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Lalla was a wandering Shaiva saint and poet of Kashmir. Born into a humble Kashmiri Brahmin family, she was married at an early age into a family where her mother-in-law treated her harshly. When asked to regard her husband as God in accordance with Hindu tradition, she said she would submit to no other god than Shiva. This declaration and her childlessness got her turned out of her matrimonial house. She was thus freed to be an ardent devotee of Shiva in the Tantric Shaiva tradition, which forbade her to visit temples or worship any image. She became a yogini, wandering and preaching the Yogic doctrines as the best means of ultimate absorption into the Supreme. She appears to have been a self-taught Shaiva saint, studying the texts and listening to the philosophy propounded by Shaiva teachers, by which she acquired a profound understanding of Advaita philosophy. She practised special methods of kundalini meditation and ascetic techniques to find the object of her devotion in her own inner self.

Initially her roaming in minimal clothing and her disbelief in the efficacy of formal observance, ritualism and idol-worship attracted a lot of criticism, her reaction to which appears in her poems. This changed with time, and later on she was respected and loved by Shaiva and Sufi saints. According to her, a true saint was ‘the servant of all mankind through his humility and loving kindness’. Lalla earned the title ‘Ded’, meaning granny, for her true affection, spirituality and wisdom. Her couplets, published in modern times under the title Lalla Vakyani by the Asiatic Society, give a clear idea of her significance and influence on her contemporaries in Kashmir. She died at a very old age in the hermitage at Bijbehara. To quote from one of her verses, where she sings of the absolute dependence of men on the will of the Almighty:

Be his sin misfortune, be it guilt;
Be the guerdon ashes, be it flowers,
O Bhagwan, Thou blesses whom Thou wilt,
Bhagwan, how wondrous are thy powers!

Rita Dalmiya
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