Roopa Bhawani in Kashmiri Language and Literature

by Dr. A. N. Raina

In Kashmir, poetry has ever been true to religion and thought. In early times Sanskrit was the Language, mainly Musical. It was the voice from the depth of heart, not a verbal exercise, tinged with any affectation but a simple and sincere expression of thought and knowledge preserved for the good of mankind. It was the glorious age of this language in Kashmir when scholars and researchers dived deep to unearth the treasures by the giant intellects whose characteristic zeal for divine wisdom enabled the preservation of knowledge and spiritual experience.

It is believed that phonetic distortion and decay in Sanskrit gave rise to Apabhramsha followed later by Prakrit. Kashmiri emerged as a language towards the close of the 14th Century when it assumed some form in its original base of Sanskrit. Till then Shaivism had expressed itself as the doctrine of Self recognition. The doctrine had made an appeal with its love and devotion regarded as the two main planks of this faith. Giant intellects like Abhinava Gupta, Utpaladeva, Kshemendra and other seers and scholars had enriched this thought and culture with their admirable contributions. As a doctrine of soothing thought Shaivism inspired love and affection in human hearts discarding all the painful and tortuous methods of seeking God. This soothing faith found a wide appeal across the Himalayan frontiers into Tibet, China, Kabul, Kandhar and Bactria. Intensive intellectual activity covered a vast field of literature in Philosophy, Poetry, Chronicle writing and rhetorics. Kashmir was not a forgotten land of mountains intellectually and spiritually isolated but an illumined literary heaven shedding light of knowledge and wisdom across its Himalayan borders.

With the coming of Islam, Hinduism come under the influence more refreshing and deeply protestant. Islam, it is to be admitted, gave a jolt to Hinduism in its spiritual slumber of ages. The Buddhism with its virtuous path for life had discarded the fighting element in man. However, the onslaught of Islamic faith could not alter and dive deep into the philosophic and spiritual attainments of Hinduism. May be Islam in its beginning resorted to force but, as time passed force created a subdued apathy in hearts. Passion, rage, and physical conquest made no appeal to people and failed to overpower the good in man. The result was the reflective minds dominated head and heart imploring the need of some sort of spiritual discipline for the daily conduct in life. It was this feeling that stimulated into a rational view when Sufism emerged as a doctrine of oneness based on tolerance and unity. It was a healthy approach to religions based on essential unity for human happiness. A harbinger of peace Sufism or mysticism served Islam in the real sense of the term.

Sanskrit suffered change and what followed is known Apabhransha that followed Prakrit. Philologists traced the merger of languages in time and in Kashmir both Apabhransha and Prakrit ultimately merged into Kashmiri - the modern Kashmiri of Lal-Ded.

Kashmiri, it may be mentioned developed as a language, not as a dialect. It emerged in a scientific manner well rooted as it was in its antecedent Sanskrit. Within the Panjal ranges and Kajinag mountains Kashmiri became the mother tongue of those peace loving inhabitants who steadily settled to an appreciation of regular phonological correspondences of certain words and syllables which indicate common roots. Sounds may have suffered a little change here and there in certain positions to a degree but the identity was retained. To mention some of the basic words at a glance still in common use among many are Prakash, Sumran, Shabd, Rishi, Sunder, anand, Samaya, Prabhat, etc.

Koshur as Kashmiri is called belongs to the Dardic group profoundly affected by the Indo-Aryan spoken Sanskrit and during over two thousand years a part of the "Sanskrit Culture World" it was Yogeshwari Lalla (Lal Ded) whose Vaakh laid a sound foundation of this language. Her Vaakh passed from mouth to mouth in the beginning. Her four-line stanza Vaakh in Kashmiri poetry forms the base of modern Kashmiri. Her verse was uttered with all seriousness saturated as it is with philosophic thought to be pondered over and not only sung and enjoyed. These stanzas became food for deep thinking and in the words of Lal Ded herself "My Guru gave me but one precept - from without withdraw your gaze within, and fix on the inmost self."

It is necessary to mention here that her Guru "Siddha" had an important place in her spiritual attainments.

