Four Famous Poetesses of Kashmir

by Jawahar Kaul Ganhar
Koshur Samachar

Kashmir, which is known as the 'paradise on earth', has been the abode of eminent scholars, savants, historians and poets, like Bilhan, Mamatachary, Anandavardhana, Gunaverman, Abhinavagupta, Jonaraja, Kalhana, etc. These luminaries had mastery over Sanskrit language. During the Muslim rule, Persian became the court language. Kashmiri scholars did not lag behind in acquiring mastery in this language also and produced scholars and poets like Gani Kashmiri, Munshi Bhawani Dass Kachroo, Hyder Malik Chadura, Narayan Kaul Ajiz, Muhammad Azam Didmari, etc. Besides them, there were saints and poets who preferred to use their own Kashmiri dilect for conveying their messages and thoughts. These included both men and women. Most prominent among them were Sheikh Noor-u-Din Noorani, Lal Ded, Rupa Bhawani, Habba Khatoon and Arinimaal.

Lalla Yogeshwari or Lel Ded and Rupa Bhawani are famous for their spiritual eminence and truth to their devotees and the people. As against these two saint-poetesses, Arinimaal and Habba Khatoon are famous for their love lore and romantic poetry.

Lal Ded and Habba Khatoon belong to the Pampore area of the Valley, which is famous for its saffron cultivation, while Rupa Bhawani belongs to Srinagar city and Arinimal to village Palhalan. These poetesses were married but their married life was not happy and blissful. They were ill-treated by their husbands and mothers-in-law. Another common trait among these great poetesses is that whatever they have said or sung is in their mother-tongue - Kashmiri.

Lalleshwari

Lal Ded was a saint-philospher, born in the middle of the 14th century of the Chnstian era, which was a period of political and religious turmoil in Kashmir. Her parents lived near Pandrenthen Sempore, which is about 5 miles away from the capital city of Srinagar. She was married at an early age to a Brahmin boy in village Pampore. She was maltreated at her in-laws. Her mother-in-law always starved her, but she never raised the finger against her. It is said that once there was going to be some feast in her home. While fetching water from the river, she was told by her friends: "You must be having lavish dishes at home tonight"? Lalleshwari replied: "Whether they (in-laws) slaughtered a big sheep or a small one, Lalla always has a stone for her dinner" (a practice with her mother-in-law of putting a stone in her thali and covering it thinly with rice to look it like a big heap to others).

Lalla left her home and became a yogni. Her guru was Sidha-Bayu, an eminent scholar (of Sanskrit literature) of the time. She learned yoga and meditation under the guru and later on she excelled her guru. She had an opportunity to meet the Sayeds who came from Iraq. She had long discussions and frequent arguments with them on religion, etc. She fills her teachings with many truths that are common to all religious philosophies. All religions were to her merely paths leading to the same goal. She never differentiated between a Hindu and a Musalmaan. Her vaakhs (poetry) lay more stress on recognising one's ownself, which is the true knowledge of God. She says that the cause of all our troubles is ego, which must be renounced. One must be moderate in food or drink. Overeating, she says, will lead us nowhere, while not eating will give rise to conceit. She has said that if one cannot realize God in this life, how can one realize Him after death.

Many myths, legends and miracles are woven round her name, which indicate the reverence in which she was held by Hindus and Muslims alike. The famous Patron saint-poet of Kashmir, Nund Rishi of Chrar-e-Sharief held her in high esteem and reverence. Her vaaks are commonly sung in Kashmir by all communities and have passed from generation to generation.

Lal Ded Hospital

It is said that Lal Ded lived a long life, preaching her gospel of love, brotherhood, unity and tolerance. and roamed within the Kashmir Valley. She was equally claimed both by Hindus and Muslims as their own at the time of her death. When the winding sheet was uncovered from her body, only a few flowers were seen on the bier to the pleasant surprise of all. After her death there was no monument in her memory. But it was only in 1981-82 that a women's hospital in Srinagar was named after this great saint- poetess as the Lal Ded Hospital, which was inaugurated by the then Chief Minister Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. In Pampore town, there is a pond, known as Lala Trag after Lal Ded. This is the only place which is associated with her name till date.

