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Habba Khatoon: The Sage of Kashmir

Habba Khatoon: The Sage of Kashmir

A beautiful and intelligent damsel from the saffron town of Pampore, Habba Khatoon was a Kashmiri poetess born in the 16th century. Named as Zoon (meaning, the moon) by her parents and fondly called the ‘Nightingale of Kashmir’, she is one of the most popular mystic poets from the valley. Her verses have traveled across time and even today, she is the sound and song of many Kashmiri gatherings.

In this article we unfold more about Habba Khatun, her life and her poetry.

The Life of Habba Khatoon

Born in 1554 in a small village called Chandhur in Pampore as a peasant, Habba Khatun or Khatoon was named as Zoon by her parents. As per oral tradition, she was called Zoon owing to her immense beauty. 

There is also a theory that suggests that she was once baptised by a Sufi mystic on a moonlight night who gave her the name Zoon. And it was under the guidance of her Sufi mentor that she began to compose lyrics and sing. She had a beautiful voice and a natural talent for composing poetry.

Even though born in a peasant family, Zoon had learnt to read and write from the village moulvi. At a young age, Zoon’s father married her off to a peasant boy. But her marriage did not fare well and she was soon divorced. It is believed that she was mistreated by her mother-in-law and sister-in-law as they tried to change her behavior and make her live a more acceptable life. It was after her divorce that she started writing and singing songs in Kashmiri.

Later, after she had been divorced, she met and fell in love with Yusuf Shah Chak. And it was after her marriage to him that she changed her name to ‘Habba Khatoon’.

Habba Khatoon and Yusuf Shah Chak

Yusuf Shah Chak, the King of Kashmir spotted Habba Khatun singing under the shade of a chinar tree in the fields one day. Mesmerized by her melancholic melodies and stunned by her beauty, he instantly fell in love with her. He later tied the knot with her and Habba, who enchanted him with her poetry, reigned as the queen for six years. 

Everything was well between them for a few years until the time that Kashmir was annexed to the Mughal Empire. Although they had a happy marriage, fate soon drove them apart.

A popular legend says that it was at the end of six years of the marriage of Yusuf Chak and Habba Khatoon that Emperor Akbar summoned Yusuf Shah Chak to Delhi. While the accuracy of the tale that follows is dubious, this popular Kashmiri legend has survived through the years and is told generation after generation. 

When he arrived at the Mughal court, Yusuf Shah Chak was sent to a prison in Bengal right away, never to see his beloved wife ever again. He was later moved to a prison in Bihar where he died and his grave still remains. 

After two unsuccessful Army attacks on Kashmir, Akbar realized that taking Kashmir by force may not be the best way to conquer it and hence, called Yusuf Chak over to Delhi for a peaceful resolution. And in the conquest of acquiring the crown jewel of Kashmir, Akbar imprisoned Yusuf Shah Chak and throttled the romance between the two. After this incident, Habba became ascetic and wandered around the valley singing her songs for the rest of her life.

While there is little documentation of the story of Habba Khatoon and Yusuf Chak, this story has been told and retold, for years and years in the valley.

And while there may be some controversy as to what the actual story is, it is an important incident of Habba Khatun’s life as that is what gave rise to her popularity as a poetess.

Habba Khatoon’s Poetry

Throughout history, there have been several women poets from different kinds of backgrounds and walks of life who did not just consider their voices worth hearing but also dared to stand out and be heard. And Habba Khatun is one among them.

In a time when women’s poetry mostly focussed on spirituality, Habba brought romantic lyrics to hers. While her verses are bold and majorly biographical, they also have a kind of universality to them. Her poetry was strikingly different as compared to the other poets of her time as it was candid and personal.

All of Habba Khatoon’s poems were full of sorrow and some in the memory of her estranged husband. Her soul-stirring poetry is immensely popular in the valley even to this day and her verses on love and romance still captivate the Kashmiris.

Habba Khatun is also credited for introducing ‘lol’ to Kashmiri poetry. ‘Lol’ is basically equivalent to the English ‘lyric’ that conveys brief thought and Habba is known to have introduced it.

The two main incidents that influenced her poetry are the failure of her first marriage and her relationship with Yusuf Shah Chak. 