Philologists may have taken pains to study the original form of Kashmiri but the conclusion is accepted by all that Bhaskara's Lalla-vaakh in Sharda script is to be taken as authentic in modern Kashmiri.

It may not be a digression to say that language has its own rhythm of origin and growth. Time punctuates its pulsation. Nature provides elements for its enrichment. It is then that a language assumes its form. It enters deep into human mind. Some believe, may be rightly too, that the origin of a language is always divine. It flows out or even sprouts forth from the depth of soul destined to be its progenitor. So has it been with Kashmiri also.

Lal-Ded the well known saint-poetess irradiated a deep and impalpable influence with her verse during the 14th century. Her verse had a transforming power of engendering purity and human brotherliness.

Her message found the response among the people irrespective of caste and creed. Her sayings established a tradition of harmony and tolerance which is our priceless heritage. There is not a Kashmiri, Hindu or Muslim, who had not some of her Vaakhs at the tip of his tongue. Her Vaakh or pithy poems containing spiritual experience documented in a form which is of immense value to the seeker. These are inspired speech.

Undoubtedly the progenitor of modern Kashmiri Lal-Ded is the first among the moderns not only chronologically but in modern quality of interrogation and expostulation, to her poetry. Her poetry comes alive for us even today.

The close of the 14th century brings to end the age of Yogeshwari Lalla. Till then her Vaakh had established itself and spread like fire in the valley of Kashmir. A climate of modern Kashmiri had covered itself the entire mind and senses of people who readily accepted this Shaiva-Mystic whose minstrel wanderings earned for her the name of divine Mother.

It is time to see how after Lal Ded followed the line of Sheikh Noor-ud-din, reshi of Chrari-sharif in his Shrukhs educating spiritually the people of Kashmir for over fifty years (1377-1438 A. D.), in a simple vernacular. The theme, form and tone, was essentially that used by Lal-Ded in her Vaakhs. Of literary interest these pithy verses formed the correct coin of common speech. It is true that Persian influence intensified, but it also is true that interests widened towards a humanist awareness. The modern Kashmiri was taking birth towards an enlightenment and understanding. New words bring new life and standard of literary language develops towards a form of linguistic discipline. By the close of 13th century the age of Yogeshwari Lalla and Nundrishi come to close. Till then her Vaakhs and his shrukhs had established as a corrective for human mind and intellect.

By the first water of the 18th century when Rupabhawani passed away (1721 A.D ) Kashmiri language had undergone considerable change during about three centuries since the time of Lallashwari. With the coming of many Iranians from Iran where persecution by Timur drove away rich crop of scholars and seekers. Essentially these Savants after finding an asylum the happy valley of Kashmir ushered is that branch of Islamic mysticism known as Sufi-cult. And when Rupa Bhawani appeared on Kashmir scene a synthesis of Hindu and Islamic mysticism had already come to birth. In the back drop of this harmonious attitude to life Rupa Bhawani became its vocal interpreter. She became a seer for search but she was Search for herself having attained perfection from her very birth. Rupa, a spring of spiritualism, was destined to attract people from all faiths. Rupa's life reveals a course of events divine indeed but destined to fulfil a purpose. There was spiritual illumination as it were from her very birth. Faith moves mountains as such the palatial house of Pt. Madhojoo Dhar, acquired a sort of divine dimension. Rupa Bhawani will live so long as her verse is there. It is therefore, imperative that her Vaakhs be understood to the extent possible. In this respect a word about her verses will be to the point. Admirable as the attempt of Sh. T. N. Dhar, who brought out a volume on "Life, teachings and Philosophy of Rupa Bhawani" in1977 is one cannot but value this attempt as a contribution to the literature and language of Kashmir. Any attempt as a critical study of her divine verse depends on a careful study of her text prepared by this studious researcher.

That Rupa was light herself, there is no doubt about it. Her utterances are saturated with wisdom, divine learning nothing unusal about her, spiritual experience and attainments. She admits herself to be the spark of great Brahman destined to proclaim "Soham". This message was readily accepted by the Hindus and Muslims alike. It is here that mention of Sufi thought seems necessary.

