power and beauty of her imagery? Or is it her compassionate vision for spiritual liberation of mankind rooted in her Shaiva worldview? Or all these put together that constitute her poetic image? For me personally, she remains the greatest poet-saint that the Kashmiri language has ever produced. Every time I read her, I feel the joy and excitement of having explored a new world of meanings, of having ventured into what lies at the core of the peculiarly Kashmiri sense of values and ideals.

Known more popularly as Lal Ded or Mother Lalla, this venerated and celebrated Kashmiri Shaiva poetess seemed to be herself conscious of the power that she wielded over the minds of people. In one of her most poignant verses she says:

Dress yourself in the clothes of knowledge
And on your heart inscribe what Lalla said in verse
For through meditation on the sacred syllable Om
Lalla became absorbed in the light of consciousness
And thus she overcame the awe of death.

These lines also reveal that this power had its source in her spiritual egalitarianism derived from her non-dual Shaiva vision of reality which sees the whole universe as a manifestation of pure consciousness vibrating at every level and in every atom. She lived in times which were most critical and turbulent in the history of Kashmir, with two belief and value systems – one indigenous and the other alien – clashing ominously when Islam made its advent into the Valley. Playing a momentous role, Lal Ded saved the indigenous cultural structures from collapsing and ensured continuity by taking the essence of Kashmir Shaivism to the masses in their own native speech. Her choice of colloquial Kashmiri to pour out her heart’s devotion for Shiva was perhaps the greatest statement she made in those times of political and cultural upheaval that had torn Kashmir apart, her advocacy of the devotional path reinforcing the tremendous impact this had on the common people. It struck an immediate chord with them, enlarging her reach and tremendously magnifying the range of her appeal. And today, when cataclysmic events have again shaken the land of Kashmir and its cultural face lies battered and bruised and bloodied beyond recognition, Lal Ded’s words of immense wisdom offer spiritual solace and succor to the wounded psyche of its people.

One thing that has been completely overlooked and therefore needs to be pointed out here is that it was Kashmir Shaivism which encouraged the use of the regional language for spreading its teachings. The very beginnings of Kashmiri literature are a consequence of this encouragement as can be seen in works like the Chhummā Sampradāya verses and Mahānaya Prakāśa, which provide the earliest written evidence of the Kashmiri language. Lal Ded’s decision to express herself in Kashmiri could well have something to do with this factor. However, it is in her vāks that we hear the first distinct heartbeats of Kashmiri poetry whereas the earlier works cannot be strictly called literary compositions.

Lal Ded’s choice of vāk as the medium for her poetic outpourings was indeed most appropriate. The crisp, aphoristic, cryptic four-line verse-form was quite suitable for the rhythm of thought that marked her poetic expression and was also easy for the common man to adapt to his ear and to memorize. It was no random choice, for it is around the term vāk that the whole logos of Kashmir Shaivism revolves, according to which language can be a liberating force if it mirrors the reality of our life as a manifestation of universal consciousness. Abhinavagupta defines vāk as vimarśa or “reflective awareness of the Self” – “vakti svarūpam vimriśatiti vāk”.[1] Thus, viewed from this perspective, vāk is the most appropriate term for a verse form which could be used for the kind of reflective poetry that poets like Lalla composed. Before her we find Shitikantha also composing his Mahānayaprakāśa in a similar metrical form. Later Rūpa Bhavānī too adopted it as the medium to express her mystical experiences. But the rich suggestiveness of meanings with which Lal Ded infused it to communicate her deep intuitive experience of reality at various levels remains unsurpassable. The question whether vāk as a verse form is patterned after the Rigvedic metres, the Śloka of Sanskrit, the Āryā of Prākrit or Gāhā of Apabhramsha or whether it is a purely indigenous genre may have academic relevance, but the fact remains that she extended the limits of its possibilities to the farthest horizons.

What gave her poetry its distinctive flavour, its power and punch was the vigour and vitality of her idiom, the effect being reinforced by her use of imagery taken from everyday life. The non-dual Shaivism of Kashmir, it must be noted, sought to internalize the forest rather than asking one to renounce the world and enjoined upon spiritual aspirants to carry on their meditative practices in the midst of the daily flow of life. It was perhaps because of this that the images evoked by her verses “sunk” in ordinary people’s consciousness and became an aesthetic delight for them even though the speculative and esoteric content must have eluded the grasp of many. What Lal Ded’s vāks really did was to provide them with a spiritual vision and moral strength with which they could arm their souls to meet the tremendous challenge that the times posed for them. From this point of view, Lal Ded was not a mere itinerant woman poet-saint of the 14th century, but a symbol of the continuity of five thousand years of Kashmir’s civilisational ethos.

Everything about Lal Ded suggests that she was extraordinary – a spiritual and a creative genius who “had a special personality, spoke in a special voice, left a special imprint on the minds of later generations”, to borrow words used by Linda Hess to describe Kabir[2] who bears many similarities to her. Yet, for all her brilliance as a poet and greatness as a saint, her dazzling mystic insights and intellectual attainments, we know very little about Lal Ded’s life which is lost in a haze of legends and hagiographical accounts that surrounds it. This has resulted in blurring her actual biographical profile, leaving us with little if any material that is objectively verifiable and, therefore, credible. To grope for kernels of truth in the no-man’s land between fact and fiction is obviously an unenviable task that can hardly be expected to take us far.

While the Sanskrit chronicles are totally silent about Lal Ded’s existence, perhaps because she lived and moved about in a milieu that had little to do with the kings and their courts, and their wars and intrigues, the Persian chronicles too say nothing about her till Muhammad Azam Dedamari refers to her as “ārifā-kāmilā Lalla” in his Wāqiāt-i-Kaśmīr as late as in 1746. Earlier, Dawood Mishqati had mentioned her name in his hagiographical work Asrār-ul-Abrār (1654). But what is forgotten is that the first, the very first, reference to her is by Rūpa Bhavānī (1620-1720), who in her Rahasyopadeśa very clearly acknowledges Lal Ded as her guru:

Śuddham atyant vidyādharam
Lal nām lal param gvaram
[I have as my supreme guru Lalleshwari, who is pure and greatly learned.]

This is a very significant statement coming as it does from someone who is herself regarded as a great Kashmiri woman mystic poet and is even revered as an incarnation of the Goddess Sharikā by a section of Kashmiri Pandits. The parallels between her life and that of Lal Ded are numerous, including ill treatment by the husband and his family. Not only does Rūpa Bhavānī refer reverentially to Lal Ded as her guru along with her own father Madhav Dhar, we find her even adopting the same poetical style and using the same verse form, vāk, used by Lalla. And yet this fact, which has significant ramifications as it demolishes many a myth floated about Lal Ded, is almost completely ignored, deliberately or otherwise. What it proves beyond any shadow of doubt is that Lal Ded was not suddenly discovered by the Persian chroniclers while others had completely forgotten her. The fact is that Lal Ded has all along remained alive in folk memory and folk imagination, her orally transmitted verses making her virtually a wisdom tree for generations of common Kashmiris.

She must have already become a revered icon of the Kashmiri society when Rājānaka Bhāskara penned down sixty of her vāks for the first time in the Sharada script and translated them into Sanskrit sometime in the 18th century. Yet, her phenomenal popularity, even during her own lifetime, and the tremendous reverence she commanded due to the exalted stature she is said to have attained as a saint, led to determined and sustained attempts to build false image constructs around her with the sole object of appropriating her for ideologies totally alien to her and incompatible with the non-dual Kashmir Shaiva tradition that forms an integral part of her mental and intellectual make-up.

What has further complicated the situation and unleashed storms of confusion and controversy is a frenzied campaign to link her with protagonists of proselytizing Sufi orders. Orchestrated claims of interpenetration of stray Sufi elements into her poetry are made by those who profess to be scholars but are actually very uncomfortable with the fact that someone who is regarded as a symbol of whatever Kashmir stands for belongs to a different religious reality than theirs. Acting on their religious reflexes they use these so-called Sufi elements as a ploy to snatch away Lal Ded’s real identity from her. There is nothing in the text of her verses to support their fabrications as whatever Lal Ded has said falls absolutely within the framework of the non-dual Shaiva philosophy of Kashmir. How else would have Rupa Bhavani accepted her as a spiritual preceptor and even imitated her style or Shams Faqir used Sanskrit yogic terms to pay a glowing poetic tribute to her? Attempts to re-slot her into conventions and systems other than to which she really belonged are motivated by intentions to subvert historical facts so that the real Lal Ded is lost to us and replaced by an unauthentic shadow. To say, for instance, that the use of wine by her as a metaphor reveals a decisive Persian mystic and therefore Sufi influence is to betray utter ignorance of the poetic traditions to which she belonged. It has been profusely used by her predecessor, the celebrated author of Śivastotrāvalī, Utpaldeva to describe his state of God-intoxication. At one place, for example, he exclaims:
“Drunk am I by drinking the wine of the Elixir of Immortality (rasāyana) which is Your worship, perpetually flowing through the channels of the senses from the goblets, full [to the overflowing] of all existing things.”[3]

In the other Shaiva texts too it has been used to describe the aftermath of self-realization as a result of spiritual practice. In Tantrāloka, for instance, Abhinavagupta visualizes the yogi emerging after the practice of the “internally enacted” mahāyāga (Great Sacrificial Rite) in the following ritual gesture:

“[The yogi’s] Ritual gesture (mudrā) is whatever bodily posture the yogi may assume when fully absorbed in consciousness, he moves, staggering about (ghūrnita), as it were, drunk with the wine of self realization.”[4]

This being the case, it is necessary to arrive at an authentic Lal Ded – a flesh and blood one or at least a credible poetic version of what she could actually have been. And for this false constructs of her image shall have to be discarded and dumped. These, in fact, can be discredited on the grounds of chronology and historical plausibility alone. Need it to be stressed that stories fabricated for this purpose, like the so-called miracle of the oven telling us about a “nude” Lal Ded scurrying to hide herself in a baker’s oven on seeing “a man for the first time”, are an insult to Kashmiri womanhood. There is no way, it must be realized, that the Paramashiva of her poetry can be morphed into a Semitic Godhead, however much you may try. As Prof. B.N. Parimu puts it, “the key to Lalla’s mysticism is the Shivadvaita or Trika philosophy of Kashmir”.[5] And while monotheism is all exclusive, not allowing any other than a master-servant relationship between God and man, the monism of the Trika Shaivism of Kashmir is all inclusive.

It is indeed a great irony that a poetess whose verses aim to bring us face to face with our real selves should herself continue to be seen through false lenses. With those engaged in falsifying the facts of her life showing no signs of giving up, whatever their motivation, the only way left for us to arrive at an authentic Lal Ded lies through the text of her verses. Even though this text itself is marred by vicious interpolations, her verses, in their present corrupted state also, are packed with real biographical material. In them we can discover the course of her spiritual and poetic journey and identify the various ports of call she touched and the destinations she arrived at. The risks in this approach are many as the verses have come to us through oral transmission, and certainly not in the language in which they originally were. Then of course they have been randomly recorded, giving us no clue to the actual chronological order in which they must have been composed. Yet, all these risks are worth taking.

