CHAPTER 6: Language of Lal Ded's Poetry

by Dr. Roop Krishen Bhat

Dr. Roop Krishen BhatSir Richard Temple in his book "The Word of Lalla" says : "The vaakhs of Laleshwari have become part of day to day conversation in Kashmiri households. Her religion is not bookish. Her religion is a mix of people, hopes and miseries. Her vaakhs are of high standard, spiritual, brief, to the point, sweet, full of hope, lively and representative of the status of a common man". In their context, the vaakhs represent human brotherhood, harmony, goodness, service to mankind. The proverbial and idiomatic significance of vaakhs make these popular even after 600 years of their existence.

Sir Richard Grierson says in 'Lal Vaakyani' : "There would hardly be a language in the world which would match the popularity of sayings of saint-poets or poetesses to those of Lal Ded in Kashmiri."

Such is the power of the Lal Ded's poetry that even after 600 years of history, full of political, social and economic upheavals, its language has not undergone any major change. It is as intelligible today as it was originally when the vaakhs were composed. Let us now make an attempt to analyse the language used in Lal Ded's uaakhs.

The language of the vaakhs does not only indicate the diction of the poetess or the terminology in vogue at that time but a reflection and representation of the socio-cultural and political life of that period. The diction also reflects the shades of the personal life of the great saint-poetess.

It is an established fact that idiolects differ from person to person. However, there is resemblance and similarity at the dialectical level. That is the reason why no one could match the quality and the standard, either of the language or the content of Lal Ded's vaakhs though numerous attempts were made by various poets to imitate them. To understand the language of the vaakhs, one has to go back to the 14th century AD and to understand the socio-political background of those times. The language of 14th century Kashmir as used in the vaakhs is of Indo-Aryan sub-stock of languages spoken by the immigrants of that time who had crossed over to the Valley from the Northern range of mountains several thousand years earlier. Till the 14th century, or till Lal Ded's time, Kashmiris had borrowed and assimilated numerous words from Hindu, Shaiva and Buddhist religious vocabulary into their language, but had still retained the sentence-structure and sound system of proto-Kashmiri. Vocabulary keeps on changing but usually the sound- system and sentence-structure is not easily affected. The language of Lal vaakhs is an authentic example of proto-Kashmiri form of language. The language of the vaakhs is the language of the common people or colloquial and not the kind of classical language used by scholars. The common man's language does not absorb the rigidity or conservativeness of borrowed words but instead changes the form of such words to suit its system and usage. That is why a lot many words of Sanskrit which were borrowed into Kashmiri became part of the core-vocabulary of Kashmiri and are no more strange to us.

Some of the words which could be attributed to proto-­Kashmiri and were part of Kashmiri even before the Sanskrit influence and used frequently in Lal Ded's vaakhs are:

nov new  nas  nose  and  end
lot  light  pod  footstep  nangu  naked
achh  eye  dand  tooth  domb  womb

These words are common in all Aryan languages. However, the words or vocables which are related to rituals or customs are usually from Pali or Sanskrit, because Shaivism and Buddhism remained the religions of Kashmiris for hundreds of years. Some examples:

i. deshi ayas dashi deshi tsalith

tsalith tsotum shuni adu vav

shivuy dyunthum shayi shayi milith

she tu tre trupurmas tu shivuy drav

I roamed the ten directions and pierced the wind and the void. I closed the nine gates of the body and shut out the thirty-six, Wherever I looked I found the Lord.

ii. shiv chhuy thali thali rozan

mo zan batu to musalman

truk hay chhukh tu pan praznav

sway chhay sahibas suuty zan

Shiva abides in all that is, everywhere. Then do not discriminate between a Hindu and a Musalman. If you are wise, know yourself, that is true knowledge of the Lord.

Lal Ded has nowhere used the word Hindu but batu since Hindu, the modified form of the word. "Sindhu", came into use much after Lal Ded's period. With an exception of Shitikanth's "Mahanayprakash" we do not have many written manuscripts or Kashmiri language of pre-Lal Ded period. Hence her vaakhs assume the distinction of being the first extant sample of the Kashmiri language, and, to use Prof Jaya Lal Kaul's words, "Lal Ded is more significantly, the maker of modem Kashmiri language as well as literature".

