This book delves into the life and mission of a Kashmiri saint, Yoginin Sharika Devi, who was always absorbed in spiritual practice and in serving her guru, Swami Lakshman Joo of Ishwer Ashrma of Ishber, Srinagar, Kashmir. Being the chief disciple of Swamiji, Deviji was well focused onher sadhana and was devoted to the manta of silence for her spiritual prosperity.
Thus she is one of the very few women saints of Kashmir Saivism. An ideal disciple of her Gurudeva, Deviji was a many-splendoured personality, constantly absorbed in God-consciousness while performing her worldly duties. A jivanamukta, as encunciated by her Gurudeva, she wholeheartedly dedicated her entire life to the service of her Master with single-minded devotion. Though she led a simple life, many were witness to her spiritual powers while she was alive.
This volume, being brought out at the centenary celebrations of her birth, is a compilation of tributes from various people who knew Sharika Devi from close quarters, and who were a witness to her compassion and spiritual powers on numerous occasions. A valuable part of the book is Sharika Devi’s own contribution to it in the form of her mystic poems. An introduction by the internationally known scholar of Kashmir Saivism, Bettina Sharada Baumer, makes the book invaluable.
Neeraj Mattoo is a Srinagar-based writer and translator. Before her retirement, she was Principal and Head of Department of English at the Government College for Women, Srinagar. Apart from other works and papers published in academic journals, she has published three collections of contemporary Kashmiri short stories translated into English: The Stranger Beside Me, Contemporary Kashmiri Short Stories, and Kath Stories from Kashmir, which have been very favourably reviewed. She also co-edited a book on the Kashmir saint Bhagwan Gopinath. She was awarded a British Council Visitorship to the University of Oxford in 1984 and a Human Resource Ministry’s Senior Fellowship in 1997 to work on Kashmir women poets.
Three is hardly a Kashmiri who is not familiar with the name of Sharika Devi, who justified and fulfilled the glory of her apt name. An account of her life is contained in the earlier published booklet, Bhavarcana ( in Hindi). Here I will try to shed some light on the special attributes of her personality, which was a personification of simplicity.
Always absorbed in spiritual practice, she was mostly reticent, uttering few words. She never faltered in the service of her guru, while keeping a distance from fellow devotees. With her relatives too she maintained only a minimal relationship. Among her other qualities was the perfection with which she performed her own personal chores.
It is Shri Gurudeva himself who correctly evaluated the extraordinariness of her nature and bestowed the title of Brahmavadit on her. Knowing her to be a true devotee, he always treated her with respect and benevolence.
On the eleventh day of her ascent to heaven in 1991, Gurudeva recited the following mantra, which he composed in her honour:
Om parbhairva-linbhuta atmasaktih Sri Sarika devi
Om parabhairavalinyai parasaktyai Sri Sarika devyai namo
One must remember that Gurudeva too left his mortal body within six months after her, the same year. This goes to prove that after her departure, Gurudeva did not think it worthwhile to stay on in this world.
The great scholar from Mithaila, Acharya Rameshwar Jha has this to say about Devi Sharikaji:
Tvam devi nityam Hariparvatasya janasya durgati hari ca durga
Kashmiriki tvam tanu saradasi, ksire vasanti subhada bhavani
I am proud of the fact that I am the younger sister and a pupil of the Yogini Deviji. To me my Gurudeva was Lord Sankara and my mother –like elder sister, Deviji none other than Sharika Herself. No matter what I say, it will never be enough to fully describe her many-splendored personality which was complete in itself. An ideal disciple, constantly absorbed in God consciousness while never shriking her worldly duties, she was a true devotee. She dedicated her whole life to the service of her Gurudeva with single-minded devotion. I conclude with bowing my head before her pure feet and offering hundred solutions to her and Gurudeva.
I am happy that this volume is being brought out at the centenary celebrations of Sharika Devi. Bettina Baumer, whom we know as Sharada, has written the Introduction and supervised its publication. May Gurudeva’s blessings be with her, always. Along with her I give my heartfelt blessings to Neerja Mattoo, the editor, who spent valuable time in translating Deviji’s poems from Kashmiri, and the contributions which were originally in Hindi. May Gurudeva keep inspiring her too to carry on such valuable work.