We will not try to reinvent the events of Lalla’s outer life or disregard everything that the legends say about her just for the sake of it, for some of them may contain a modicum of truth while others may belong purely to the realm of hagiography and imagination. But to reclaim her not as a mysterious abstraction but as a real persona, we can pick up the biographical threads scattered in her vāks and reconstruct with their help facts of her mystic life, her experiences as a woman, her views about the relationship between God, Man and the World.

Let us begin with the story of an introvert village girl interested more in answers to existential questions than in mundane matters. Her trauma began the day she was married to a nincompoop husband insensitive to her spiritual aspirations and a mother-in-law who used innovative methods to starve and torment her. Though this seems to be in line with the typical mother-in-law-daughter-in-law stories current in Indian folk lore, it may not necessarily be totally fictitious. As tradition believes, Lal Ded finally put her foot down and walked out of her unhappy marriage, snapping all ties with her husband and the tyrannical mother-in-law. The flashpoint came when, according to the legend, the husband broke with his stick the pitcher of water she had carried home all the way from the river bank. This was one of Lalla’s daily chores, but that morning she was somewhat unusually late as she took a little more time in her meditations at her favourite temple of Nattakeshava Bhairava, making her husband suspect her fidelity. The pitcher broke to smithereens but the water is said to have remained as it was and she is said to have filled all the vessels in her kitchen with it. The remaining water she threw outside where it formed a pond that came to be called as Lalatrāg, says the legend. This became a decisive moment for her and she revolted, making it plain to the tyrant duo that she could take it no longer. Refusing to play the gender-determined role of an obedient daughter- in-law any more, she said that she was going to take her own decisions and choose her own way of life. Leaving her husband’s home for ever, she became a wandering ascetic. It was in no way an easy decision for a woman to take in her time, as it left her socially unprotected and insecure.

Living her life on her own terms as an individual now, she had no one to look to for guidance or help except the old Siddha Shrikantha, an adept in Kashmiri Shaiva yoga who belonged to the lineage of the sage Vasugupta. Earlier in her life also she had received spiritual direction from him. On the evidence provided by her verses, one can safely come to the conclusion that she must have studied a wide range of the seminal texts of Kashmir Shaivism with the venerable Shaiva master, including the Tantrāloka, Śivasūtra and Vijñāna Bhairava.

One cannot but wonder, therefore, to find modern Lal Ded scholars like Jaishree Kak Odin accept on the one hand that “Lalla’s verses reveal her deep knowledge of the esoteric practices of Kashmir Shaivism”[6] and on the other hand use all the shrill feminist jargon at her command to make statements in her otherwise excellent study of the saint-poet, that have really no relevance: “Her oral transmission can be seen as a subversive act to the written discourse to which she and other people did not have access”[7]; and, “Her life in many ways represents a challenge to the prescriptive ideology of brahminical texts, including the Gita…”[8], etc. One does not know on what evidence she describes Lalla as “an outsider to the written Kashmiri Shaiva tradition”[9]. In making such sweeping observations, Jaishree Odin seems to be toeing the line of the colonial historians of yore and their present day successors, the Marxist-liberal scholars who reduce everything Hindu to “Brahminism” -- a bogey some dyed-in-wool feminists also find fashionable to raise. Arun Shourie has aptly summed up this left-lib-feminist approach to Hinduism in the following words: “In a word, both corruption and evil on the one hand and exploitation on the other are germane to, they are inherent in Hinduism: Hinduism is Brahminism; Brahminism is that ‘ism’ which serves the interests of the Brahmins; these interests can only be served by the exploitation of and oppression of people of lower castes. Hence Hinduism is necessarily an arrangement for the exploitation and suppression of the mass of people.”[10]

Jaishree Kak Odin certainly knows, or should have known, that Kashmir Shaivism does not discriminate on the basis of caste, creed or gender and that the Tantric worldview it is rooted in regards the ultimate reality as feminine in essence. Her pettifogging therefore over whether the impersonal and transcendent reality called Shiva is male or female is inconsequential; whatever her feminist reflexes may make her to say. She surely knows that Kashmir Shaivism had its female adepts much before Lal Ded appeared on the scene, Yoginīs like Keyuravati, Madanikā and Kalyānikā having imparted the knowledge of the doctrines of its Krama School to male aspirants Yogaraja, Bhanuka and Eraka, who in turn spread it to areas as far as the Chola kingdom.[11] As for oral transmission, that was how disciples were actually introduced to the theory and practice of non-dual Shaivism by their preceptors. Odin should have also remembered that the great Abhinavagupta gave priority to direct experience over knowledge of what she calls the “prescriptive texts”; and if Lal Ded did so it was not just because she was a woman, but because she was a mistress of Shaiva yoga.

Perhaps this is a digression, but it became necessary to set the perspective right. Coming back to Lalleshwari, she began a new life as a liberated woman with the quest of the divine taking her from place to place as a wandering ascetic. We do not know anything specifically about these wanderings of hers, but she renounced only the householder’s life and not exactly the world as that was not the Shaiva way of approaching existential problems. All we can say is that she got Siddha Shrikantha’s guidance and sympathy in full measure as she set out on her spiritual quest, even though legends say that she could not resist taking occasional potshots even at him. This is how we find her when she started her spiritual journey: tormented by loneliness, uncertainty, anxiety, self-doubt, inner conflict, yet restless to find out the deep secrets of life and death. We have no means to know what the first vāk she composed must have been, but poetry must have surely come to her as a medium to express her agony and anguish, to connect her with the eternal, the transcendent, the divine. It must have helped her to retain her equipoise amidst mental turmoil. To survive! Here is how she depicts her state of mind in probably one of her earliest though most memorable vāks:

With a rope of untwisted thread I tow my boat upon the ocean
Will my God hear me and carry me across?
Like water in vessels of unbaked clay, I am wasting away
Oh, how I long that I would reach my home!

This verse evokes the image of a forlorn and frail woman fighting rising waves to tow her rickety boat across a perilous sea with a prayer to God on her lips and restlessness in heart to reach the other shore where her home is. Sounding more like an anguished cry, it shows how vulnerable and weak Lal Ded must have felt when she embarked on her God-ward journey. How unsure of herself. How helpless. Towing boats in turbulent waters is a common scene in Kashmir and the metaphor of crossing bhavasāgara or the sea of existence is often used by Bhakti poets. But how touchingly personal it has become here, the words “untwisted thread” creating a tremendous effect. And how untouched and beautiful is the associated image of being wasted like water in vessels of unbaked clay. This is typical Lalla -- original and extremely creative. The feeling of frustration and utter fruitlessness of all efforts that this metaphor expresses is really moving.

In fact, Lal Ded’s verses are an intimate record of her sufferings and struggles, her aspirations and achievements. Sometimes they show her beset with lack of self-confidence and overcome with despair and frustration. Sometimes they depict her restlessness to establish a personal relationship with Shiva, the pangs of separation that torment her mind and the intense desire of absorption in Him There are also times when she realizes that it is her own imperfections and weaknesses, her own un-preparedness and follies which are hindering her progress towards her destination. But the most memorable of her verses are those that reveal her heart’s wounds from under the saffron robes of detachment:

I Lalla went forth in the hope of blooming like a cotton flower
Many a blow did the ginner and the carder give to me
And the spinning woman spun me into a fine yarn
The weaver stretched me on his loom with a kick
But when the washerman dashed me on the washing stone
And rubbed me hard with fuller’s earth and soap
And the tailor’s scissors cut me piece by piece
Then did I, Lalla, obtain the way of the Supreme.

Here Lalla uses the analogy of the process of manufacturing a garment from a cotton pod to illustrate the suffering she has endured at various stages of her spiritual development. At each stage the progress is extremely slow, but there is no way but to go through this entire excruciating process to reach the final stage of perfection.

In another verse she tries to say that she is well aware that she is ill equipped for pursuing her spiritual goals. She simply does not have the wherewithal for it, she feels:

For my wooden bow, I have a reed for an arrow!
An unskilled carpenter for building my royal mansion!
In the marketplace, a shop unguarded am I
A body uncleansed by waters holy
Oh how can I tell my plight!

How can she expect to hit the target when the arrow she has on her bow is but a blade of rush grass. The carpenter she has got to build her royal mansion is totally unskilled, she laments, referring to her body. Her physical and mental faculties, she feels, are hardly developed to help her transcend her limitations. She is just not in shape to go for the ultimate goal. And whatever little merit she may have already acquired, she is in the danger of loosing in her unguarded moments, like a shop without a lock in a busy marketplace which can be easily burgled. Her mind is like a flock without a shepherd with its thoughts like sheep running in all directions.

The feeling of being “suspended in the emptiness between two worlds, one which she has just left and one whose threshold she has not yet crossed but whose door, soon to close again had opened slightly”[12], overtakes her. That is what she seems to express in this verse:

The sling of my candy load is loosened
Bent is my body like a bow
I don’t know how to carry this burden?
My guru’s words have pained me like a blister of loss
Like a flock without a shepherd I have become

The weight of worldly pleasures, “sweet and enticing as candy” has begun to hurt as the “shoulder knot” that holds it on her back has loosened a bit “because of her entry into the mystic life”, but the burden has now become more unbearable. Even her guru’s words are proving of little help as he has told her to give up allurements of worldly things and concentrate on meditating on her inner self. And this she is not able to do because she finds that materiality still distracts her.

In yet another verse we find Lalla assailed by self-doubt and feelings of uncertainty and helplessness. The fear of loosing direction and being stranded midway between what she has given up and what she is yet to achieve overtakes her:

I came by the highway but by the highway I did not return
Stranded I am now halfway on the embankment
And the light of the day has already faded
I searched my pockets but not a penny did I find
What shall I now pay to the ferryman for ferrying me across?