Kashmiri words of Sanskrit and Pali origin had undergone many phonological and morphological changes till the time of Lal Ded. Like religious preachers, Lal Ded moved and lived with the common man and used the common man's language in her discourses.

It may be kept in mind that her vaakhs were transmitted orally from generation to generation and have therefore been subjected to linguistic change. Some of the words of Sanskrit origin used in the vaakhs are:

Kashmiri  Sanskrit  Meaning
abudi  abuddhi  without wisdom
atugath  agatah+gatah to come and go (rebirth)
artsun  archana  worship
ahar  ahara  food
prakrath  prakriti  nature
div  deva  deity
swakh  sukha  comfort
swayam  svayam  oneself
kalpan  kalpana  imagination
sadbav  sadbhava  good faith
kalesh  klesha  difference
ma rg  ma rga  path
va kh  va k  speech, utterance
yendriy  indriya  the senses

Let us now analyse the vaakhs at different linguistic levels i.e. phonological, morphological, syntactic and semantic, and note the Kashmiri features of the language or changes if any.

I. Phonological level

At phonological level many of the proto-Kashmiri features have been preserved in the vaakhs. For example

i) Use of low-back vowel ‘wa' instead of high back vowel `u'.

dwarlab  durlabh  rare, difficult to attain
akwal  akul  transcendent non-familial
amwal  amulya  invaluable
swarag  swaraga  heaven
wopdish  upadesh  sermon

ii) Use of central-mid vowel `aa'

baajbath  participation, partnership
paajy  preserved, brought up
kraaj (mas) potter-woman

iii) Use of 'z' instead of ‘j'

zagath  jagat  world
zal  jala  water
zanum  janma  birth

iv) Use of 'ts' instead of 'ch'

artsun  archana  worship
tseth  chitta  mind, consciousness
tsenun  chintan  to realise, to know

v) Use of palatalization

kamy   who
akaaly  untimely
bavuky  full of feeling/emotion

II. Morphological level

i) Pronominalization is a very important characteristic of Kashmiri morphology, i.e. the subject and object markers attached to the verb get inflected for number and gender. Look at these vaakhs of Lal Ded where such forms are widely used:

tanu manu gayas bu tas kuni

buzum satuch gant a vazan

tath jayi dhamayi dharan rotum

akash tu prakash korum saru

Note the pronominal forms in this vaakh.

gayas [I(f) went], buzum [I heard] rotum [I caught], korum [I did]

b) parun polum aporuy porum

kesari vanu volum ratith shal

paras pornam tu panas polum

adu gom molum tu zinim hal

the pronominal forms used are;

polum [I practiced], porum [t read] volum [I brought down], pornam [he read out to me] gom [happened to me], zinim [I earned]

ii) Use of emphatic particle 'iy' / ‘ay' which is used with the subject noun / pronoun:

asiy aasy tu asiy asav

asi dor kar patuvath

shivas sori nu zyon tu marun

ravas sori nu atugath

Observe the emphatic forms, iy [only we], asiy [we alone].

iii) The use of ablative case without postpositions

a) gwaran vonunam kunuy vatsun

nebru dopnam andar atsun

(nebru (pyathu) dopnam andar .atsun ) [(from) outside]

b) gwaru kath hridyas manzbag ratum gangu zalu naavum tan tay man

{gangu zalu (suuty) naavum tan tay man} [(with) Ganga water]

c) ami panu sodras navi chhas laman

[ami panu (suuty) sodras navi chhas laman] [(with) a loose spun thread]

iv) Usage of modal verbs along with main verb

atshyan ayi taygatshun gatshe [should go]

pakun gatshe dyan kyoho rath [should walk]

yo ray ayi tu tury gatshun gatshe [should go]

Note the use of gatshe modal verb form with MV gatshuu [to go].

(v) The simple verb forms used by Lal Ded are now usually substituted by compound verbs in present Kashmiri

artsun - piza kariny [to worship]

vatsun - kath kariny (to express]

zayun - khatum karun [to destroy]

shrarnun- jazub gatshun [to get absorbed]

larun - haasil sapdun (to gain]

tshandun - phirith yun [to wander]

sandarun - thakavath dur kariny [to take rest]

vage - kobuhas manz [under control]

pushrun - havalu karun [to hand over]

trupun - mutmayin gatshun (to be contended]

III. Syntactic level

Syntactically the language of vaakhs is very much closer to today's Kashmiri. From the syntactic structure of vaakhs it could be concluded that despite large scale borrowings from the Sanskrit at word level, Kashmiri has retained its basic sentence structure which is different from other Indo­Aryan languages and closer to European languages. Kashmiri is a SVO (subject-verb-object) language while as other Indo-Aryan languages are SOV (subject-object-verb) type. Secondly, the finite verb form is used immediately after the verb.

