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.

-0-

Bonus: the process as followed in Rajasthan

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