Desperateness seizes her as she feels that she does not have the means to reach the other shore of transcendence. In terms of Shaiva praxis, the problem with Lalla as a questing mystic is that she is disempowered because forces operating outside her consciousness are crippling her. To move towards empowerment, she needs to undergo more rigrous discipline and strenuous practice. “Gururupāyah”, the guru is the means, says the Śivasūtra.[13] So she approaches her guru for guidance, and the first thing he tells her is to withdraw from the external world and turn her gaze into the inner core of her being:

My Guru said but one thing you must know,
How, from within, still further in to go
The words became my precept and my chance
And so it is, I Lalla, naked dance.
(Trs. Nila Cram Cook)

What the guru is stressing here is interiority, or inwardness, which is one of the fundamental features of practice in Kashmir Shaivism. It is important for the Shaiva aspirant to realize that everything resides within our own consciousness and nothing exists outside it. As Mark S.G. Dyczkowski writes:

“This all embracing inwardness is only possible if there is an essential identity between the universe and consciousness. The events which constitute the universe are always internal events happening within consciousness because their essential nature is consciousness itself.”[14]

In Kashmir Shaiva terminology, this is called ātmavyāpti. Shaivism suggests two methods to realize non-duality between the self and the universe: ātmavyāpti and Śivavyāpti. In ātmavyāpti or self-expansion, the universe is seen as an expansion of the self and the seeker merges the external world into his/her inner consciousness to realize the self within himself/herself. In Śivavyāpti, the process reaches its fruition “when the inner knowledge gained is applied to the external world in extrovert meditation” and “the outer is looked upon as a gross form of the inner”, as Dyczkowski puts it.[15]

Yet, ignoring what it actually seeks to convey, the meaning of this verse has been completely mutilated. The connection of the last line is severed from the context provided by the first three lines and Lal Ded’s emphasis on the ecstasy of inwardness is treated as her self-confession of wandering in the nude. The word used in the original Kashmiri is “natsun”, which means “to dance” and also obliquely “to wander”. So it is subjected to willful distortion and taken to mean that Lalla actually disrobed and went about in that state without caring for social conventions of decorum or decency. This is hardly credible as wandering naked in the freezing temperatures of Kashmir winters is just not possible. Besides, Lal Ded herself in several of her verses talks of the necessity for feeding and clothing the body. Trying to explain things, Georg Feurestein expresses the view that “the nudity attributed is a symbol of her profound surrender to Shiva, which stripped her of all egoic motivation”[16]. I personally feel that that Lal Ded’s statement about her so-called disrobing could well be a reference to discarding the pañchakañchukas or the five coverings of Maya that conceal the real nature of the self. And of course the word “natsun” could be literary taken to mean dancing in the ecstatic state of God-consciousness. But even if she did move about scantily clad, challenging the orthodoxy and throwing the rigid conventional codes of dress and decorum to the winds, like the Kannada saint poetess Mahadeviakka, it can be taken as her last act of defiance against an oppressive social system whose gender discriminatory rules she just could not accept.

Lal Ded was in a greatly disturbed state of mind after she turned her back to her husband’s home and took a leap into the dark to set out on the unexplored path to mystic realization. Rejecting a socially protected life, she finds herself vulnerable and exposed to every kind of insecurity and anxiety, including that of staving off hunger, as this verse seems to suggest:

O restless mind, do not be afraid!
The Eternal One is taking care of you
You may not know it, but He will satiate your hunger
To Him alone you must cry for help.

In another verse she says:

Do not torment your body with pangs of hunger and thirst
When it feels weak and weary, take tender care of it.

While she faces the harsh realities of life like hunger and poverty with a sense of surrender before the divine will, and is intensely aware of the agony and anguish of existence, she is greatly excited about the tremendous possibilities of transformation as she passes through various phases of her mystic life. As her verses reveal, her sensibilities are constantly assailed by the immensity of human suffering at all levels – existential as well as spiritual. But for her its solution lies in the benevolent grace of Shiva, for mystic union with whom her craving and longing intensifies day by day:

I, Lalla, set out with burning longing
And seeking, searching passed the day and night
Till lo, I saw to mine own house belonging
The Pandit, and seized my luck and star of light.
(Trs. Nila Cram Cook)

In some English translations the word “pandith” (Pandit) of the original Kashmiri has become “a learned man”, but here it refers to “the master of the house”, a sense in which it is still used in common Kashmiri parlance. Symbolically, it means the Self, while the word “house” symbolizes the human body. Interestingly, the Kannada Vachana poet Basvanna also invokes the symbolism of “the master of the house” in a similar sense.

We now see Lalla expressing her mystic feelings – the pangs of separation, the pain of ecstatic love, the burning passion of the desire for communion, the frustration of loosing the direction, the total surrender of ego before His will, the determination to surmount all difficulties in love’s way and the ecstasy of the final beatitude. Her efforts to overcome the limitations and weaknesses that “bind her to the material reality” and impede her progress intensify. She realizes that the great agony she has endured has its roots in innate ignorance. She tries to arm herself with a clearer vision and a greater awareness and sets out in a frantic search of Shiva:

I, Lalla wearied myself searching and seeking
Straining my every nerve I looked for Him
But found His doors slammed and bolted
My longing became all the more intense
And I stood there keeping a watchful eye for Him.

To express her personal mystical awareness of the Supreme Reality, Lal Ded takes the route of devotion, laying bare the wounds of her soul to Shiva, though her devotion is laced with speculative knowledge. As her vāks reveal, she combines her quest for gnostic illumination with the depth of her emotional experience. The ease with which she establishes an emotional relationship with Shiva, the ineffable, impersonal and formless God of Trika metaphysics, making him look personal, points to her genius both as a saint and a poet. In fact, mystical traditions “have sought and affirmed the possibility of such a relationship”. Lal Ded tries to make it compatible through her splendid imagery which she takes from her everyday experience. Kashmir Shaivism, it must be noted, does not regard this experience to be different from spiritual experience. Through her simple but spontaneous utterances she attunes our mind to the presence of the divine as the one consciousness pervading the whole universe.

Translating her spiritual experience into soul-stirring poetry, Lalla makes her entry into another phase of her mystic journey. It is a crucial phase marked by profound devotional fervour, with love for the divine helping her overcome depression and despair. But it would be wrong to give this mystic strain a Sufi context as it is located in the Shaiva Bhakti tradition represented by great poets like Bhatta Narayana and Utpaldeva who preceded Lal Ded, although they expressed themselves in Sanskrit.

It is Bhatta Narayana, a direct disciple of Vasugupta (9th century), who can be considered as the first poet of devotional non-dual Shaivism in Kashmir. He authored Stavachintamani or ‘The Wishing Jewel of Praise’, a poem of 120 verses dedicated to love directed towards Shiva. It has as its main theme the union of Shiva and Shakti in the form of prakāśa and vimarśa or light and self-awareness. Utpaldeva (10th century), a brilliant thinker and theologian besides a great poet, who followed Bhatta Narayana, wrote the Śivastotrāvalī or ‘The Series of Hymns to Shiva’, which in the words of Paul E. Murphy is the “most beautiful of Shaiva love songs”[17]. In this work he expresses himself in an impassioned form of devotional verse in a personal and touching style.

Together, the three of them -- Bhatta Narayana, Utpaldeva and Lalleshwari – can be regarded as the foremost representatives of Shaiva bhakti poetry of Kashmir, with the difference that Lalleshwari chose to express herself in Kashmiri, the language of the common masses, as we have pointed out earlier, while the former two poets wrote in Sanskrit. All of them display a sense of harmony between rigrous metaphysical thought and mystic experience, self-awareness and devotional fervour. Though Lal Ded appeared on the scene nearly four hundred years after these two predecessors of hers, she shared with them a sharp feeling of the immediate presence of Shiva, the Divine Being, and a mind inflamed by a powerful longing for him. Her poetry, like theirs, stems from an intense sense of resignation to the divine will and reflects her vivacity, vitality and deep sincerity. Lalla approaches Shiva yearning intensely to attain mystic communion with Him. There are times when He seems to elude her but she refuses to give up the search and appears more determined to find Him and even possess Him:

I diffused outside the light that lit up within me
And in that darkness I seized Him
And held Him tight!

Images and metaphors relating to the concept of Shiva’s self-luminosity abound in Shaiva devotional poets. The ‘darkness’ that Lal Ded talks about is the dark ‘Mystical Night of Differentiation’ accompanied by anguish and suffering, but it ultimately leads to the bright ‘Night of Un-differentiation’. The image that Lalla evokes here bears a striking similarity to some of Bhatta Narayana’s images. In one such image Bhatta Narayana shows himself clenching Shiva and holding Him in his fist with an impassioned cry:

“Here you are, I am holding you in my fist!
Here you are, I’ve seen you, where are you fleeing?”
(Stavachintamani: Trs. Paul E. Murphy)

Utpaladeva too describes this Mystical Night, and calls it the Night of Shiva:

Let this inexpressible Night of Shiva reign supreme
Shiva whose radiant essence spreads its own brightness
It is in it that the moon and the sun as well as other (dualities)
Penetrate when they set.
(Shivastotravali: Trs.Paul.E. Murphy)

Abhinavagupta describes this Night of “undifferentiated and ineffable” Shiva as “Light of all Lights, darkness of all darknesses”. Lal Ded uses this symbolism of the Mystical Night in several other verses also, as in the following one:

The day will be extinguished and the night will come
The earth will be extended to the sky
On the day of the new moon, the moon has swallowed up rahu
Realization of the self as consciousness is the true worship of Shiva

The Kashmiri Shaivite aspirant believes that suffering and sorrow will continue to depress the individual soul unless it achieves samāveśa or complete absorption with Shiva, the undifferentiated reality. This is possible only by elimination of mental states and thought constructs (vikalpas) through yoga. The soul has to rid itself of all the impurities and limitations that are the root cause of its predicament. In Shaiva terminology the limiting factors that give rise to the perception of duality are known as malas and there are three of them – ānava mala, kārma mala and māyīya mala. Ānava mala or “pollution of the miniscule” as Wagish Shukla calls it, is innate ignorance which conceals the individual soul’s real nature and metamorphoses it into a limited being devoid of universal consciousness. From this primary impurity arises kārma mala or the impurity of action, which implies “pseudo knowledge” that entangles the soul in the karmic cycle of birth and death, and māyīya mala or the psycho-physical limitation caused by association with the evolutes of māyā --. kalā or division, niyati or determinancy, rāga or attachment, vidyā or limited knowledge and kāla or time, also known as the pañchakañchukas or five coverings -- which cause the world to come about according to Shaiva theory of cosmogenesis . These impurities bring into play the process by which pure, undivided consciousness or Paramashiva concretizes into the universe covering 36 categories of limited, material existence. For overcoming these limitations and liberating the individual soul from bondage, Triadic mysticism offers a whole range of meditative techniques or methods known as upāyas. Lalleshwari appears to be fully aware of these and claims to have purified herself of all the impurities caused by Maya and its evolutes through intense practice and yogic discipline. She claims:

Impurities were wiped away from my mind
As from a mirror
Then only did I attain knowledge of the Self
And when I beheld that He was near me
I realized that He is all and I am nothing

Here the use of mirror as a metaphor needs particular attention. It is through the analogy of external objects reflected in a mirror that Shaiva thinkers of Kashmir explain how manifestations of consciousness are “separated from the Self”. In several other verses also Lalla claims that she has purified her mind by burning the dross that had gathered around it and prevented the self from revealing its true nature. As, for instance, in this one:

My heart I parched as farmers parch the grain
And from that fire there came a wondrous light
And Shiva in a flash I did obtain.
(Trs. Nila Cram Cook)

Lal Ded, it is said, attained enlightenment by practicing the kundalinī or layayoga which involves “meditative recitation of the sacred syllable Om combined with breath control and concentration”. The practice is actually known as uchchāra and is included under ānava upāya in Shaiva praxis. There are several vāks in which Lalla clearly refer to it. For instance, we have the following verse:

Having crossed the six forests, I awakened the moon
By controlling my breath I appeased nature
With the fire of love, I scorched my heart
And in this way I found Shankara.