SHARIKA Devi is best known as the chief disciple of her great Master, Swami Lakshman Joo, who sometimes said that she was the only disciple to receive full enlightenment from him. Her role as a disciple has been brought out to a certain extent in the volume on Swami Lakshman Joo.1 But now that her own birth centenary is being celebrated it is also fitting to throw more light on her person and her spiritual achievement — certainly never separate from that of her Master.
Approaching Sharika Devi and trying to make her accessible to those who have not known her requires a fine-tuning to the subtle level of consciousness that was hers. Silence would be a better way of approaching her presence, but words are necessary to communicate her being. In this introduction I intend to try to understand her in the light of the tradition which she embodied, which for lack of a more appropriate name we still call (non-dualist) Kashmir Saivism.
This introduction is going to proceed in three steps:
1. Her place in the yogini tradition, or the female lineage;
2. understanding her in the light of the great insights of the philosophy and spirituality of "Kashmir Saivism", and
3. the content of the present volume.
Sharika Devi in the Light of the YoginI Tradition of Kashmir
There is no doubt that Sharika Devi can rightly be called a yogini who, since her early childhood, was solely devoted to realization of the Divine. Yoginis have, in the £aiva as well as Buddhist traditions, two apparently contrary natures. On the one hand they are feared as powerful semi-divine female spirits who can create obstacles or even destroy. But the original meaning is that of an accomplished female practitioner, corresponding to the male siddha. In the Saiva context they are described as women "who are ever in union with Siva". They are not only united with the Divine for their own sake, they help the bound souls (pas'u) to attain union with Siva through three kinds of yoga. These yoginis can help the souls because they are completely pure and one with the Supreme Lord and are never separated from him. Ksemaraja explains this permanent union of the yoginis thus:
They are completely united, which means they are absorbed (in Siva), and due to their attaining the supreme bliss they have overcome the impurity based on the wrong identification with the body, the vital energy, etc. hence they are inseparable from Siva.
A commentary on Paratrlsika Tantra says similarly that "being born from a yogini" (Paratrlsika verse) means "attaining the predominance of pure consciousness by reducing the false ego identified with the body".
How fitting is this description of the yogini to Sharika Devi! Her purity, her constant immersion in Siva (samavesa), and her freedom from the false identity of the ego with the body, making her egoless and transparent to the Divine. And again, she did not consider these qualities as her own possession, but shared them with others, becoming an instrument of grace for others.
Her Master used to call Deviji brahmavadinl (a woman sage who has a perfect knowledge of the Absolute) in most of the letters written to her. Even more than that, Swamiji often addressed her as jlvanmukta (one liberated while alive), the highest confirmation of her supreme state.
The tradition of Kashmir Saivism has a clear lineage of yoginis, starting from Ardhatryambaka, the daughter of Tryambaka, the founder of the non-dual Saivism. Abhinavagupta calls this separate lineage "well-established".
We do not possess many witnesses of this female lineage. But Abhinavagupta quotes occasionally with great respect brief sayings of three yoginis: Keyuravarl, Madanika and Kalyanika. KeyuravatI was a female Guru in the lineage of Jnananetra of the Krama tradition, but unfortunately no work has come down to us in her name or in the name of the other yoginis. But it is certain that she bestowed initiation on female disciples."
Even if we lack texts and historical evidence, there is no doubt that these female lineages continued in their own and yet powerful way. It is only centuries later that we meet the great women saint-poets, foremost of all Lalla or Lai Ded in the fourteenth century. She is the most well-known and influential female saint of Kashmir, honoured and quoted by all sections of society, irrespective of their religious belonging. This is not the place for a comparison (which would be in any case impossible), but the achievement of Sharika Devi and Lalla meets in the mystical experience, based on kundalim yoga, and transcending all dualities. The famous and frequently quoted Vakh of Lalla could be equally applied to Devi Sarika:
My Guru gave me only one advice:
from outside turn your gaze within.
That became my initiation:
Thus I began to dance naked.
"Naked" is surely not to be understood literally, but in the sense of being free from the bonds imposed by society.
What is common to both is the state of introvertedness, which was a permanent spiritual state of Deviji (antarmukhata). One important difference in the lives of the two saints is that Sharika refused to get married and enjoyed the state of a brahmacarini,u whereas Lalla had to pass through the ordeal imposed on her by her husband and mother-in-law, before she could free herself completely.
