Saturday, 26 September 2009

Songs of Lalla

Lalla lived in Kashmir during the first part of the 1300s. In that period, Kashmir was home to devotees of Shiva and devotees of Vishnu, to Islamic Sufis and to followers of Tantric Buddhism. Lalla's poems reflect all she learned from these, synthesized to become the expression of her own devotion in colloquial Kashmiri, rather than the Sanskrit of contemporary philosophical writing. The variety of her names reflects the wide appeal of her poems: In Hindi, she is Lal Ded (grandmother Lal); in Sanskrit, Lalleshwari (Lalla the yogini); while to Muslims, she is Lal Arifa.
Lalla was apparently from a family of Brahmins near Pampore; her poetry shows her knowledge of Sanskrit and of the Hindu scriptures. Tradition says that she left her husband after some years of an unhappy marriage to become a student of Hindu and Sufi teachers. Then she became an itinerant preacher throughout the Kashmir Valley, singing her vakhs (songs) of Shiva and of the search for truth, through an inner spirituality rather than dogma and ritual.

Not for a moment
Trusting it, I drank anyway
The wine of my song.

It gave me courage
To face and tear the darkness down
Cutting it to shreds.
Oh, poor Mind, in love
With worldly things you know will pass,
Why do you forget?
I might scatter clouds
Or drain the sea
Or cure the ill
That can’t be cured
But Mind of fool
I cannot change.
That which is sweet, first is bitter.
That which is bitter, first is sweet.
To each a choice, then it all depends.
On effort and unflagging will
To reach the city of your choice.
Siva abides in all that is, everywhere;
Then do not discriminate between
a Hindu or a Muslim.
If thou art wise, know thyself;
That is true knowledge of the Lord.
It covers your shame,
Saves you from cold,
Provides food and drink,
Needs only water and grass.
Who counselled you, O Brahmin,
To slaughter a living sheep
As a sacrifice to a lifeless stone?
I got one advice
“Transfer the attention within!”
Since then I go nude.
Straight I came and straight
I shall return not fearing Him
Who knows and loves me.
Penance breeds conceit
Pandering will get you nowhere
So be moderate.
Who slays the highway robbers three,
Greed, Lust and Pride,
And yet, in utter humility, serves
his fellow man
He truly seeks out the Lord,
disregarding as worthless ashes
all other things.
Do good to others,
For that is the real religion.
And rest when tired.
Patience to endure
The darkest hour never doubting
He will come to you.

In the last watch of the moonlit night,
remonstrating with my wayward mind,
I soothed my pain with the love of God.
Gently, gently, accosting myself,
"O Lalla, Lalla, Lalla",
I woke my Love, my Lord and Master,
Absorbed in it, my mind was cleansed.

When my mind was cleansed of impurities,
like a mirror of its dust and dirt,
I recognized the Self in me:
When I saw Him dwelling in me,
I realized that He was the Everything
and I was nothing.
For a moment I suppressed the bellows of respiration,
Lo and behold! The Lamp lit up brightly and I realized my Self!
The light within me sparkled out;
In the encompassing darkness, I seized at It and gripped It tightly.
Let go the sacred tantra rites,
Only the mantra sound remains.
And when the mantra sound departs,
Only the citta is left behind.
Then lo! the citta itself is gone,
And there is nothing left behind;
The void merges in the Void
Gently, gently, I trained my mind
to suspend its processes and thoughts.
Then (in the windless calm), the flame of the Lamp,
shining steady and bright,
Revealed my true nature unto me.
In the dark recesses of my soul
I seized upon Him and held Him fast.
Then I diffused the inner light,
And within, without, all was Light.
If you've melted your desires
in the river of time, choose
to be a recluse, or choose
a family, the village job.

If you know the pure Lord within you,
you'll be That,
If you’re wise, be foolish.
If you can see, squint.
Though you can hear, sit
Dumb as an old rock.
Whatever anyone says,
Listen and agree.
This is a friendly practice,
And it leads to some truth.
I put into practice whatever I read, the unread was lost to my consciousness;
I dragged the lion down the forest by his silken mane as if he were a jackal!
I preached what I practiced, That way did knowledge dawn on me.

Intense cold makes water ice.
Then the hard ice turns to slush
and back to water, so there are three
forms of consciousness: the individual,
the world, and God, which in the sun
of True Awareness melt to one flowing:

Lalla is that.
Meditate within eternity.
Don't stay in the mind.

Your thoughts are like a child fretting
near its mother's breast, restless
and afraid, who with a little guidance,
can find the path to courage.
The soul, like the moon,
is now, and always new again.

And I have seen the ocean
continuously creating.

Since I scoured my mind
and my body, I too, Lalla,
am new, each moment new.
Dance, Lalla, with nothing on
but air. Sing, Lalla,
wearing the sky.
Look at this glowing day!
What clothes could be so beautiful,
or more sacred?
The way is difficult and very intricate.
Lalla discarded her books that told
about it, and through meditation
saw the truth that never comes
to anyone from reading words.


