598 – The First Emancipated Woman – Lal Ded

Before the word emancipation existed Lalleshwari, or Lal Ded was truly liberated. She broke away from tradition, defied marriage, mother-in-law’s hostile treatment and became a seeker of truth. All this happened in the 14th century.

She was married at the age of twelve. Her mother-in-law starved her and served her rice on a stone in a bowl, so it looked as if she was given a full bowl of rice. She was constantly being accused of all kinds of misdeeds, which were untrue.

She went to the river with a pot, early in the morning and came back in the evening with an empty pot. She was praying at the Shiva temple. Lal Ded walked out of the home. She emulated Shiva and she roamed naked as she wished to leave all baggage behind.

She is the first woman who created awareness, that one’s body was just a pitcher. People laughed at her, and they considered her crazy. She had a big stomach and when she was taunted about it, she said that it covered her reproductive organs. She would sing and recite her verse called Vakhs. Her recitation of these Vakhs is among the earliest known expressions of the modern Kashmiri language.

In that period there were persons from all faiths, thronging Kashmir. Lal Ded picked up thoughts and words from all these seekers. She mixed Hindu and Sufi thoughts in her verse.

Her Vakhs are truly beautiful

When the sun melts away, the moon remains.
When the moon melts away the mind remains, what’s left?
Earth, ether, sky, all empty out.

My Guru gave a single precept:
Turn your gaze from outside to inside
Fix it on the inner self.
I, Lala, naked took this to heart and naked set forth to dance.

The stories about Lal Ded are legendary. Children troubled and teased her because she wore no clothes. One time a silk merchant gave her two roles of silk of equal weight. She took them and placed them on her shoulders. Whenever someone ridiculed her, she would tie a knot in the bolt of silk on her left shoulder.

When she was praised, she would tie a knot in the bolt on her right shoulder. End of the day she went to the merchant and asked him to weigh the bundles. She wryly pointed out that everything remained the same, both bundles were equal in weight.

When she turned fifty, she sang some verses and a huge crowd gathered. Then she went into a large clay pot and place another pot on top over her head. When she did not reemerge from the pot after a couple of hours, the crowd removed the top pot and there was no Lal Ded.

Lal Ded was impatient in her quest for knowledge. She would not wait for an answer from her numerous Gurus. She was defiant and refused to accept patriarchal authority. She wished to know why the breath was cool when one inhaled and why the breath was warm when one exhaled. Why was there a contradiction. She then gave her own explanation.

The nature of the navel region is fiery like the sun; the crown of the head is icy like the moon; from which cool waters flow down the tubes; that is why ‘phu’ is cold and ‘ha’ is hot. She explained the theory of Prana through her revelations which came from her deep love of Shiva and her Sadhana.

Lal Ded was a remarkable person and her Vakhs show that anyone can pursue a spiritual path if they are guided by their intensity and determination.

Aim Hrim Klim


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