Lalleshwari, also known locally as Lal Ded; 1320–1392), was a Kashmiri mystic of the Kashmir Shaivism school of Hindu philosophy.
She was the creator of the style of mystic poetry called vatsun or Vakhs, literally “speech” (from Sanskrit vaak). Known as Lal Vakhs, her verses are the earliest compositions in the Kashmiri language and are an important part in the history of modern Kashmiri literature.
Lal Ded (“Mother Lal” or “Mother Lalla”) is also known by various other names, including Lal Dyad (Dyad means “Grandmother”), Lalla Aarifa, Lal Diddi, Lalleshwari, Lalla Yogishwari/Yogeshwari and Lalishri.
A great deal of the records of Lal Ded’s life are contained in oral tradition, and consequently there is considerable variance on the details of her life and beliefs.
Numerous contemporary Kashmiri histories, such as those prepared by Jonaraja, Srivara, Prajyabhatta, and Haidar Malik Chadura, do not mention Lal Ded. The first written record of Lal Ded’s life is contained in the Tadhkirat-ul-Arifin (1587), a collection of biographies of saints and religious figures written by Mulla Ali Raina, and followed by an account of her life in Baba Daud Mishkati’s Asrar ul-Akbar (1654).
In these texts, Lal Ded is described as a mystic saint, appearing in the forest to travellers. In 1736, Khwaja Azam Diddamari’s Tarikh-i-Azami contained a more detailed account of Lal Ded’s life.
She is also noted in a Persian chronicle, the Waqiati-e-Kashmir (1746) in which she is described as being famous in the reign of Sultan Alau-ud-din (1343–54) and died in the reign of Sultan Shihab-ud-din (1354–73).
Lal Ded is also believed to be a contemporary of Mir Sayyid Ali-Hamdani, an Iranian Sufi scholar and poet, who recorded stories of her in his own verse during his travels to Kashmir.
Most modern scholars place Lal Ded’s birth between 1301 and 1320 C.E., near Sempore or Pandrenthan. She is estimated to have died in 1373, and a grave near Bijbehara is commonly attributed to her, although there is no confirmation. Lal Ded is believed to have been born to a Brahmin family, and was married at the age of twelve in accordance with the local customs.
Following her marriage, she was renamed, as is custom, to Padmavati, but continued to be known as Lalla or Lal Ded. Some reports suggest her marriage was unhappy, and that she left home, between the ages of twenty-four and twenty-six, to become a disciple of a spiritual leader, Siddha Srikanth or Sed Boyu, who was a Shaivite.
As part of her religious education, she travelled alone on foot, surviving on alms, before becoming a teacher and spiritual leader herself.
By opposing vehemently the ritualistic aspect of Trikmat, Lalla revolted against the powerful clergy of the times who had transformed these rituals into a means of exploitation and a tool for perpetuating their hereditary hegemony.
She also revolted against the objectification of women in Saiva rituals. She totally rejects the secondary dependent status allotted to women in these rituals and emerges and dominates the scene as a subject.
On the one hand, Lala gave a new lease of life to Kashmiri Śaivistic spiritual tradition but on the other, she demystified Śaivism by articulating its tenets in the language of the common people and deconstructed its ideology of being a Rahasya Sampradaya (a secret sect) by making all the Upayas (means of realization) available to all those interested in the realization of their true identity, thus making it a viable and effective tool not only for individual emancipation but also for social unification.
There is an inbuilt dynamic reciprocal relationship between the two, and each reinforces the other. This is the reason for total acceptance of Lal-Ded by almost all Kashmiris. With the passage of time there was a schism in the Saivistic Trikamat.
On the one hand, we have the branch that maintains the rituals, although not much of the traditional rituals detailed by Abhinava Gupta have survived the ravages of time. On the other hand, we have the ritual free Trikamat of Lal-Ded which is a syncretic tradition that assimilates not only the essence of Buddhist spirituality but also reaches out to the Sufi-Mystic tradition of Islam.
Lal Ded gave expression to her mystic and poetic inclinations through her vaakhs, the fourline poetic verses in the Kashmiri language. In verse, Lal Ded covers vast area of spirituality —religion, Shaivism and even Vedanta — where she says that she is reading the Bhagavad Gita every moment of her life.
She was also inspired by Islam and Sufism. Lal Ded’s vaakhs’ universal appeal attracts ordinary people as well as spiritually evolved persons. Simple rural folk, too, sing these vaakhs to get inspired.
She never differentiated between a Hindu and a Muslim.
She was equally revered by both communities. Like the Gita’s verses, Lal Ded’s vaakhs advocate a moral and ethical code of conduct and provide tips for spiritual advancement.
She gives a call to ascend to a higher level of growth while performing one’s duties in the world. Her vaakhs reveal the affinity between Vedanta and Kashmir Shaivism. She believed that all religions and philosophies speak of similar ideals.