Through her poems, she remembered her love with the hopes of finding him. She also wrote of the miseries that were inflicted upon her by her in-laws. Having led a difficult life, she also talks about the perils of physical labor and even her descriptions of sweat and toil have a sense of beauty in them.

Her lyrical verses are deeply steeped in romanticism and are highly metaphorical and symbolic. Unlike the spiritual poets of her time, Habba’s verses talk of earthly love and are more pragmatic in nature.

Passed down orally through songs that women sang over the centuries, it is quite possible that the original words of Habba Khatoon poetry have been modified or reinterpreted. 

What made her poetry so powerful is that she spoke in the language of the common people and about the issues that they related with.

Along with several other great poets, Habba’s contribution to the Kashmiri literature is truly phenomenal.  

Habba Khatoon’s Legacy and Appreciation of Work

Habba’s ballads are very much alive and still sung to this day in the valley. Several contemporary Kashmiri lyricists have also acknowledged the fact that her poems have had a huge influence in their own work. And in several modern Kashmiri songs, Habba’s verses can be found.

A mountain peak in the Gurez valley of Kashmir has also been named ‘Habba Khatoon Peak’ after the great poetess. It is believed that she used to wander near this peak, and hence, the name. So if you ever get an opportunity to take a look at this gigantic mountain, you know its history and the story behind its name. Not just a mountain but an underpass in Lahore has also been named after this revolutionary poetess.

Moreover, quite a few books have also been written to honor the Nightingale of Kashmir. ‘Feminism Across Cultures: A Comparative Study of Habba Khatoon and Emily’ by Asma Shaw and ‘Habba Khatoon: The Nightingale of Kashmir’ by S. N. Wakhlu are a few of them.

A collection of Habba Khatoon poetry has also been published by the Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Languages, Arts and Culture.

Interestingly, even the filmmakers of Bollywood had attempted to honor this legendary poetess by thinking of making a film on her not once, not twice but thrice. However, the films were never really completed. While the Bollywood film may never be completed but a Kashmiri film made by Srinagar Doordarshan pays a tribute to Habba Khatoon’s incredible life.

Conclusion

This was the story of Habba Khatoon, the last poet queen of Kashmir. Having lived a difficult life full of struggles, experiencing true love and giving the world a gift of poetry that will be treasured forever, Habba Khatoon’s life is a true inspiration. Habba Khatun died in 1609 and her tomb lies near Athwajan on the Jammu-Srinagar national highway.

Strikingly different from the poets of her time, Habba Khatoon was a bold poetess that Kashmir remembers and will still remember for the generations and generations to come. To know of Habba Khatun is to know of an integral part of Kashmir and more importantly, its literature. While not many people may know her outside of Kashmir, Habaa Khatoon poetry will remain etched in Kashmir’s history forever. 

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Lal Ded: The Mystic of Kashmir

Lal Ded: The Mystic of Kashmir

Fondly called as Lad Ded (Mother Lalla), Lalleshwari was a 14th century Kashmiri mystic and poet. She was the creator of Vakhs, a kind of poetry. A revolutionary mystic of her time, Lal Ded’s verses are some of the earliest Kashmiri compositions and form an integral part of the Kashmiri literature. 

Also known as Lalla or Laleshwari, Lal Ded was an ardent devotee of God Shiva. She also often used her poetry to engage with Shaivism and Sufism. Lal Ded’s verses have come down from generations to generations through the folk tradition of Kashmir and perhaps there isn’t a single Kashmiri who hasn’t heard of her.

Lalleshwari was known to be Kashmir’s rebel poetess for she challenged the ideas of caste system, social and religious discrimination and rejected conventional society. 

In this article, we get to know more about this poetess whose verses are deeply rooted in Kashmir’s culture even today. 

Life of Lala Ded

She was born sometime around 1320 to 1355 in Pandrethan in Kashmir as ‘Lalleshwari’, in a Kashmiri Pandit family. Later on, she came to be known by many names including Lalla Arifa, Lalla Yogishwari, Lalla Yogini, Laleshwari or simply Lalla. However, Lal Ded is her most recognizable and most commonly known name.