The “six forests” are obviously the six chakras or centres of energy (plexuses) which the yogis seek to ‘pierce’ by arousing the coiled energy kundalinī. The ‘moon’ in esoteric Shaivism symbolizes “enlightened consciousness” or “the Heart of reality”, as Paul Eduardo Ortega-Muller explains, quoting Abhinavagupta.[18]

The yoga that Lal Ded practiced appears to have encompassed the various upāyas – ānava, śākta, śāmbhava and also anuttara or anupāya -- described in the Kashmir Shaiva texts as means to liberation. Her verses are replete with references to her intense sādhanā. However, it is not just her impressive use of the terminology of Shaiva yogic techniques that makes Lalla what she is. It is the “fire of love” burning within her heart and denoting intense mystical fervour that animates her vāks. Purifying her body and mind in this fire of spiritual passion, Lalla now acquires the mature poise of a soul who has arrived on the threshold of mystic realization.

Yogic experiences, we find, have exorcised the fears and tensions lurking in Lalla’s mind and uplifted her from the state of despondence and depression into the realm of divine grace. Trying to put her imperfections and limitations behind her, she moves decisively in her spiritual journey from gross to subtle, from object to subject, from outer to inner, experiencing higher and higher ranges of consciousness. It is a journey in which the infinite is reached by discarding the trappings of finitude and recognition of one’s true nature as Shiva – the transcendent absolute whose infinity pervades everything. The vision of Shiva being apparent everywhere is a transforming vision that frees a person from assertion of ego and one no longer sees oneself different from others. It is to this emancipating vision we see Lalla referring to in her poetry when she says:

One who sees no difference between oneself and others
Who regards the day and the night as the same
Whose mind is free of all duality
S/he alone has the vision of Shiva, the lord of the gods.

You will see different people in this theatre of the world
Tolerate this difference and you will find happiness
If you root out anger, resentment and ill-will
Then alone you will see Shiva’s face.

It is thus the unique spiritual egalitarianism of non-dual Shaiva philosophy which celebrates life and rejects the otherness of God that shapes Lalla’s outlook. Inspired by this mystic vision, she sees Shiva as a universally pervasive principle of consciousness. In a verse she emphasizes the oneness of all existence beautifully by using the three states of water as a metaphor:

Cold changes water into snow and then into ice
It looks as if the three states are different
But on reflection we find there to be no difference
And as the sun of consciousness shines
All this diversity is dissolved into unity

Then the entire universe, animate and inanimate, seems to us to be Shiva Himself

Lal Ded finally attains the rapturous state of illumination. It is supposed to be an experience that is inexpressible and indescribable, but she tries to share it with us in several of her verses:

In seeking ‘me’ and ‘Thee’ I passed the day
Absorbed within Thyself Thou hadst remained
When I beheld Thee in myself, I gained
For Thee and me that rapture unrestrained
(Trs. Nila Cram Cook)

At the end of moonlight to the mad one did I call
And soothe his pain with the love of God
Crying ‘It is Lalla, it is I Lalla’, my loved one I awakened
And by becoming one with Him my mind and body became pure

“The end of moonlight”, of course means the early dawn when the night of ignorance is over. “The mad one” is none else but the mind, “intoxicated and maddened by worldly illusion”. “The loved one” who is “awakened” by Lalla is the self.

The first step in this mystic progression is “self-annihilation or destruction of all doubt and dualism”, and the culmination is realization of one’s Shiva nature. It is an inexpressible and indescribable state in which nothing remains except Shiva-consciousness.

In telling images Lal Ded tries to describe the state of her mind as she attunes herself to feeling Shiva’s presence everywhere and in everything, naturally and freely. As one ineffable and undifferentiated reality, He transcends all polarities and yet is immanent as Shakti, making Himself known through the world of phenomena which She unfolds as His creative power. The two, in fact, are not separate from one another but two aspects of the one absolute reality. Lalla experiences the bliss of their union as she enters the garden of her own heart. And it is there that she finally quenches her thirst for the “nectar of un-differentiation”:

Through the door to the garden of my mind
I, Lalla, entered and lo what bliss!
I saw Shiva in communion with Shakti
There I became immersed in the lake of nectar
Now what can Death do unto me?
For I shall be dead even though alive!

This is the height of mystic experience that Lalla now attains – the state of becoming a jīvanmukta or liberated while still alive. In such a state death ceases to have any meaning.
Lalla’s tremendous sense of wonder at the blissful union of Shiva and Shakti that she experiences within her own self finds expression in the words “ta wāh”. Her unifying vision of the simultaneous unfolding of the harmony of both evolution and involution, the transcendent and immanent aspects of the Ultimate Reality is what constitutes absorption of ones consciousness in the infinite vastness of the void. This sense of wonder is the yogic plane of self-realization, as the Shiva Sutras say – vismayo yoga bhūmikāh.[19] The “lake of nectar” she refers to is the same as the “ocean of nectar of enlightenment” (bodhasudhā sindhu) which Kshemarāja alludes to in his explanation of another aphorism -- “āsanastham sukham hrade nimajjati” (“Abiding in this posture he plunges easily into the lake”) in his Śivasūtra Vimarśinī. The imagery of immersion (lay gayas) is to be particularly noted here with implications of absorption, submersion, dissolution, which all point to the wondrous delight of samāveśa.

Yet, even in the state of rapturous union with Shiva “full of incomparable sweetness” which has “filled the abyss of separation”[20] as Utpaldeva says, the ecstasy may last only for a moment like “a flash of lightening”.[21] It is samāveśa or total immersion in the Lord that the Shaiva mystic craves for. Like Utpaldeva, Lalla too is apprehensive that she may not after all be able to drink from the “cups of nectar” full to the brim that she sees tantalizingly before her:

Absorption in the Self led me to that house of nectar
There were cups filled to the brim but no one was drinking.

Eventually, Lalla reaches a stage where she acquires an uninterrupted and unmediated awareness of the Ultimate Reality. This is anupāya or ‘no-means’ in which there is direct experience of reality without recourse to any means. If all is Shiva, then there is nothing for the seeker to do but to remain as he or she is. Here all contradictions resolve and all opposites merge. The difference between subject and object, liberation and bondage disappears. It is an experience of the absolute beyond transcendence and immanence (Shiva and Shakti), existent or non-existent. It is about this state that Lalla speaks in this verse:
Nothing exists there --
Word or mind, manifest or transcendent
Nor vow of silence, nor yogic gestures
Have any admission there
Nor Shiva, nor His Shakti there reside
If anything remains then take that as the precept.

At another place we find her saying:

Neither you, nor I, nor meditation or its object exists
All actions are forgotten automatically
The blind could make nothing of it
But the wise became one with this supreme state.

Lalla attempts to express her experience of immersion into the ineffable reality called Shiva, whose essence is inconceivable and beyond contemplation except in terms of the concept of śūnya or emptiness. She takes us along this difficult metaphysical terrain with relative ease. Her favourite expression “śūnyas śūnyāh mīlith gav” (emptiness has merged with the emptiness) is widely relished by her readers though its actual meaning evades the understanding of most of them. The term śūnya has actually been taken by Kashmir Shaivite philosophers from Mādhyamikā Buddhism (or is it vijñānavāda of Yogāchāra School?), but interpreted in their own way by them to denote ‘fullness’ of the Absolute. Lalla often uses it to point to her state of absorption into the Supreme:

When the sun disappeared, there remained moonlight
When the moon vanished, only mind remained
When the mind too disappeared, then nothingness was left
Then earth, ether and sky merged into vacuity.

When the Tantras disappeared, the mantras remained
When mantra disappeared, the mind remained
When mind too disappeared then nothing remained
Emptiness merged with the emptiness.

The vicissitudes that Lal Ded goes through to arrive at the threshold of this experience are many. She traverses, in fact, a reverse journey from manifestation to undifferentiated awareness, from the categories of existence to the supreme subjectivity of Paramashiva, from the gross to the subtle and subtler. It is a process that involves piercing of the veils of Maya and expansion of consciousness to include the entire universe as one’s own self. It does not take place in any i external realm but in one’s own mind.

Though He was within, I searched for him outside
The control of breath soothed my nerves
Through meditation, I realized that the world and God are one
The manifest world became one with the unmanifest

Kashmir Shaivism is a life-affirmative philosophy that regards the human body as an abode of the divine. It validates the reality of the material world and considers consciousness to be the substratum and ground of everything. “yathā tatra tathā anyatra”[22], “As it is there so it is here”, says the Śivasūtra. As such, what is outside is not different from the core of one’s own inner being. And that is what is integral to Lal Ded’s thinking also.

Lalla’s mystic journey to realization was by no means an easy one. She attained the spiritual heights she came to scale after straining every nerve. She tells us of her excruciating experience in quite a few of her verses:

The soles of my feet tore off and smeared the paths I walked
Then the One alone showed me the one true path

But she emerges from this ordeal unscathed and brimming with self-confidence. It is a new Lalla, transformed in both body and mind. And she talks about this transformation with a new sense of self-assurance and in an unusually ecstatic tone:

The soul is ever new, the mind is new,
The waste of water I saw new and new!
Since body, mind I scoured through and through
I, Lalla, too, am ever new and new.
(Trs. Nila Cram Cook)

Her illumination to her is a real experience and she begins to see things in a new light. Her journey, she realizes, has been actually a journey of self-discovery in which it is Shiva who sets out in search of Shiva for Shiva is All – ora ti pānay yora ti pānay (“It is he Himself on this side and He Himself on the other”).

As a spiritual genius whose face radiated all the wisdom of an enlightened Shaiva sage (“I diffused my inner light in the world outside”), Lal Ded now starts wandering from place to place to share her insights with everybody who cared to listen. Displaying a Bodhisattva like compassion, she tries to reach out to the common people and engages in discourse with them. Shiva is not someone out there, she tells them, Shiva is everywhere. Shiva is everyone’s innate nature.

This must have certainly had a great impact on all those who came to Lal Ded for spiritual guidance. She seems to have known her audience well to which she explained the Triadic (trika) vision of oneness of God, man and the world in an idiom it could easily understand. And surely, despite her occasional admonishments and ruing that she is wasting her time “feeding molasses to asses”, it seems that she shared rather eagerly with admiring and appreciative groups of people her insights into the secrets of existence.

However, a non-conformist as she was, a rebel in her total rejection of outer ceremony, animal sacrifice, fasts and other shams and pretences, sacred dates and sacred places, and other forms of religious shams and pretences against which we find her lashing out in her vaaks, she must have offended some sections of the society of her times. To her these were mere “orthodox ritual genuflections”, to borrow an expression from A.K.Ramanujan[23], but her scathing attacks evoked hostility from the orthodoxy for which religious formalism was an accepted way of life. Not taking it kindly, they reacted sharply and in turn subjected her to mocks and jeers. She, however, remained unruffled, taking all the slander in its stride and refusing to get provoked, her humanistic impulses anchored in her Shaiva ethos, a way of looking at the world (Śivadriśti) without othering it, guiding her even in her relations with her detractors:

Let them hurl thousands of abuses at me,
I will not entertain any grievance in my mind
If I a true devotee of Shankara be
How can ashes stain the mirror, after all?

