Compilation of the Wise Sayings of Lal Ded Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The great female spiritual leader, Lal Ded, preached harmony and love between all people and religions. Her wise sayings laid the foundation for the modern Kashmiri language and remain popular proverbs today.

Summary of Event

Lal Ded (also known as Lalleshwari by Hindus and Lalla Arifa by Muslims) was born into a Brahman family in Puranadhisthana (now Pandrenthan) near the capital city of Srinagar, in Literature;Kashmir Kashmir (now the northernmost province of India), when the region was experiencing a great deal of political and religious upheaval. At an early age, she was tutored in the Sanskrit classics such as the Bhagavadgītā (c. 200 b.c.e.-200 c.e.; The Bhagavad Gita, 1785) and the Upaniṣads (c. 1000-c. 200 b.c.e.). Early in her second decade of life, she was married to a boy in the village of Padmanpora (now Pampore). She was renamed “Padmavati” by her in-laws. Her mother-in-law mistreated her and tried to starve her by giving her meals consisting of big, round stones covered with a veneer of rice. This story is reflected in the popular Kashmiri proverb: “Whether they killed a large sheep or a small one, Lalla had her round stone.” [kw]Compilation of the Wise Sayings of Lal Ded (c. 1380) [kw]Wise Sayings of Lal Ded, Compilation of the (c. 1380) [kw]Lal Ded, Compilation of the Wise Sayings of (c. 1380) Lal Ded India;c. 1380: Compilation of the Wise Sayings of Lal Ded[2940] Literature;c. 1380: Compilation of the Wise Sayings of Lal Ded[2940] Philosophy;c. 1380: Compilation of the Wise Sayings of Lal Ded[2940] Religion;c. 1380: Compilation of the Wise Sayings of Lal Ded[2940] Lal Ded

After about a decade of marriage, Lal left and began her lifelong spiritual quest. Her teacher was Siddha Srikantha, who was known as a scholar of Sanskrit literature as well as a master of yoga. Lal used the vernacular Kashmiri language of her time to engage in dialogues with Muslim mystics, some of whom had come to Kashmir to escape the ravages of Timur, who was plundering large parts of Central Asia and the Middle East. She excelled in her studies of yoga and became a wandering preacher, with little regard for clothing and possessions, as a way of renouncing the world. Although many of her male counterparts in India had become wandering ascetics, it was (and remains) highly unusual for a woman to follow this practice. Religion;India India;religion Women;India

Kashmir had for centuries been known as a center of devotion to the Hindu god Śiva. Three centuries before Lal, the famous Shaivite scholar-saint Abhinavagupta had outlined a Tantric devotional practice through which the individual rises to a state of universality through realization of internal energy. However, in the Kashmir of Lal’s time, passionate religious practice had become buried in ritual. Lal was able to use the Kashmiri vernacular language, Shaivite symbolism, and the example of her own life to revive general interest in spirituality, which she expanded to embrace the monotheism of the Muslim mystics as well as other Hindu practices.

The revered teacher began to compose vakhs (small devotional poems) in the vernacular to convey her teachings, experiences, and feelings. Poetry;India India;poetry These entered the oral tradition and are still recited and sung today. She used concrete imagery from everyday life to aid in the understanding of how people should proceed in the path to self-realization. This body of literature, which contributed to the development of the Kashmiri language before the extensive Persian influence of subsequent years, is referred to as the Lalla Vakyani. The poems are written as quatrains in which the second and fourth lines (and also usually the first and third lines) rhyme. Their rhythmic quality is very free flowing, with emphasis on the content. As part of Kashmiri repertoire, they are often sung and accompanied in a musical style inspired by Persian tradition. Music;Kashmir

The vakhs of Lal Ded focus on the path to self-realization. In some, she emphasized self-recognition as a path to the divine, identifying the ego as an obstacle to that awareness. She also criticized extreme self-mortification, which she felt was not productive. In spite of her own dramatic forms of renunciation, she advocated that devotees take care of themselves physically so that they would have more time to develop their spirits. She disapproved of idol worship and animal sacrifice, and derided them in her poetry.