After being briefly educated in the religious texts, she was married off at the age of 12 into a family that regularly mistreated her. Her mother-in-law treated her cruelly and spoke ill of her to her husband. Lalla’s mother-in-law is known to have put stones on her plate of food and then covered it with rice. Even when she was not given proper food and always remained half-fed, Lalleshwari is known to never have complained. 

Every morning, Lal Ded left the house to fill a pot of water from the river and wouldn’t return until it was evening; in-between, she spent her time at Lord Shiva’s temple on the other side of the river. 

Soon, she found her guru in Sidh Srikanth and pursued yoga under him. And when she turned around 26, Lalla renounced her marriage and material life to become a mystic. Having given up all her possessions, she would wander around naked or in rags, chanting her verses.

Laleshwari openly questioned the elite and unassailable Sanskrit academia. It was her unprecedented courage to renounce a conventional life that made her rebel against the tradition and yet, a significant contributor to the Kashmiri culture.

Interestingly, Lal Ded most probably never saw herself as a poet. In fact, her words were merely mantras or chants that were aimed at praising God. It was her power to impact others that her listeners formed her sayings into chants and mantras. Before her Vakhs came to be published, they have been orally passed down from generation to generation in Kashmir.

She used the first person in her vakhs and also used her names quite frequently. Like, ‘I, Lalli’ or ‘I, Lal’ were commonly used by her.

Lal Ded’s Poetry in Kashmir

Lal Ded’s Vakhs will take you on a beautiful journey through the disillusionment of the world, the distress of the man, a search for God and finally, the realization of the highest truth. Her vakhs not only show her poetic genius but also depict her mystic experiences. 

Although her vakhs are quite personal, the lessons taught by them are universal. Although profound, her humanism makes it easy to relate to Lal Ded’s verses. Thus, her work is timeless and resonates with different people. 

These verses are deeply embedded in Kashmir’s culture. Generation after generation and century after century, her verses have been preserved in collective memory, in songs and in proverbs and hymns in the valley. 

Her vakhs have played a very important role in shaping the Kashmiri language and literature. In one of her well known vakhs, she emphasizes on the fact that there is no distinction between the people of different faiths. In many of her verses, she even defied the patriarchal authority of the Guru. 

One of her most significant contributions include bringing the difficult Shaiva philosophy from the confines of Sanskrit-knowing scholars to the wide spaces of the common Kashmiri-knowing people. While translating these highly evolved yet subtle concepts along with her mystic experiences into a language widely known by the masses, she not only made them easily accessible but also enriched the Kashmiri language. She successfully explained ideas and experiences that would otherwise be unreachable to the ordinary people.

Her easily recitable verses in the mother tongue made her vakhs secure a place in the collective memory of the Kashmiris.

While the beginning of Kashmiri literature is often debated, one thing is for sure- the credit for the revival of the Kashmiri dialect is owed by Lal Ded. 

Since her verses were not written down during her time, it cannot be said for sure how many of her vakhs were actually preserved. Over the many centuries, some may have been changed and some may have been made additions to. 

Lala Ded and Her Popularity

Lal Ded’s openness and her understanding of the genuine problems of the common people is what made her so immensely popular among millions. 

Even today, almost every Kashmiri, irrespective of whether he is Hindu or Muslim, literate or illiterate, is able to recite some of Lal Ded’s Vakhs. Her name in the valley is said with utmost pride, admiration and respect.

Her poetry has also been widely translated including English translations in ‘Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women (1994)’ , ‘Naked Song- Lalla (1992)’ and a lot more.

After having lived most of her life as a mystic and inspiring others, Lal Ded died sometime during the late 14th century.

Final Words on Lal Ded

All in all, Lal-Ded was a wise woman and a genius poetess with an un-shattering faith and confidence made her leave a mark on the world. By knowing more about her, there is no doubt that her contribution to Kashmiri language, culture, tradition as well as heritage is truly commendable. In fact, it is also often said- ‘Lalla is to Kashmiri what Shakespeare is to English’.

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Get to Know the 11 Oldest Languages in the World

Get to Know the 11 Oldest Languages in the World

Man has been living on this planet for millions of years. Obviously, he needed to communicate. Interestingly, he chose to use different languages and not just one. This shows the versatility of man’s knowledge.