Here Lal Ded unambiguously affirms her status as a bhakta of Shankara, and it is in this capacity that adoration or abuse does not disturb her equanimity. This is an important assertion as Bhakti for her is not “just a simple attitude and an unthinking act of faith”, to put it in the words of Krishna Sharma which she uses in while talking of Kabir, “but a well reasoned and individual act of spiritual striving.”[24] Indeed it is her intense longing to be immersed in the love of the divine that gives her poetry the distinct flavour it has. But the Shankara she pines for is not the popular anthropomorphic deity of the Puranic pantheon, determinate and personal. He is the transcendental reality with no name or form or attributes, the ground and support of all animate and inanimate beings – “the void of absolute consciousness” as Swami Shankarānanda describes Him[25]. Yet the Kashmiri Shaivite devotional poet has no difficulty in experiencing Him in intimate and personal terms as we have already pointed out earlier. Lalla, and before her Bhatta Narayana and Utpaladeva, echo the paradox in their poetry which is as charged with love as the best of devotional verse addressed to any personal deity. Lalla says:

My guru I asked a thousand times
What is the name of Him who has no name
Again and again I asked till I became weary and tired
Out of this nothing something has come out

He is nameless as he is beyond thought, but his name is All-Names, to use the words of Mark S. G. Dyczkowski.[26] “It is a man who gives It a name to aid in his quest for enlightenment”, Dyczkowski writes, “and endear it to his own heart.”[27] Thus, he is called Shiva, Bhairava, Maheshvara, Parameshvara, Shambhu and so on by the great Shaivite sages like Vasugupta, Utpala, Kallata, Somānanda, Abhinavagupta, Kshemarāja and others, Shankara being the name mostly preferred by the preceptors of the Spanda School, and Bhairavanātha and Parameshvara by Abhinavagupta. Lalleshvari too calls Shiva by a host of names, some of them like Shyāmagalā (the Blue-throated One), Surgurunātha (Lord and preceptor of the gods) being uniquely her own. However, what is quite interesting is that like the Sahjiyā Siddhas or the Nāthapanthīs she has used the term “sahaj” at a few places to describe the Ultimate Reality:

For realizing the Ultimate one does not need
Restraint or self-control
The door to liberation will not open through mere wishing

Into this universe of birth I came,
By yoga gained the self-revealing light

The Sahajiyās practiced a form of Tāntric yoga as the most natural or easy way to attain the experience of sahaja or the Ultimate Reality. And like them the Kashmiri Shaivites too believe in attainment of sahaja samādhi or mystical trance as the natural state of liberation for the siddha yogis. The term sahaja is frequently used by them to denote the highest state of enlightenment which they regard as synonymous with anupāya which comes naturally and directly as intuitive realization annulling the requirement for any kind of practice. Lal Ded’s rejection of restraint and austere practices is perfectly in keeping with the six-limbed (śadānga) yoga propounded by Jayaratha and Kshemarāja. The point sought to be made here is that the two vāks of Lalleshwari quoted above help in confirming the link between the Sahajiyā Siddhas and Kashmir Shaivism. Paul Muller-Ortega quotes Mircea Eliade to show that such links did indeed exist not with the Sahajiyās alone but also with the Hatha Yogis and the Nātha Panthīs.[28] The synthesis that Eliade says took place among elements of Sahajiyā tāntrism (both Hindu and Buddhist), Nāthas and the Hatha Yogis between the seventh and the eleventh century, “deserves close scrutiny” says Muller-Ortega, pointing out that “the Kaula lineage (in Kashmir Shaivism) is one of the important sources for this synthesis.”[29] The question is was Lal Ded directly aware of these “sources”? Did she have any links with the elements that were components of this synthesis?

Lalla gives this yearning of oneness with Shiva as the transcendent reality a unique twist by expressing her desire to be one with His immanent aspect also. If “Shiva is all” then how can He be different from the ordinary man -- the man on the street who laughs and sneezes and coughs and yawns, she says in a powerful yet totally ignored verse:

Yes He it is Who laughs and coughs and yawns
He, the ascetic naked all the year,
Who bathes in sacred pools in all the dawns
But recognize how He to you is near.
(Trs. Nila Cram Cook)

There are dimensions of Lal Ded’s personality and creativity which have to be explored before we can understand the entire range of her attainments. So far not much has been done in this direction with most studies of the great medieval saint-poetess remaining hardly any thing more than clichéd statements full of oversimplifications, vague generalizations, contradictions or distortions that tend to strip her of her real glories. There are some who have tried to link her humanistic concerns and her acute social awareness with superficial issues of present day political debates. Looking for communitarian ideas in her verses, they have twisted her spiritual humanism and interpreted it in an arbitrary manner to suit their ideological predilections. Though she is deeply troubled by the sorrow and suffering that prevails as a part of the human condition, she sees its solution only in the realization of man’s essential divinity – ‘Shivahood’ to use the term of Kashmir Shaiva philosophy in which her worldview is anchored. Everything is Shiva and therefore Shiva is everything. Nothing is separate from the eternality of existence. Creation and dissolution, life and death are aspects of a process that never ceases. Human life is an eternal flow of consciousness, a stream that flows onwards and onwards:

We have been there in the past
And in the future we shall be
Forever the sun rises and sets
Forever Shiva creates and dissolves and creates again.

It is this view of reality that is at the core of Lalla’s mystic realization.

Lal Ded’s poetry continues to dazzle us with its million watt incandescence, its meaning unfolding at several levels. She started her spiritual journey as a tormented soul but attained a stage where self-realization and self-awareness gave her inner strength and the confidence that derived from that strength. If Lal Ded’s immense impact on the Kashmiri mind has practically remained undiminished despite the passage of almost seven centuries, it is essentially because of the fusion of the poet and the saint in her. Or, to borrow the words of Dileep Chitre, which he has used for the great Bhakti poet Tukaram, it is because of “a poet’s vision of spirituality and a saint’s vision of poetry” which she presents in her vāks.
* Based on a lecture delivered by the author at India International Centre, New Delhi on March 14, 2007. [1] Ishwara Pratyabhijna Vimarshini, Part II, p. 15.Ed. Mukunda Ram Shastri, KSTS, Srinagar, 1918.[2] Three Kabir Collections: The Sants: Studies in a Devotional Tradition of India, p.137. Ed. Karine Schomer and W. H. McLeod, Motilal Banarasidass, Delhi, 1987. [3] Shivastotrāvalī with commentary by Kshemarāja,13 / 8, Ed. with notes in Hindi by Swami Lakshmanjoo, Chaukhamba, Benares, 1964. [4] Tantrīloka, 4 / 200, Ed.Madhusudan Kaul, K STS, 1918. [5] The Ascent of the Self, Munshiram Manoharlal, Delhi. [6] To The Other Shore: Lalla’s Life and Poetry, p. 44. Vitasta, Delhi, 1999. [7] Ibid. , p.45. [8] Ibid.[9] Ibid. , p.34.[10] Arun Shourie: Eminent Historians, pp.149-150. ASA, New Delhi, 1998.[11] Navjivan Rastogi: The Krama Shaivism of Kashmir, pp. 90-91. Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, 1996.[12] Paul E. Murphy: Triadic Mysticism, p. 109. Motilal Banarasidass, Delhi, 1999.[13] Shivasutra: 2/6, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, Reprint 2006.[14] The Doctrine of Vibration, p. 47. Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, Reprint 2000. [15] Ibid. [16] The Yoga Tradition, p. 357.[17] Triadic Mysticism, p. 85.[18] The Triadic Heart of Shiva, p. 152. Shri Satguru Publications, Delhi, 1997. [19] Shiva Sutra, I / 12.[20] Shivastotravali, v. XVIII, 19. [21] Ibid. ,v. IV, 8.[22] Shivasutra , 3 / 14.[23] Speaking of Shiva, p.25. Penguin Books, London, 1978. [24] Bhakti and the Bhakti Movement: a New Perspective, p.165. Munshiram Manoharlal, Delhi, 1987.[25] The Yoga of Kashmir Shaivism, p. 129. Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, First Indian Edition, 2006. [26] The Doctrine of Vibration, p. 103. Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, Reprint,2000.[27] Ibid. [28] The Triadic Heart of Shiva, p. 55. [29] Ibid.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Excerpts - 'EARLY HISTORY AND CULTURE OF KASHMIR' by Dr. Sunil Chandra Ray