It goes to the credit of this yogni who spread and preached the message of non-violence, simple living and high thinking as long back as the fourteenth century and thus became Lal Moj or Lal Ded both for Muslims and Hindus.

Rupa Bhawani

Rupa Bhawani was born in 1624 A.D. to a pious scholar, Pandit Madhav Joo Dhar, who lived in Mohallah Khanaqahi Sokhta near the present Safa Kadal. The girl born to him was named as Rupa. It is said that Pandit Madhav Joo Dhar used to perform parikrama of Hari Parbat daily and praying to Goddess Sharika. Due to this Bakhti and Sadhana to MataJagatAmba, the girl born to him was angelic in appearance.

In childhood, she was reared up with a lot of love and affection. At an early age, she was married to a learned youngman of Sapru family. But her marriage like that of Lal Ded did not last long. She was teased by her mother-in-law and by her husband also. It is said that her spiritual pursuits and meditation were not liked by them. As the marriage proved unhappy, she renounced the wordly life and became a yogni. She studied vedanta, yoga and other Hindu scriptures under her father who was her guru too. She wandered at a number of places in the valley and had discussions, etc, with Yogis, Sadhus and Darveshs.

It is said that Rupa Bhawani had during her life- time performed a number of miracles. Eyesight was restored to a person by her. Through her mere glance, a major fire was extinguished in village Manigam, near Lar in the present Srinagar district. Besides Srinagar, she did meditation at Waskura and Chashma Shahi, a beautiful place near the present Raj Bhawan. At these places, she held spiritual discourses and attracted devotees among both Hindus and Muslims. Being yogni, she was the mother to all, irrespective of caste, creed and religion and loved them all as her own children. She was revered as a manifestation of Goddes Sharika as her father was a great devotee of Her. She had faith in the Supreme Lord as the sole master of all creation.

Rupa Bhawani was well-versed in Sanskrit and Persian languages, but she used Kashmiri as the medium for expressing her thoughts and teachings, known as shruk (shalok). A Muslim faqir (saint) of her times, Shah Sadiq Qalandar, had great regard and admiration for her. He recorded her death, etc. in a Persian chronogram.

Rupa Bhawani left her mortal remains in the winter month of Magha Saptami of Krishna Paksha (January) at the age of about 97 years. Kashmiri Pandits in the valley have great respect for her. For the last more than 370 years, they are keeping a tast on her death anniversary, which is known as Sahib Saptami, as a mark of respect to this great soul.

Ashrams were built at Waskura, Manigam, Safa Kadal and other places by her devotees. A big hawan used to be performed on her death anniversery by the Rupa Bhawani Alak Sahiba Trust. On this occasion, Muslims of the area used to sell flowers, Kand (sugar candy), milk, etc, to the devotees. But due to the rise of militancy in the Kashmir Valley, no such ceremony takes place now in Kashmir at present since 1989-90.

To keep her sacred memory alive after the mass migration of Kashmiri Pandits in February-March 1990, the Pandits have constructed an ashram at Jammu near Talab-Tillo. The annual hawan is now performed here in which Kashmiri Pandits in large numbers participate.

Arinimaal

Arinimaal was born in eighteenth century to a Kashmiri Pandit family at village Palhalan in the Baramulla area. At that time, Kashmir was ruled by Pathans (Durrani dynasty). During this period, Kashmiris were subjected to the worst rule that the valley has ever witnessed.

It is said that Arinimaal was married in her childhood to Munshi Bhawani Dass Kachroo. Bhawani Dass was a respected person in the Afghan court. Jumma Khan, then Governor of Kashmir from 1788 to 1792, was less harsh than other Pathan rulers and he respected scholars and patronised the men of learning. By dint of hard work and intelligence, Bhawan Dass acquired mastery in Persian. Afghan dignitaries and officials were surprised over his calibre and erudition. He was a poet in Persian language. His Persian poems entitled "Bahar-i-Tavil" is considered a major contribution to the Persian language. He wrote under the pen name of "Naiku".