There are many anecdotes and stories associated with Lal Ded. Some of them are accounts of miracles, but others illustrate her religious philosophy and her interactions with contemporary religious figures. According to one of these stories, the person who eventually became the Sufi saint Nuru’ddin Shah, known to the Hindus as Nand Rishi, was once ordered to break into a house by his stepbrothers, who were professional thieves. Lal happened to be in the neighborhood and admonished him to seek something of better value, suggesting that he break into the house of God to find something truly great. This statement, consistent with Lal’s boldness and disregard for social conventions, captured his imagination and inspired him to meditate in seclusion.

Another story describes a conversation by the river with her guru, Siddha Srikantha. He was curious as to why Lal Ded was scrubbing the outside of an earthen pot instead of the inside. She replied with a question of her own, asking him what good would it do to cleanse the body while the inner self was not pure. The very impracticality of her act was used to reenforce a kind of spiritual symbolism.


Lal Ded is highly significant in several ways. She is one of South Asia’s major women poets and religious figures. She was able to express the esoteric subtleties of yoga and Hindu philosophy in terms of her personal experience, and she delivered them in a vernacular language that made them accessible to the illiterate masses. She was one of the very first in a series of great syncretist mystics—including Kabir and Guru Nanak—who transcended sectarian beliefs, asserting what they saw as the common truths in Islam and Hinduism. She contributed to the development of the Kashmiri language, and she is still revered in Kashmir, where in 1981-1982, a women’s hospital in Srinagar was named in her honor.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kaul, Jayalal. Lal Ded. New Delhi, India: Sahitya Akademi, 1973. Scholarly study that covers the life and legend of Lal Ded, the text and content of Lalla Vakyani and translations. There is an extensive bibliography that includes Persian chronicles, manuscripts, and published books.
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    xlink:type="simple">Kaul, R. N. Kashmir’s Mystic: Poetess Lalla Ded Alias Lalla Arifa. New Delhi, India: S. Chand, 1999. Discusses her life and legend but focuses on her use of the theory and practice of Kashmir Shaivism and her mystical experience.
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    xlink:type="simple">Kotru, Nil Kanth. Lal Ded: Her Life and Sayings. Kashmir, India: Utpa, 1989. A long introduction discusses her life, but most of the book consists of her translated sayings and extensive notes on the verses.
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    xlink:type="simple">Odin, Jaishree Kak. To the Other Shore: Lalla’s Life and Poetry. New Delhi, India: Vitasta, 1999. A scholarly and feminist reappraisal of Lalla. Includes a wide range of Lalla’s verses, transcribed and translated from the Kashmiri, a concordance of various Lalla collections, and a bibliography.
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    xlink:type="simple">Parimoo, B. N. The Ascent of Self: A Reinterpretation of the Mystical Poetry of Lalla-Ded. Delhi, India: Motilal Banarsidass, 1978. Based on analyses of her verses, the thesis of the book is that Lal Ded attained yogic perfection.
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    xlink:type="simple">Parimoo, B. N. Lalleshwari. New Delhi, India: National Book Trust, 1987. Includes interesting biographical information on her early life, marriage, and miracles, as well as chapters on her verses.
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    xlink:type="simple">Temple, Sir Richard Carnac. The Word of Lalla the Prophetess. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1924. This study covers the sources of Lalla’s religion, its theory, and doctrine as well as her teaching. Includes a useful glossary and index.
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    xlink:type="simple">Toshkhani, S. S. Lal Ded: The Great Kashmiri Saint-Poetess. New Delhi, India: A. P. H. Publishing, 2002. The papers and proceedings of the national seminar on Lal Ded held on November 12, 2000, in New Delhi. Scholars discuss her spiritual vision and the facts, myths, and legends about her. There is also a section of selected verses.

Categories: History