The earliest inhabitants of Kashmir probably cherished some aboriginal beliefs, the details of which are not traceable now. The snake-cult or Naga-worship seems to have been established in the valley from a remote period and undoubtedly had been one of the earliest religions of the land. In the third century B.C., Buddhism seems to have made some headway, converted a large number of people and overshadowed the Naga cult which ultimately sunk into oblivion. Among Hindu gods, Siva either originated or entered the valley sometime before the faith of the Sakya prince made its entrance and was later followed by Visnu, Surya and other Brahminical gods and goddesses. A brief history of the different types of religious cults and beliefs of early Kashmir, may be sketched as follows.
Kashmir was one of the principal centres of serpent-worship in India. Though detailed evidence is lacking, there is no doubt that snake-worship prevailed in the valley from a very early period.
Regarding the exact date when the snake-cult was prevalent in the land, no direct testimony is available. But there are reasons to believe that in the 4th and 3rd centuries B.C., it might have been the principal religion of Kashmir. In the Mahavamsa, it is said that Asoka's adviser Moggaliputta Tissa sent Majjhantika to preach Buddhism in Kashmir. When the sramana reached the valley, he found that Aravala, the king of the Nagas, was ruling over it. Aravala was destroying the corns of the country by hail storm. Majjhantika, however, due to his divine powers remained unaffected from rains and storms. This made the Naga king furious who sent lightning and struck rocks against the Buddhist monk in herder to kill him. But all these went in vain. Then convinced of the great powers of Majjhantika, the Naga king Aravala together with his followers submitted before the monk and accepted Buddhism. This was followed by the conversion into Buddhism a large number of Naga worshippers of KasmiraGandhara.
Hiuen Tsang, who visited Kashmir in the 7th century A.D. relates that according to the native records, Kashmir was originally a dragon lake. A very detailed and vivid account of how the arhat Madhyantika (apparently Majjhantika) rescued the valley of Kashmir from the Nagas, established there the religion of Buddha and settled 500 arhats in the country, has been preserved in the Chinese Vinaya of the Mula-Sarvasti-vadin sect. The Tibetan scholar Bu-ston, who composed his famous history of Buddhism in the 14th century A.D., points out that when Madhyanti went to Kashmir to preach Buddhism, he found the Nagas presiding in the valley. They at first gave a tough opposition to Madhyantika, but at the end, the Buddhist monk succeeded in subduing the troublesome Nagas.
That Naga-worship prevailed in early Kashmir receives confirmation not only from the accounts of Ceylon, China and Tibet but also from native literatures.
The Nilamatapurana, probably a work of the 7th or 8th century A.D., records at great length how Kashmir was created out of water and left to the care of The Nagas of whom Nila, the son of Kasyapa, was the chief. According to this work, in the beginning, human beings could dwell in the valley for six months of the year, i.e., during the summer. In winter, the land was occupied by the Pisacas and human beings had to leave the valley due to excessive cold. Once Nila was satisfied with a Brahmana called Candradeva and agreed at his prayer that men should be allowed to live in Kashmir during the winter also. The Naga king also disclosed to him the rites which were to be observed by the future human inhabitants if they were to live permanently in the valley.
Most of the rites prescribed by Nila are concerned with the nature of worship of popular deities. But there are some festivals which are particularly connected with the worship of Naga or serpent. Thus Nila was worshipped on the festival of the first snowfall. Nila and the Nagas were also 'propitiated on the Iramanjaripuja festivity which took place in the month of Caitra. Another ceremony called Varunapancami was held on the fifth day of Bhadra and was connected with the worship of serpent king Nila.
The Nilamatapurana also records the names of B the principal Nagas worshipped in Kashmir, the total number of which was 527. The four dikpalas of Kashmir, mentioned by the author of the Nilamatapurana were four Nagas - Bindusara in the east, Srimadaka in the south, Elapatra in the west and Uttaramanasa in the north. From a remote period, great importance must have been attached to the worship of the Nagas as is shown by the long account of them given in the Nilamatapurana. A large number of temples, built near some of the famous springs and undoubtedly early origin of the pilgrimages directed to them, clearly pointed out the popularity of the Naga-cult in ancient Kashmir. The Nagas were supposed, according to the Nilamatapurana, to reside in the lakes and springs of the valley. Even now names of places like Vernag, Anantanag, Sernag, etc. show traces of ancient Naga beliefs. That the Nagas were eminently popular deities in the happy valley, is also testified to by Kalhana's Chronicle. According to the Rajatarangini, Kashmir was a land protected by Nila, the lord of all Nagas. Even when Buddhism had undermined the Naga beliefs, one of its early kings Gonanda III is said to have reintroduced the pilgrimages, sacrifices and other worship in honour of the Nagas, as they had been before. There is also a story of Susravas Naga, and his alliance with a Brahmana is depicted with much details. King Durlabhavardhana and his scions are ascribed to a family which, according to Kalhana, was Naga in its origin. Naga Mahapadma, the tutelary deity of the Vular lake, is said to have showed king Jayapida, a mountain which yielded copper. Another Naga called Pindaraka deluded the Darad chieftain Acalamangala, who attacked the happy valley during the reign of Ananta. Among the festivals connected with the Naga-cult, Kalhana speaks of the annual festival in honour of the great serpent king Taksaka 'frequented by dances and strolling players and thronged by crowds of spectators' which was celebrated on the 12th day of the dark half of Jyaistha. Ksemendra also refers to a Taksakavatra festival in his Samayamatrka (Samayamatrka, ii, 88).
That the Naga-cult prevailed in the valley throughout the Hindu rule and even afterwards, seems to be corroborated by the account of Abul Fazal. He tells us that during the reign of Akbar (A.D. 1556-1605) there were in Kashmir 45 places dedicated to the worship of Siva, 64 to Visnu, 3 to Brahma and 22 to Durga, but there were 700 places in the valley where there were carved images of snakes which the inhabitants worshipped.
Buddhism seems to have obtained a footing in Kashmir as early as the 3rd century B.C. The Ceylonese chronicle Mahavamsa preserves an account of the introduction of Buddhism in the valley by Majjhantika which has been already noted. That Buddhism was first preached in Kashmir by Madhyantika and that he succeeded in making a large number of converts also receives confirmation from traditions recorded in the Tibetan work Dul-va and the account of Hiuen Tsang.
We learn from Kalhana that Kashmir formed a part of the empire of Asoka, who was a follower of Jina, i.e., Buddha. The emperor built in the valley numerous stupas, some of which were existing as late as the time of the Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsang's visit. The great emperor, who was zealous always in preaching and disseminating the religion of Buddha throughout the length and breadth of his kingdom and even beyond, seems to have tried his best to spread it in the secluded vale of Kashmir too.
What happened to the state of Buddhism in Kashmir, after the death of Asoka, we do not know. Probably in the 1st century B.C., Kashmir came under the occupation of the Greek king Menander. He was first a lay devotee of Buddha but afterwards left his throne, joined the Sangha and at last became an arhant. He created a vihara for his co-religionists which came to be known as Milindavihara, after the name of its founder.
The Buddhism of Kashmir entered its golden phase under the patronage of the Kusana king Kaniska and his successors who came to occupy the valley about the end of the 1st century A.D. Kalhana mentions that three Turuska, i.e., Kusana kings, Huska, Juska and Kaniska ruled over Kashmir and founded three towns called Huskapura (mod. Huskur), Juskapura (mod. Juskar) and Kaniskapura (mod. Kanespur). These Kusana kings were given to acts of piety and built many viharas, mathas, caityas and similar other structures. During their powerful rule, the land of Kashmir was, to a great extent, under the possession of the Bauddhas, who, by practicing the law of religious mendicancy, had acquired great renown.
That Kashmir was a great centre of Buddhism under the Kusanas receives further corroboration to from the fact that the fourth Buddhist council took place in Kashmir under the auspices of Kaniska. At the end of the council, Hiuen Tsang informs us, several expository commentaries were written on the Sutra, Vinaya, and Abhidharma. The original text and its explanation came to be known as Upadesa-sastra and Vibhasa-sastra. Kaniska had these treatises engraved on copper plates and deposited them at a stupa, apparently situated in Kashmir.
Many great Buddhist scholars resided in Kashmir during the reign of the Kusanas. Of these, Kalhana mentions the name of Nagarjuna who resided at Sadarhadvana, i.e. Harwan. According to Chinese evidence Asvaghosa, Vasuvandhu, Vasumitra, Dharmatrata, Sanghabhadra, Jinatrata and many other scholars lived in Kashmir from the time of Kaniska onwards.
The flourishing state of Buddhism in Kashmir at the end of the Kusana period and afterwards is testified to by archaeological evidence. The site of Harwan yields Buddhist stupas, bases of chapels, inscriptions containing the celebrated Buddhist creed Ye dharma, etc. From the appearance of Kharosthi numerals on the brick tiles and from the Buddhist inscriptions written in Brahmi characters of about the 4th century A.D., the Buddhist antiquarian objects of Harwan may be assigned to a period round about A.D. 300. A number of terracotta figures, mainly busts or heads of Buddha, Bodhisattva and Buddhist monks have been recovered from another ancient site. Uskur (Huviskapura) and are assignable stylistically to the 4th or 5th century A.D.
Not only the Kusana kings, but local rulers of Kashmir also seem to have patronized the faith of Buddha in the early centuries of the Christian era. One of its early kings, Meghavahana, prohibited the slaughter of animals in his kingdom. He also stopped the killing of animals in sacrifices. Amrtaprabha, the wife of the king, erected a vihara for Buddhist monks, which was called Amrtabhavana. Many viharas of renown were built by other queens. Kalhana compares the king with Jina, i.e., Buddha and also with Bodhisattvas. All these probably indicate Meghavahana's attachment to the faith of the Sakya prince.
During the reign of Pravarasena (c. 6th century A.D.) his maternal uncle Jayendra built a vihara and erected a statue of the 'Great Buddha'. Pravarasena, according to Kalhana, was succeeded by his son Yudhisthira II. Several ministers of his, who bore the names of Sarvaratna, Jaya and Skandagupta obtained distinction by erecting vihara and caityas. In the vihara built by a queen of king Meghavahana, a fine statue of Buddha was placed by Amrtaprabha, the wife of king Ranaditya.
Inspite of the legendary character of the early portions of the Rajatarangini, Kalhana's main contention that Buddhism received patronage from the local rulers of Kashmir during the early centuries of the Christian era, seems on the whole, to be based on facts. The Jayendravihara, said to have been founded by Pravarasena's maternal uncle Jayendra, was visited by Hiuen Tsang in the 7th century and Ou-kong about the middle of the next century saw the vihara of Amrtabhavana, built by Amrtaprabha, queen of Meghavahana, in a flourishing condition.
A fairly reliable account of the condition of Buddhism in Kashmir from the 7th century onward has been furnished by the accounts of the Chinese travellers Hiuen Tsang and Ou-kong, the Chronicle of Kalhana and some archaeological discoveries made at Gilgit, Pandrethan and Paraspor.
Several Buddhist manuscripts were found out from a stupa at Gilgit. The script used in the manuscripts may be assigned to the 6th or 7th century A.D. One of the manuscripts reveals the name of a Sahi king Srideva Sahi Surendra Vikramaditya Nanda who was apparently ruling over the Gilgit region when the manuscripts were deposited. Buddhism was thus flourishing on the northern part of Kashmir sometime about the end of the 6th century A.D. or in the early part of the next under the patronage of Sahi rulers.