If you have a look at some of the oldest languages in the world, the idea of multiple languages will be pretty straightforward. Even if they still remain in use, they are not used as they were in the past.

A number of languages have been erased from the world, leaving only a few traces of their origins. Many others have been modified into something completely different. There are still some warriors who are fighting to sustain themselves in this modern world.

In all honesty, the story of the oldest languages in the world is quite interesting. Before checking out this list, let’s see how many languages do you know about. Let’s do this.

Enumerate the languages that you think are from the oldest languages in the world? 

Also, which do you think is the oldest language in the world? i

Take a wild guess!

Let me give you a heads up. There are some languages in this list that you can never imagine being so old.

1. Hebrew

One of the Oldest Languages in the World Spoken by Moses

Hebrew came into light in 400 CE. It is the mother tongue of Jews around the world. It also became the official language of Israel after its formation. The modern version of the language differs from the Biblical version but nevertheless, the native speakers of Hebrew can fully comprehend what is written in the Old Testament.

Modern Hebrew replaced Yiddish as the native Jewish language and other connecting languages and became what is known today, the unified language of the Jews around the world.

2. Tamil

Another Oldest Language in the World That Brought Indians & Arab Traders Closer  

Tamil has inscriptions that date back to the 3rd century BC. Some facts about it will surely astonish people who think that it is a language spoken only by South Indians. It is the only ancient language that has been relevant and existing since its inception whereas many of its counterparts were eradicated by new substitute languages.

It is spoken by about 78 million people (which means it’s spoken outside India too) and is the official language in Sri Lanka and as well as Singapore. Yes! You read it right, Singapore.

Since it is a part of the Dravidian language family, it is also the official language of the state of Tamil Nadu. Unlike Sanskrit which is another ancient Indian language that fell out of common use around 600 BC, Tamil has continued to develop and is now the 20th most commonly spoken language in the world.

Other similar older languages in the world can now only be found only in texts or scriptures. So, Tamil is a great example of being the world’s oldest language that is still relevant and living.

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3. Mayan  

The Pictorial Language 

The Mayan family of languages is another one from the oldest languages in the world. Do you know that there are 32 different dialects of the Mayan language? Hush Hush, all of them can be traced back to the original, which comes from 292 AD.

The original Mayan language didn’t have words to communicate messages but instead used pictures called glyphs. An ancient city discovered in the rain forest of Guatemala called Tikal where a temple having stone shafts was the first place in the world to indicate evidence of the existence Mayan language. It is a native language of the people of Mesoamerica, Honduras, Belize, and Mexico and has about 6 million speakers today.

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4. Ancient Chinese 

The Cho Cho Mo Cho Sounds

Ancient Chinese dates back to more than 3,000 years ago. It is said to have originated in around 1250 B.C. as a part of the Sino-Tibetan language family. The oldest known example of Old Chinese was found at the archaeological site of the ancient city of Yinxu.

At this site, oracle bones with the earliest form of the Chinese language were reported to be found. It was also discovered that there were about 4,000 different characters in Old Chinese but unfortunately today, only half of those have been translated with meaning.

Do you know why?

Because it is a very complicated language and it is very difficult to understand the grammar of Old Chinese. Old Chinese evolved into Middle Chinese around 600 AD and ultimately upgraded into modern Mandarin and Cantonese, thus eradicating one of the oldest languages in the world completely.

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5. Sumerian

World’s Oldest Written Language

Sumerian is known as the oldest written language in the world and it dates back to at least 3500 BC. The earliest proof that the written Sumerian language existed was the Kish Tablet, which was found in Iraq. Sumerian is said to be older than Egyptian, but unfortunately, it only lasted as a spoken language until around 2000 BC. Later it was replaced by another language, called Akkadian.

It was unknown to the world until the 19thcentury. It was discovered by some archaeologists while researching ancient Arabic and European cultures.

6. Arabic 

The Language of the Quran 

Arabic can be traced all the way back early 328 A.D. Arabic is a member of the Afro-Asiatic language family. Today, it is spoken by citizens of the Arab league and parts of Africa, Asia and also Europe. It currently has about 420 million speakers. Perhaps it is one of the world’s oldest languages with the highest number of speakers. 

