Habba Khatoon ,Poetess & Queen of Kashmir (1554-1609)

Habba Khatoon, was a legendary poetess that lived in Kashmir in the 16th Century. She was born, in the small village Chandrahar,known for its  saffron fields. It is known that she was extremely beautiful and hence named Zoon  (the Moon). Unlike many of her friends and family, Khatoon was unusual in that she learned to read from an early age, primarily with the help of a local moulvi . When she was quite young her marriage was arranged by her father to an illiterate peasant boy. Her attraction to poetry caused friction amongst her family. Her new family could not understand the relevance of her poetic being, which led to deeper differences with them with each new day.  Feuds with the husband and mother in law turned abusive, and ultimately she was divorced.

She narrates in her own verse :

 “The mother-in law grabbed me by my hair, which stung me more than the pangs of death. I fell asleep on the supporting plank of the spinning wheel, and in this way, the circular wheel got damaged. I cannot reconcile myself with the atrocities of the in laws, O! my parents, please come to my rescue.”

However, she bore all the torture with great patience,  until one day, her mother in law could not tolerate her tolerance, anymore.  She was separated from her husband  and sent to her parents home. To which she complained in anther verse,

 “I have been waiting for long with extreme patience for you – O! my love (or Aziz) do not be cross with your moon (zoon)! I have adorned myself lusciously from top to toe; so enjoy my youth as lively and inviting as a pomegranate flower.”

 Laden with pain and sorrow, she resorted to writing more pensive  poetry and singing songs of separation,  in Kashmiri.

Zoon sang, roaming in the saffron fields and sitting under the shade of chinar trees.

 One day,  in a fairy tale manner,  a prince Yusuf Shah Chak, was out hunting that way on horseback. He passed by  the place where Zoon was singing under the tree. He heard her melancholic melodies, and went to look at her and was stunned by her beauty. As soon as their eyes met, they fell in love. And soon,  Zoon and Yusuf Shah Chak were married. She was given the title of Habba Khatoon. The couple lived a ‘happily ever after’ life, and Yusuf Shah became the ruler of Kashmir.

Their happiness did not last long. Akbar came into prominence in Delhi, and he called Yusuf Shah there. In 1579, Yusuf Shah was compelled to go to Delhi. In Delhi, Akbar arrested him. He was kept in prison in Bihar. Poor Habba Khatoon was separated from Yusuf Shah. The songs of Habba Khatoon are full of the sorrow of separation.

Habba Khatoon spent her last days singing her songs in the Valley, songs which are popular to this day. Even now you can see young Kashmiri singers turn to such popular lyrics as Mye ha kaer chey kit and Che Kamiu Sonei Myani.

Habba Khatoon languished in separation from her beloved husband, and composed several heart wrenching lyrics which she sang while wandering from village to village in the Kashmir valley.

Habba Khatoon introduced “lol” to Kashmiri poetry. “lol” is more or less equivalent to the English ‘lyric’.It conveys one brief thought and is full of melody and love.

GATHER VIOLETS O NARCISSUS

Rain has come , and fields and fruit trees sing,
Spring has come , and Love , the Lord of Spring,
Dandelions have lifted up their faces,
Cold has gone and every wintry thing !
Forget-me-not the forest graces,
Iris and the lily spring will bring.
Gather violets, O Narcissus,
Winter’s ashes from our door I fling !
The water bird the lake embraces,
How can frost upon your petals cling ?

Translation by Nilla Cram Cook

LOL OF THE LONELY PINE

The one who dazzles – have you seen that one ?
Upon him look !
A sleepless stream in search of him I run,
A restless brook.
In far off woods, a lonely pine I stood
Till he appeared,
My woodcutter, and came to cut the wood.
His fire I feared,
Yet though he burn my logs, behold I shine,
My ashes wine !

Translation by Nilla Cram

Her songs are popular in Kashmir and she is almost a legendary figure in Kashmiri literary history. Habba Khatoon is remembered as one of the great poets of her era and one of the great influences on Kashmiri culture and her songs and poetry are still popular within the region today. Many of her songs were about the sorrow of separation and had a new lyric quality and live on to this day. There is debate over when Khatoon actually died but it is thought to have been around 1609 when she would have been in her late fifties.

Rouf Ahmed can be mailed at roufahmed008@gmail.com