To about the same period as the manuscripts of Gilgit, may probably be assigned also a large number of Buddhist sculptures hailing from the village of Pandrethan (ancient Puranadhisthana). Puranadhisthana was the capital of Kashmir from a very early date. It enjoyed the privilege of being the metropolis until about the end of the 6th century, A.D. when Pravarasena built a new city called Pravarasenapura (mod. Srinagar), which henceforth became the new capital of the valley. From stylistic consideration, the sculptural remains discovered at Pandrethan seem to have belonged to a period when the old city was finally abandoned in favour of the new. Besides two Buddhist stupas and the courtyard of a monastery, the objects of Buddhist antiquities found at Pandrethan include two standing figures of Buddha, a seated statue of Buddha, one diademed and ornamented image of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, another fragmentary sculptured relief of Buddha or Bodhisattiva and lastly a relief representation of the birth of Siddhartha.
Hiuen Tsang paid a visit to Kashmir in A.D. 631. He saw in the valley about one hundred sangharamas and five thousand Buddhist priests. There were four stupas built by Asoka, each of which contained relics of Tathagata. Among the Buddhist viharas visited by him specific mention is made of the Juskavihara (mod. Uskur, near Baraarnula) and Jayendra vihara (founded by Jayendra, the maternal uncle of Pravarasana II). The Chinese pilgrim stayed in the court of Kashmir for a couple of years, during which period (with the help of the local clerks) he took copies of a large number of Buddhist scriptures. Evidently, Kashmir was a great centre of Buddhism when Hiuen Tsang visited it.
Hiuen Tsang entered Kashmir during the period of the Karkotas. The kings of the Karkota dynasty were followers of Hinduism and worshipped in general gods like Visnu, Siva and Surya, all belonging to the Hindu pantheon. Nonetheless, some of the monarchs of the dynasty also gave liberal patronage to the religion of Tathagata. Hiuen Tsang was received with favour by one of its early kings, presumably Durlabhavardhana. Durlabha's queen Anangalekha built a Buddhist vihara, which came to be known as Anangabhavanavihara. Lalitaditya Muktapida founded one Rajavihara with a large quadrangle and a large caitya at Parihasapura. At Huskapura, the noble minded king built another large vihara with a stupa. A colossal copper image of Buddha was made by him, which is said to have reached up to the sky. At Parihasapura Cankuna, a Tukhara minister of the king erected the Cankunavihara, built a stupa and placed there a golden image of Jina. i.e., Buddha. A second vihara, together with a caitya was built by the minister at adhisthanantare, evidently at Srinagara and in this vihara, the minister put a brownish image of Buddha Sugata which was brought from Magadha on the shoulders of an elephant. Jayapida Vinayaditya, another celebrated monarch of the Karkota family, set up three images of Buddha and a large vihara at his newly founded town Jayapura.
Archaeological excavations carried on at Parihasapura, the city founded by Lalitaditya, have brought to light Buddhist structures - a stupa, a mona$tery and a caitya. The stupa has been identified as the stupa of Cankuna, the monastery with the Rajavihara built by Lalitaditya and the caitya with a large caitya said to have been founded by the same monarch. Among the sculptures discovered at Parihasapura, there are two images of Bodhisattva and one of Buddha. All these, prove to the hilt the popularity of Buddhism in the days of the Karkotas.
The thriving state of Buddhism during the reign of the Karkotas, i.e., during the 7th or 8th centuries A.D. is also attested to by the evidence of the Chinese traveller Ou-kong. Ou-kong came to Kashmir in A.D. 759. He spent four years in the valley in pilgrimages to holy sites and in studying Sanskrit. He learnt the Silas and the Vinayas of the Mulasarvastivadins at the Moung-ti-vihara. The other viharas referred to by him are Ngo-mi-to-po-wan, Ngo-nan-i, Ki-tche, Nago-ye-le, Je-je, Ye-li-te-le and Ko-toan. While Hiuen Tsang saw about one hundred viharas, Oukong noticed more than three hundred viharas in Kashmir and innumerable stupas and sacred images. This undoubtedly indicates a rise in the popularity of Buddhism in the valley during the Karkotas.
Buddhism seems to have been overshadowed by the growing Vaisnava and Saiva faith which became predominant in the valley in the centuries following the Karkota period. The dynasty of Utpala supplanted the Karkotas about the middle of the 9th century A.D. The founder of this dynasty, Avantivarman, (A.D. 855/56-883) was a staunch follower of Siva and Visnu and the architectural remains which have been discovered from the site of Avantipura, the town founded by the monarch, include some images of Visnu, Siva, and other Brahminical gods, but not a single figure of Buddha or Bodhisattva. But though Buddhism was in the background, the opinion cherished by some scholars that from the middle of the 9th century on till the advent of the 11th century, the Buddhists fell on evil days and all the kings were anti-Buddhistic in spirit seems to be an extreme view yet to be established beyond doubt. Except Ksemagupta (A.D. 950-958) and Harsa (A.D. 1089-1101), no king of this period is known to have cherished any anti-Buddhistic feeling in their heart. As for Ksemagupta, we learn from Kalhana that he burnt down a Buddhist monastery named Jayendravihara. From this decaying vihara, he took away the brass image of Buddha Sugata. The stones of the temple, he utilized for a Siva temple in his own rame. Ksemagupta further confiscated thirty-two villages which belonged to the burnt vihara and gave them to Khasa ruler. But the wrath of a cruel eccentric king against a single particular Buddhist monastery should not be taken as an instance of systematic policy of religious persecution adopted by the State against the Buddhists. Moreover, it may be noted, that if Ksemagupta had followed an anti-Buddhist policy, he would have destroyed many of the Buddhist viharas of Kashmir. But as we learn from Kalhana, the king burnt only a solitary Buddhist monastery; and this incident may suggest at most the king's ill-feelings towards a particular monastery which might have been guilty of some gross misdemeanour. It is unfair to infer from this single instance, that the king pursued a policy of anti-Buddhism, when we have no other information to support the view. A remarkably fine statue of the Bodhisattva Padmapani is now preserved in the Pratap Singh Museum, Srinagar. An inscription engraved at the base mentions its consecration in the reign of queen Didda (A.D. 980-1003). That Buddha was not looked with disapproval in the 11th century A.D. receives further corroboration from the writings of Ksemendra who says that during his time, the birth day of Buddha was observed with great ceremony in the valley.
As for Harsa, it may be said that the king was not merely an anti-Buddhist, but a man having no sympathy, for any religion whatsoever. If he plundered the statues of Buddha, he confiscated alike the images of the Brahminical gods and goddesses. And for all these works of plunder, spoliation and confiscation, the king was actuated not by his enmity towards any particular sect, but by his greed or rather need for money.
Buddhism received patronage from king Jayasimha, who ascended the throne of Kashmir in A.V. 1128. Many Buddhist viharas were built or repaired during this period. Pie completed the construction of the Sullavihara, which was started by his uncle, Uccala. Another vihara, built by the queen Ratnadevi, also received the king's care. The king's minister Rilhana constructed a vihara in memory of his deceased wife Sussala. Sussala was indeed a sincere follower of Buddha, as she is said to have built at the site of the Cankunavihara, of which nothing but the name remained, a stone shrine, residences and other structures. Cinta, the wife of Jayasimha's commander Udaya, built a vihara, which included within it, five buildings. One of the ministers of Jayasimha, Dhanya by name, commenced the construction of a vihara, but could not complete the structure, due to his premature death. Then Jayasimha, the king himself, made arrangements for the completion of the building and for a permanent endowment.
It is almost definite that Buddha was held in high honour in Kashmir upto the last days of the Hindu rule. A stone inscription, generally taken to have been dated A.D. 1197 has been discovered at Arigon (anc. Hadigrama), about 15 miles south west of Srinagara. The inscription opens with a salutation to Buddha Avalokitesvara and exalts him with glorious titles.
Marco Polo (13th century) states that in his time Kashmir was pre-eminent among the idolatrous countries and it was the very original source from which idolatry had spread around. There were also a number of idolatrous abbeys and monasteries. The superiors who exercised the functions of the abbots in these monasteries were held in great reverence by the mass of the people. If Yule's interpretation that the word 'Idolatry' is an expression meaning Buddhism be accepted, then, we are to admit that the Buddhism enjoyed wide popularity in the valley as late as the end of the 13th century.
The place of Kashmir in the history of Buddhism was great indeed. From the moment Buddhism was preached in the valley. Kashmir became mistress of the Buddhist doctrine and particularly the citadel of the Sarvastivada school. She played a great role in the spread of Buddhism beyond India, to Kandahar and Kabul and Bactria and thence to Central Asia and China. Tibetan Buddhism also drew its inspiration from Kashmir.
Detailed separately.
The cult of Visnu seems to have existed in Kashmir from a very early period. Lack of material, however, prevents us from tracing its origin and early character.
The earliest historical reference to the worship of Visnu occurs in the pages of the Rajatarangini where it is said that an image of Visnu Jayasvamin was consecrated by king Pravarasena II. Pravarasena II might have lived about the end of the 6th century A.D. Another image of Visnu Ranasvamin was consecrated by king Ranaditya at or near his capital Pravarapura. Ranaditya, who is credited with a reign of three hundred years is undoubtedly a legendary figure in Kalhana's Chronicle. But the historicity of the temple of Visnu Ranasvamin is amply proved by Jayanta Bhatta's mention of it in the Agamadambara and Kalhana's reference to it in his fifth book where he speaks of a visit paid to Ranasvamin by Cakravarman's queen. Mankha (12th century A.D.) in his Srikanthacarita refers to his father's worship of Ranasvamin. Jonaraja also mentions Ranasvamin Visnu in his commentary and describes it as Sripravarapurapradhanadevata.
With the accession of the Karkotas to the throne of Kashmir in the 7th century A.D., Visnu, the adored deity of the family, came to occupy a prominent position in the Kashmir pantheon. A son of king Durlabhavardhana, called Malhana, built the shrine of Visnu Malhanasvamin, while the king himself consecrated at Srinagari the shrine of Visnu Durlabhasvamin. Durlabhavardhana's grandson Candrapida, who lived in the early part of the 8th century A.D., consecrated the shrine of Visnu Tribhuvanasvamin. His preceptor, Mihiradatta, built a temple of Visnu Gambhirasvamin and his city-prefect Calitaka founded a temple of Visnu Calitasvamin.
The illustrious Lalitaditya came to the throne of Kashmir not long after the death of Candrapida Vajraditya. He too was a great devotee of lord Visnu. Resolved upon the conquest of the world, he built a shrine of KesavaVisnu in the early part of his reign. At Huskapura, he built a splendid shrine of Visnu Muktasvamin and of the town of Lokapunya with some villages he made an offering to Visnu. In the town of Parihasapura, which the monarch constructed in honour of his adored deity, he built the glorious silver statue of Visnu Parihasakesava. At Huskapura, another famous image of Visnu Muktakesava, was made out of gold. A fourth one, that of boar incarnation of Lord Visnu, was founded by him under the name of Visnu Mahavaraha. Lalitaditya consecrated two other silver images of his beloved god, one under the title of Govardhanadhara, and the other under the name of Ramasvamin. The latter image was placed in a stone temple which stood by the temple of Visnu Parihasakesava. Garuda, the vahana of Visnu was also a great favourite of Lalitaditya.
Lalitaditya's zeal for Vaisnavism must have shed its light upon those who were near him and who were driven to the same spiritual inclinations. His queen Kamalavati put up a large silver image of Kamalakesava and the king of Lata, named Kayya who was probably a feudatory of Lalitaditya, founded a shrine of Visnu Kayyasvamin.