  1. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this... lovely!

  2. Thank you Nancy! I do find them very beautiful in their simplicity and directness and saying so much in so few words. I discovered some more lovely verses by her which I've written out and am about to post.

  3. Full of Love, I set out on my Quest.
    Day and Night, I searched from East to West.
    In my own home I found him to reside,
    And catching him, he has since been my Guide.

    O, Lord! The Self in myself and others I did not recognize
    For I have always only known this one feeble body.
    That you and I were joined in one, why! I did not know,
    And still I had doubts concerning who are you and who am I.

    The chain of Embarrassment will only break
    When I am immune to mocking words.
    The robe of Self-Pity will burn away
    When the horse of Mind is tamed.

    Both Good and Evil I must endure.
    My ears don’t hear, my eyes don’t see.
    When the inner Self awakens in the Heart,
    It will shine like a lamp in the midst of a tornado.

    Physically and mentally I am absorbed in Him.
    I heard the bell of Truth ring
    On this state I meditated
    And realized the manifest and the unmanifest.

    I, Lalla, suffered the fire of love.
    Before death I died without a trace.
    Reborn without colour or creed, and without them,
    I left me. What else could I do?

    In the midst of being lost, I lost the sense of being lost.
    Once lost, I found myself in this ocean of the world.
    Laughing and playing, I attained all-pervading Self
    And this philosophy has become the “I”.

    I took the reins of the horse of Mind.
    Through practice, I learned to focus on the breath.
    Then only the orb of the moon melted and flowed
    Down into my body, nothingness into nothingness.

    Listening to scriptures intensifies the fear of death.
    Those who do not lean on them will flourish.
    Renounce the ego and meditate on the Self.
    Renouncing the ego, one finds the Self.

    Deeds I performed became an offering,
    Words spoken became mantra,
    Bodily experiences were for self-knowledge.
    That is the essence of Shiva tantra.

    Acquiring a kingdom will not make you content.
    Giving it up will not satisfy your mind.
    Being free from desires, you will not die.
    Self-knowledge is to be dead to worldly things while still alive.

    Kill your mortal enemies, lust, anger and desire.
    Otherwise they would kill you with their arrows.
    Calm them with self-restraint and good thoughts
    And recognize their nature and their power.

    Arise, Lady! And prepare for worship.
    With wine, meat and a dainty choice of food.
    If you know the supreme state,
    Breaking customs will make no difference.

  4. Do good to others,
    For that is the real religion.
    And rest when tired.

    this sums it all up for me

  5. I think she was saying not to deny the body the food and sleep it needs because that would be feeding the pride of the "ascetic ego" which you were saying yourself I think on your thread. So, "rest when tired" really means "do good to yourself" or take care of needs... so maybe to sum everything up even more briefly, "look to others, look to yourself". Still I think the rest is useful by way of explanation. ;^) Briefer still one could say "look to others as yourself" and we get back to the golden rule of "do unto others as you would have them do unto you"...

  6. Yes. I agree. She was saying this.

    And being female, she understood it in a different way than males... but that is another issue entirely...

  7. Not being female, I have utterly no clue what you mean. Please do explain? :^)

  8. Ah... I did not see your question!

    And I havent the slightest idea what I meant!!!!!!!!!!!!! LOL

  9. One who holds an Om in the navel
    And through breath control raises it
    Absorbed in only this mantra,
    One has no need for others.

    I became absorbed in the sacred syllable Om.
    I burned myself like coal.
    After traversing six paths, I seized the seventh.
    Only then, I, Lalla, reached the place of Light.

  10. She's my favourite for having spoken the heart of wisdom in the fewest words. :-)

  11. I really liked this post too, thank you! Kashmir sounds like it was a great place back then.

    "It covers your shame,
    Saves you from cold,
    Provides food and drink,
    Needs only water and grass.
    Who counselled you, O Brahmin,
    To slaughter a living sheep
    As a sacrifice to a lifeless stone?"

    Sounds like she was way ahead of her time with that one.

    "Dance, Lalla, with nothing on
    but air. Sing,
    Look at this glowing day!
    What clothes could be so beautiful,
    or more sacred?"

    This stood out to me too, because
    wearing the sky." is so beautiful, but also because women have such issues with their bodies and the fact that she was beyond that, just that alone shows her power.

  12. Thanks Catherine-of-Eden for sharing what struck you. Very valuable stuff! Sky-maiden Lalla still dances in the hearts of those who read her.

  13. okei, so many rich words of Lalla. I particularly like this one:

    I got one advice
    “Transfer the attention within!”
    Since then I go nude.

    Why do we cling do fiercely to this body when the truth lies within, not in skin and bones?

    Thank you for sharing Lalla and her cloak of the sky...

  14. Ah, thank you for the reminder of that one. Very explicit and simple. Blessings!