Palhalan’s Arinmaal

When a Pandit scholar preferred serving the Afghan governor, Jumma Khan’s court over his talented wife, Kashmir got the poetess, Arnimaal, Dr Abdul Majeed writes

A painting by Tyrone Wright

Arnimaal was born in the picturesque village of Palhalan, thirty kilometres away from Srinagar, in 1737, nearly two hundred years after Habba Khatoon. She was brought up in the charming surroundings of broad-leafed Chinars, tall, slender poplars, calm lakes and majestic mountains at her father’s place.

Daughter of a respectable family and wedded to a person of a great family, Arnimaal was pretty, imaginative and accomplished, but all through her life, she suffered pangs and torments of separation. As a common practice in those days, Arnimaalwas married in her childhood to Munshi Bhawani Das Kachroo, but before attaining the bloom of her youth, she was deserted by her poet husband for some unknown reasons. The separation from her husband proved painful and tormenting for Arnimaal and her emotions were terribly stirred.

As a result of this sorrow and unhappiness was born the most melodious poetry full of pathos and grief.

The Husband

Munshi Bhawani Das Kachroo, a learned Persian scholar, served the court of Jumma Khan, the Afghan Governor of Kashmir from 1788 to 1792 AD.

In his book Gems of Kashmiri Literature, TN Kaul writes: “As was the common practice during the Afghan rule, Arnimaal too was married in her childhood to Munshi Bhawani Das Kachru, a renowned Persian poet, scholar and servant. He belonged to a respectable family settled in Rainawari, Srinagar and held a position of honour in the court of Jumma Khan, who was the Afghan governor of Kashmir from 1788 to 1792″.

About Arnimaal, Kaul writes: “Arinimaal excelled in Vatsun, the genre originally evolved by Habba Khatoon 200 years earlier. Several of her delectable creations are extant. All that she had written, has not been retrieved so far. Only about two dozen lyrics have passed to the successive generations by word of mouth.”

Talented Bride

Arnimaal was a talented, sensitive and sophisticated girl, deeply devoted to her husband. Apparently, she was quite happy in the new surroundings and had a carefree time throughout her childhood days before attaining adolescence. But just before flowering into full womanhood, she got a feeling that her husband was too preoccupied with his literary and other pursuits to pay proper attention to her. She tried hard to draw him towards her, but fate had planned it otherwise.

Munshi Bhawani Das, for some unknown reasons, ignored her, tortured and tormented her. He was an important person in the Darbar and had fallen into bad company and deserted her. Due to this, Arinimaal’s heart broke and she became dejected and forlorn. Possibly due to this painful separation, she must have taken to poetry.

Arnimaal lived during the tyrannical and barbaric rule of Afghans when girls for fear of being lifted away were married off before the onset of puberty.

The social structures of that period were very iniquitous and discriminatory. The status of women was worse than what it was in the Mughal rule. Their life and living with in-laws was a woeful and ignominious saga. They were treated as lifeless commodities by a male-dominated society and were fraudulently posed as models of renouncement, patience, piety and love when actually they were subjected to untold oppression and exploitation and were ruthlessly traumatized and rejected.

The Poet

Arnimaal sang of love, beauty and sorrow. Her poetry speaks of agony, dejection, pathos and disappointments. Her poetry melts people’s hearts. Through her poetry, one comes across how she loved her husband.

Arnimaal’s lyrics are masterpieces of the Kashmiri language. The word pictures of delicate sentiments drawn by her are so vivid, real and charming that very few Kashmiri poets have reached the standard set by her. Most of these lyrics have been set to music and are sung even now by Kashmiris.

A painting by David Walker

Her love lyrics reflect the sorrow, sufferings, passions and longings of common Kashmiri Pandit women. Apparently, lamenting the absence of her husband, she said:

(Owing to the pangs of separation) my complexion
Which was like July jasmine
Has assumed the pallor of the yellow rose
O, when will he come to let me have
A look at his beloved face!”