For example:

day chhu kunuy magarnav chhis lachha (God is one but has a thousand names)*

Most of the vaakhs are in simple sentences comprising of subject + verb phrase or vice versa or subject, verb and object in a row. Some of the vaakhs are in a question and answer form.

For example:

kus mari to kasu maran

man kus tu maran kas

yus haru haru traavith garu garu kare

adu suy mare tu maran tas

Who dies? Who is slain?

He who forsakes God's name and gets involved in worldly cares.

It is he who dies. It is he who is slain.

The question words used are :

ha manshi kyazi chhukh vuthan seki lavar [Why?]

ha tsetu kavu chhuy logmut par mas (Why?)

kavu goy apzis pazyuk bronth [How?]

kya bodakh ma bavu saru daray (What?)

kya karu pantsan dahan tu kahan (What?)

Stress, intonation and pause are very much relevant in vaakhs and play important role syntactically as well as semantically for better utterance and understanding. Hence reciting or reading of vaakhs should be done carefully.

IV. Semantic level

Almost every vaakh is semantically independent and hardly overflows into another one. Each line completes the sense and has the compactness and pointed ness of a proverb. Many Kashmiri idioms and proverbs have their origin either in Lal Ded's vaakhs or in her life and have become an integral part of Kashmiri language. Lal Ded has used the diction of common people connected with various occupations, like the potter, farmer, weaver, shepherd etc, and the similes are also chosen according)

Let us now look at some of the proverbs and idioms which are very much in use today and owe their origin to Lal Ded.


i) hond maarytan kinu kath

lali niluvath tsali nu zanh

(Whether they kill, a ram or sheep, it is all the same for Lalleshwari. She has always a stone in her plate of food)

ii) ami panu sodras navi chhas larnun

(To row a boat across the sea with loose-spun thread.)

iii) yinu manduchhokh nu chanu kyazi chhukh manduchhan

(Not to be ashamed of taking birth but to hesitate from sucking milk)

iv) kahan gav ravuny

(Too many cooks spoil the broth. Disunity in a household.)

v) seki shathas byol vavun

(To sow seeds in a desert (a wasteful effort))

vi) komy yajyan til ravrun

(To waste oil on a dish of bran (a wasteful effort))

vii) rajas baaj yemy kartal paaj

(He who wields the sword a kingdom gains.)

viii) mudas gyanuch kath vanuny

(To impart knowledge to a fool.)


tar dyun [to ferry across]

loh langar [worldly affairs]

abakh chhan [an untrained carpenter]

zuvbramun [to long for something]

pahli ros khyol [a shepherdless flock]

dumatas rinz [to have no effect]

k aras gor dyun [to feed jaggery to an ass]

vakh tu vatsun [to heed a precept]

ravan tyol [the pain of loosing]

varzan vav [a storm]

kal ganuny [to remember badly]

achh talavas laguny [to long for some one, to yearn]


It could be concluded that the language of Lal Ded's poetry on one the hand preserves the proto-Kashmir characteristics despite very large borrowings from Sanskrit and on the other hand shares many linguistic features with modern Kashmiri.

To end this presentation, I would reiterate that there is certainly something great, rather spiritual in Lal Ded's poetry that it has withstood the onslaught of history and has become a part of the life of every Kashmiri speaking person today, as it was some 600 years back.


1. Geeru, Jia Lal, Lal Ded (Urdu), Gulshan Publications, Gav Kadal, Srinagar, Kashmir, 1983.

2. Grierson, Sir George, Lallavaakyani, Vol. XVII, London, 1920

3. Kaul, Jaya Lal, Lal Ded, Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, 1973

4. Kosher Samachar, Lal Ded Number, Kashmir Bhawan, Lajpat Nagar, New Delhi, 1971.

5. Temple. Sir Richard. The Word of Lalla, (CUR). 1924.

Lal Ded: The Great Kashmiri Saint-Poetess