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Yojana Magazine (September 2022): Poetry & Mysticism in Kashmir

Poetry & Mysticism in Kashmir: Introduction


  • Kasmir was the confluence of all the crosscurrents of Indian spirituality, Vedic, Buddhist, Tantric, Yogic, devotional, and philosophical. Later, Islamic mysticism also entered and commingled in this stream.
  • The Cultural History of Kashmir is enriched by the contributions of saints, philosophers, masters, teachers and poets.
  • From Shaivism through Buddhism and Sufism, Kashmir’s literary and cultural landscape has enriched the corpus of mysticism and literature in India.
  • Almost all the major schools of Indian aesthetics were founded by Kashmiri theoreticians -the Alankara School by Bhamaha, Riti School by Vamana, Vakrokti School by Kuntaka, Dhvani School by Anandavardhana and Auchitya School by Kshemendra.


Poetry & Mysticism in Kashmir: How Kashmir was an ideal setting for sages and seers?


  • The Kashmir valley surrounded by snow-clad mountains provided an ideal setting for sages and seers a couple of millennia ago.
  • It is impossible to write a history of Indian philosophy without referring to Kashmir’s contributions to it.
  • One of the oldest manuscripts of the Rigveda was written in Kashmir.
  • This is where great philosopher Abhinavagupta wrote his expositions on aesthetics and methods for the realisation of God.
  • Hinduism and Buddhism flourished in Kashmir, as did Islam and Sikhism after it arrived here in later centuries.


Poetry & Mysticism in Kashmir: How Kashmir is the meeting point of various cultures?


  • Kashmir is also the meeting point of various cultures. In medieval times, it was Lal Ded who showed the way to bring together various spiritual traditions.
  • In the works of Lalleshwari, we can see how Kashmir provides the very template itself of communal harmony and peaceful coexistence. This is also reflected in all aspects of life here, in folk arts and festivals, in food and dress.
  • The core nature of the place has always been inclusive. Almost all religions that came to this land embraced a unique feature of Kashmiriyat that shunned orthodoxy and encouraged tolerance and mutual acceptance among communities.


Poetry & Mysticism in Kashmir: Which poets did Kalhana mention?


  • Kalhana’s Rajtarangini speaks of numerous poets who flourished long before and who thought and wrote with ability on different branches of literature.
  • The poets that Kalhana mentions in his Rajtarangini are Anand Vardana, Bilhana, Bharatmetha, Bharatmuni, Kshemendra, Ratana Sankhadhimat and Sanukhasakhadarta.


Poetry & Mysticism in Kashmir: Abhinavagupta (c. 950-1016)


  • Abhinavagupta is so significant because in his astonishing oeuvre of over forty major works, he synthesised and explicated most of the knowledge of his age.
  • Though his compositions are classified as commentaries, they are highly original, innovative, and creative, both in form and technique.
  • He wrote both verse and prose. His magnum opus, Tantraloka, in prose, is a massive and masterly compendium on the philosophy, textual, and ritual traditions of Tantra. It is yet to be properly translated into English and consequently remains largely unknown and unassimilated in the dominant, Anglo-centric world.
  • Going by Abhinavagupta’s masterful exposition, Kashmir Shaivadarshana, more properly referred to as Trika — Trikashastra or Trikashasana — springs to life with astonishing clarity and cogency.
  • A simplistic way to describe it is in terms of a series of interlocking sets of three: Shiva, Shakti, Anu; Pati, Pasha, Pashu; Nara, Shakti, Shiva; Para, Apara, Parapara; Bheda, Abheda, Bheda-Abehda; and so on.
  • Trika may also be seen as referring to Siddha, Namaka, and Malini, the three principal Agamas. Or to the three main schools Kula, Krama, and Pratyabhijna. Or to three sources of authority, Nigama (Veda), Agama (Tantra), and Spanda (the doctrine of vibration), that traverses the first two.
  • Among Abhinavagupta’s most significant works are: Paratrishika Vivarna and Paratrishika Laghuvritti, Pratyabhijna Vimarshini and Pratyabhijna Vivriti, Tantraloka and Tantrasara. Each of these three sets consists respectively of a longer work and shorter summary.
  • He also wrote an original and fascinating commentary on Bhagavad Gita called Gitartha-Samgraha.
  • Some of his compositions, alluded to in his various works, are lost, but so many have, almost miraculously, survive to our times.


Poetry & Mysticism in Kashmir: Earliest Literature in the Kashmiri Language

Chumma Sampradaya

  • “Chumma Samprâdaya” or “Shangra Shelok”, is the earliest specimen of the Kashmiri language.
  • It seeks to expound the tenets of an esoteric Tantric sect aligned to the Karma school and can be assigned to the 11th century.
  • It is a text not entirely written in Kashmiri but has only thirty odd verses in that language, which complements the seventy-four verses written in Sanskrit.

Mahanaya Prakasha

  • Shiti Kantha’s Mahanaya Prakasha is the earliest recorded form of the Kashmiri language.
  • Shiti Kantha belonged to Pampur district and lived and wrote in the 13th C, there are no evidences about the birth and death of Shiti Kantha.

Who was Lal Dyad?

  • The dawn of Kashmiri poetry begins with the famous mystic poetess of Kashmir Lal Dyad.
  • She was attributed with many names Lal Arifah, Lal Muaj, Rabai Thani, Mariam-ul Makani, Lal Granny and Majnuni Aqila.
  • She is the first medieval mystic poetess who through her mystic verse gave a new life to the Kashmiri language.
  • She is counted among the greatest poets that Kashmir has ever produced and has left an indelible impact on the poetic tradition.
  • Earliest Sanskrit chronicles are silent about Lal Dyad, however, her earliest mention is given in hagiographic document by Baba Davud Mishkati in Asrar-ul Abrar (the secrets of pious) written in A.D. 1634.20

Who was Shaikh-Ul-Alam?

  • His poetry was the first written theology of Kashmiri language possessing great literary beauty and power of impact. The saint of extraordinary stature Shaikh Nur-ud Din is commonly known as Nunde Resh.
  • He is the young contemporary of Lal Dyad and is one of the most outstanding mystic poets of Kashmir who not only kept the culture and literature alive by rendering his verses in his mother tongue but also kept the ethos and heritage of Kashmir alive.
  • Although he kept the tradition alive by acting as a backbone to survival of the Kashmiri language but unfortunately very little is known about him to the outside audiences. Therefore his aesthetic appeal still needs to be internationally acclaimed.


Poetry & Mysticism in Kashmir: Conclusion


It was most unfortunate that the outstanding tradition of peaceful coexistence in Kashmir was broken. Violence, which was never part of ‘Kashmiriyat’, became the daily reality. It is alien to Kashmiri culture, and it can only be termed as an aberration – a temporary one, much like a virus that attacks the body and needs to be purged. Now there is a new beginning and determined efforts to regain this land’s lost glory.

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