The poetess talked about people, devoid of feelings and sensibilities, who cracked jokes at her and made her object of taunts. This all, however, did not change her. She said:

I have filled cups on cups for love
Go and cry out to him
Across hillsides and meadows green
I send him tender thoughts
Like deer he roams the woods afar
And leaves me here to grieve
Go and cry out to him

Arnimaal’s lyrics are musical, melodious rhymes and ever-recurring refrains, its alliterations and its assonances that come most spontaneously from the depth of her heart. All her songs deal with human emotions and are intensely subjective. She has used images and settings most familiar to her.

Arnimaal literally means “the garland of Arni rose” the wild pale flower abundant in Kashmir periphery. She weaves delicate imagery out of her own name when she says:

A summer jasmine I had bloomed
But now have turned a yellow rose
When will my love come unto me?
All her songs have been set to music and their imagery
and pathos are moving to the extreme. The music and
pathos in the following lines are very touching:
When will thy feet touch lay courtyard
I will place them on my head, O come!
For love, I left my home and hearth
And tore the veil, O come!

The sole desire of the lover is that the beloved may be happy wherever he is. The hope that both will be reunited sustains Arnimaal through thick and thin. The thought of such a future reunion gives her joy and courage to endure the mocks of friends and sneers of foes.

My rivals are throwing taunts at me
Since the beloved has ceased to talk to me
Won’t he come for a short while and show me
His face, so that I should offer
My arterial blood as sacrifice for his safety?

The poetry of Arnimaal is devoid of the mystic touch and of religious experiences. It speaks of the heart of the human soul. After separating from her husband, the spinning wheel became her constant companion and she composed her songs in tune with the sound of the wheel. Its sound could not but remind her of the tragic story of her own life.

Murmur not my spinning wheel,
Thy straw-rings I will oil
From under the sod, O Hyacinth,
Raise thy stately form
For look, the narcissus is waiting
With cups of wine for you
The jasmine will not bloom again
When once it fades away

Arnimaal’s songs are poignant in their pathos, helplessness and resignation to one’s fate but there is no malice found anywhere in them. There is an undercurrent of quiet fortitude, which is characteristic of the age-old suffering of a Kashmiri Pandit woman, especially when she is unhappily married or due to ill luck separated from her husband. There seems to be little doubt that Arnimaal, deserted and maltreated by her husband, lived at her father’s home for long spells of time.

In most of her songs, therefore, she expresses frustration. She always craved for the nearness of her husband. She pleaded him with all sweet things in life, but he always duped her. She pleads:

I treated him to candy sweet
He took my heart and I was duped
Now he is gone, and I am made
A laughing stock for every one to see
Will no one tell him what I feel?
Let us arise at early dawn
And seek my love
On hills and mountains high
I wait and wait expectantly,
When will my love come unto me?

Besides fortitude and resignation, these lyrics breathe a note of dissatisfaction if not revolt against the age-old custom which condemned the Hindu woman of Kashmir if she experienced unhappy marriage and unfaithful love. Thus her lyrics give voice to many voiceless Kashmiri women of her time and these lend the same musical and spontaneous voice to all such women who suffer silently in all ages.

Arinimaal was the composer of the komal poems, poetry having a special ‘colour’, deep anguish and the simplicity and influence of folk songs.

Her popular lyric impressed the poet like Mehmood Gami so much that he immortalized the refrain: ‘Arnirung gom shrawn’.

A Tragic Death

Dr Abdul Majeed

After the separation, she returned to her parents’ house who were kind and sympathetic towards her. After some time, Bhawani Dass realized that he had been unkind to his wife. He decided to be with her again. He proceeded towards her village, and when he reached Palhalan, he saw that she was being carried for cremation. The pangs of protracted separation had seared her so much as to cause her death at the young age of forty-one in 1778.

Arinimaal had recorded a large number of her poems while she remained separated from her husband. After her death, these creations were handed over to the old man’s ancestors who kept them in safe custody. But in view of the atrocities perpetrated by the Afghans in the closing years of their rule on the civilian population and the consequent risk of damage to the invaluable poems, the Kachrus were obliged to deposit this treasure in a Chah (dry well) near the Hari Parbat hill.

(The author has done his PhD on Search for Identity in Select Works of Amitav Ghosh and Ngugi Wa Thiong’ o: A Postcolonial Perspective from Jaipur National University, Jaipur. He is teaching English at Gandhi Memorial College, Srinagar.)

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