The early period of Arinimaal's married life was happier one. But these days did not last long. Her husband who was an important person in the Darbar fell into bad company and deserted her. Due to this, Arinimaal's heart broke and became dejected and forlorn. Possibly due to this painful separation, she must have taken to poetry.

Arinimaal sang of love, beauty and sorrow. Her poetry speaks of agony, dejection, pathos and disappointments. Her poetry melts the people's hearts. Through her poety, one comes across how she loved her husband. After separation, she returned to her parents' house who were kind and sympathetic towards her. The people of the village used to cut jokes at her expense. But it did not change her. It is said that, at an advanced age, Arinimaal took to the spinning wheel and spent her days in the hope that one day her love (husband) will return.

After some time, Bhawani Dass realised that he had been unkind to his wife. He decided to be with her again. He proceeded towards her village, and when he reached Palhalan, he saw that she was being carried for cremation. And it was too late.

There is no monument or anything of that sort in her memory in Kashmir but through her poetry she has become popular and continues till today.

A few years back, RADIO KASHMIR broad- casted a play on her. Besides, DOORDARSHAN, Srinagar, had also made a tele-film on her.

It may be mentioned in passing that my preceptor and eminent scholar, the late Shri Janki Nath Ganhar, used to refer to me to some literary talks he had with the great Kashmiri poet, the late Master Zinda Kaul, who had told the latter that many of the verses attributed to poetess Habba Khatoon actually belong to Arinimaal. Now it is for the eminent scholars of Kashmiri literature to delve deep into these questions and come to correct conclusions.

Habba Khatoon

Habba Khatoon was born in the middle of sixteenth century to a poor family in village Chandhar near Pampore. Her original name was Zoon (the moon). From her childhood, she was fond of singing. At a very young age, she was sent to madrassa (school) where she was taught Persian and also studied holy Quran. But her first love was poetry. Her parents were not happy over this and got her married to a village boy. He did not like her singing, etc. He used to feel ashamed to know that her wife was being admired by villagers. He advised her not to sing, but she did not stop singing. Relations between the husband and wife became strained. Her parents and in-laws pressed her a lot not to indulge in this hobby and behave like other girls of the village. But she ignored all advice.

It is said that one day she was plucking flowers in the fields and was deeply absorbed in her singing. At the same time, heir-apparent to the Kashmir throne, Yusuf Shah Chak, was passing by. He was thrilled by her singing. He enquired about the singer. When he met her, he was bewitched by her beauty. He craved to make her his wife. The prince then got her divorced from her first husband and married her.

The second marriage proved successful for some years and during this period she gave more time to her poetry and singing. Her fame as a poetess and musician travelled far and wide.

These happy days did not last long for her. Akbar, the Mughal emperor of India, annexed Kashmir to his empire in 1548 A.D. Yusuf Shah Chak was taken a prisoner and sent to Bihar. This separation caused great and unendurable pain to her and she became almost mad with grief. It is said that she left the royal palace and wandered aimlessly at various places of Kashmir. During her wanderings, she had been to Gurez a village on the bank of river Kishen Ganga in the Baramulla area. In this village, she spent some time near a small hill, which is known as Habba Bal (Hill of Hahba Khatoon) even today. The last days of her life were full of sorrow and suffering. It is said that she finally settled down near present Pantha Chowk where she passed her last days and lies buried there.

On her life, DOORDARSHAN had made a TV film and a number of dramas, both on radio and theatres, have been played. In 1988, a famous film director from Bombay tried to make a feature film on her but, unfortunately, it did not reach completion. To honour this Kashmiri poetess, a ship named as Habba Khatoon was commissioned into the service of the country by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, another illustrious daughter of Kashmir.


 
Kashmiri Overseas Association
Kashmiri Poets