Lal Ded – ‘Lal the Womb’ The Naked Sufi Saint

[I was passionate]

By Lal Ded

Translated by Jane Hirshfield

I was passionate,
filled with longing,
I searched
far and wide.
But the day
that the Truthful One
found me,
I was at home.
Lal Ded, “[I was passionate]” translated by Jane Hirshfield, from Women in Praise of the Sacred (New York: Harper Collins, 1994).(https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/55265/i-was-passionate)
One of my favorite teachers of all time is Lal Del, or Lallaswari. A 14th C Kashmiri woman who followed her dharma and became a celebrated mystic.  Although born into a strict household, and married at the young age of 12, she saught truth, found a teacher, became a saint, and ultimately left her home at the age of 26 where she studied with the studied with the Shaiva saint, Sed Boyu (Sidda Shrikantha).
Poetry and History
Her poetry (vakyas)  survives  her to this day. A total of 258 vakhs  are attributed to her since 14th CE to present day. As it was traditional at the time to give oral transmissions, and memorize the teachings her poetry was remembered and eventually documented for future generations. Becase of this, she must have been regarded especially for her time in addition to the fact that she was a woman this is extraordinary.  Although left out of most of the Kashmiri history books that mostly concerned themselves with economic and political changes, her voice remained among the people. The award winning writer and translator Ranjit Hoskote wrote;
“Meanwhile, beneath the line of visibility set by the patriarchy, Lal’s poems were weaving themselves into Kashmir’s popular consciousness.”
She was first mentioned in a 1587account of saints in the valley of Kashmir, written by Mullah Ali Raina, and again seven years later in another text where she offered a bowl to a sultans’ son, possibly symbolizin a Tantric initiation. It wouldn’t be until 1736 that we see her life story appear again in the Tarikh -i-azami. (Ranjit Hoskote)
Her Faith
She was a contemporary to Mirabai, (also wondering bhakti saint for Krishna) and took Shiva as her muse. She was revered by Hindus and Muslims alike, as that period many religious distinctions were broken down. Discarding any need for clothes and purdha, she represented her freedom for all to see. She also danced and sang in publice which at the time

Lalla, think not of things that are without                                                                                                     Fix upon thy inner self thy thought                                                                                                               So shall thou be freed from  doubt.

Dance then, Lalla, clad but in the sky                                                                                                            Air and sky, what garment is more fair?                                                                                                   Cloth, says custom, (but) does that satisfy?

This poem translated by Ranjit Hoskote sums up her simple realitiy of life.

Don’t think I did all this to get famous.
I never cared for the good things of life.
I always ate sensibly. I knew hunger well,
and sorrow, and God.
Lalla paved the way for other female saints creating the legitimate space for futrue generations.

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