The Middle Period
The themes which were developed in the poetry of the mystics of the fourteenth and fifteenth century were carried over into the poetry of the middle period. The poetry of Habba Khatoon and Arnimal transcends a simple division between the secular and the religious. It is in the sixteenth and seventeenth century that the Kashmiri Saivite tradition and emerging Sufi thought began to find a unique expression in the Kashmiri language. Habba Khatoon, a peasant girl, who was to become Queen was the main innovator of the lol lyric. Habba Khatoon’s poetry has been widely disseminated in the Kashmiri oral tradition. The songs of Habba Khatoon are popular even now and have been sung by such popular Kashmiri singers as Raj Begum and Kailash Mehra. Khwaja Habibullah Naushahri continued the vakh tradition albeit in a somewhat different form. Naushahri too speaks a language close to that of Lalla and echoes her concerns about Hindu-Muslim unity in Kashmir. Rupa Bhavani, a Saivite mystic, too turned to the vakh form. Bhavani remains one of the more difficult Kashmiri poets of the period as the poetry invokes inner experience. Rupa Bhavani’s language is much more Sanskritic than that of Lalla Ded but like Lalla Ded her poetry is clearly influenced as much by Islamic mysticism.
Much like Habba Khatoon, Arnimal wrote lyrics. By the eighteenth century, Persian forms had entered Kashmiri language and the ghazal and masnavi forms were being introduced into the Kashmiri language. This also reflects an increasing Persianization of the Kashmiri Court. Even though Kashmiri Sufis of the eighteenth century wrote masnavis, these resemble in form and style the Sufi kavyas of Malik Muhammad Jayussi (1492-1542) who wrote in Hindi. Mahmud Gami (1765-1855) is perhaps the most representative of this period. Gami is better known for his Kashmiri masnavis on the legends of Laila Majnun, Yusuf Zulaikha etc. As is obvious, these are precisely themes central to early Islamic mysticism. But some like Waliullah Mattu (d. 1859) chose to turn to Kashmiri legends such as Himal. Maqbul Shah Kralwari (1820-1875) also wrote a famous masnavi called Gulrez. The Sufi poets Rahman Dar (d. 1897), Shams Faqir and Wahab Khar continued this tradition.
If Kashmiri poets turned to the legends and romances of the Islamic mystical tradition, they also drew upon the themes of the Hindu epics such as Mahabharat and the Ramayana. Three poets deserve special mention in this regard: Parmananda, Lachman Raina and Prakash Ram. Zinda Kaul continued this tradition in the twentieth century. Parmanand’s poetry is steeped in Hindu devotionalism and most of his poems are lilas which represent the actions of Hindu gods. His poems on Krishna lila represent some of his best work. The lila became an important form in Kashmiri poetry. Lachman Raina and Prakash Ram followed the path of Parmanand’s bhakti poetry. This is also a period in which Persian poetry flourished in Kashmir. Very little research on this period exists but the editions are now available of the works of Parmanand and Lachman Raina. Even though Krishna Razdan is a late nineteenth century poet, it is perhaps relevant to mention his lilas because he is one of the best representatives of the genre. His Siva lila Bell Tey Madal sung by the famous Kashmiri Sufi singer Tibet Baqal remains one of the most popular Saiva devotional songs in Kashmiri language.