It has already been mentioned that many Iranians had come to Kashmir and there was an effective influence of Sufism here. These Sufi Saints like Shah Sadak who tried to measure his spiritual strength with Rupa Bhawani made him accept her superior attainments when Shah Sadak spent years in penance in upper Lar. The reply of Rupa Bhawani to Shah Sadak was "Surat-ma-zeth". By this time cultural mingling had effected itself and spiritual contacts had brought about identical views and approach to the quest of spirit. Hazrat Hashimbin-Mansoor had already declared "Analhaw" in 1900 A. D. The thesis his book "Kitabul Tawasoon" was "I am truth, God".

In Kashmir the times had changed since the day of Avantivarman (855 to 883 A. D.) of Utpal Dynasty, remembered even today with his temple at Awantipur. His court was adorned by two eminent poets Ratnakar and Anandvardhan. The modelling and drainage system and the drudging of the Jhelum mouth at Baramulla was taken up by Suyya the founder of Suyyapur (Sopore). It may be of interest to mention that the Tantrics opposed to the Brahmins were again in power for some years but rebellion and the economic devastation brought misery to the people. The Rajput of Lohar Dynasty ruled Kashmir like the rest of India for more than a century when Kshtriya rituals entered the Brahamnic cult. As is common with despotic rule the whole period suffered from murders, suicides, corruption-material and moral- a record of which has been prepared by Kalhan Pandit who followed in the 12th century in the reign of Jayasinha. The mysticism from Iran was a slow but soothing stream aimed at raising up of moral and spiritual values and oneness of God. Therefore, Kashmiris readily accepted it in all its traits in which the Reshi order of Nundrishi was also contained. So Kashmiri thinking evolved out of a happy amalgam of Sanskrit, Buddhist and Islamic values.

Now is the turn of the text of Rupa Bhawani's verse, in diction, style and cumulative expression.

We owe it to a Brahmin Pandit Kesho Bhat of Rainawari Srinagar, who prepared the text of the Vakhs of Rupa Bhawani originally in Sharda, seen and revised by late Pandit Hara Bhat Shastri before these were published by Kasho Bhat himself. "These Vaakhs of the Divine Mother do not seen to have gained much currency during the last 250 years. There is no record of any writing to show that any attention was paid to interpret these verses". It beggars not for a rise towards climax. The reasons are not far to seek. It required a careful study of the original text now available in a volume. Original to the core these Vaakhs need reading over and over again. This diction requires thought and understanding of a high order for which it is essential to have some basic knowledge of Shastras. Her thoughts as expressed in her verse leave much to ponder over before realising the meaning. Thus there is more than what meets the eye. It is then that a reader becomes aware of the fact that Rupa Bhawani had a Yogic stand, all her own, in the domain of spirit. She is perfect and as such there is no beginning of an idea of philosophy in her verse. Each verse has its own rhythm in thought and its effect in totality.

It is not the earthly verse but an outburst, rushing out of the depth of her soul where senses and mind vanish that void where mystics enter a trance. The gaze is thus deeply within (Antarmukhi)


In such a state of concentration there is the bliss of union with the Infinite. The translator has however taken pains to explain the subtle principle of Muladhara in these ten verses strewing the refrain for clarity and concentration. It will be no digression to say that the physical span of Rupa Bhawani's movement has not been beyond ten miles from Srinagar and its environs within the Hariparbat side of the Anchar Lake with its mountain amphitheatre with the Lar area where Shah Sadiq lived at a higher elevation. Rupa Bhawnai settled here for her meditation at Vaskur. The famous shrine of Rajni Devi at Tullamulla is situated in this area. Shankaracharya hill and the Mahadev Peak look over this region.

