Mathra Devi – Lalla Reborn – Sarwanand Koul ‘Premi Kashmiri’
OVER six hundred years back, Kashmir-the heaven on earth, the swarga the Orient-witnessed the spectacle of one of its greatest saint-mystics, Lallishwari, spreading her spiritual fragrance all around. Known also as Lalla Ded, she gave Kashmir and the world her immortal Vakhs, which have since remained ever-fresh, and full of spiritual fervour Lalla’s Vakhs are recited by thousands of Kashmiris with all devotion even now, the age of science and technology. In the country-side of Kashmir, even the cities and towns, no musical assembly starts without recitation of Lalla Vakhs.
Lalla was followed by Roopa Bhawani in whose memory Sahib Saptami, is celebrated with a Mahayagya and other religious programmes. Then came our mystic-saint tapaswani, Mathra Devi, in the 19-20th century. The Devi threw off her mortal frame, after 106 years, at Verinag on January 5, 1985. An embodiment of sadhana and tapasya, Mathra was in many respects the Lalla reborn.
Born in the Kashmiri Hindu family of Pandit Hari Koul at Verinag, the spot associated with Nilanag and his Nilamatapurana and mentioned as Vurnag in Rajatarangini, She was born on Shravana Shukla Ashtami, Samvat 1935, corresponding to 1878 A.D. It is said that Mathra was born near a cremation ground.
From her very childhood, Mathra, her pet family name, had a great love and earnestness for the search after truth. She grew with all love for Godly things, God’s name and spiritual intimacy. She always demonstrated an unfamiliar and surprising attitude towards her home and the world around her.
She was married to Shri Bhagwan Dass Kandroo Bhagalal of Anantnag at the age of 14-15 years, but the marriage lasted about three years only when her husband passed away in his teens.
Being young, healthy and beautiful, with all her fervour for the divine and the spiritual, Mathra returned to her parental home at Verinag. Here she practiced her spiritual sadhana and tapasya along with her younger and only brother, Pandit Gobind Koul, who was also, like his sister, mad after search for God and Truth. It was at this stage of her life that God’s grace was showered over her in the form of her spiritual Guru, Pandit Shridhar Joo Sharabi of Srinagar. The Guru guided his young disciple with all love, care and bhakti.
After some years, Mathra, with the help of her brother, Pandit Gobind Koul, who had by then become well known for his pious, religious and philanthropic life, constructed a Kutiya for her tapasya on the bank of Vitasta (Jhelum river with its source at Verinag) running close to her parental house. In the ground floor of the Kutiya, she got dug a pitch for her sadhana. It was from this pitch that Mathra emerged as Mathra Devi, after an unbroken tapasya for three years, her face blazing with divine fervour, bright lustre and spiritual insight-Lallishwari was reborn as Mathra Devi. Hundreds of people of all persuasions started thronging the Kutiya of Mathra Devi daily from the surrounding areas, even from far off Srinagar to experience peace and tranguillity, which they got in sufficient measure by their mere proximity to the Devi.
Mathra Devi, however, could not be bound down by the atmosphere created by her halo in and around Verinag. She took it as an attachment and worldly bandhan in yet another form and was on the lookout for an opportunity to get free from it. The opportunity presented itself during 1940-41 when the holy festival of Dashahar at Shadipur in the northeast of the Valley was test approaching. Starting for the yatra to Shadipur. She left her parental Verinag to which she was to return atter 27 years in 1967.
From Shadipur, Mathra Devi came to Srinagar and made the Shivalaya Temple, Chotta Bazar, her abode. The Shivalaya premises then was a desolate, barren, rough and unhealthy place. And it was this place which turned into a spiritual centre by the stay for some time there of the Devi. Looking back, it does not seem a mere coincidence that the same Shivalaya premises now houses an up-coming, attractive and charming spiritual complex the Rama Krishna Ashrama with a meditation hall, an auditorium, a library and a free health clinic in a neat and clean atmosphere. The adjacent Shiva Temple is also in a better shape now. May be Mathra Devi chose the then forsaken premises for her temporary abode about forty-five years with the idea of converting it into a lasting spot for meditation and peace.
It was from the Shivalaya complex at Srinagar that the Devi spread her spiritual message to thousands of devotees and others through her upadeshas and vyakhyans on topics like characterbuilding, social reforms, and the thirst for Truth. It was here that she grew her jattas like that of Lallishwari. During this time her body became somewhat heavy, again like that of Lalla Ded but attractive. It was while Mathra Devi was still gracing the Shivalaya that her most outstanding vyakhyan at Shivaratnagiri of Durganag fame. Swamiji requested her to shift to Durganag where he arranged a separate Kutiya with some attendants for her.
The centre shifted to Durganag, where the Devi would bless hundreds of devotees daiy. It became another Ashrama to which endless streams of peoplehigh and low-men, women and children flocked daily to listen to the blessed and informed religious and spiritual discourses by the mystic-saint innumerable people bringing in simple and wholesome vegetarian eatables, cooking and preparing snacks, meals for one another.
It was from Durganag that the Devi was taken back to Verinag by her brother, Pandit Gobind Koul, his son, Pandit Prithvi Nath Koul, and her disciples in 1967. It was Verinag again which the Devi blessed for another seventeen years, till she became one with the One above on the triyodashi of Pausha Shukla Pakhsha of Samvat 2041, corresponding to January 5, 1985. In between, Mathra Devi visted her late husband’s place only once. Pandit Shamboo Nath Kandroo, the only survivor of her husband’s family, a very pious and dharmic gentleman, made her stay for 3-4 months and served her and devotees well.
Thousands of mourners, Hindus and Muslims alike joined the Devi’s arthi amidst sky rending slogans of Mathra Devi Amar Hai, Mathra Devi ki Jai. The pyre was lit by Pandit Shamboo Nath Kandroo, the only survivor on her husband’s side, as per tradition.
[Taken from the Martand January 25, 1985 issue]