Many of the Vakhs of Lalla could also be an expression of Deviji's experience, such as:
Deeds I performed became an offering
Words I spoke became mantra
Experiences my body had were for self-knowledge
This is the essence of the path of Siva Tantras.
Another outstanding example of a woman saint-poet is Rupa Bhavani in the seventeenth-eighteenth century, who attained the heights of mystical experience, and whose spiritual influence is still alive among Kashmiri Pandits. Her mystic poetry also shows the spirit of non-dual Saivism and of the kundalini experience. Her poetic expression is equally powerful. To give only one example:
The one who meditates and consciously weighs oneself
Judges none and is judged not,
Only waits for Him and His benediction,
Such a one will fuse with the Eternal One.
These are only some well-known examples for the yogini tradition which Sharika Devi continued in her own way. The thread running through such different female saints is a non-dual mysticism, the importance of the Guru, and the stages of kundalini yoga leading to a transcendent state beyond dualities.
Sharika Devi: An Embodiment of the Philosophy of Kashmir Saivism
This leads directly to the important question how Sharika Devi embodied the great insights and ideals of Trika and Pratyabhijna in her life and experience. We have the scriptures on the one side and the lived experience on the other, and the important point is the connection between the two. Sharika Devi was well-versed in the Sastras, she had studied Sanskrit and learnt, together with her sister Prabha, the important texts of the tradition from Swami Lakshman Joo. She never showed off her knowledge which could only be guessed from occasional remarks she made while studying the texts. She could well have taught them herself but she humbly submitted herself to her Guru's teaching.
But the correspondences I want to point out between the teachings and her life are not based on any conscious effort, they are the spontaneous outflow of her spiritual state. "Spontaneity" could be another translation of svatantrya. All the more one can say that her life — as the life of her Gurudeva— was itself a commentary on the teachings of the tradition.
Among the central concepts what comes first to mind is Sakti, in relation to Siva. It is Deviji who gave the title Isvara Svarupa to her Master, but if he was perceived as Bhairava, she was Sakti, the gentle and yet powerful energy on his side, inseparable and yet distinct.
A poet compared Swamiji to a mighty cinara tree, but I would compare Deviji to a iirlsa tree, whose red flowers are extremely delicate and full of nectar, but which has strong roots. Two siltras of the Siva-Sutras come to mind: gurur upayah, (the Guru is the means) (II.6), and icchasaktir uma kumari (the divine energy of volition is Uma, the virgin) (1.13). The various interpretations Ksemaraja gives of the latter siltra are perfectly fitting to Sharika Devi. Not only was she a virgin "who remained in a state of subject and never became an object enjoyed by others", she had perfectly united her will to the Divine as embodied in her Master. The energies of cognition and activity (jnana-sakti and kriya-sakti) emerge only from the primary (and hence virgin) energy of Will. Paradoxically it is the total surrender of her will to the Master which gave her the power to be herself. And this is the characteristic of the sambhava state, the highest, divine state of samaveia, depending solely on Will. In the meaning of the siltra relating to the penance of Uma, Swamiji summarizes the commentary of Ksemaraja thus:
At the time when Uma was virgin, she was completely detached from the world of enjoyment. When she had given herself to perform penance in order to receive the blessing of Lord Siva, her mind was one-pointedly focused only on Lord Siva. She was always one with that being of Siva. In the same way, the desire of such a yogi is completely one-pointed. He always wills entry in his own nature and nothing else. At the human level of the relationship of guru and disciple, the disciple is called duff, the spiritual companion of the perfect Master or siddha. This relationship can take different forms, but in the case of Swamiji and Deviji it was of a purely spiritual nature.
In her spirituality, Sharika Devi embodied the ideals of introvertedness (antarmukhata), from which she was never distracted; one-pointedness towards her divine goal; and being ever established in her own nature of supreme I-consciousness: akrtrima ahambhava. The adjective akrtrima is so fitting because everything in her was natural (literally "non-artificial"). It was her naturalness which at the same time hid her true nature from the insensitive observer. It could be called her humility, but not in any artificial sense. In the face of so much of artificiality and self-conceit found in so-called spiritual circles, her example shines as the embodiment of authenticity. Closer to the religious traditions of Kashmir, she was true to her name. Her parents had a deep relationship with the Sharika Devi Rock and Temple, and her guru saw in her an embodiment of the Sharika Devi of Hariparvat. The great Pandit Acharya Rameshwar Jha of Banaras also celebrated her as a living incarnation of the presiding goddesses of Kashmir: Sarika, £arada, Ksirabhavani Durga. As described in Samvidullasah (p. 180), on the day of Deviji's departure from the asrama on her final journey, a few days before her samadhi, Swamiji held a mirror before her and asked her to have a darsana of the Devi — before she closed her eyes.