It may not be fair to weigh words of Rupa Bhawani and compare these with other poets of Kashmiri. There being nothing very common in vocabulary, such an attempt will lead us nowhere. In thought, however, Rupa Bhawani states her Yogic preparation with that of Lal Ded. Accepting like Lal Ded the guidance of Guru before whom ego vaxes with divine logic, one attains the state of divine union. A close study of the Gita and the Vakkhs will reveal an identity of views. Here again Gita (iv,46) be referred to for each shape of experience in the practice of Yoga. Well-versed with the Yogic technique of Lal Ded, Rupa Bhawani explains how unity of self with the supreme self required "Anugraha" to free the spirit off the shackles of matter. In this respect Rupa Bhawani does not go beyond the teachings of Gita.


Does this form the basis of her miracles? Well versed in Spand Shashtras as she was, it may not be easy to appreciate the verses that follow the verses of Ist canto. It requires spiritual intelligence to follow the Vakkhs in the second canto (113 verses) in which the great union is propounded. Rupa Bhawani is above the experience of pleasure and pain. The translator has rightly remarked that "The truth of developing inward vision through these utterances can be understood by the practice of Yoga". The purpose of Yoga is summarised thus:


"World teacher, ever in service, worthy of infinite worship."

While going carefully through the words in Sanskrit and sound close to each other in meaning Kashmiri similar or identical may appear, but no separate word in Kashmiri is either attempted to be searched or found. It is not the homophony of words, but the regular phonological correspondence of words and syllables indicating common roots.

Modern Kashmiri bears no resemblance with the language of Rupa Bhawani and no amount is worthwhile to make such an attempt. New words brought new life to this language and in keeping with the traditional cultural mingling the Kashmiri got enriched. Its vocabulary depending on its prefixes and suffixes enabled a new coinage of words. The sweetness of Kashmiri poetry is due to that mystical quality of individual coinage making it fit for poetry. There is no abuse of foreign words. They are set well in sound and meaning.

There is nothing beyond God in Rupa Bhawani's verse. And if life aims at aimless journey one wonders how in a mysterious wandering one can get peace of mind.

The third canto signifies perfection exclaiming "I am that great Brahman". Such verse, to be intelligible, needs grace of God (Anugraha). Since Samadhi comes in it so it becomes an exercise in yoga that for perfect to a degree far beyond is not within comprehension. It appears that no effort is made by Rupa Bhawani to make herself intelligible to the non-sanskrit speaking people. Reason is not far to seek. Gushing out of wisdom in Sanskrit completely annihilates environmental consciousness which is an attempt at a low level to that of bliss of Heavenly peace, the domain of Supreme Brahman. "Greatest miracle of biological power is the development of speech in man which finally developed into power of writing," Very rightly remarked by Shri T. N. Dhar, at page 156.

 Coming to the 4th canto of Vaakhas it ends the divine message being the last. Her spiritual quest is an open penance aiming at spiritual unity. Renunciation leaps to actual attainment. "Having nothing yet hath all" is often quoted. It applies to the teachings of Rupa Bhawani. To give up worldly pleasures for some time never means complete renunciation. It is a period of penance a sort of spiritual preparation aiming at purification of the devotee. She depends on wisdom enshrined in the Vedas to give up duality. Respecting tradition, custom and kinship, she only bridged the gulf with yoga. Samadhi she stresses, siddhi, skill, prosperity, gush out from the source. Personality is to be, free from decay and death.

Linguistically speaking Kashmiri appears not to have emerged as an accepted mixture of Sanskrit and Persian words as is proved to be later in the middle of the 19th Century. In the time of Rupa Bhawani whatever the reasons, the diction in her verse shows no synthesis of, Sanskrit and Persian. Assimilation appears to have taken along time as her verse is not even a half baked mingling of words from Persian. it is not easy to erase her contribute on to Kashmiri language. Had it not been for her rich verse (about 150 verses) to Kashmiri literature-"obscure and obsolete" verse as mentioned in haste by some critics - the poetess may have left little impression on Kashmiri. This is not to be forgotten that the verse of Rupa Bhawani is to be studies in isolation and not as an evolutionary wave in the synthesized current of Kashmiri. A recluse as she was her spiritual domain was a divine Kingdom of her own, unconcerned with the people around her.

Article reproduced from:
Glimpses of Kashmiri Culture
Shri Parmanand Research Institute
Srinagar, Kashmir

Rupa Bhawani
Rupa Bhawani