Some of the later Karkota kings also adhered to the faith of Visnu. Jayapida, the grandson of Lalitaditya built the town of Jayapura, where as Kalhana poetically describes, Kesava showing his quadruple form as well as reclining on the serpent Sesa, has truly taken up his abode, abandoning his residence in Visnu's world. Jayapida's mother Amrtaprabha built a temple of Amrtakesava for the deliverance of her dead son. During the reign of Ajitapida, the ministers Utpala, Padma, Dharma, Kalyana and Mamma built temples of Visnu under the names of Utpalasvamin, Padmasvamin, Dharmasvamin, Kalyanasvamin and Mammasvamin, respectively.
Visnu was also worshipped by the members of the Utpala dynasty who succeeded the Karkotas. Avantivarman (A.D. 855/56-883), the first king of the dynasty built the shrines of Visnu Avantisvamin, even before he became a king. His brother, Suravarman founded a temple of Suravarmasvamin and a gakula. Another brother of the king, Samara founded for Kesava in his quadruple form a temple called Samarasvamin. Mahodaya, the chief door keeper of Sura consecrated a shrine of Visnu Mahodayasvamin, while the king's minister Prabhakaravarman built a temple of Visnu Prabhakarasvamin. Lastly, Suyya, the irrigation minister of Avantivarman built at the new confluence of Sindhu and Vitasta a temple of Hrsikesa Yogasayin.
The popularity of the cult of Visnu in the happy valley during the 8th and 9th centuries is further attested to by a number of images discovered from various ancient ruins. These include a few busts and heads of Visnu which have been recovered from Vijabror, three-faced Visnu figures carved on the walls of the Martanda temple, relief sculptures of Caturbhuja Visnu and Visnu seated between consorts hailing from the.ruins of Andarkoth and four-headed Visnu images from Avantipura and the surroundings.
The development of Vaisnavism in Kashmir, from the 10th century onwards, is evidenced from Kalhana's Rajatarangini. Queen Sugandha (a.d. 904-906) built a temple of Visnu Gopala Kesava and her daughter-in-law Nanda founded a temple of Nandikesava. A temple of Visnu Meruvardhandasvami was built by Partha's (A.D. 906-921) minister, Meruvardhana. Yasaskara (A.D. 939-948) started the construction of a temple of Visnu Yasaskarasvamin, which when he died, was left incomplete. The construction, however, was completed by Parvagupta (A.D. 949-950). Bhatta Phalguna, a councillor of Ksemagupta (A.D. 950-958), founded the shrine of Visnu Phalgunasvamin. About the same time, Bhima, the illustrious monarch of the Sahi dynasty, who was the maternal grandfather of Ksemagupta's queen Didda, built a high temple of Bhimakesava. About the end of the third quarter of the 10th century A.D. queen Didda, founded a series of Visnu shrines. The temple of Abhimanyusvamin, she built to increase her deceased son Abhimanyu's merit, while the shrine of Visnu Simhasvamin was erected by her, under the name of her father Simharaja. The queen further built two temples under the name of Visnu Diddasvamin.
The iconoclast Harsa (A.D. 1089-1101) destroyed a large number of Hindu and Buddhist images. The Visnu images desecrated by the dissolute king included the famous Parihasakesava. But king Uccala, who stepped into his shoes in the early years of the 12th century A.D., put up a new image of Parihasakesava. He also adorned the shrine of Visnu Tribhuvanasvamin with sukavali, which Harsa had carried off. Lastly, he restored the decayed temple of the ancient shrine of Visnu Cakradhara. All these are indications enough of the king's love and admiration for Vaisnavism.
Vaisnavism was popular even after Uccala's death. Ratnavali, the queen of Jayasimha established Vaikuntllamatlla and other pious buildings. The gok'`la, erected by her, far excelled the gakulas erected previously. Alamkara, the superintendent of Jayasimba's great treasury (vrhadganja) was also a worshipper of Visnu. Amont the later Hindu kings who professed Vainavism, Jonaraja mentions Ramadeva, who renewed the Visnu temple at Utpalapura and Udayanadeva who gave all golden armaments in his treasury to Visnu.
In the Vaisnavism of Kashmir, we find a synthesis of the different Vaisnava cults, which were current in ancient India. In it seems to have mingled, the faith of the Vedic Visnu, the system of the Pancaratra school, the religion of the Satvats and the faith in the cowherd god Gopala Krsna. Rama was worshipped as an incarnation of Visnu, but there is no definite evidence of the existence of Rama-cult in early Kashmir.
Among the various incarnations of Visnu, Varaha (boar), Krsna and Nrsimha (man-lion) were most popular. Lalitaditya built a temple of Mahavaraha ~lnd iconograhic representations of boar, man and lion-faced Visnu come from the temple of Martanda (8th century A.D.) as well as from the ruins of Avantipira (9th century A.D.). Rama, as an incarnation of Visnu seems to have been worshipped in the 8th century A.D. The Nilamatapurana refers to the celebration of Buddha's birthday festival, and this was a step towards the Buddha becoming an avatara of Visnu. The avataravada of Kashmir was, however, thoroughly systematised by the 11th century A.D. and in Ksemendra's Dasavataracarita, we find a list of the ten incarnations of Visnu under the names of Matsya, Kurma, Buddha and Karkya.
Varaha, Narasimha, Vamana, Parasurama, Srirama, Srikrsna.
Minor gods and goddesses of the Hindu Religion
Besides Visnu and Siva, there were many other minor Hindu gods and goddesses in the early Kashmirian pantheon. The most important of them include Surya, Karttikeya, Ganesa, Agni, Laksmi, Durga, Ganga, Yamuna and Kamadeva, of whose worship we have real literary evidence; some of their images too have survived.
The worship of Surya was probably brought into the valley from Iran at an early period. The Sakas and the Kusanas who ruled over Kashmir in the early centuries of the Christian era, seem to have been responsible for its introduction. Paucity of evidence, however, prevents us from making any definite assertion on the point or from tracing the early character of the cult.
Ranaditya, a king of ancient Kashmir, is said in the Rajatarangini to have built at the village of Simharotsika a temple of Martanda, which became famous everywhere under the name of Ranapurasvamin. But Ranaditya is a legendary character in the ancient history of Kashmir and the village Simharotsika or the Martanda temple, said to have been founded by him, cannot be located. In the 8th century A.D., Lalitaditya erected the shrine of Aditya at the town of Lalitapura. He built another massive stone temple of Surya under the name of Martanda, the ruins of which have survived.
The sun worship continued to be in vogue in Kashmir long after the death of Lalitaditya. King Suravarman II (A.D. 939) paid homage to the temple of the Sun-god Jayasvamin. The copper image of Surya, called Tamrasvamin, was one of the most celebrated shrines of the valley in the 11th century A.D. Kalhana's remarks that Kashmirian king Kalasa (A.D. 1063-1089) sought refuge with Martanda to have his life and presented a gold statue at the god's feet, prove the popularity of Sun-worship at that time. Kalasa's son Harsa (A.D. 1089-1101), who destroyed a large number of divine images, spared the image of Martanda, either out of respect or out of fear.
The ruins of the temple of Martanda clearly show with what grandeur and pomp, love and devotion, the god was worshipped. No image of the Sun-god has yet been recovered from any part of the valley. There is however, in the right panel of the eastern wall of the ante-chamber of the temple of Martanda, a representation of Aruna, the charioteer of Surya, holding the reins of his seven horses.
Karttikeya worship in early Kashmir is borne out by the discovery of a fine six armed image of the generallisimo. Though the image can not be ascribed to any definite chronological setting, its bold execution indicates a Deriod round about the
9th century A.D. Another standing figure of Kumara, along with an Ardhanarisvara image, has been found among the ruins of Avantipura and may be dated to the period of Avantivarman's rule (A.D. 855/56-883). The Nilamatapurana, which was probably composed in the 8th century A.D. refers that the worship of Karttikeya was performed on the 6th of lunar Caitra every year and this was supposed to ensure the welfare and safety of the children of Kashmir. In the Rajatarangini, there is mention of the foundation of one Skandabhavanavihara by a Kashmirian minister Skandagupta. Though at a comparatively modern period the place was associated with the worship of Karrtikeya. Stein is probably correct In nits assumption that in early times it was a Buddhist vihara, seems to suggest his personal association with the god.
Ganesa, the brother of Skanda according to the Hindu mythology, was one of the popular gods of the valley of Kashmir. According to Kalhana an image of Vinayaka Bhimasvamin existed as early as the days of Pravarasena II (c. 6th century A.D.) and received regular worship. A stone image of Ganesa, along with an Ardhanarisvara image, mention of which has already been made, was found amidst the ruins of Avantipura and may be dated to the second half of the 9th century A.D. Several terracotta plaques, containing the figure of the elephantheaded god, evidently works of local craftsmanship have also been recovered from the site of Avantipura. That Avantipura was a centre of Ganesa-worship receives further corroboration from Ksemendra who says that bowls of sweets offered to Lord Ganesa were resold in the town of Avantipura. We learn from the Nilamatapurana that the 8th of the darker Asadha of every year was dedicated to the worship of Ganesa and went by the name of Vinayaka-Astami. The worship of Vinayaka had also to be performed on the eve of the anointing ceremony of the king.
No sculptural representation of Agni or Fire god has yet been discovered from Kashmir. A passage from the Rajatarangini, however, refers to the worship of the Fire god and records that king Uccala's father Malla, observed from his earliest time the cult of a sacred fire. As Stein has pointed out, there was probably a shrine of the god of Fire SvayambLu at Suyam, a place situated about half a mile from the present village of Nichhom. The temple of fire god Svayambhu was destroyed, it may be presumed, by Harsa and the decayed building was restored by Uccala. King Uccala is also said to have started once on a pilgrimage to Svayambhu.
Laksmi, the goddess of wealth, was quite a popular deity. King Pravarasena II (6th century A.D.) is credited with the establishment of five shrines of the goddess Sri. An image of Laksmi has come from the historic town of Vijabror, modern Brar. From stylistic consideration, the sculpture may be assigned to about the 6th century A.D. Another beautiful stone figure of the goddess seated on a throne, supported by a pair of lions, with elephants on each side pouring water over her head, has been discovered from the Avantisvami temple, and is apparently of the 9th century A.D. Kalhana records that during the reign of Unmattavanti (A.D. 937-939), a Brahmana of well-known velour, named Rakka, raised an image of the goddess Sri under the appellation of Rakkajayadevi.
Worship of Sakti, the energetic principle, seems to have been widely prevalent. In the worship of goddess Durga, who is but an embodiment of Sakti, animal sacrifices played an important part. Goddess Sarada was one of the most celebrated deities of the valley in early times and she was nothing but Sakti embodying three separate manifestations. References to 'Matrcakra' are frequently met with in the Rajatarangini and sculptured images of sapta matrkas, such as Brahmani, Mahesvar, Kaumari, Indrani, Vaisnavi, Varahi and Camundi have been recovered from Pandrethan. A lifesize separate sculpture of Varahi, representing a young woman with the face of Varahi, discovered among the ruins of Kashmir, is now preserved in the Lalmandi Museum, Srinagara. Though the sapta matrkas were originally Sivaite in origin, there is no doubt that afterwards they became the actual cult emblems of the devout Saktas.
Representations of the goddess Ganga, sometimes accompanied by the goddess Yamuna, are found among the old sculptures of the valley, but they do not seem to have any particular cult associated with them.
Two similarly sculptured relief found in the Avantisvami temple have been generally interpreted as representations of the god Visnu accompanied by Laksmi and another goddess (Bhumi?). But according to Vogel, the amorons attitude of the central personage and his attributes, a bow and an arrow ending in a flower, indicate that here we have an inconographic representation of Kamadeva seated between his wives Rati and Priti. There is literary evidence to Kamadeva's popularity in ancient Kashmir. According to the Nilamatapurana the 13th of lunar Caitra was devoted to the worship of Kamadeva.