Friday, March 27, 2020

Post Pregnancy Kashmiri Ritual

October 2018

Notes on Shran-Sondar 

loussi ghass.

New mother gets Herb bath on 11th day.

A mixture of herbs, shrubs, leaves, wild fruits and roots together known in Kashmir as loussi ghass. The mix includes brie (red berries), shangar (herbs), ladrigand (haldi/turmeric root), shontgand (Ginger root) and many more of such. It used to be sold by Buhur...the grocer guys...named liked Shabu Buhur or among muslims by Khazir Woan. The bath ritual is still among Kashmiri Muslims, so the herb mix is still sold in Kashmir by certain old traditional grocers. My father brought it all the way from Srinagar.

boiling

Cooling


Post Bath:

Rice balls are mixed with hend (supposed to be dried dandelion leaves, father misplaced the leaves, so we used paalak). Fish is cooked and kept with it in a plate. Fish is essential for the ritual. Beside it we can put yellow meat and some vegetable dish.


A kaajwot (pestle stone) is kept on the ground.  The child is placed on it and then brought into the house. Burza is burnt. (father had brought the bark from a Birch tree in Pahalgam around 10 years ago). A name is given to the child. And the oldest lady in the house sings a line "sokh-ti-pun-syun".


Burza/Birch bark
welcome
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In Kerala, we found the practice of Ayurvedic bath post child birth quite a common culture. The are women who are employed for it. There are herb mix that are sold. Goes on for about 40 days. The new born is given special massage using oils although doctors recommend caution with the newborn and ask to rely only on good expert hands. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Lal Ded and the Seed of Life


Lal Ded
A KP woman on cover of a magazine. 1951

Yath Saras saer-phul na vai'tsay
Tath sare sakael poene chan;
Mrag shragal gaend zal-haes,
Zain na zain totey paen


It is a lake so tiny that in it a mustard seed finds no room.
Yet from that lake everyone drinks water.
And into it do gazelles, jackals, rhinoceroses, and sea-elephants
Keep falling, falling, almost before they have time to be born



The lines evoke a mystery, conjures up exotic images like rhinoceroses and sea-elephants, something that no Kashmiri would have possibly known. The lines conceal a deeper meaning and invites a reader to get to the root of it all. 
The answer to the riddle is: teats. Mother's teats, the seed of life. The point being that something complex as life actually some out of something that looks very simple. And that just being born is not the beginning, it is also the end. Creatures born and then returning to the source, the seed. 

I have been fascinated by these lines for few years now. So I tried to find if there is a seed to the thought, the idea. 

The simile of egg or seed occurs in grammarian Bhartrihari's Vakya-padiya.

This willing desire, called the word, 
has a nature similar to that of an egg; 
Its evolving starts gradually, 
when one part follows another, 
just as it happens 
when[one foot follows another during ordinary] 
walking

[~From Early Vedanta to Kashmir Shaivism: Gaudapada, Bhartrhari, and Abhinavagupta By N. V. Isaeva]

It is meant to explain how some words conceal and hold higher meaning. A riddle is also essentially words, in sequence, that together hold a deeper meaning.

Harivrsabha, disciple of Bhartrihari mentions the egg being mentioned in those lines is a peacock's egg (mayura-anda). 

In Paratrimshika-karika, Abhinavagupt talks about seed of universe using banyan seed. 

Just as the great banyan tree 
is present in its seed 
only in the form of potency, 
So the whole of the universe, 
with its moving and immovable things, 
is present in the heart [of the higher Lord].

The form the words take here are in thought similar to what Lal Ded is saying.

In Chandogya Upanishad we find origin of the thought, the seed of faith (something akin to mustard seed of Christianity):


You are That
Uddälaka asked his son to fetch a banyan fruit.
'Here it is, Lord!' said Svetaketu.
'Break it,' said Uddalaka.
'I have broken it, Lord!'
'What do you see there?'
'Little seeds, Lord!'
'Break one of them, my son!'
'It is broken, Lord!'
'What do you see there?'
'Nothing Lord!' said Svetaketu.

Uddālaka said: My son! This great banyan tree 
has sprung up from seed so small
that you cannot see it.
Believe in what I say, my son!
That being is the seed; all else but His expression.
He is truth. He is Self.
Svetaketu! You are that.'

[~ Shree Purohit Swami and W.B. Yeats]

Lal Ded also talks about an impossibly small seed of life, a small lake, out of which all life is born. That she mentions as the source. And then in death, life returns to the source. 

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Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Lal Ded and the Soap

The real beauty of Lal Vakhs and the deeper meaning and vast social within them...a sample

Doeb yaeli chaev'nas doeb kani pae'they
Saz tai saaban metsh'nam ye'tsey
Sae'ts yeli fir'nam hani hani kae'tsey,
Ade Lalli mae prae'vem par'me gath

I came across these lines of Lal Ded recently and within these lines I noticed something odd that shone out like a buried piece of gold nugget.

First a translation:

when the washer man pounded me on his stone
when he applied soda ash and soap
every part the weaver cut, pricked and probed
then I Lala found final salvation


What stands out in the vakh at first is the word "Sabun"/Soap. Lal Ded is 14th century, so what is Sabun doing in 14th century Kashmir? The word Sabun itself is of Arabic origin. "Saz" is the naturally occurring salt of Natron, that humans know as the earliest form of natural soap.

It must be here remembered that what we know as Lal Vakh and attribute to Lal Ded, much of it actually is in fact of later origin. This Vakh also points out to that. However, there is something more happening in these lines. What exactly is being described? Commentators and writers have nothing to say. It is vaguely assumed the vakh refers to production of cotton cloth from cotton. Which of course can't be right. The sequence of events is the vakh is not right. What is the washerman pounding?

Even Sir Richard Carnac Temple in the first monumental work on Lal Ded in western world. "The Word of Lalla the Prophetess" (1924) mentions that his local informants (which would mean his actual source of translations) were not satisfactorily able to explain the lines.

So what is happening?

Here's my simple take based on the assumption that a lot of Lal Vakh is not just a glimpse of inner journey but description of the outer world. In these lines, Lal Ded, or the writer is employing the process of Felt (or Namda) making as metaphor for making of something beautiful, a violet transformational process.

The process of making Felt, a central Asia phenomena originally, and one of the oldest known method to man for making clothing involves pounding the fur and then use of soaps and detergents for fusion of fiber, needles and scissors arrive later for the patters and designs. 

It is the vast social distance between the commentators of vakh and the working class that has made something so obvious depicted in these lines oblivious to most.

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Bonus: the process as followed in Rajasthan

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