The history of Kashmiri literature and language is often traced back to its beginnings in the poetry of Lal Ded and Nund Rishi - Hindu and Muslim saint-poets of the fourteenth and fifteenth century. Even though there are many Kashmiri texts composed before Lal Ded and Nund Rishi, it is to these two saint-poets that Kashmiri cultural memory turns in its search for origins (Lal Ded and Nund Rishi would have much to say about origins and beginnings). Both Lal Ded and Nund Rishi are also figures of a vernacular religious revolt against the hegemonic religious and literary cultures of Kashmir in the medieval period. Lal Ded was a Saivite poet who appeared at a time when Sufism was beginning to assert its influence over Kashmiri society and her interpretation of the classical Kashmiri Saivism revolutionized Kashmiri language working nothing less than a miracle of economy and excess in a vernacular which had been used neither for philosophy or poetry in Kashmir.
The form of poetry used by Lal Ded is vakh. Both vakh and shruk (the form used by Nund Rishi) appear to have emerged from earlier Sanskrit and Prakrit forms of poetry in Kashmir. Of late, Bimla Raina has attempted to revive the vakh form (see, for instance, Ryesh malyun myon).
There is relatively more scholarship available on Lal Ded than on Nund Rishi or perhaps any other religious figure from Kashmir (with the possible exception of Kashmiri Saivite philosopher, Abhinavagupta). Jayalal Kaul's study of Lal Ded called "Lal Ded" is one of the first serious critical studies of Lal Ded in Kashmir. Richard Carnac Temple's Word of Lalla the Prophetess and George Grierson's Lalla Vakyani are the authoritative studies of Lal Ded (the latter is available from here). Coleman Barks (better known as the translator of Rumi) also translated Lalla. A K Ramanujan's versions based on earlier translations are some of the best. But perhaps the best work on Lal Ded to appear recently is Jaishree Kak Odin's Mystical Verses of Lalla. Odin also has another book on Lalla called To the Other Shore: Lalla's Life and Poetry.
Some of the other important studies of Lal Ded are B N Parimoo's The Ascent of Self: A Re-interpretation of the mystical poetry of Lal Ded. A controversial recent addition to the scholarship is Bimla Raina's Lal Ded Meri Drishti Mein. Some of the best critical writings on Lal Ded, however, are the essays on Lal Ded by T N Ganjoo and Rahman Rahi.
Perhaps the best place to begin a reading of Lal Ded is this simple but brilliant introduction available here.
I present here a brief selection of Lalla vaakh.
اُسی اُس تہ اُسی آسو
اَسی دور کٓری پَتہ وتھ
شِوس سورِ نہ زیون تہ مَرُن
روَس سورِ نہ اَتہ گَتھ
We are in the past
We are in the future
Siva never tires of birth and death
The sun never tires of its coming and going.
آمہ پٓنہء سودرس ناو چھٓس لَمان
کَتہ بوزِ دے میون مے تہ دِیہ تار
آمین ٹاکین پونیٌی زن شمان
زُو چھُم برمان گَرٕگَژٍھ ها
With a weak thread, I pull at the boat
How will my God hear me and bear me across?
As the water disappears from unbaked clay vessels
My ecstatic heart desires to return home
کُس مَرِ تہ کَسو مارن
مَرِ کُس تہ مارَن کَس
یُس هَرٍ هَرٕ ترإوِتھ گَرٕ گَرٕ کرے
اَدٕ سہ مَرِ تے مارَن تَس
Who will die and who will they kill?
Who will die and who will be killed?
He who turns away from God to home
He will die and he will be killed.
شِو چھُے تھلہ تھلہ روزان
مو زان ہیوند تہ مسلمان
تُرک اے چھُکھ تہ پان پرٕزناو
سُے چَھے صاحبس زاُنی زان
Shiva is everywhere manifest
Don't speak of Hindu or Musulman
If you are wise, know yourself
That is the recognition of the true Friend (God).
آیس وَتے گیِس نہ وتے
سُمن سوتھٍ لوسُم دوه
چندس وچھُم تہ هار نہ اَتھے
ناوٍ تارس دِمہ کیا بوً
I came by this path yet could not return
The day passed waiting by the river
I looked at my pocket: not a cent in it
What would I pay to be taken across?
گورَن وونم کُنُے وَژُن
نیبرٕ دوپنَم اندَر اژُن
سُے گوولَلِ مے واکھ تہ وَژُن
تَوَے مے هیوتُم ننگے نَژُن
My Guru gave me one true word
Go inside from the outside
The words as my guidance and song
I dance naked
گورَس پرژھام ساسہ لٹے
یَس نہ کہنہ ونان تَس کیا ناو
پٕرژھان پٕرژھان تٕھٕچِس تہ لوسٕس
کہنہ نسَ نٍشِ کیاهتام دراو
I asked my Guru a thousand times
That which has no name, what is its name?
Questioning my Guru, I got tired and am exhausted
Something has come out of the nothing.
شِشرس وُتھ کُس رَٹے
کُس بوکے رَٹے واو
یُس پانژ یِندریے ژیلِتھ ژٹے
سُے رَٹے گٹے رَو
Who can stop the icicles from melting?
Who can hold the wind in her palms?
The one who cuts off all the five senses
She receives the sun in the darkness