In 1901, the proof of the Arabic language to be ancient was discovered from the Namara inscription and with time it has evolved drastically and unfolded into many variants. New versions of the original Arabic vocabulary and grammar have evolved lately.

Though there are some debates over the inscription being incomplete Arabic language, still it is said to be a very early form of the language. To be exact, its inscriptions were found on a basalt rock, which is alleged to have come from a tomb proving a certain connection between the Romans and Arabs dating back to the fourth century.

The holy book of the Muslims known as the Quran is also written in the Arabic Language. It is one of the most memorized books on the planet. That is a reason through which Classic Arabic has been preserved over the last 1400 years. 

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7. Egyptian 

The Language the Pharos Spoke

The first known record of Egyptian language was found in a tomb that dates back to 2690 BC. Egyptian is said to have originated in 3300 B.C. It is an Afro-Asiatic language that was native to the people of Ancient Egypt and was spoken until the 17th century.

It was gradually replaced by modern Arabic and other local forms of the language. Today, it has vanished completely as a written language and as well as a spoken language. It has been successfully translated over the years by many well-known linguists and many texts and scriptures have been understood giving vivid details about the ancient Egyptian culture as well.

8. Mycenaean Greek

The mystery is always Greek

Mycenaean Greek is one of the earliest forms of the Greek language. It dates as far back as the 1600 BC. As a member of the Indo-European language family, it is was spoken in Southern Balkans and Modern Greece. Just like many other Greek tragedies, this language is officially extinct. It was deciphered in the 1950s.

As of today, the text mostly exists in inventories and lists and doesn’t have any form of literature written in it. Although not significant, there are still some small existing examples of Mycenaean Greek. It is believed that the use of this language ended when the Mycenaean civilization fell. A point to note is that Arcadocypriot Greek, another form of the Greek language, is very similar to the Mycenaean version.

9. Aramaic

They say, Jesus spoke this

Aramaic is a biblical language that has been around for more than 3,000 years. It is said to have originated in 900 B.C. Just to give proof for how ancient this language is, it is said that it was spoken by Jesus and his disciples.

In today’s modern era, Aramaic is an obsolete language and there isn’t a soul alive today who speaks it. Or perhaps, some claim it is about to die. They say that there are few villages today that speak the same language but slowly and rapidly every form of this language is fading away with time and as of now out of 7 billion people, there are only 450,000 people today that speak this language.

10. Latin

Remember Latino Heat? 

The oldest form of Latin is known as Old Latin. It can be traced back to 700 B.C.

Latin was the common language in the Roman Empire and most parts of Southern Europe. Just like Sanskrit, it is recognized as a part of the Indo-European language family. In many parts of Europe many ancient documents and monuments, dating back to the earliest of centuries, are scribbled with ancient Latin.

Although gradually it has faded away as a spoken language and replaced by languages like French, Italian, and Spanish, etc., it is still seen as a written language. It is not known how many people speak a form of Latin in today’s time, but there are many Latin enthusiasts even today. These people are keen on keeping Latin, which is one of the oldest languages in the world, alive. 

11. Sanskrit 

The language that Indians love, but don’t speak

Just like its fellow language Tamil, Sanskrit is another ancient language that dates to around 100 AD. Sanskrit is also a member of the Indo-European family it is spoken by Indians, Nepalese and people from neighboring areas of the subcontinent.

As of today, it is spoken by only 14000+ people. The first known example of the existence of ancient Sanskrit was found in the city of Ayodhya and also in other states like Gujrat. There are many variations of Sanskrit known to researchers. Interestingly, for about 2,000 years, it was the main language of several areas of Southeast Asia but was gradually replaced by Hindi and other local official languages.

Over to You

So tell me did the list of the oldest languages in the world surprise you? Numbers 1 and 2 surely did surprise me.

Apart from this small list, there are many more languages that have their roots tracing back to the beginning of time. There are many other undiscovered languages with deep cultures and history embedded in them, waiting to be unfolded.

Let’s see with time, how many of the oldest languages of the world can we discover?

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