More in a joking mood, but yet in a very fitting comparison, Swami Lakshman Joo himself compared the three ashramites of Ishvar Ashram to the Trika of Siva, Sakti, Nara: Evidently he himself was Siva, Deviji being Sakti, and Prabha Deviji completing the trinity in the way of Nara.
Coming back to Deviji's spiritual experience I only want to give an example of her very subtle and mystical insights. Utpaladeva's Sivastotravali was one of the favourite texts of both, guru and disciples. It is difficult to fathom the level of experience which these mystical verses evoked in them. But Swamiji himself told about Deviji experiencing one particular verse which transported her to another level of consciousness:
villyamanastvayyeva vyomni meghalava iva I
bhava vibhantu me sasvatkramanairmalyagaminah I
In the paraphrase of Swamiji:
Let me feel this objective world, this universe of objectivity, just like clouds lying in the ether of your consciousness. As there are heaps of clouds in the sky, in the same way let me feel this universe as a mass of clouds in the sky of God-consciousness, lust as the clouds fade by and by and only the blue sky is left afterwards . . . ; in the same way this universe should appear to me, purified and having become one with Thee in the end. Let me feel that way.
This expresses Deviji's universal experience of the Divine.
The Contents of the Volume
The present volume does not pretend to be a biography of the yoginl. It is an homage to her continued presence and inspiration, hundred years after her birth, and twenty-two years after her final samadhi. It contains her own mystical poems which can be rightly called Vakh, in the tradition of Lai Ded. Sharika Devi did not intend to compose poetry, but her inner experience spontaneously poured forth in a very gentle song. Most of these Vakh have been collected by her sister Prabha Devi, whenever she heard them.
They express her disillusionment with the world, and her attraction to the Divine, her surrender, and her total dedication. She also reveals the centre of her spiritual practice, which is an overcoming of duality true to the tradition. The basic tone is one of bhakti, but not of the ordinary dualistic type. The Tantras themselves extol to practise parabhakti which in its intensity transcends all dualities.
All this is paired with a realistic self-reflection and an awareness of her shortcomings. But her dedication and her great love for the Divine is crowned by the ultimate experience of self-recognition (pratyabhijna):
One day I knew who I was . . . everything I saw as extension of myself
Her vision is purely internal:
With eyes closed, I saw everything . . .
The original Kashmiri is certainly more close to her feelings expressed, but the excellent translation by Neerja Mattoo makes these Vakh come alive for the non-Kashmiri too.
The second section contains reminiscences by Deviji's devotees, disciples and family members, and by some great scholars. She was fully recognized by Acarya Rameshvar Jha, as shown in the verses quoted in the beginning. These contain elements of her life that can be used for a future biography. But Deviji's life was so straightforward and, externally seen, uneventful: from her childhood to her initiation by her divine Master, to her moving to his asrama to spend the rest of her life in his nearness and in his service. The real biography would have to trace the stages of her spiritual life which was so hidden and maybe known only to her Master. It is such biographies which can inspire and guide seekers for times to come.
The third section contains anecdotes from her life which express her wisdom. They are mainly related to her relation to her guru. Prabha Devi carefully noted down such meaningful events and exchanges between guru and disciple, and we truly get glimpses of the spontaneity of her life and thought. To her, situations of daily life would contain a spiritual message which she was quick to grasp, and to pass on her insights as practical teachings.
These "glimpses" also throw light on the social situation of the airama, on the different characters of the devotees flocking to the great Master, and on Deviji's understanding of their psychology. Truly in the style of most saints, Deviji uses simple metaphors to drive home a profound truth.
She was suffering most from what she once told me: "people come here for all kinds of selfish purposes, but nobody comes for God".
May this collection of her wisdom inspire the reader to be more intensely engaged in the search of the Divine. It is Sharika Devi's grace that will go a long way to support it.
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